The internet is littered with unflattering trip reports about Air India’s business class, with travellers complaining of surly service, out-of-date equipment and poor quality catering.
After waiting to step foot on a long-haul plane for nearly six months, I was happy to take the opportunity to fly the national carrier’s Boeing 777 - an aircraft usually used for much longer, international routes - on the short hop from Delhi to Mumbai. Was the business class experience as bad as expected?
Flight: AI 537
Delhi (DEL) T3 - Mumbai (BOM) T2
Date: August 23, 2020
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Cabin: Business class
Booking the flight
My original economy class booking was made with an online travel agent just a couple of days before travel. Later, there was a change in plan and so I decided to reschedule the flight, but Air India had other plans and I had to go through a lot of hassle while trying to communicate my concerns with them.
I had to eventually let go of the entire original booking amount, only because Air India wasn’t competent enough to provide a better service.
Since I was eager to try out Air India’s long-haul product, I decided to once again book the same journey a few days later, though this time around with Air India itself.
My new booking was again in economy class, and I upgraded it to business class at the check-in counter at Delhi airport. The cost was INR 5,099 (USD 70) for the initial booking in economy, and INR 7,840 (USD 107) for the upgrade.
My experience at Delhi airport
I arrived at the airport at around 3.45pm for my 5pm flight, and had to show the ticket and ID proof before entering the airport, as is normal practice. Only this time, the official was checking it from behind a protective screen.
I headed straight to Air India's business class counter at terminal 3 and got the upgrade and check-in process complete. Post which I rushed towards Air India’s Maharaja lounge, as I was running short on time and I wanted to grab a quick bite before getting on the plane.
Sadly, Maharaja lounge wasn’t serving any food, unlike their next door neighbours, Plaza Premium Lounge, who were serving a full spread of veg and non-veg platter. You could either get access to this lounge with select cards or pay INR 1,414 (USD 19).
Since I didn’t have the luxury of time, I chose to give it a pass and had a quick bite from McDonald’s (located on the same floor).
My experience at Delhi airport was the complete opposite of what I had at Chennai airport while I was waiting for the Vistara A321neo on the first day of commercial service. This was more lively and a lot of shops were open here.
My boarding gate was 28B, and on my way to the gate I managed to get a few good pictures of some aircraft, including the plane I would be flying today.
The boarding was normal, there was a separate queue for premium class passengers and there was only one person (a pilot) before me in the line.
We boarded the flight using the front gate, and passed through the first class cabin, which consists of just four seats, set up across one row in a 1-2-1 configuration on this aircraft.
This product features fully-flat beds and I was impressed with how everything looked. The seats did not look dated and the cabin actually reminded me a little of Air France's La Premiere first class (though Air India's version is obviously not as luxurious).
Air India B777-300ER business class review
The moment I stepped inside the cabin, I could judge how outdated the product was, by the choice of colour and overall design of the hard product.
I think Air India urgently needs to start adapting to the changing times and build a personality. I hope the privatisation will let us see the glory days and the charming character of the company again.
The business class cabin is divided by a galley into two sections - the one in front where I was seated has three rows, while the one behind only has two. Business class on this aircraft was in a 2-3-2 configuration, meaning a total of 35 seats.
The only silver lining about this flight was the fact that I was able to meet and chat with a couple of veteran Air India pilots and gain some useful insights into the world of aviation from them.
There was no service on this flight, which was made clear with an announcement at the beginning, stating that there will be no blankets, cushion and IFE provided. Eating on the flight was also prohibited then, which has now thankfully changed as the in-flight meals are once again permitted to be served.
The flight took off at 5.20pm, and I began checking out the various features of the seat, which I initially felt was pretty comfortable and clean as well (I mention that because people have complained in the past about seeing dirt accumulated on their seats).
That happiness was only short lived, as I was quite disgusted by the state of the tray table compartment. It was very dirty, and moreover a plastic sticker came out flying as I pulled the tray out.
The tray table was small and in a bad condition, there were several dents on it which made it evident that the maintenance wasn’t up to the mark.
The IFE system (including the controller) was quite old, and the IFE controller compartment in the side handle said a similar story like the tray table’s, though not as bad.
Other than the custom seat position to meet your preference, there are three select positions on the control panel which you can choose from.
Air India states on its website that these seats are “180 degree” fully flat bed, though that’s not the case. It remains slightly inclined.
The privacy screens between the seats is retractable and does the job when the seat is reclined.
There is a plug point and a USB port provided at the seat, along with a ‘push to use’ glass holder.
There isn’t any storage space at the seat, other than the pocket in front of you. I stored the two water bottles over there, which were provided at the start of the flight (the only service I received).
My journey was overall a comfortable one, including a smooth take off and landing, thanks to the experienced Air India pilots at the front.
I didn’t get a chance to lie down during this flight, as I got talking to the captains flying with me and the two-hour flight soon passed. I was lucky to have such nice company during this flight, which made it a memorable one for me.
All the passengers deboarded from the second gate upon arrival in Mumbai, while premium class passengers were given priority.
I was able to take a look inside the economy cabin, which didn't look much fun considering the basic seating and out-of-date IFE equipment. I have added some pictures here…
My experience of Air India’s 777 business class product was alright for my short flight from Delhi to Mumbai, but it’s important to remember that this is the same aircraft used on much longer routes (such as those to the US) and I wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about spending 12 hours in this seat.
It was a huge disappointment to see that there was no regard for customer’s comfort. Many of the business class seats including mine, were not in the best of shapes - one can only imagine what it must be like for the economy passengers.
Speaking to the captains flying with me, I got a sense that not much has changed in terms of flying, other than the precautions taken for Covid in the cockpit. Both of the pilots however felt that the privatisation of the airline will bring about a lot of positive changes.
With this kind of experience, I honestly don’t feel very driven to choose Air India again, however I would like to fly it on a longer route when the services are back on, purely for the sake of reviewing the full product.
Have you flown Air India’s long-haul business class product? What are your thoughts about it?