- Introduction: An English Summer
- Selecting between the British & Irish Visa
- Review: JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, Executive Suite
- Review: AI 131 Mumbai to London Heathrow, Business Class, Boeing 787-8
- Review: Plaza Premium Lounge, Arrivals Area, London Heathrow Terminal 2
- Review: London Marriott Park Lane, Deluxe Room
I had various options to fly to London, given I have fairly diversified miles and points balance. Qatar Airways was a prime choice, and I could have easily sided with Etihad on the Apartments as well. There was Turkish Airlines as well which I looked at, but eventually I settled with Air India.
Air India only offers a single frequency to London from Mumbai, as I’ve mentioned before. Jet Airways and British Airways offer two frequencies each, one in the dead of the night at 2 am, and one in the afternoon.
I used to take the night one when I needed to arrive for meetings the same day and the afternoon ones when I had to arrive for meetings the next day. Air India’s timing is however, slightly weird. They offer the flight at 6:30 AM in the morning, which means I arrive in London Heathrow at about 11:30 AM local time.
While for tourism this is great, because it allows you to maximise your hotel time as one gets into the hotel by about 2 PM which is usually check-in hour, it makes life difficult for anyone planning a workday in London around it.
I had been collecting a lot of Air India miles over the years via the SBI Card they had, and I made the mistake of transferring these miles to AI at regular intervals rather than retaining them on SBI Card till I needed it. I feared a devaluation could come unannounced, and I figured with our honeymoon and other stuff that keeps happening, 3 years was a lot of time to use AI Miles.
I was wrong it seems. A boatload of those miles were going to expire on May 31, and that was the day I booked the tickets. I really did not want to pay INR 0.6 per mile to renew them and still have them only for another 6 months.
We initially booked tickets for July 19, 2017 since we planned only two days in London on the start of the trip. However, when the Visa came through in reasonably good time, we figured we could spend some more time in London and make a full London trip out of it.
So, I called Air India after checking the FR website, where availability was showing up for Monday July 17, 2017, and they were able to reissue the ticket without a fuss. In the end, it costed me 90,000 FR miles and INR 1474 per head one-way for this flight.
Coming to flight day, we hardly slept the night before, and were containing our sleep for the flight. We arrived at the airport about 2:30 AM, and headed straight to the Air India counter. Air India does not use any of the pods to check in their premium pax, and the Business Class and First Class section was roped off, as if they were not taking any passengers.
AI was already attending to economy pax on the Business Counter, so we upgraded ourselves to the First Counter which was empty. It seems to me that a new joinee was manning the counter because he was totally clueless when we asked him any questions. Or maybe we just disturbed his beauty sleep.
He eventually checked us in, and had to ask a supervisor a lot of questions, including about the lounge we were eligible for as Business Class guests. It seems Air India still sends guests with Air India Gold status to the Loyalty Lounge. However, the supervisor asked him to send us to the GVK Lounge. Eventually, after 5 minutes of fumbling around, we were provided our Boarding Passes and GVK Lounge East Wing invitations. I’m wondering why would Air India put new fellows on their First Counter. Isn’t it the place for the most experienced agents?
By the way, do not forget that they offer upgrades at the airport as well. They will make sure you don’t forget about it.
While going through the security check, Shipra placed her passport in the tray, which seemed to slide off the tray inside the x-ray machine. This was a slight panic attack for the both of us at 3 in the morning, before we found the passport with the security personnel and thanked them profusely and moved on.
After passport control, we headed to the GVK Lounge: East Wing. This is a lounge I’ve reviewed before, and things are similar around here so we won’t review this again.
What surprised me was I got a couple of messages from Air India during my time at the lounge, trying to sell me an upgrade. The same thing came on email too, so it definitely was not a mistake. Err, how much further could I go with it?
At about 5:15 a.m. we headed out of the Lounge to go to the gate, and we saw some pretty long queues for the flight. However, there did not seem to be a specific queue for Business Class or Star Alliance Gold members. I headed to the front of the queue to enquire, where I was told that the airline was right now moving all the economy passengers in a holding area, and that when they would be ready to board, they would bring us to the front.
We stepped aside and waited, and ultimately they called us after checking with them a couple of times (I was bored and restless!). We eventually waited along with everyone in the jet bridge to board.
Air India AI131
Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) – London Heathrow (LHR)
Monday, July 17, 2017
Departure: 06:55 hours
Arrival: 11:35 hours
Aircraft: Boeing B787-8
Seat: 2A (Business Class)
As soon as we set foot on the plane, a member of the cabin crew waved us to our seat. The load on this cabin was light today, and including the both of us, there were 5 passengers.
Another one, who was the cabin incharge came over shortly after to introduce herself. For all the conversation that happens on the interwebs about Air India’s senior cabin crew dragging the brand down, they are the real gems in the airline. As we would discover during the flight, she took very good care of us on this flight. After introducing herself, she informed us about the light load, and hence we could park ourselves wherever we wanted to. There were two other crew members taking care of business class today.
