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KiloRomeoDelta
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Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 3:21 am

A little introduction about me- I have been a regular reader of airliners.net for over 5 years now, started contributing only recently. This is my first trip report on a.net, so looking forward to any and all feedback :smile:

California to India Non-Stop

Image

Flight Details

Airline: Air India
Flight Number: AI 174
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200LR
Duration: 15 hr 45 min

Background​

​Ever since Air India started the first non-stop connection from the west coast of US to India in late 2015​ connecting San Francisco to Delhi, there has been a lot of curiosity about this flight.

I got a chance to try it out by a stroke of luck as AI decided to bump it up from 3X to 6X weekly in mid 2016. This opened up few seats for mileage redemption at Saver rates on United as Star Alliance partner. As soon I saw this, I transferred the required points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to United and snagged it!

At the Airport

Reached SFO airport in heavy rain almost three hours before departure time, not knowing how long the check-in queue will be since Air India had not allowed me to check-in online.

There were about 30 people in line but check in was handled very smoothly by friendly smiling Air India staff.

Tried sweet talking them into possibly getting a complimentary or cheap upgrade but no luck. AI has a fixed price counter upgrade option that costs $1200 for one-way flight. They offered me that, but not worth it.

​Boarding started on time, and contrary to general perception, it was surprisingly civil, entering the plane from two jetbridges connected to doors 1L and 2L.

Onboard

A common issue with India bound flights, especially on Air India is the circus of seat reassignment requests that happens after boarding as families who could not get seats together will go around asking solo travelers to "please adjust" and move seats. I was dreading someone eyeing my carefully picked aisle seat right behind the emergency exit but luckily no such requests were made. Phew! Saved. ​

​The Air India 777-200LR has generous legroom in Economy and the 3-3-3 layout is a blessing when today most airlines are cramming 3-4-3 on their 777s.

Image
Generous legroom in Economy class even after putting iPad and a book in magazine holder

Seat had a blanket and pillow, nice headphones, and as a pleasant surprise, a bottle of water placed already for every passenger. This is a thoughtful little gesture, usually reserved by most airlines only for Business/First class. ​

Image
AI branded pillow and blanket

As we awaited pushback, Captain Jimmy Patel came on the PA and gave a detailed pre-flight briefing explaining that we will take off to the east, climb to FL310 initially going up to FL390 eventually as the weight reduces after fuel burn and we will cover a distance of 14,000 km in 15 hours and 8 minutes.

Across the aisle, a young Indian couple​ traveling with a small baby, probably for the first time, asked for a bassinet while we were still at the gate. Crew had to explain them that it will be set up after we have reached cruise altitude. I was imagining if they put the baby in there before takeoff, when the two massive GE90 engines spool up, the baby will fly out of the bassinet!

Being right behind the exit row, I had the pleasure of overhearing the Indian uncle FA give what I thought was the most exhaustive exit row safety briefing I have ever heard. He took a full ten minutes to explain every single thing taught to them during crew training, ending with "don't worry, you won't have to do any of this as long as I am alive!"

​Bad weather, low visibility, long wait for takeoff​. In the meantime the crew turned on the mood lighting to midnight blue, in the middle of the day!​

Eventually, had an unusual departure by SFO standards- instead of taking off to north-west from Runway 28L/28R, we took off to the south-east from Runway 10L, a first for me!

Immediately after takeoff, the lead attendant decided to remind everyone how proud they are to be a part of Star Alliance and that we can travel to 1300 destinations in 200 countries with Air India's partners, followed by the same announcement in pure chaste Hindi.

Huge line ​formed ​at ​the ​loos as soon as seat belt sign ​was ​turned off​.​

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The loo is in need of some care.

​Once ​at cruise​ altitude, the​ mood lighting ​was ​set to ​cycle through ​rainbow colors!​ 1980s psychedelic disco mood for everyone!​​ ​

​Once bassinet was set up, the ​couple across the aisle tried putting ​their​ baby ​who was clearly ​too big for bassinet forcefully into one. Poor baby got squeezed​.​

IFE ​screens ​​were ​not working since takeoff. ​Bummer. ​One hour later​, the​ crew announces they will try a reboot​. Good luck, I guess.​

Image
Apology.

First service​ started immediately, consisting of​ juice/drinks and ​salted ​peanuts​. No alcohol offered, good I say- keeps off the I-will-drink-all-the-alcohol-because-it-is-free middle aged uncles from getting drunk this early ​in the day.

​After much luck, the ​IFE started in some kind of "lite" mode with only 6 ​H​indi and 6 ​E​nglish movies. Map not working, external cameras turned off.​ Oh well.​

Image
Oh look, there is something... but what kind of movie choice is this?!

​When I had almost given up, the ​IFE loaded more movies after half hour​, but​ ​the screen ​stutters and hangs up every few seconds​.

Lunch ​served ​2 h​ou​rs after takeoff. ​Three o​ptions​ offered-​ veg​etarian​, chicken and lamb. White guy next to me (​one of the only 5 non-Indian passengers on the plane) ​asks for chicken, ​the ​attendant​ is skeptical if he can handle the curry and​ ​reminds him "​C​hicken is ​I​ndian style, lamb is continental. Are you sure?"​ White guy is brave, answers in affirmative.​

Image
The vegetarian Indian meal

Amenity kit provided after lunch- socks and eye mask​. Nice touch, AI.

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We can haz socks and eye mask!

​Spent a few hours fiddling with IFE and sleeping. ​During long break between service​s,​ walked into rear galley ​only to find the​ lead purser eating cheesecake from business class​ meals​!​ Oops!​

IFE screen ​still ​keeps misbehaving. ​Could not concentrate on any movie more than few minutes without it hanging up​, so gave up and turned it off​. I had loaded a few Netflix movies and TV series on my iPad for offline viewing, so I had my entertainment covered.

Image
Best in-flight entertainment is outside the window. Flying over Greenland.

​Meanwhile, discovered the ​mid galley ​was ​left unattended with bottles of water and ​soft drinks for self service.​ Passengers had a merry time helping themselves to whatever was within reach.

Dads with small kids walking around the plane all the time. ​Thankfully baby ​crying kept reasonably under control.​ Thanks guys!​

​Second​ full meal served 8 hours into the flight. ​Only two options this time- ​veg​etarian​ or non veg​etarian​ Indian​ style​.​

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Indian vegetarian meal, version 2.0

Tea and coffee served with ​meal, no drinks service​ this time. No alcohol either. To be noted- this is not a no-alcohol flight as such. You could walk up to the galley and ask for wine or beer, just that the crew did not actively offer it, probably having learnt their lesson after seeing one too many passengers getting too drunk on ultra long flights.​

Most pa​ssengers decided to​ ​​sleep between second and third service. ​Cabin mood lighting turned down to very dark night mode. ​Crew ​also ​asked all windows to be closed before sunrise to maintain dark cabin​.

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Midnight mood lighting

​Third​ meal served 13 hours into the flight. ​No options, everyone gets a ​Veg sandwich and fruits.

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Yes, that is one half sandwich on white bread and other half on brown bread. It is not a mistake, everyone got it that way.

​In all three meal services, the ​crew's idea of informing pa​ssengers​ it is meal time is to turn on all the lights ​in the cabin at full brightness, ​including all reading lights!​ Wake up, people!​

External cameras turned on ​as we started our descent into Delhi. Hallelujah!

​Mood lighting and ​instrumental ​B​ollywood music ​piped through the cabin in preparation ​for landing​.​

Touchdown ​DEL ​at 15.46 IST​. Captain Jimmy Patel was spot on- he had predicted an arrival time of 15.45 some 16 hours ago! Hats off, sir!​

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The giant GE-90 wishes good bye!

Conclusion

​This is not the AI you loved to hate! Of course, this is no Singapore Airlines or Emirates, but Air India seems to be putting a decent amount of effort to offer a competitive good product on this route. The plane shows age, and the IFE not working was a bummer, but apart from that it was a very comfortable flight- the food was excellent, seats and legroom were comfortable, the crew was not grumpy (contrary to most people's belief of AI) and there were no significant delays. If they refurbish the 777s, or put the new 787s on this route, it will give the ME and EU airlines a run for their money!
 
sumantra
Posts: 30
Joined: Mon Oct 31, 2016 11:12 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 4:46 am

Thank you for a lovely trip report on what is possibly the longest flight around. You may like to post a link to this trip report on www.airlines-india.net, a vibrant forum dedicated to Indian aviation. Thanks for sharing this with us, and looking forward to more TRs from you! Nice pictures, and descriptions.
Cheers, Sumantra.
 
blrsea
Posts: 1950
Joined: Fri May 20, 2005 2:22 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:23 am

Thanks for your report. I was looking forward to someone sharing their trip report on this AI ULH flight. IFE being down in is a big bummer, especially on such a long flight. On my EK SEA-DXB flights, I manage to catch up on at least 3-4 movies as I can't sleep well on plane. Food looks typical AI style, good quantity and tasty! Strange they didn't do a proper drink service though. They could have limited the drinks to one or two per passenger instead of not offering it at all.

I hope AI recovery continues. It made an operational profit this year and hopefully will continue to build on it.
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:26 am

sumantra wrote:
You may like to post a link to this trip report on http://www.airlines-india.net, a vibrant forum dedicated to Indian aviation.


Sure, I will share there. Good to see a forum dedicated to Indian aviation, I did not know this existed.
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:31 am

blrsea wrote:
IFE being down in is a big bummer, especially on such a long flight. On my EK SEA-DXB flights, I manage to catch up on at least 3-4 movies as I can't sleep well on plane.


In case it was not clear from my report, the IFE was not down for everyone for the entire flight, after a reboot it worked for most seats, it was my specific seat's screen that had issues later on. If I really wanted, I could have asked the crew to move to a different seat but all vacant seats were middle ones and I personally don't care so much for the IFE to give up my aisle seat.

For the last half hour, the pilots turned on both external cameras which worked fine on my IFE screen, and the live map was put up on the big communal screens. I was happy with that, although with Delhi's eternal smog, even in broad daylight it was like seeing a CAT III landing- we saw the runway only like 30 seconds before touchdown!

Food looks typical AI style, good quantity and tasty! Strange they didn't do a proper drink service though. They could have limited the drinks to one or two per passenger instead of not offering it at all.


You mean alcoholic drinks service? They did three proper drinks services, and tea & coffee service after every meal. It was just for the alcoholic drinks it was offered as a "walk-up to bar" in the galley.
 
jetwet1
Posts: 3383
Joined: Thu Jun 14, 2007 4:42 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 7:18 am

"White guy is brave, answers in affirmative."

You have to remember, there are plenty of us white boys that will eat curry all day long.

Food looked good though, but then again, IMHO Ai's problems are not in the air, it's on the ground they cannot get their act together.
 
blrsea
Posts: 1950
Joined: Fri May 20, 2005 2:22 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 8:10 am

KiloRomeoDelta wrote:
blrsea wrote:
IFE being down in is a big bummer, especially on such a long flight. On my EK SEA-DXB flights, I manage to catch up on at least 3-4 movies as I can't sleep well on plane.


In case it was not clear from my report, the IFE was not down for everyone for the entire flight, after a reboot it worked for most seats, it was my specific seat's screen that had issues later on. If I really wanted, I could have asked the crew to move to a different seat but all vacant seats were middle ones and I personally don't care so much for the IFE to give up my aisle seat.

For the last half hour, the pilots turned on both external cameras which worked fine on my IFE screen, and the live map was put up on the big communal screens. I was happy with that, although with Delhi's eternal smog, even in broad daylight it was like seeing a CAT III landing- we saw the runway only like 30 seconds before touchdown!


oh ok, for some reason I misread it as everyone's IFE was flaky.

KiloRomeoDelta wrote:
Food looks typical AI style, good quantity and tasty! Strange they didn't do a proper drink service though. They could have limited the drinks to one or two per passenger instead of not offering it at all.


You mean alcoholic drinks service? They did three proper drinks services, and tea & coffee service after every meal. It was just for the alcoholic drinks it was offered as a "walk-up to bar" in the galley.


yeah, I meant alcoholic beverage service .
 
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KruegerFlaps
Posts: 251
Joined: Fri Nov 04, 2016 6:17 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 9:12 am

Thanks for sharing your experience with AI.

Shame that there were problems with your IFE. I don't usually bother with it as I prefer to look out the window, but in an aisle seat I might have missed it.

Meals look decent enough and I would have chosen chicken curry too. Not offering the alcoholic drinks up front is a good idea. On recent flights with Qantas the crew offered tea, coffee and fruit juice but if you wanted beer, wine or spirits you needed to ask for them. This is a sensible approach, given the number of passengers who become aggressive after a few drinks.
 
cricket
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Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 8:23 pm

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:41 pm

Well, AI's IFE has been flaky on the few A320/321's that still have it but to go flaky on a ULH flight is unacceptable in my opinion. I'm sure AI has good fares, and I've flown them recently to MXP and SIN on 787's - but this TR really has me wondering whether they're worth it on the North American sectors.
 
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CollegeAviator
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Joined: Thu Oct 13, 2016 2:55 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 3:15 pm

What a fantastic report, thank you very much for sharing!

I write to you one day after a flew on an Ultra Long Haul flight with 3-4-3 seating on a 777. It was alright.

The meals look quite sufficient on this flight, and pretty delicious. Did they have a snack bar open between services?

Good that they did not serve alcohol, and it was only on request. Probably would've seen another news report the following morning...

This has in fact been a huge success for Air India, and I hope they build up on this, with the UA base at SFO.
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:08 pm

KruegerFlaps wrote:
Shame that there were problems with your IFE. I don't usually bother with it as I prefer to look out the window, but in an aisle seat I might have missed it.


I picked aisle seat on purpose to be able to stretch around a bit. Anyway on ULH flights the crew insists keeping all windows closed for like 90% of the cruise phase, and I don't like to be "that guy" who opens the window and fills up entire dark cabin with glaring bright light.

Meals look decent enough and I would have chosen chicken curry too. Not offering the alcoholic drinks up front is a good idea. On recent flights with Qantas the crew offered tea, coffee and fruit juice but if you wanted beer, wine or spirits you needed to ask for them. This is a sensible approach, given the number of passengers who become aggressive after a few drinks.


Ah! So looks like this is not just AI. I don't blame them, having seen how some passengers interpret "complimentary alcoholic drinks" as "have to drink as much as is humanly possible and then some more".
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:13 pm

cricket wrote:
Well, AI's IFE has been flaky on the few A320/321's that still have it but to go flaky on a ULH flight is unacceptable in my opinion. I'm sure AI has good fares, and I've flown them recently to MXP and SIN on 787's - but this TR really has me wondering whether they're worth it on the North American sectors.


My seat specifically had IFE conk on and off but for most other passengers it was working. Personally for me, IFE is not that big of a deal but for passengers who rely heavily on having IFE, Air India may not always be the best choice.

I personally found AI totally worth it on the North American sector because of:
- 3-3-3 seating against most airlines including supposedly good ones doing 3-4-3 on 777s now
- 34" legroom against 31-32" on most airlines. My legs thank me for those extra inches
- Only 238 passengers on AI 77L, so immigration and baggage claim finishes pretty fast. I got my bags in 10 minutes as against last year on the same route on EK A380 with 500 passengers and 1000 bags that took 1.5 hours for all bags to come up on the belt.
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:15 pm

CollegeAviator wrote:
The meals look quite sufficient on this flight, and pretty delicious. Did they have a snack bar open between services?


The meals were great, I was full pretty much throughout the flight.

No snack bar as such, but they had a sack full of packets of salted peanuts in the galley. So. Many. Peanuts.
 
peterinlisbon
Posts: 1965
Joined: Wed Feb 01, 2006 3:37 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 6:35 pm

When I first saw the route I thought "rather you than me", but actually it doesn't look too bad. The food looked very nice. I guess you must have flown right over the north pole?
 
moby147
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Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Mon Jan 09, 2017 9:45 pm

Very good report thank you
 
Cointrin330
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Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Tue Jan 10, 2017 2:40 am

Great report. Thank you for sharing your experience (and in a humorous way). I've got to wonder if AI is losing vast sums of money on the fuel burn of this flight, but then again, if the market is there? Curious as to whether the 787-9 is the more suitable aircraft for this route and if AI pulls out of the market, perhaps UA will give it a try.
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
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Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Tue Jan 10, 2017 5:05 am

peterinlisbon wrote:
When I first saw the route I thought "rather you than me", but actually it doesn't look too bad. The food looked very nice. I guess you must have flown right over the north pole?


Considering that the other popular options to fly from SFO to India require 15-16 hour flights to DXB (EK), AUH (EY), SIN (SQ) or HKG (CX) followed by a 2-3 hour layover and another 2-5 hour flight, the 16 hour non-stop to Delhi is much better.

We did not fly over the North Pole. To take advantage of the winds, this flight takes a southerly route crossing the Atlantic over northern Greenland into Norway, Russia and down over the Middle East.
 
dtw2hyd
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Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Tue Jan 10, 2017 12:57 pm

Good TR KRD. This may be the only recent AI B77L TR in Y since SFO launch. Cabin is cleaner than what I imagined. While everyone complains about DEL transfers, same conveniently skip how bad ME3 hubs are. I am guessing for Connect India destinations DEL transfer should be pretty quick.
 
FirstBizFlyer
Posts: 39
Joined: Sun Nov 08, 2015 4:37 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Tue Jan 10, 2017 3:28 pm

What a nice surprise to see a report on this flight. I have long wondered what it's like. Economy looks pretty dreadful and I would've gladly snapped up their upgrade offer. Nonethelesss, glad that it sounds as if their inflight product isn't as bad as is rumored. I still can't get my partner to fly them (even in Business), even though we live in SFO and he regularly goes to DEL. The food looks yummy, at least. I just got back from two weeks in India and I'm missing the food already. Thanks for posting!
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Tue Jan 10, 2017 5:19 pm

FirstBizFlyer wrote:
What a nice surprise to see a report on this flight. I have long wondered what it's like. Economy looks pretty dreadful and I would've gladly snapped up their upgrade offer.


I am curious to know why do you think Economy looks dreadful? Is it because, going by your username, you fly only Business and First Class? :duck:

As far as Economy class cabins go, AI 777s are more comfortable than most other airlines. They still keep 3-3-3 layout while even supposedly luxury airlines like Emirates does 3-4-3 on their 777s. The seat pitch on AI is 34" which is again, more than industry standard these days of 31-32". The seats recline well, AI provides pillow, blanket, socks, eye masks... this is about as much you can get on Economy class on any airline in the world today.
 
texdravid
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Joined: Fri May 14, 2004 3:21 pm

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Wed Jan 11, 2017 4:19 am

So if you land at 1545 into DEL, how are transfers to TN, Kerala, etc, and has anyone done that?
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Wed Jan 11, 2017 6:03 am

texdravid wrote:
So if you land at 1545 into DEL, how are transfers to TN, Kerala, etc, and has anyone done that?


When we landed in Delhi, more than 50% passengers were connecting to domestic flights to Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Amritsar all departing in the next two hours. Everyone has to go through "transfer security" which was taking way too long, but AI staff was super active in the thick of action prioritizing passengers with tight connections to the front of the line and personally escorting the last minute connecters to their domestic gate so they don't waste time looking for directions.
 
anshabhi
Posts: 2265
Joined: Thu Oct 20, 2016 10:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Wed Jan 11, 2017 9:45 am

Cointrin330 wrote:
Great report. Thank you for sharing your experience (and in a humorous way). I've got to wonder if AI is losing vast sums of money on the fuel burn of this flight, but then again, if the market is there? Curious as to whether the 787-9 is the more suitable aircraft for this route and if AI pulls out of the market, perhaps UA will give it a try.


No, AI isn't losing money on this. AI consistently has 80%+ load factors on this route (from BTS data), and in November AI doubled the frequency on this route from 3 to 6.
The 2 B777-200 LR used in this route were earlier used for only 5-6 hours in 2 days. This flight has proved to be a big success for AI, and it's now sure about launching 5th nonstop to US- DEL-IAD.

Bonus fact: When AI doubled its frequency to SFO, EY pulled out of SFO! And, I think if UA starts a SFO-BOM and uses AI network to connect to rest of India, then we can get EK out as well!
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: California to India Non-Stop | AI 174 | SFO-DEL | B777-200LR | Y Class

Wed Jan 11, 2017 5:13 pm

anshabhi wrote:
Bonus fact: When AI doubled its frequency to SFO, EY pulled out of SFO! And, I think if UA starts a SFO-BOM and uses AI network to connect to rest of India, then we can get EK out as well!


Not going to happen. Around the Bay Area, the Indian community loves EK to the level of cult following. I have several friends who don't even look at other airlines for their annual India trip, just straight up book EK at whatever fare they are offering. EK upgauging SFO from 77W to A380 has further strengthened their brand, as several non avgeek friends of mine now regularly describe planes as being of only two type- "A380" and "regular plane" and love taking A380.

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