Have you flown the NEW Air India yet? I have. Here is my brand experience from Toronto to London Heathrow.

Why I had never flown Air India before…

I had never flown Air India till yesterday – intentionally. And I had my good reasons.

Last year, I booked my mom on a Singapore-Delhi Air India flight and the A310 was delayed by over 3 hrs, ensuring that she missed her onward connections. Moreover, a lot of friends who tried to save money had horror stories to tell. One of them once asked for water and the stewardess replied in Hindi, “This is not my lane. Ask the other woman“. That ensured that I never tried the Indian national carrier even though I had the opportunity to, multiple times. So I had really lowered my expectations.

Why I finally flew Air India – the new plane and the new partnership

This time I had the choice of flying from Toronto to Greece either on LOT Polish’s ageing B767 via Warsaw, or Air India to London and then Aegean to Athens. I went for the latter option, because I could fly the B777-300ER of Air India and then the brand new A321 of Aegean. Moreover, I could earn Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles on Air India due to their recent partnership. May be if CrankyFlier had tweeted me his recommendation to try LOT earlier, I’d have probably given that a shot.

Getting on-board the plane is part of the experience

Air India had the most stringent security process I’ve been through – separate security personnel just for the airline, in addition to the airport security officials. All of whom spoke English, Hindi, Punjabi and probably French! Every single electronic device had to be turned on in front of them. Old ladies had to take out achaar (Indian pickels) and laddoos (milk-flour sweet round dumplings) from their handbags, regretfully. But trust me, I felt REALLY safe. So did others.

The most intriguing take-off ever!

I was in a plane full of Indians. And it was very fascinating. Ladies praying, some closing their eyes (in fear!), children clapping and adults joining in. All just as the plane took off. I had fun watching all this. And it was an on-time departure.

As soon as the seat belt sign was turned off, people started congregating in different sections of the plane, mostly near the toilets (I was glad I didn’t choose the bulkhead seats!). Soon, dads were standing up in the aisle and feeding the kids. Literally a quarter of the flight was kids less than 5 years old. And a third of the passengers were elderly – over 55. The lady next to me spoke to me only in Punjabi. Luckily, in my recent trip to India, I was able to brush up mine while in Chandigarh, and could carry on a conversation with her. Made up for an interesting mix!

[photomosaic]

 

Air India’s new 777s rock!

The product was world-class. The economy seats second to only Singapore Airlines’ A380 product. They had a good pitch, felt very wide (I even squeezed my Macbook next to me!). They even had USB ports, newly-designed remotes and a dual IFE which had a touch-screen operation too. If you’re an Indian, I think you’d love the IFE. There were tons of Bollywood movies, both Classic and the latest hits. I just passed my time with some bollywood music videos – wasn’t ready for a 3hr melodrama at 2am! So, the hardware was well beyond my expectations.

But bad habits are hard to change…

Let me clarify. The service wasn’t bad. But it was very basic and functional. Like that of a United. Children were served first, and I could see urgency. And that’s where the good stuff ended. The rest of the service was lethargic. Some of the male flight attendants looked like they had run out of razors a month back. Doesn’t Gillette still produce them?

The food was not bad. But out of the 10-12 flight attendants, only one managed a smile. That too, occassionally. When I intentionally beamed at the one serving me, she avoided eye contact. As if they’d be fined for smiling at passengers! Later, when I went to the galley, I saw them having a ball of a time among themselves, talking about the latest Bollywood movies. Their policy seemed to be to get out of sight as soon as possible. With an Indian crowd of 377, I think that’s understandable.

By the time we landed in London, the toilets were filthy and wash-basins flooded. I wonder what would happen on the next London-Delhi leg of the flight. The software just met my (already lowered) expectations.

Even disembarking was not normal

One word to describe it. Chaos! It’s not the clapping that I was disturbed by. But the moment the plane pulled to the gate (not stopped), stow bins were pulled down and some men even climbed on seats to get their stuff out! It was as if they were going to jump out of the windows! Just see the photo for yourself.

Air India in-flight crowd

In conclusion, Air India has a brand new product worth experiencing – but in isolation. Go check out the plane at an air show or something. It’s nice. Unless it’s an overnight flight (like mine was) and you can sleep over what’s going on around you, I’d suggest you fly others like Jet Airways, Continental or one of the Middle-East carriers from North America to India.

How’s your experience with Air India been? Yes, they’ve got new planes on international routes, but has anything else really improved? Can it be improved? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments, or over on Twitter (@simpliflying)

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 14 comments
  • nomadicnotes
    Reply

    Great review. I have only done one flight with Air India. That was in 2001 from JFK – LHR when they were still flying that route under the Fifth-freedom. It was the cheapest flight on offer so I wasn't expecting anything special. They have been talking about coming back to Australia which would be great as there are no Indian carriers serving Australia.

    I was on a domestic flight in Indonesia this year and a similar disembarking experience. Half of the cabin got up before the plane stopped. It felt like I was on a chicken bus.

  • fmrafeeq
    Reply

    One thing I really hate is the way you are potraying Indians. Some of you so called patriotic Indians once after reaching a western country look for an opportunity to throw away the “bloody” Indian Passport and to become a westerner. If you can change your skin color and mother then you would even be going for it as well.

