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Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Sat Mar 29, 2008 5:32 pm

I wanted my first trip report on Anet to be something a little more interesting than a domestic US run or a transatlantic hop on LH (of which I have done approximately 8 or 9 in the past 18 months) so when I flew Air India from New York to London I figured I now had my opportunity. There don’t seem to be many AI trip reports on Anet, and there are especially few for their various transatlantic runs. Also, I don’t feel comfortable pulling out a camera and taking photographs of every aspect of the in-flight experience- hence, no pics. Hopefully you find it helpful, or at least entertaining to read.


Returning back to school in Florence, Italy for my Spring Term of my second year would be a little different this time around. Because my school had paid for all my roundtrip flights in my first year (all on UA/LH out of IAD), and I had used my United miles to pay for my second year Fall Term flights (on AC/LH), the time had finally come to actually start paying full freight, if you will. Because my loving, tuition paying parents are already funding both a) my college education and b) my lavish euro-zone lifestyle, I decided it only right to cover airfare myself. A full summer of 40-hour weeks at my retail job and temp work here and there had yielded me a comfortable sum, and god knows there is nothing better than having money to burn on a trip you absolutely need to have booked. After checking out some of the airlines with 5th freedom rights across the Atlantic- if I was going to pay for it myself it may as well be a little more exotic than UA or LH- I narrowed the field down to 9W to BRU or AI to LHR. Because I had just made the switch to Miles & More, and the fares 9W were offering in Y wouldn't yield me any miles, I went ahead and booked AI for an absolute steal of 498.00 USD roundtrip (only 50 % mileage on M&M, but at that price I'll take what I can get).


After a messy ordeal with hauling my two Samsonites from my friend's place in Hoboken to JFK via PATH, NY Subway, LIRR, and AirTrain- a process I hope to never again repeat- I arrived dogged but triumphant at JFK's Terminal 4. This was to be my first time checking-in at JFK; I had passed through Terminal 3 on DL plenty of times in middle school and high school on my way to and from ATH several times a year, but all I ever really saw was the inside of the BusinessElite lounge. I was impressed with T4, it really lent itself very well to the whole transit experience. Modern, airy, bustling with passengers and cabin crews of all nations- this was certainly my kind of place.

I had checked over and over and over again on to see what kind of equipment my flight today would be operated with. After months of seeing either '777' (which I knew most likely meant an ex-UA frame) or the very helpful and descriptive 'JET' (no, really now? I was assuming a DC-3 or a Caravelle, but whatever), my heart couldn't really decide what to do when the check-in agent told me AI 112 would be operated with a 747-400 this day. I knew AI had refurbished some of it's owned 744's, but I also knew that some of them were still straight out of myriad AI horror stories of backed-up toilets and ancient interiors. There was nothing I could do except pray, obviously, so the very efficient and not overtly friendly check-in agent issued my boarding pass, tagged my bags, and off I went.

Security was a breeze, as the little tenderloin of T4 where I would be departing from (A gates) would be accommodating some very low-yield flights this evening; the lines were thin and the gate areas fairly deserted. Although my BP indicated a boarding time of 1745 (yeah, right), no announcement of any kind was made until 1815 or so, which was tell us that due to late arrival of incoming aircraft there would be a delay of about 30 minutes. Our scheduled departure time of 1900 came and went, and the delayed departure time of 1930 followed suit. It wasn't until 1955, nearly an hour late, that we even began to board.

January 31st, 2008
Air India AI112 JFK-LHR
Boeing 747-400 "Velha Goa"
Dep: 1900 (Actual 2025)
Arr: 0635 (Actual 0655)


Hopes were not high when I saw a 744 in old colors parked at the end of our jetbridge. I crossed my fingers, holding out for some miracle that there might still be a beautiful refurbished interior in store for me complete with AVOD, mood-lighting, or any other fabulous amenities AI cared to throw my way. Needless to say that was a waste of energy. A friendly-enough female flight attendant directed me to the left of door 2, into the forward "mini" economy cabin.

Pale blue floral print on the cabin walls. Ghastly pea soup green seat upholstery. Not a PTV, let alone an LCD, barely a CRT in sight. This was trouble.

I consoled myself with the fact that I had a row of three seats to myself, my assigned window seat of 32K along with H and J. Seat pitch seemed to be around 31", barely adequate for my 6'3" frame but remember: three to myself, three to myself. This didn't last long as two Indian women with prodigious amounts of hand luggage and personal effects soon took their places in the empty seats next to my own. I was already disappointed that my gamble on scoring a newly restyled Air India cabin hadn't paid off; the only way this flight would be tolerable was if I at least had some modicum of personal space.
It was thus that I found myself, some 5 minutes later, seated in the aft economy cabin in another empty row of three seats. I would say that the load this evening was roughly 40% in Y, which made finding new digs a relatively easy endeavor.

