Often do you see their billboards all across Mumbai city their slogans on most of the English and business news channels in India, advertising the JFK non-stop flights and at the same time literally begging you to , "Come try the new Air India"
Welcome to my Trip Report on board what seems to be Air India's flagship route in this whole rebranding process, which takes you the realms of what can only be described as an adventure.
Sadly owing to the recession in global markets a lot of manufacturing based units especially in western countries were shutting shop as a result of lack of liquidity.
One such unit had a few machines and much desired spare parts related to our industry, so after formalising the deal , the date for loading the machines and spare parts would be told us ,giving us a short periods notice to buy our tickets.
Since the decision was last minute owing to the circumstance it was decided to take either of the non-stops to JFK or EWR from BOM, and then rent a car and drive down to Auburn, PA and Holyoke MA.
Air India quoted a fare of INR 48,000 [1000 USD] whereas CO quoted a whopping INR 85,000 [1850 USD] for the same days. Cheapest fares at the time were on EK QR and EY the middle eastern heavy weights quoting from 39,000 to 42,000 [800-900 USD range] , but it dint make sense to take a 3 hour flight in the wee hours of the morning to one of their hubs waiting for 2-4 hours and arriving at JFK all tired after flying another 14 hours in the middle of the afternoon and then driving 300 miles to reach our destinition
Well having heard a lot about the "new Air India" and their 77LRs, it wasnt a hard choice to make.
This flight would have a lot of firsts for me
First time on a 777-200 LR
First time Long Haul on Air India
First time International on Air India
First time to JFK, despite having been to NYC before i had come and gone through LGA
Also this would be my longest non-stop flight
13th/14th June 2009,
I prebooked 2 aisles and 1 window seat 12 hours before our departure , there is a reason i highlight this point especially "12 hours before dept"
We reached the Airport well in time and were dropped off amongst a pleasantly surprising organised drop off point [people who travel frequently through BOM will be well aware of how chaotic the ride to the airport alone can get]
On this trip i am joined by my father and my uncle [who also happens to be our business agent].
The first impressions of the terminal were a lot better than 4 months before ,and also surprisingly the baggage screening line moved very efficiently and within no time we were at the check in counters.
Check in was not much of a hassle except he took way too long to check us in., he did however mention that the flight was full,without much difficulty we cleared immigration and security check in.
Owing to my uncles Senator Status with LH we were allowed into the newly built Lufthansa Senator lounge , this had the traditional Grey Blue and Yellow ambience of LH and the first class section we were seated had a snack and desert counter along with a bar.
It was way better than any of the other lounges i have seen in India,I helped myself to a couple of sandwiches and 2 cups of coffee as i intended to stay awake for the first 6-7 hours of the flight in order to counter jet lag.
Soon it was time for boarding and we proceeded towards our gate, where there was yet another security check,.
There was a serious line to get onto the aircraft owing to the loads of the aircraft. My father and uncle tried to cut into the line i just told them "we are gonna be on that tube for the next 16 odd hours wats the rush" we waited for everyone to go and then soon boarded.
Photo © Vivek Manvi
Photo © Gordon Gebert JR
Registration:VT-ALA, Andhra Pradesh, C/N 610
Departure Airport: Chatrapati Shivaji International[BOM],terminal 2B
Arrival Airport:John F Kennedy Airport, Terminal 4,
No. of Passengers: 220 19 Crew
We ended up being seated on the last rows of the first section of the economy cabin thanks to a deceiving seat map on their website, which showed row 27 as the last rows while this was true for the middle set, it turned out row 26 was the last row on the window sides , it was painful for me having the window seat as being on the last row it dint recline to its full potential, however my dad and uncle having aisle seats had no problem.
The FAs came around giving us an amenity kit consisting of socks and eye shades, a sharp contrast to what they used to give at one point of time
The aircraft i was on was VT-ALA , Air Indias first 772LR and their first owned 777, the aircraft that had already been through 2 colourschemes, had it seats removed twice , and all this before doing its first commercial flight.
I looked outside my window and there was an interesting scene we were flanked by the DL 77LR on one side and the DL 763ER on the other side ,in a way i got a feeling that i was already in the US.
The DL 77LR soon left its gate to operate the longest non-stop flight from BOM i.e to ATL, it was replaced by a BA 744 from LHR which would coincidentaly taking my aunt and her family the same night.