    We, Indians, are proud of our country and it's people. We are a developing country. The world respects us not because of the way you throw away the passport and talk like a westerner but because of the individuality we are maintaining. India is a country of poor people and they are contributing to the growth of India. And we are proud of it. And the world is accepting us as it is. Don't expect us to behave like a Westerner.

    These doesn't mean that Air India is doing the right thing.

  • patriciabue
    Reply

    I could bearly finish reading the article….tough!

  • scaredyguen
    Reply

    Does it mean part of the problem lies with the passengers? Aside from frequent toilet-cleanings and teeth service that the cabin crew can improve on, the brand experience was somewhat interfered by commotion from other passengers. Wonder if this is sth Air India can work on too…

    • simpliflying
      Reply

      Yeah, you're dead on. The passengers were not that easy to handle. But
      then again, I don't think the crew made much effort to handle them.
      For example, when the seat-belt sign was turned on and dads were
      feeding kids, they weren't told to sit down. No one was told to get
      back to their seats before the plane had reached the gate. There can
      be standard operating procedures for instances like these.

      How is it that these same passengers are much more disciplined on
      another carrier like Emirates or Singapore Airlines? Because they know
      they'll be reprimanded if they don't follow the rules. It's a lot to
      do with enforcement and training.

  • mohanchandar
    Reply

    Shashank: Good one !! Given the reputation (bad) that AI seem to have built one for itself especially with Inflight service, It takes some effort to try one. However, On the point on Passenger Behaviour, It isnt much different if you were flying SIN-MAA (Note: Not MAA-SIN) on SIA. Nothing much Airlines can do other than to scream Politely over the PA “Sir, Please Sit Down Now, the flight has still not arrived”. Long way to go for AI if they were to get back to the glory days of being one of the best Airlines worldwide, and notably I hear from legends, for the superlative Inflight Service of Air India.,

    • simpliflying
      Reply

      You're right about the ex-reputation of Air India. I think those times
      are long gone.

      Though, I beg to differ on the SIN-MAA example on SIA you've given. I
      think Indians on Air India feel more Indian than Indians on Singapore
      Airlines. I don't know why. But they behave differently. They don't
      stand up as soon as the plane lands =p And they actually listen to the
      stewardesses when they tell them to sit down. On Air India, the poor
      stewardess just gives up. Just an interesting observation…

      • Mohan Chandar
        Reply

        Hi Shashank .. Over the past 15 years I have done the MAA-SIN-MAA on SQ like atleast 30 times, and I definitely notice the difference in Pax behaviour when your dest terminal is Anna Intl and not Changi. Somehow the safety feeling of getting away creeps in closer to bay of bengal. I think it may be worthwhile trying AI on my next flight to the US., I had some pretty good experiences flying 9W to the US recently. Good planes, Good Ground, Lounge, Transit and Inflight facilities

  • mohanchandar
    Reply

    Shashank: Good one !! Given the reputation (bad) that AI seem to have built one for itself especially with Inflight service, It takes some effort to try one. However, On the point on Passenger Behaviour, It isnt much different if you were flying SIN-MAA (Note: Not MAA-SIN) on SIA. Nothing much Airlines can do other than to scream Politely over the PA “Sir, Please Sit Down Now, the flight has still not arrived”. Long way to go for AI if they were to get back to the glory days of being one of the best Airlines worldwide, and notably I hear from legends, for the superlative Inflight Service of Air India.,

  • simpliflying
    Reply

    You're right about the ex-reputation of Air India. I think those times
    are long gone.

    Though, I beg to differ on the SIN-MAA example on SIA you've given. I
    think Indians on Air India feel more Indian than Indians on Singapore
    Airlines. I don't know why. But they behave differently. They don't
    stand up as soon as the plane lands =p And they actually listen to the
    stewardesses when they tell them to sit down. On Air India, the poor
    stewardess just gives up. Just an interesting observation…

  • geniusnew76
    Reply

    Better than the racism by Air France … check out this SHOCKING experience
    http://proud2bebrown.blogspot.com/

  • Tirumalasetti Nagaraju
    Reply

    Mr.Anand Mahindra(MD Mah& Mah) expressed his view on 21st OCt 09 that AI is a only gate way to travel to US,Its new plane ,friendly staff with lots of pride in the airline, Way to go, Maharajh

  • salil vaidya
    Reply

    Hi,
    I have used Air India for 8 (i.e. 16) times between IndiaJapan (1998-2005). All these flights (except 1 with delay of 1 hour) departed on-time and landed before time. Food was great! Overall service was good. All flight attendants were well behaved and looked and conducted friendly. And yess…landings were superb!!! Everytime they kissed the run-way…wow! I have experienced landings of other airlines like Singapore, Malaysia, Cathay, Thai…but AI landings were exceptinally smooth, without and exception! I have heard that they hire retired Air Force pilots…donno for sure though…
    But now I have started feeling insecured about the technical maintenance of the fleet and have thus shifted from AI to Singapore/Thai. Would like to experience AI again, though…

    Salil

  • sipatung
    Reply

    Hi Shashank,

    What about Aegean, was the experience good?

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