As it stands today, India is the world’s fastest growing economy with a projected real GDP growth rate of around 7.6 percent in 2016. Last year Indian tourism grew by more than 10 percent and the industry now makes up ~10% of GDP and accounts for more than 8 million jobs. As experts tell us, this is India’s time to shine.
Unfortunately, the very face of this vast, and energetic nation, Air India, is wrought with problems and not so simple imperfections. As many of you very well know, I’ve written previously about the rather questionable state of India’s flag carrier here, and here. At the same time, I also noted just how much hope there is for the airline when I wrote about my dad’s experience flying Air India, early last year. So I try to be fair in my analysis of the airline on the whole, and only hope that one day it will become an airline that people are proud to fly.
Anyway getting to the point: my recent experience with no less than three Air India flights left an extremely sour taste in my mouth. I’ll have a full trip report later on, but I just had to clear my conscience of what is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
- Service was way better than anything a legacy or low cost carrier in the U.S offers. The flight attendants were all extremely polite and courteous throughout all my flights. There was the exception of one, which I will talk about later.
- You’ll never go hungry. Air India offers an inflight meal even on 50 minute domestic flights in economy.
- As the state owned carrier, the airline seems to get priority landing and takeoff spots at New Delhi Airport. This is especially important during the fog ridden Delhi winters.
- Air India has the best seat pitch of any airline in INTERNATIONAL economy @ 34 inches. However they do not appear to want to market this properly.
- AI operates out of T3 in New Delhi so all flights get air bridges. And there are tons of food, retail, and lounge options throughout the terminal.
- Air India also has the most generous baggage allowance among the domestic carriers in India. This is especially useful for international travelers as those costly baggage fees can add up quite quickly.
- Sub par on-time performance. When I was flying to Udaipur there was an unexplained 3 hour delay in New Delhi. 2 hours into the delay they attributed it to connecting passengers being able to make the flight. But it really it appeared like they were just stalling until the crew arrived to operate the flight. Complete waste of my time in the cramped seat.
- A whole array of non-functioning items: tray tables, seat monitors, faucet in the restroom according to a fellow passenger who dared venture that far.
- Stains everywhere. Air India’s choice of red carpet for aircraft flooring and colorful cloth for seats is an extraordinarily poor choice. You can pretty much see anything that has been dropped on the floor since the last refurbishment, which was probably a long while back.
- Completely broken seats. On my flight from Delhi to Udaipur and back, every third seat was broken on the aircraft. By broken I mean that these seats were either permanently reclined at 60 degrees or angled at an uncomfortable 45 degrees. When I explained the problem to the flight attendant, she pretty much ignored me, and came back to yell at me about my seat not being in the upright position.
- While taking a picture of the broken seat, a FA came by and demanded that I delete all my pictures or risk being deplaned. I didn’t want to end up in Matthew’s situation and so I complied immediately. This is also the reason why I have a limited number of pictures of the interior. These two pictures of me in the broken seat are courtesy of my dad:
- Duct tape is Air India’s elixir of choice. They pretty much taped any crack, or broken part back on. This was not just restricted to the domestic A320s, but also the 777, which flies from Chicago to Hyderabad.
Here are some other items that will be duct taped in the coming future:
- Forget about looking out the window. Most of the domestic flights I was on had windows which hadn’t been cleaned in ages. The 777 was slightly better, but no way you can take a decent picture from one of those windows.
- The Indian government needs to either borrow cash to make aircraft refurbishments/renovations or sell off fractions of the airline to private groups so that they can make the necessary changes.
- Offer inflight food as an extra, rather than have it be a part of the fare. Other product improvements are more important than this at the moment!
- Use a seat cover material that is easier to clean and less likely to stain. Maybe a synthetic leather of some kind?
While the items listed under “The Bad” category can sometimes be forgiven and attributed to normal wear and tear, the other line items brought into question whether Air India takes shortcuts anywhere else. Most importantly: aircraft maintenance? Though I never felt unsafe at any point during the flight, it does beg the question of whether Air India has duct taped anything important for flight back on temporarily.
Simply put no Indian or foreigner, for that matter, prefers to fly Air India. There is a reason why the Big 3 Carriers of the Middle East dominate the aviation landscape.
This cannot continue to be the flag carrier of a nation with as great potential as India. Indian hospitality has nothing to show for itself because of these shortcomings in hard product.
What is your experience with Air India? What do you think needs to be done with Air India? And on a side note, have you noticed an increased number of Indian flags at landmarks around the country?