5 mins after SDT we pushed back, almost without any warning as i dont remember any announcements from the captain of ground staff disembarkment etc.
The safety demo was done manually as we approached A4.
We had a powerful takeoff and were soon climbing through the Mumbai skies .
Nearly 30 mins later the IFE screen was switched on , which strangely has the scroll of the 777 aircraft in the previous untouched colurscheme, it just seems the way things are going no one wants to accept the merger, even the IFE techies.
The aircraft scheme in which the 777 scroll was present on the IFE
Photo © Royal S King
I was expecting some sensible and enjoyable IFE on the "new Air India" as i intended to stay awake and at first glance i was happy seeing the variety of sub categories to choose from but once you enter the sub category the choice was rather limited and pathetic to say the least.
An example of the same is as under.
Comedy -- English --- two and a half men ,Nanny [1 episode each]
---Hindi -----Sarabhai vs sarabhai, ??? [1 episode each]
I watched a few hindi movies which i had missed as i had pathetic reviews about them, which after watching i agreed with.
A drinks service was offered just before the dinner service consisting an option only of coke,sprite or water, if you asked for anything other than that like a gingerale diet cola or juice the FAs would say its not there or say ill get it , but the fact is it never came.
Dinner was soon served.
It consisted of lemon rice and channa [grams] gravy with apple pie for desert , it was not too tasty a meal but at the same time it was'nt too bad either.
I tuned into a classic movie option and started watching the ten commandments, my dad and uncle were already fast asleep.
About 6-7 hours inflight we were presumably over eastern Europe where i dozed off for a few hours.
When i awoke i headed to the galley to stretch myself and since i was told they keep a snack cart in the galley i went to check out the options , however in the mid-galley located one row behind me there was no sign of a snack bar just a 2 litre bottle of cola, no glasses, i went back to my seat to get my old glass and opened the fresh bottle and poured myself a glass,
Just as i was getting back to my seat i saw another pax come back he obviously too could not find any glasses and i guess not having the patience to find an FA or his used glass he just took a sip straight from the bottle touching his mouth to the lid, i gave him a disgusted look, not that made a diff to him , he just took another sip.
I needed some water in order to keep myself hydrated, so i kept pressing the bell but there was no response for atleast 25 mins, so i got up yet again inconveniencing my neighbour and my father who were trying to sleep,
I walked all the way back and to my surprise could not spot a single FA, i then saw a few of them on the last row of the aircraft , not sure if they were the off duty ones, but they were snoring to all glory,
I managed to find the water dispenser some how and refilled my bottle given to me on my seat.
I tried catching a few winks for abt an hour and when i awoke i was greeted by a funny sight
The seats of my dad and uncle on row 26 and 27 due to them not being sturdy had gone fully flat from their top half , this no doubt gave my uncle and dad real good sleep, but my dads seat in particular blocked part of the entrance to the toilet, so you had quite a hilarious sight with one of the FAs trying to awaken my sleeping family. She had a ridiculous look on her face in what only looked like her most daunting task, and it was perhaps for that one moment in my life where i pretended i dint know my family, hehe
Breakfast was soon served which i ate while watching the only episode of two and a half men.
Breakfast consisted of bun croissant and a fruit bowl
A while after breakfast, i went back to the galley and gave one of the younger FAs my log book to get it filled from the captain, it was duly filled and got to my seat with a smile,
I got about 2 hours of sleep before being woken up by some light turbulence, i for one am amongst those who enjoys a bit of light turbulence
Drinks were served along with a packet of some Indian snacks , this time however the choice offered was good and i got my gingerale and there was happiness on the face of many passengers as it seems they got some alcohol this time
Lunch was served soon after the turbulence cleared , i asked for a cold beverage but all i got was an option of tea or coffee .
Lunch consisted of rice ,kofta gravy and mixed vegetables it was a lot better than dinner.
The map dint seem to be working throughout and this time when i checked it , it showed us over turkey , with just under an hour to land.
30 mins prior to landing the IFE was switched off ,and disembarkment cards were given,
Landing was pretty smooth, and it felt good to land in this country after such a long time especially an hour early.
We got through immigration without any hassle and our baggage had already arrived on the conveyor belt,
We made the customary phone calls to our families and took the sky train to the car rental stop where we had booked a Toyota Rav4 from Hertz.