We pushed back from gate A4 about an hour late at 2025, and in typical JFK fashion were now some astronomical number in line for takeoff since we had missed our scheduled departure slot. A safety video was played on the projector and the sporadically placed CRT monitors, but the picture was so fuzzy and the volume set so slow that I could barely tell what was going on. Immediately following push back the flight attendants (in their smart new uniforms, might I add) did a quick juice run consisting of sealed orange juice cups, and passed out menus. It wasn't until nearly 2100 that we were lined up for takeoff; the classic feel of a 747 takeoff, at least, is something the passengers in the 9W 77W directly ahead of us didn't have over me at the moment.


The menus distributed during taxi were a lovely touch. This was my first time flying an airline not US or Europe based (with the exception of a brief SSH-CAI flight on EgyptAir) and I had been looking forward to a somewhat enhanced service product at the very least. The menu read as follows:



-Mixed Salad

-Shabnam Kofta Curry, Steamed Rice, Dal

-Kesari Phirni with Nuts

-Tea, Coffee


-Mixed Salad

-Roast Sliced Leg of Lamb with Diable Sauce, Dill Potatoes, Sauteed Vegetables


-Chicken Curry Badami, Rice Pulao, Spiced Vegetables

-Kesari Phirni with Nuts

-Tea, Coffee

Before dinner came around, a drinks run was made. The selection was limited to juices and Coca-Cola it seemed, but the snacks they served were amazing. I forget exactly what they were called, but they passed out one bag with crispy chickpeas and another with what seemed to be curried corn sticks-outstanding. For dinner I chose the Chicken Curry and was not disappointed; I had read about AI's excellent catering and this was no exception. The chicken was tender and full of flavor, the rice fluffy and lightly, and the spiced vegetables weren't a mushy mess (about the best you can hope for anyway). The male flight attendant working my side of the economy cabin warned me that the chicken was "Indian Style", i.e. too spicy for the western palette; while delicious, it was not even remotely hot which was surprising given that it was touted as a curry. Presentation wise, AI could use a little work- while it obviously doesn't interfere with the quality of the food, the cafeteria-style containers and flimsy plastic cutlery could use a bit of a revamp themselves. Another thing that could use a serious rework is the Air India concept of breakfast in Y. 90 minutes before arrival at Heathrow, we were presented with a large plastic tray containing a smaller plastic tray containing a single, cellophane wrapped marmalade croissant. I've flown enough transatlantic flights in economy to know that breakfast is often of the sandwich-yogurt-granola variety (a la Lufthansa), but a single croissant I could get a 10 pack of for 2 euro at the grocery is pathetic. Air India really fell flat on this note.

Aircraft and Seating-

This particular AI 744 seemed to be one of the former KE frames- many of the placards and illuminated signs were still in Korean. Velha Goa, as this machine was named, is apparently one of the more recently acquired 744's in AI's fleet. The color scheme of the seat upholstery was a bit chaotic- the seats in the forward mini Y cabin were a pale sickly green, whereas the seats in the aft cabin were randomly red, blue, and orange. It was almost as if a VS 744 and a BR 74E had produced a lovechild in some kind of torrid affair. In terms of comfort, the seats left a lot to be desired as well- in today's world of slimline Recaro seats and adjustable headrests, these 'slabs' of seat with straight backs and only the tiniest hint of a raised headrest were a mild shock. The aircraft in general seemed to be in a state of disrepair, with damaged panels and ragged carpeting rampant throughout the cabin. Overall, not a pleasant experience.


Needless to say, PTV's were not among the amenities provided aboard AI 112 this evening. They screened a Bollywood film, which I watched some of, followed by the live action Bratz* movie which was my cue to pull out my copy of The Alchemist. The quality of the projectors was relatively poor, and the picture on the CRT monitors was also not the best. For a flight of only 5 hours and 20 minutes, though, the dearth of IFE was not a huge issue. I ended up watching The Thomas Crown Affair on my iPod and finishing my book anyway. It certainly beat watching Bratz to say the least. Between films they screened the Airshow, which was also left on continuously once the second movie had finished about 90 minutes before arrival. We must have had one hell of a tail wind on our side that night- we seemed to be averaging a good 690 MPH the entire duration of the flight.

Cabin Crew-

The crew on this flight was mediocre at best. While nice enough, they were not overly friendly and did the bare minimum of an in-flight service: preflight orange juice, pre-dinner drinks, dinner, one water run, and breakfast. While the preflight juice run was a nice touch, the rest of the flight left a lot to be desired. The crew was definitely one of the more elusive I have flown with. The new AI uniforms are smart to be sure, but that's about all the crew had going for them this evening.


We landed at Heathrow about 20 minutes late at 0655, making a smooth touchdown on 27L right next to the forlorn looking BA 772 from the runway overshoot incident. We sat on a taxiway for about 30 minutes though before we actually began to make slow progress towards our gate in T3, why I don't know. Heathrow was an absolute dream otherwise: we disembarked without incident, and I made quick progress through immigration and baggage (my bags were the first two out, which was fabulous). I hopped the Heathrow Connect, popped my iPod headphones in, and made my way to Central London to my friend's flat on Portland Street.

