India’s debt-riddled national carrier may not have the best reputation. In fact, the CEO’s message on page 3 of the Air India in-flight magazine even acknowledges that “at times our services fall short of your expectations”. So, just how bad could Air India Economy class be for a one-hour domestic flight? I decided to find out…
|Route||Jaipur (JAI) to Delhi (DEL)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A321|
|Class of travel||Economy|
|Route on-time performance||70% (my flight arrived 12 minutes late)|
This flight cost $60 for a one-way Economy class ticket. For what it’s worth, I was unable to book on the Air India website despite many attempts and ended up having to use a travel agent.
I’m sorry to say that the airport experience in Jaipur was terrible. Although, in fairness, Jaipur is not a hub airport for Air India and some of the problems I experienced were not unique to the airline.
Before I could enter the airport terminal, I had to show my ticket, ID and get my suitcase x-rayed. (This is a standard procedure at all Indian airports.) Once inside the airport, I had to queue for 15 minutes to get my suitcase x-rayed again. This time, a security sticker was placed on my bag so that I could check it in.
There were only three check-in counters open, meaning I waited for half an hour in the queue to check in. After ten minutes in the queue, I think I was even further back in the line than when I started thanks to several queue-jumpers. One of the lines was marked as “executive class”, and as a Star Alliance Gold member I should have been able to use this. But the signage was useless as this was not being enforced whatsoever, and this queue was just as long (and slow) as the others.
I was informed at check-in that as a “gold card holder” I was entitled to 50% off an upgrade to Business class, which I could have for 4,500 rupees (around $92). It was only a short flight, so I declined.
I was handed a lounge invitation and cleared security. I tried following the terminal signs to the “C.I.P. Lounge”, but it was nowhere to be found! I scoured the entire terminal twice and could not find any lounge. In the end, it didn’t matter because it took so long to check in that the flight was almost boarding.
The first boarding announcement was a combined call for “business class, gold card holders and rows 20-32”. There was a huge queue and priority boarding was not enforced. I almost felt like I was flying on Qantas for a moment.
The Hard Product
On the Air India Airbus A321, there are 3 rows of Business class recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration. This is followed by 29 rows of Economy in a standard 3-3 configuration. Although the cabin looked a bit worn and had not been cleaned that well from the previous flight, I did like the bright red and orange colour scheme.
Air India advertises that it offers the most legroom in Economy class of any domestic airline in India. I can believe this, as the legroom was actually quite reasonable at 31-32 inches.
However, the seat was extraordinarily uncomfortable to actually sit in. There was almost no padding in the seat back, and I had a sore back after barely five minutes. It was tolerable for a one-hour domestic flight, but this aircraft had also been used on an overnight flight from the Middle East that same day. That would have been a truly uncomfortable experience in Economy class!
The Air India A321 had seat-back in-flight entertainment screens fitted at each seat, but these were not operational and most had been covered over with a cloth covering. There was no other entertainment except for the in-flight magazine.
The Soft Product
The Air India cabin crew mostly looked miserable and did not smile. The lady sitting in front of me did not fasten her seatbelt for the entire flight, and the crew did not notice or say anything.
After take-off, there was an announcement about the usual safety stuff, as well as an advertisement for the Flying Returns frequent flyer program, the Air India website and a reminder to “please keep the washrooms clean”.
There was no cabin service of any kind, nor were food or drinks available for sale. This could be due to the short flight time, though. I believe Air India serves meals on longer flights.
Quite honestly, there was nothing enjoyable about this flight. At least it was faster than the train!
We arrived at a stand-off bay in Delhi and had to be bussed into the terminal. I think the only real benefit I got from my Star Alliance status on this flight was a priority tag on my luggage… yet I still waited nearly an hour for my luggage to arrive.
Air India A321 Economy Class
Air India got me to my destination (almost) on time, for a relatively good price. That’s pretty much the extent of the service provided. This was not an enjoyable flight.