This is a trip report of a vacation I took to spend Christmas and New Years in India in December 2006/January 2007. I know it is slightly outdated, and Air India no longer offers the same flight numbers, services, and inflight products as you will see in the upcoming photos. However, I think it is still kind of cool to do a retro-report, especially since I managed to dig up some good photos and I managed to sit in 3 different classes on the 4 segments of this journey. So, I hope you enjoy, and feedback is certainly welcome.
Reasons for travel:
It was time for a trip to visit friends and relatives in the mother country, and we figured Christmas break would be a good time to visit. I was traveling separately from the rest of my immediate family, since I had to leave from Chicago, while the rest of them were based in either Dallas or Philadelphia. I was excited to be able to travel long distance on my own, and so I took charge of making my booking arrangements.
Ultimately, my most economical options came down to taking Air India's direct flight ORD
(with a one stop, same plane layover in Heathrow) or Alitalia via Milan. Alitalia sounded tempting - since it would be a first timer for me and I would have loved to see the Alps in December. However, I also knew at the time that I might have the option to upgrade if I booked on Air India (sorry, I cannot disclose the reason why), so I went ahead and purchased a $1,500, r/t ticket on AI
. My routings were to go as follows:
1. Friday, December 15, 2006 - Air India 124: ORD-DEL
(direct flight, 2 hour layover in Heathrow)
2. Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - Air India 111: DEL-LHR
3. Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - Air India 125: LHR-ORD
All were operated on Boeing 747-400 aircraft.
A note about Air India
I have family members who work for Air India, and I now strongly support the nation's flag carrier for the improvements that it has made. However, 2 and 1/2 years back, AI
's product was completely in the dark ages. Purchasing a ticket on Air India, at the time, was considered a "risk." Flying from one of its U.S. destinations via its "scissors hub" at LHR
to get to any major city in India was allegedly a miserable adventure. The chaos started before the planes left the gate - the average flight was delayed 3 hours or more. The connection through Heathrow was unbearable. Passengers were forced to deplane, pass through security, and wait long hours in a designated area. Grounds staff and gate agents were supposedly very brusque with customers and unprofessional.
In the air, Y class passengers sat in a cramped, uncomfortable and tired-looking cabin on an old 747. The seats were worn and lacked decent IFE (sans the old TV
monitors throughout the cabin). Catering was decent at best, and sadly passengers were notorious for abusing the free, unlimited booze privileges that could not be found on long haul, US carrier counterparts. So, to ease the wear of the arduous journey, some would go to town with the liquor. Additional grievances included a lot of screaming babies and misbehaved children with nonchalant parents. The cleanliness of the bathrooms were appalling. Overall, it was supposed to be a, "you get what you pay for," experience.
Since then, however, I flew the AI
nonstop on the 777-200LR from JFK
and the quality of the product has improved TREMENDOUSLY. There are several TRs in the forum about their Y, J, and F class products, which I encourage you to read. This TR
is unique because it covers those three classes within 1 trip, but before Air India underwent an extreme makeover on their US product.
The check-in line at O'Hare was long, but I managed to get a seat confirmed in Y near the window. I breezed through security only to discover that the International Terminal 5 at the airport majorly blows. I had to exit to settle for a proper "meal" at McDonalds (and I do not eat fast food on a regular basis). Inside the terminal, there are merely a few duty free shops, book stores, and airline lounges, but overall it is a complete bore. The only interesting thing to do is spot the diversity of aircraft arriving in from Europe (LatAm flights leave late at night and Asia at mid-day, so I could not see any of those flights).
Anyways, at 8:45 PM
, our scheduled departure time, the gate agent was STILL nowhere to be seen. I found this hilarious. The passengers were all in the waiting area, but eventually we were informed about a gate change to we made our way over to the correct area. Turns out, the flight had JUST LANDED and we were still waiting for the aircraft to pull up to the gate. I saw the crew stroll their way in eventually, and I liked the look of the saris.
