My girlfriend alwaus wanted to go to NY, and within a few days of havng the conversation, the Daily Express (not normally my chosen paper) had an offer: £99 return on Air-India! We booked up immediately, tickets arrived, which I promptly lost. I arranged TOD (Tickets On Departure) for the substitutes.
We arrived at Heathrow T3 in plenty of time but there was a holdup in having the tickets reissued. This left us amongst the last to check-in, and even though we were offered pre-assigned window seats, all we could get were an aisle seat and the one next to that on the middle section (D and E), at the rear of Zone D, in seats that wouldn't recline due to the bulkhead behind us. The check-in agent was the most sullen and unpleasant man it has ever been my misfortune to meet! Bastard!
Boarding was about twenty minutes late, and reasonably organised (done by rows). We got on and the interior of the aircraft - a 747-400 - was very pleasant, with ethnic patterns along the walls and brightly coloured seats. The aircraft was quite dirty on the outside but spotless on the inside. I went to the toilet, to find a big queue cos one of them had water all over the floor. I was wearing Buffalo Boots (which are like platforms) so I went anyway (it was only water, I checked). We finally pushed back forty minutes late, and the cabin crew (of which there seemed to be about 80) came around with OJ and water. After take-off into the scrubby cloud and light turbulence, the screens at the front of each cabin came to life with the Air Show, you know, moving maps, time to destination et al (during boarding they just said 'Welcome Aboard' and showed pictures of AI destinations). A printed menu was handed out and the choices included western, Indian and veggie options. I had the curry and it was AMAZING! After the meal they showed a Bollywood movie which was pretty funny (the subtitles were in English) - I woke up from a doze to see an Indian guy staring out of the screen, the subtitle reading, "How are you?" Well, great thanks!
Afternoon tea was a Samosa and more drinks, landing cards were distributed and then we were in the pattern, a few bumps in the air as we were on finals (I could just make out the inboard ailerons flapping like barn doors). The touchdown was the smoothest I have ever experienced, and we rolled out without any reverse thrust. The gate was a short walk from immigration. A near perfect flight (if only the damn seat had gone back). Window view would have been nice too.
Coming back two days later, we checked in with loads of time to spare at AI's dedicated area at the International Terminal at JFK, which is decorated with kitschy early 70s brass work on the wall and lots of tiles (great!), still didn't get a bloody window. My exhausted girlfriend left her tickets and passport at security, and an AI agent had found them and was coming our way as we headed back. The flight was another full house, and boarding was done quickly and efficiently. The nice lady in the window was going all the way to Bombay and let Sarah have the window (A) and I sat in B, while our displaced neighbour sat in C. After a shortish hold on the taxiway (saw Alitalia 747, Swissair MD11, AA and DL 767s) we were off, thundering out over Jamaica Bay and had a great view of Greater NY (couldn't make out Manhattan though). Take off roll was 47 seconds. I watched the Air Show moving map and got a bit freaked out as we circled and headed in strange directions (mostly west!). Was there a problem?
Eventually we headed northeast and crossed into Canada and began the Atlantic crossing. The dinner service was just as yummy as lunch had been a few days previously. Then another Bollywood movie started up as the lights went out. The sun came up a few hours later and Sarah took loads of photos and I filmed it with my video camera. Breakfast was a few bits of fruit and croissant, then we began a long descent. There were a few holds, all to the west of LHR with no remarkable scenary. Eventually we were on finals and landed on 9L, after a flight time of about six hours 15 mins (my record on the route is 5.15 includng one orbit over Biggin Hill on Virgin a few years back).
All in all a great airline, better than BA or any US carrier for sure. I had been warned by people who had never flown AI to watch out for pax pooing in the aisles or their seat, people fighting, trying to sleep in overhead lockers and food being inedible. This is all bullsh*t - the airline and it's passengers are just as civilised as any (much better-behaved clientele than on any British charter airline) and I wouldn't hesitate to fly them again. And each flight for £49 each way? Are you KIDDING? The best value I have ever experienced in the air! And the best curry I have ever experienced in the air OR on the ground!
fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz