My Dad’s Experience Flying Air India

My dad recently made a surprise mother’s day trip to India to see his parents. He flew United Airlines BusinessFirst Houston – Munich and then Lufthansa Business Class Munich – Delhi to get there, but wanted a more entertaining experience from there on out. What could be a more entertaining experience than flying Air India :)? Especially considering the fact they let FAs fly planes, they have rats on the plane, and drunk pilots still have their jobs.

And so I booked him on Air India Business Class from New Delhi – Hyderabad (same ticket as IAH-MUC-DEL) and then Air India First Class Hyderabad-Delhi-Chicago (for 105k aeroplan miles + ~$30).  On a side note the 105k also included his flights in First class on United for these segments: ORD-IAH-MAF, which made it a great deal. Aeroplan miles can be obtained by transferring Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest points.

Air India Premium Lounge – New Delhi Terminal 3:

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Comments from my dad: The Air India lounge in New Delhi is not the best lounge in the world, but it sure beats most US Airline lounges in terms of food options. Though I didn’t eat any of the food, I did see that there was quite a bit vegetarian food on offer. This included Rice Pilao, Kau Dal, Matar Paneer, and some Vegetable Jalfrezi. Furthermore there were a few pastries, snacks and cookies on the other side of the counter. There was also more than enough comfortable seating on offer, and I never felt that the lounge was crowded. I heard about there being nap rooms and showers available in the lounge, but did not use either. Service and hospitality were just fantastic in this lounge with staff constantly asking if I wanted something drink, eat or read. It was a bit over the top, but no other airline does it like Air India.

Air India Business Class – 777-300ER (DEL-HYD)

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Comments from my dad:

  1. Seat Comfort – I thought seat comfort was actually way better than both my United and Lufthansa flights the previous day. The seats didn’t feel all that private, but they certainly were more spacious especially when comparing it to Lufthansa’s where the cubby hole where you put your feet is ridiculously small. I love that Air India has adjustable air nozzles for every seat, which is lacking in other carriers. Cabin temperature is very cool and comfortable.
  2.  Entertainment – Extremely poor across the board. For a flight that originates and ends in Hyderabad, the selection of Tollywood (Telugu) movies is limited to 2 outdated movies. There was a decent selection of Bollywood items, but nothing close to what Singapore or Emirates offer on their aircraft, which is a shame because most of Air India’s passengers are of Indian origin or descent. The selection of Hollywood movies and English TV shows is equally pathetic. No wonder people like to fly Emirates to India!
  3. Service – Air India does well with its on board service again. I was always attended to throughout the 2 hour flight and the crew were always polite and courteous. The cabin was empty on this flight e so I can’t be sure if it is always this way.
  4. Food – I elected to sleep through most of this flight so I didn’t get to try much. I did have Air India’s Signature Lemon Drink and dessert, which were both really good.
  5. Overall – For a two hour flight from Delhi to Hyderabad, this flight is easily the best way to get between the two cities. I was very much impressed with the service and food, but felt like they could maintain the cabin at a better condition (there were a few stains on some seats).

 

Plaza Premium Lounge – Hyderabad Intl Airport

Comments from my dad: I believe my son wrote about this lounge before or is going to post his review soon so I’ll just say that this is one of the nicest contract lounges in India. There is ample amount of seating, the food quality is good (especially at breakfast time), and they have a good selection of hot and cold beverages. The staff are very attentive and were nice enough to come find me when my flight was boarding.

Teja (me): “I’ll post the review here in a short while”

 

Air India First Class (HYD-DEL-ORD)

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Croissant, Raspberry Yogurt, Sambhar, fresh fruits, Poha (Yellow item on plate), and mini vegetable Utthapams
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Taj Chocolates, Broccoli Soup, Plain Yogurt, and Bread

Comments from my dad:

  1. Hyderabad Ground Service  – A little embarrassing and disappointing at the same time. In the departures area in Hyderabad, the First Class line was being used to check in other passengers and I was forced to wait. The agent apologized for the experience and I didn’t really mind waiting, but it sort of defeats the purpose of having the separate line. It is nice to have an escort get you through security faster, but I felt a little embarrassed when the agent just guided me to the front of the line each time. The looks you get aren’t exactly pleasing, and the lady escorting me even had to argue with the security agent to allow me to cut. The security guy apparently hadn’t gotten the memo about first class passengers and ended up saying that this was a “one time exception.”  Furthermore, after the agent dropped me off at the Plaza Premium lounge, she said that someone would be there to escort me the aircraft. This never happened and I was sitting in the lounge waiting until the lounge attendant was kind enough to tell me that my flight was leaving! And when I finally got to the boarding area, I had to line up behind all the other economy class and business class passengers for nearly 20 minutes to hop on board since there is no fork in the bridge.
  2. Delhi Ground Service – In Delhi, the flight crew politely requested that I head to the lounge, while they ready the aircraft for the flight to Chicago. From there on out it was an over the top nice experience. Two people were waiting for me on the jet bridge holding a sign with my name. One of the agents insisted on rolling my carry on while the other walked in front of me, clearing the way for us. It was a bit weird to feel like you are surrounded with two secret service agents, but it went very smoothly. There was no trouble at security and I was seated in the lounge within 5 minutes. The lounge attendants were again very attentive and very eager to help. After about an hour or so, I was again escorted back to the aircraft by another two people.
  3. Chicago Ground Service – I was surprised to find an Air India agent waiting for me upon getting off in Chicago. Though she really didn’t serve any purpose except walking next to me. She didn’t even offer to help with bags at baggage claim so I am assuming she was there to help me cut the immigration line? 🙂 I didn’t need this BTW because I had Global Entry.
  4. Seat Comfort –  Maybe not as good as the top tier airlines such as Emirates, Singapore, Lufthansa, or Cathay, but definitely better than all the others (BA, AA etc.). Privacy wasn’t that great though since it wasn’t exactly an enclosed suite. But there really is nothing to complain about because I had a nice restful sleep for a large part of the journey.
  5. Entertainment – Extremely poor across the board. For a flight that originates and ends in Hyderabad, the selection of Tollywood (Telugu) movies is limited to 2 outdated movies. There was a decent selection of Bollywood items, but nothing close to what Singapore or Emirates offer on their aircraft, which is a shame because most of Air India’s passengers are of Indian origin or descent. The selection of Hollywood movies and English TV shows is equally pathetic. No wonder people like to fly Emirates to India!
  6. Service – Service was outstanding from door to door and on the ground in Delhi. The crew always made sure that I was satisfied throughout the flight and above all made sure that First Class were allowed to get off the plane before anyone else. I do appreciate this because it can sometimes turn into a free for all on other airlines like British Airways and Emirates (especially on flights to/from India). If I was asked what is the best feature of the airline, I would say that it is the hospitality.
  7. Food – Again Air India gets it all right. The menu had a great number of vegetarian dishes, western and Indian. It was nothing terribly fancy, but was very tasty. I like that Air India places substance above style in this regard. They now how an Indian Vegetarian meal should taste and execute it quite well. The plain yogurt was some of the best I have had in recent times (I know what you are thinking – it’s an Indian thing) and the broccoli soup was exceptionally good.
  8. Drinks – I don’t like alcoholic drinks so I was not bothered at all by their rather poor champagne selection or something like that. Others will find this very disappointing, but I hear that it still beats out all the U.S based airlines.
  9. Overall – The hospitality, ground experience in Delhi, and food selection for vegetarians is simply some of the best one can find in the sky. The entertainment system, ground experience in Hyderabad, and lack of lounge access in Chicago, despite having a connecting flight in United First on the same ticket, highlights the details that can shift this experience from good to great. Let me say one more thing: Indian airports need separate lanes for premium class passengers and not just have people cut lines. This creates a great amount of animosity among other passengers and embarrassment for the traveler being escorted to the front.

 

General comments about Air India – If Air India were to get its act together in terms of business model and certain in flight services, there should be no market for Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar. Let’s highlight the fact here that Air India Economy has the best seat pitch of any airline flying internationally @ ~32-33 inches and has the least crowded configuration in that cabin at 3-3-3. Yet people prefer to travel Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar among others. This tells you first of all just how poor the entertainment system selection is on those long haul routes, and second of all how unreliable the experience can be at times (during delays etc). If the airline were to match the entertainment offered by Emirates or Singapore, assure customers that they will be taken care of in the event of a delay, and maybe refresh the hard product a bit, it could be a 5 star airline.

After that they can easily transform New Delhi into an international hub by offering multiple daily departures from popular U.S destinations and late night onward connections to major Indian cities. Their 787 fleet should be able to service interior U.S destinations as well such as IAH (home of Star Alliance partner United).

This is a tall order as long as the airline continues to offer bureaucrats, over entitled elites, and even employees complimentary upgrades instead of selling premium seats. It’s sad how an airline with a great potential continues to live under a bureaucratic cloud of inefficiency, but with the new government and the airline joining Star Alliance maybe there are sunnier days ahead.

What do you think about Air India? We would love to hear your comments.