Still an hour later, we began the boarding process. I made my way to my seat in Y, and I wasn't impressed. It looked like I had a pretty uncomfortable ride ahead. The pitch was bad, the window was scratched, and the seat was not comfortable (lacking a headrest). I prayed something would happen - and God was very good to me. An air hostess came to me and asked me to collect my things and follow her - which I did, and I entered First Class for the very first time! I went ahead and took some snaps of the cabin:
a look around
at the very nose-section of the aircraft, notice no PTVs
the seat in First Class, with a lie-flat bed, lamp, other goodies
Load factor was very light, pretty much empty except for 2-3 other passengers. I was informed that the LHR
segment, however, was booked full and I would have to return to my normal seat for the following segment.
After takeoff, dinner services began. I was handed a menu, and the flight attendants came around with drink orders. I had a soda with some very good crisps (anybody recognize the name of the product in the 2nd photo?)
I have since lost the menu containing the details of the meal, but we began with a starter, which I did not care for too much.
For the main dish, I chose the lobster, which was pretty good. We were also offered options a la carte, and I went for some indian items. I was served some Chicken curry, steamed rice, Dahi (yoghurt), fresh naan and other bakery items.
The excitement continued with the fruit and cheese offerings following the main course, as well as desserts. I had a little cake, some keer (rice pudding) and fruit, which were excellent finishes to my dinner.
fruit and cheeses
After dinner, I opened up my laptop and watched a few episodes of Family Guy. Sadly, the F cabin in Air India at the time did not have a personal IFE system installed, which I found to be pretty shocking. However, since I was not a very seasoned traveler at that age and had not really enjoyed the luxury of having a PTV before, I was not too discouraged (I usually fly Lufthansa in Y to India, which also lacks advanced IFE, so I wasn't very spoiled). I'm pretty sure we could ask for personal DVD players, but I was pretty tired and satisfied at that point to wait it out.
The flight was smooth for the most part, fortunately flights from the East Coast/Chicago to Europe seem much shorter when compared to launching from Dallas (where I am originally from). About 3 hours in, I attempted to get some sleep, which I did with limited success. I think one major complaint about the Air India first class cabin is that the lie-flat bed simply lies flat...but it doesn't contour to your back or provide a really comfortable position. It was kind of like sleeping on a really comfy bench...but I'll refrain from complaining further. I was fortunate to fly First on a Y fare and by all means it was miles ahead, comfort wise, from the seat where I was originally supposed to sit.
We had some interesting turbulence over the north atlantic (which I really enjoyed, for some reason). A few hours later, I awoke to the sunlight and saw a little island...perhaps somewhere off the coast of Ireland, maybe?
The cabin was stirring and the crew turned the lights on. It did not seem like we had much time until approach into LHR
. They started hastily serving breakfast, which was actually fairly basic: a croissant, strawberry danish, and some fresh fruit.
I've flown into Heathrow several times, and I love it when the holding pattern has us flying over downtown London and West London. I got some good snaps of the city and see if you can spot the London Eye!
We touched down at Heathrow - 2 hours late - and taxied into Terminal 3. After disembarking, we walked a LONG way through the transfer area and waited forever in security lines. Once I made my way back to the gate area about 90 minutes later, I knew it would be a while before we left, simply because I'd been among the 1st off the plane and there was an entire 747 heathrow had to process that would be arriving after me.
our vessel being serviced at LHR...in its old livery
After another grueling two hours, I was finally back on board in my original seat. I did get some nice shots of LHR
We finally lifted off and had some gorgeous views of the English countryside before crossing the channel into France. I took two Dramamine and crashed until the lunch service...I opted for the non veg, which was essentially chicken tikka, mutton, basmati rice, side salad, kulfi dessert, yoghurt, and a roll. It wasn't too bad, but not the best thing ever.
For the rest of the flight, I was out like a dog. We landed in Delhi 3 hours late, much to the annoyance of my relatives who were there to retrieve me...whoops.
I wouldn't say that Indira Gandhi International Airport has made leaps and bounds since 2007, although has improved slightly in the time since then. But when I left on January 2nd, it was a chaotic mess. Fog issues had left the airport in a disaster of uncertainty with canceled flights and delays. My Dad and sis, booked on the CO
flight to EWR
, were stranded for 8 hours in that miserable airport. The inbound aircraft had been diverted to Pakistan and was sitting there until conditions improved.