I admit that I took a gamble with Air India, and it didn't pay off. I was met with lackluster in-flight service, outdated entertainment and cabin amenities, and aging equipment. Granted, AI's catering was for the most part satisfactory, but it didn't make up for the rest of the flight's shortcomings. I have also yet to be credited with my LH miles for the flight- which means I'll have to go through the whole song and dance of sending in my boarding passes and meekly requesting mileage credit. I am due to return to JFK with AI in May; my flight is listed as being operated with a 77W. I really want to like Air India, and I am hoping that my return will yield more reason to do so.

Coming soon:

LGW-PSA on BA Club Europe
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Sat Mar 29, 2008 7:46 pm

I flew the same route in 1966 om a B707. In those days no entertainment but I remember the nice music and the good food. My aunt flew in F and said it was amazing.
As to breakfast on transatlantic routes most US / European airlines only serve 1 danish / croissant now; Aer Lingus only serve orange juice which helps. The best and most generous is Iberia.
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Sat Mar 29, 2008 9:35 pm

Nice report. I flew FRA-ORD on Air India back in November after my American Airlines flight was canceled. Like you, I was on a 747-400 that had seen better days (hell, might have even been the same one you flew, since there were Korean placards in the lavatories.) Although I found the cabin service to be more attentive and friendly than I would have gotten on American (their transatlantic Y service is about as low as it goes) the shoddy condition of the aircraft made for a pretty long flight. We didn't even get a movie - just an endlessly flickering "Thank you for flying with Air India" logo on the CRT displays for nine hours.
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Sun Mar 30, 2008 12:20 am

Sounds like things haven't changed a great deal since I flew AI LHR-JFK-LHR back in 1988 (I think, although could be out by a year or two). Back then they were still using the 747-200 though. However, it does sound like the cabin service has improved, as well as the choice of food. When I flew with them, it was assumed that if you weren't Indian, you would want the "western meal", which at the time was some horrible roast lamb offering. I remember looking forward to the food when the cabin filled with the delicious aroma of Indian meals being warmed up, but was disappointed not to even be offered a choice.

As an aside, the movie shown on the return journey was 'Broadcast News', which is actually being shown on TV as I write...just thought that was a coincidence!

I hear that their 777's are a lot better though...

Thanks for the report.

Ladies & gentlemen this is Captain Tobias Wilcock welcoming you aboard Coconut Airways flight 372 to Bridgetown Barbados
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Sun Mar 30, 2008 11:05 am

Nice report, thanks.

I've not flown AI and really have no intention to do so, your trip has reinforced my intentions!

Quoting RetroLivery (Thread starter):
Immediately following push back the flight attendants (in their smart new uniforms, might I add) did a quick juice run consisting of sealed orange juice cups, and passed out menus

- Nice touch, shame the rest of the service did not match up to this.


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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Mon Mar 31, 2008 3:58 pm

Nice TR

Pity to hear that you didnt got to fly on the 777, but maybe in May!!!

After reading this, for sure I wont, if I ever get the opportunity to fly with AI, at least not in their oldest a/cs.

Thank you for sharing

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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:10 pm

^^ Only because they lack PTVs?
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Topic Author
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:57 pm

Quoting B747forever (Reply 5):
After reading this, for sure I wont, if I ever get the opportunity to fly with AI, at least not in their oldest a/cs.

Quoting DavidkunzVIE (Reply 6):
^^ Only because they lack PTVs?

Personally, the lack of PTV's wasn't a huge issue. What made the flight such a bummer for me equipment wise was the fact that the plane was in such a state of disrepair- the atmosphere and vibe I got from that combined with the lackluster service from the crew wasn't positive. I can understand wanting to avoid older aircraft if the airline they belong to can't even be bothered to make simple changes to bring them up to some kind of fleet-wide standard. It reflects poorly on the company and doesn't make for a pleasant experience onboard.
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Mon Mar 31, 2008 7:53 pm

A well written report, hope you get to try out their 77W on your return and write a similar report for comparisons

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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Tue Apr 01, 2008 9:10 am

Thanks for writing out the report - this kind of summarizes the "typical" AI experience of the past. However, the experience on their new equipment (77L or 77W) is supposed to be far better than what you had to put up with - so hopefully you'll have a better return flight. At least you'll start off with expectations set so low, that anything would be an improvement  Wink
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Wed Apr 02, 2008 2:57 pm

Nice TR - thanks.

Quoting RetroLivery (Thread starter):
The male flight attendant working my side of the economy cabin warned me that the chicken was "Indian Style", i.e. too spicy for the western palette; while delicious, it was not even remotely hot which was surprising given that it was touted as a curry.

Contrary to the concept most westerners have - "curry" in Indian terms is referred to any dish with a gravy - so chicken curry would be a chicken dish with gravy. Curry is NOT a proper noun but a common noun if you will....

[Edited 2008-04-02 07:58:34]
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RE: Air India: JFK-LHR In Y

Thu Apr 03, 2008 1:08 am

Brilliantly written report and a great read - thanks for sharing  Smile

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