It's not everyday that you get to fly the iconic Boeing 747 on a domestic route. With limits on the number of flights allowed to operate to West Bengal from Mumbai and Delhi, Indian airlines have been using their long-haul planes to boost capacity on flights to Kolkata.
I was recently able to book myself a seat on an Air India jumbo jet, flying from Kolkata to Delhi, and was excited to experience the "Queen of the Skies".
Kolkata (CCU) - Delhi (DEL)
Date: September 21, 2020
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Cabin: Business class
I booked the ticket five days in advance, directly with Air India on their website. My initial booking was in economy, with the charges coming to INR 4,553 (USD 61). I later upgraded to business class at the Air India check-in counter at the airport at a cost of INR 7,840 (USD 106).
My experience at Kolkata airport was a bad one, as I was already running late due to traffic. On my way to the airport I decided to do the web check-in, but the Air India website showed ‘System down’, and asked me to call customer care (who asked me to do it on the website itself).
We all know how AMAZING Air India is at providing top-notch service, hence I decided to just take help from one of the Air India employees at the airport. I have seen them present at Mumbai and Delhi airports, but there were none at Kolkata airport.
I was stopped from entering the airport due to the incomplete web check-in, and was sent to a different gate where there were airline kiosks available. I jumped to the front of the queue by mentioning that I needed an upgrade to business.
Another delay was waiting for me at the Air India counter. After I confirmed with them that the aircraft was a Boeing 747, I asked them to upgrade me, though the process again took a lot of time because their system was down. At this point I was cursing myself for expecting Air India to process things smoothly for once.
By the time I got my business class boarding pass in hand, the boarding was already half done. I hurried to the gate, and on the way I managed to click a few pictures of the airport.
I was shocked at what I saw at my boarding gate (gate 16). People were swarming over there and no social distancing was being practiced. I clicked a picture of this situation and soon after was stopped by an Air India employee who asked me to delete that picture "due to security reasons" (note that this wasn’t even airport staff or a security personnel).
Dear Air India, how about you start focusing on things that actually matter? Like making sure of people’s safety during a pandemic. You are the national airline, and one would at least expect you to implement the government regulations well.
Air India B747 business class review
From the outset, I'll say there was nothing special about flying business class. I might as well have flown economy and would have received a similar experience - except for the seat and a really nice crew member, Sathish.
After I showed my boarding pass at the gate, I was asked to wait behind two economy passengers while they completed their boarding process.
I was greeted by a couple of crew members with blank faces and a full economy cabin, before I took the stairs to go to the upper deck, which is where the business class cabin is located on this aircraft.
Air India's four Boeing 747-400 planes have a total of 22 business class seats. I found a meal box sitting on my seat (15A) and, after settling in, I placed the box on the storage locker next to the seat.
I think this is a very poor design, even for old standards. I am probably missing something here, because it might have other purposes (like when it flies VIP guests), but from a commercial flight’s perspective, that is poor utilisation of space.
The seat felt narrower than the one on Air India’s B777-300ER, even though this aircraft can easily hold the most spacious business class seats out there.
Business class on this aircraft is in a 2-2 configuration (just like the first class cabin on the lower deck!). I was served water as I got in my seat, and this was the only service provided on this flight other than the meal box.
The IFE system wasn’t operational on this flight, neither were any of the charging points (which forced me to stay back at Delhi airport post arrival, as I needed to charge my phone).
The plane took off on time following a very smooth take off, and a long one as well. I felt like it must have taken nearly the entire runway. Once the seat belt signs were turned off, I decided to take the meal provided.
The meal box was all veg and contained a roll, a puff, one small packet of butter cookies (2 pcs in the packet), a small piece of cake, a Frooti, and a small bottle of water.
I had the puff and the roll, which wasn’t anything special, and the cake didn’t appeal to me enough as the packaging seemed a little cheap, so I chose not to give it a try.
After finishing my meal, I checked out the features of the seat. There was a plug point, a USB and ethernet port, and a reading lamp. Though, none of them worked. The equipment had clearly seen better days.
The seat controls had three fixed positions, along with custom controls.
Although I didn’t get to put the seat to its maximum recline during the flight, I did manage to click a picture post-touchdown. As you can see, it is far from lie-flat.
Since the IFE system wasn’t functional and there wasn't any service to provide, I had a nice chat with Sathish. I politely requested him to show me into the first class cabin post-touchdown, and he obliged.
This was my first time seeing the first class cabin on the Air India 747 - and it was pretty underwhelming. The only advantage to choosing first over business class on the 747 is the huge amount of space between seats pairs. Other than that, I wouldn't want to spend a lot of money or a stash of miles to fly this hard product.
I was disappointed with what I experienced on this domestic journey on Air India’s Boeing 747 jumbo jet, perhaps because my expectations for the long-haul product were higher.
As the global trend suggests, it is not long before these jumbo jets are taken out of service - so I am glad I was lucky to at least fly the long reigning "Queen of the Skies", even if it was for a short-haul flight.
Privatisation remains a big question for the national carrier. As far as I'm concerned, it can't come quick enough as Air India seems to be in MAJOR decline.
Have you flown Air India's Boeing 747 business class? What are your thoughts?