Anyhow, I took an obscure flight that left at 7:30 AM
instead of the usual late night/early morning departures from India. Again, I was hoping for an upgrade, and this time...I got to sit in Executive Class, on the upper deck of a 747! I was mad stoked about this.
C Class on Air India
I wish I had taken more pictures of the cabin and the seat, but again, these are ancient photos, before I was acquainted with A.net and the concepts of TRs! Anyways, after boarding, we were given welcome juices, and I chose some delicious coconut. After takeoff, breakfast service began immediately to allow passengers to get about their business freely. I selected the masala omelet, which was delicious! It came with whipped potatoes, turkey sausage links, and a cherry tomato. I also received a fresh croissant, fruit yoghurt, and fresh cut seasonal fruit, and OJ.
The crew immediately requested that passengers close the shades to allow the cabin to rest. I got a few good hours of sleep in, and I fell in love with the seat in C Class. Unlike F, it reclined to a comfortable angle, and was cocoon-like so that I felt like I actually fit into my seat. It felt very dark in the cabin, as though we were flying through the night, and a few hours later, lunch was served.
This time, I went for the lobster in a cream sauce with roasted vegetables and marinated mushrooms. There was also a strange salad, plain yoghurt, a flan-like, custard dessert, and a dinner roll. Overall, it wasn't as good as the breakfast, but whatever.
This flight was long! But before long, we were circling over LHR
, and I saw the AI
125 flight also in the air, another 744 coming in from BOM
, headed to ORD
...which was going to be the flight for me to transfer to! Alas, I failed to get my camera out in time.
After landing, we taxied to T3
, and since the AI
111 flight was continuing onto JFK
, I had to disembark. However, strangely, unlike my inbound flight from ORD
on the way over, none of the PAX continuing to JFK
had to deplane. Lucky!
The transfer through Heathrow this time was worse than before. AI
had made all of the inbound-BOM
pax from AI
125 deplane and transition, including the ORD
-bound ones. How bizarre, I will never understand that airport.
So, this naturally resulted in ANOTHER 3 hour delay sitting at T3
in Heathrow waiting for the plane to board all of us. I paid $15 whopping dollars for a bagel sandwich in the terminal, lovely. We finally were called to board and again, I was lucky to be upgraded to C Class on the upper deck, and enjoyed some nice pineapple juice. Pretty soon we were lining up on the runway and lifted off around 3PM.
I tested out the portable DVD players on the first part of this flight and watched a little of a hindi film, but quickly grew bored and instead prepared for lunch. The meal was similar to the one they served on the inbound on Y (hahahaha, the chicken, mutton, and rice all on a fancy dish) but it tasted delicious this time! I'm weird, I guess. There was also some nice baked goods, Papad, Dahi, brownie, shrimp salad, chocolate, and a twix bar. A pretty heavy and filling lunch. Naturally, after this, I dozed off for a good 5 hours as we flew into the night across the atlantic.
Shortly prior to landing, we received a pre-arrival snack, which was like a tea service. It was pretty crummy - some seafood on sliced bread, two fried pakodas, and a fruit tart.
Luckily, as I said before, the TATL flights to ORD
and the East Coast seem way shorter and pretty soon, we were crossing over Lake Michigan and north of the gorgeous downtown skyline of Chicago into O'Hare.
Okay, I was clearly lucky with getting upgrades on 3/4 segments for this flight. I also hadn't too many experience in premium cabins to compare AI
to, but obviously the service and comfort level was much better than I had had in any other long-haul flight experience. The actual flight in Y that I did pay for was pretty rotten, and manageable thanks to travel sickness pills and jet lag. Alas, since this is an ancient TR
, there's little else to say, other than look to more recent AI
reviews to get a more updated look into their product. If you're flying out of North America on AI
, and unless you're flying out of JFK
and soon to be SFO
, sadly you have to make those awful Europe connections. I'd highly recommend the direct - it was great!
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.