Our Toyota Rav4 09
After a tiring work week, my uncle dropped me and my dad off at the Radisson broadway at NYC on a Friday evening , i then proceeded to drop my uncle and the car off at JFK, as my uncle was flying back that night itself.
I loved the look on the face of the guy at Hertz when we returned the car to him driving 1600 odd miles in about 6 days
I bid adieu to my uncle who had managed to book his aisle seat 30 hours prior to departure again i highlight this for a reason.
When i got back to the hotel, dad reminded me to book aisle seats ,however the system dint let me check in so i got the number and called up their American call center,
This is exactly what the agent told me You CANNOT book 72 hours prior to departure
I was shocked by what i had just heard and told him that on my inbound flight i had booked the seats a mere 15 hours before departure , also my uncle who was flying today had booked his seats a day before his flight. Also when i tried booking 72 hrs prior to my flight the system would report an error,
I requested him to please recheck , all he said, "there is nothing i can do" and hung up,
I was like WTF.
I told my father the incident he was amazed at the ridiculous nature of the situation and we tried again the next day this time my dad spoke, but it was to no avail, and he got the same nothing i can do response
My father just looked at me and said ,this airline will never survive with this attitude
21st June , 2009
Anyway come Sunday evening we left at around 1730 since we dint wanna take a chance at missing some aisle seats , fortunately our Ghanian taxi driver got us there in less than 40 mins, i was amazed at the shortcuts he took as just 2 evenings before me and my uncle took 2 hours to reach aided by a GPS.
We rushed to an almost empty check in counter and the swissport agent said that we already had aisle seats only they were 10 rows apart, that was ok with us as long as they were aisles,
we completed check in formalities , my father was adamant to speak to the manager but i convinced him it wouldnt make a dimes difference to him
I then took a few rides on the sky train just to get a few sights of the tarmac action, just as the rain started to pour, it was great seeing so many aircrafts however as the rain got heavy i began getting worried that the flight might also get delayed.
About an hour or so before boarding a lady asked us if we were on AI 140 and if so, to please proceed to security, The security line was quite busy at the time as we had full flights of SQ AI and EK departing within minutes of each other. 30 mins later we passed through security and headed to gate no. A7, where i was face to face with my aircraft VT-ALE which at the time was AIs most recent 772LR.
I was quite happy at this as i got to fly AIs first 77LR and at the time their most recent one.
I snapped a few pics of aircraft around us
Kuwait Airways 777
B6 E 190s
SQ 744 to FRA
VS 346 QR 77W
Air Europa 330
EL AL and RJ
Soon boarding was called first for families with kids and then row wise, strangely no premium passenger boarding preference.
Photo © John Padgett
Photo © Alsatian D
Registration:VT-ALE, Haryana,C/N 698
Departure Airport: John F Kennedy Airport, Terminal 4,
Arrival Airport:Chatrapati Shivaji International[BOM],terminal 2B
No. of Passengers: 220 19 Crew
After the standard boarding chaos which takes place on most flights to and from India as we tend to carry a lot more over head baggage than the average traveller, a few wannabe models came on board and since they were perhaps amongst the last to check in they were made to seat randomly and that too most of them on the middle seats, the one which came and sat next to me literally demanded the aisle seat from me, i gave her a nasty reply which put her in her place--- i wont mention what was the conversation that transpired but lets just say it wasnt pretty
We settled down and i could see the FA [by FA i mean Fat Aunty ] trying to come down the aisle, this one needed to walk a bit sideways to fit down the aisle.
The captain came on the PA and introduced himself to us and gave us a good amount of information on our routing and when and what to expect, soon pushback took place but just as we pushed back, the weather began worsening, the captain came on the PA once again describing the weather situation and telling us that we are number 28 for departure ,i was like, that would mean atleast an hours delay
Meanwhile this time they played the safety demo on the LCD screens as opposed to it being done manually on AI 141,at first i thought i would catch up on a few winks for about 3 hours and remain awake for the next 12-13 hours in order to counter jet lag.,
but what was strange is that after the hours delay was announced the FAs dint make any further rounds and people were talking on their cell phones quite freely especially the pest of my seat neighbour, who found it the perfect time to have a fight with her boyfriend/lover which lasted almost 40 mins,ruining my nap time and with no IFE playing and being on an aisle seat and what seemed a hilarious argument at first but got pretty monotonous, all in all i was quite fed up.
So i began looking around and noticed that despite being its newest 772LR at the time and a fairly less used aircraft the seat plastics were coming out ,see for yourselves
Notice the brown plastic linings on this one as opposed to the other 2
For an aircraft that was not even 16 months old and does not see that much commercial service, it was pretty pathetic state.
The captain however kept giving us updates which were informative and to me were much appreciated.
After nearly an hour and 10 mins after pushback we were rolling down runway.04L
I quickly managed to get a few winks almost 2 hours after takeoff, awoke just in time for dinner
Dinner consisted of rice and dal with egg plant in gravy it was not too great just about edible
the FA [Fat aunty] was having a difficult time with the food trolley and about 3 rows in front of me she lost control of it and it came rolling down and crashed against my seat just where my elbow would have been had i not been sleeping or more importantly not looking in her direction, given the weight and material of the trolley it would have easily bruised my arm. She came and took my the trolley not even an apology infact tried to avoid eye contact with me
By that time i dint even expect it as for it was a continuation of the pathetic service i received on AI 141, which just continued to get worse. Also the fact that on this flight as well they dint respond to call requests despite pressing the call button multiple times, this opinion was also shared by my neighbours ,infact many a time i went down to the aft galley to get water, there was no one in the galley or the crew rest seats, however this time there was a cart with a bottle of water,coke, sprite and glasses also there were some of the worst tasting tomato and cheese sandwiches but atleast this time there was an equipped cart.as opposed to AI 141
I managed to get my log book signed after finding one of the more approachable FAs., which came duly filled with a nice note from the captain,
I fought with the goddess of sleep throughout the rest of the flight by watching some classic English and bollywood movies on the rather inadequate IFE system considering the duration of the flight., also the sky map dint work at all on this route
Breakfast service came and went by which was exactly the same tray from our AI 141 flight consisting of a croissant and bun with some fruit,
I continued watching a true English classic Benhur which had a run time of nearly 4 hours so atleast this was one option that help pass time,
Most of the rest of the flight continued with regular appreciated updates from the captain, although i must mention one sort of funny incident when i was waiting in line for the toilet one elderly gentleman came to the mid-galley asking the FA for some alcoholic drink, the FA tells him that the bar was closed, he looks at me first in distress and tells her that there is atleast 3-4 hours for arrival how can you close the bar, she tells him that at your age you should not be drinking so much, both me and the gentleman had that WTF look on our faces, however just as he was gonna yell at her or something one of the male FAs sort of dissolved the situation by making the man a much needed drink.
Meal service began about 2 hours before scheduled arrival time,
This consisted of mixed veg rice with some gravy it was better than the dinner service though
About 10 mins before SAT, it seemed we were already on approach path to BOM, but just then our captain came on the PA, and said that due to heavy rains and diversion from AMD , we have been told to circle for about an hour, there was a unanimous groan
Needless to say it felt as if it was gonna be even more boring after spending close 17 hours in the tube as the IFE had already been shutdown,
Fortunately as luck would have we dint have to circle as much as announced earlier,
And we touched down at 2300 hrs BOM time around 35 mins late, much to the relief of most people on board.
After completing the now standard swine flu procedure at BOM, immigration and customs our baggage seemed to be one of the first to come out, and from the aircraft to my car it took me less than 18 mins, a record for me at BOM perhaps it was some sort of compensation for spending 17 odd hours in that tube.
AI 141 BOM-JFK
Check In: 8/10
Crew : 4/10
IFE: 5/10 its ok for an 8-9 hour sector not longer than that
AI 140 JFK-BOM
Check In: 8/10
Crew: 2/10 --- the 2 points are purely for the captain ,otherwise by far the worst service i have recieved from a seemingly reputed carrier
The nightmares of colleagues and a few fellow A.net members about flying Air India were true, but what is most unfortunate is that even on their flagship route and product the service levels were dismal to say the least especially for an airline thats trying to re-establish a fading reputation. Despite some people raving about the non-stop service there are many who crib about it in the same manner as i have done, most of us will be even willing to overlook the fact that they dint clean the toilets in the mid galley on both flights but all we expect is some decency in service levels,
Given the choice would i fly AI international again, the answer would be hell no, but then again if time and money are at stake i may just bite my tounge.
However i would like to end this TR with a quote from what my father said that i mentioned above
"this airline will never survive with this attitude "
As usual any comments/suggestions/criticisms are more than welcome