Crew brought us a pre-flight beverage quickly. Their options today included a Virgin Mojito and Water. Although we saw other passengers were also offered Juice. I took the Virgin Mojito just to make all of you guys laugh. It was just sugared water with dried mint leaves in it. Maybe they need a new mixologist?
I wanted to amuse you with the pajamas as well, but this being a day flight, Air India did not have them.
The big windows of the Boeing 787 always make me feel good about coming on this plane. There are no window shades on these and they are controlled by a button under each window which helps to control the tint on the window. It can go from clear to dark in no time.
Air India has a 2-2-2 configuration on their Business Class cabin, using seats from Zodiac which are the standard offering on the Boeing 787-8. The seat does not provide aisle access to window passengers, however, if the other passenger is not in bed mode, you can easily walk through to access the aisle.
The ottoman on the other end holds up the IFE screens, and has small compartments to hold stuff. In this case, a plastic headphone was already placed here which did not feel to be of great quality. Luckily I had my own headsets on this trip.
In terms of storage space, there is enough and more. Each seat has a section in the divider, which could be used to store papers and magazines. The front row seats don’t get it however, since the IFE screen goes in there.
There is also a small section with a USB port and sockets to plug in your headsets. Not the most convenient access, however, there is ample space to store stuff there.
A cart was shortly rolled out, which had the magazine and newspaper selection. There were no amenity kits on this flight, only a selection of slippers and eyeshades along with compression socks, put together in a paper envelope. These were passed around the cabin. Not the best quality, or for that matter, quality at all.
Menus were distributed as well, in leather folders. There were two menus, one for breakfast and one for lunch. I have to comment however that someone forgot amending the menus to call them Business Class instead of the earlier Executive Class reference.
We closed doors and pushed back on time at 6:55 am, and after a short taxi arrived on the runway. Given it was early morning, no crowding up of the runway, and we were off on a smooth start. The big deal with Air India flights which has always cast apprehension for me has been, will the flight be on time. Today it was.
Immediately after take off, breakfast was served on a tray. I went with the Omelette option, while Shipra chose to have the Indian vegetarian which had Paneer Bhurji. I greatly appreciate the timing of the meal service, because Air India is trying to make good to all of us who perhaps have been up all night to make it to this flight.
While the Omelette was good, the Parantha in the Vegetarian meal was soggy to an extent.
Right after breakfast service, the cabin was dimmed to let people go off to sleep if they so wished.
Air India’s 787 seats are the Aura Lite seats from Zodiac, which are in use by many other airlines. For Air India, this is a step up from their Boeing 777 fleet where the Business Class is angled and not lie-flat. The seat in fully flat position joins up with the ottoman to make a large enough bed which I was okay with for my height. However, my guess is if you are above 6 feet, you won’t be able to sleep much here. At 22 inches, the seat is sufficiently wide.
The seat had a very firm padding, and looking around the cabin, I did notice that it was being pulled out often enough for maintenance to forget tucking in the covers again and again. To sleep, there was nothing offered to cover the seat, however a very comfortable duvet was available. While a throw pillow and a blanket had already been placed on the seat, I asked for a bigger pillow and received a nice firm one to go to sleep on.
Shipra’s luck was unfortunately not as great. As soon as she levelled out her seat, there was a broken panel behind sticking out like a sore thumb. Held together with duct tape just like they hold together some of British Airways’ 747s. Shipra headed to 1A to sleep.
I went to sleep one hour into the flight and woke up after 5 straight hours of sleep. We still had about 3.5 hours to go before landing into London.
I was offered drinks shortly after I woke up. I requested a cola to be served. The can was brought in and while it was not cold, the crew brought ice along to make it palatable. They also served a ramekin of nuts along as well.
I visited the lavatory, which was stocked with generic amenities.
I begin to finally fiddle around with the IFE. The IFE interface is plain bad, and for a world that is moving to laptops, the IFE remote still needs hard clicks and some experience using a mouse. I only wonder when would Apple get into IFE solutions for the challenged such as Air India.
Content was reasonably okay. There was not tonnes to see, but whatever was there was reasonably new. I eventually managed to watch one movie.
Roughly thirty minutes later, the cabin was brightened up again, and lunch service started.
My chosen Lunch option was brought on a tray to the seat. I went with the Indian Vegetarian option today. The tray came set with Garlic Bread, Indian Bread and a bread roll already. Now only if in Business Class fashion Air India could do a bread basket?
The crew enquired if we’d like a beverage along with our meal as they rolled out a drinks cart with spirits and beer. I asked for the drinks menu. However, instead of the menu, the crew brought along half bottles of the wines being served today in a tray. Shipra chose herself a nice french wine.
I was looking for champagne, so I was brought the H Blin Brut. AI has been serving this champagne for a long long time. It is nice and smooth on the palate, and I liked it.
The meal in itself was very flavourful, but lacked in presentation. Air India knows they can do a service by course rather than bringing it all together. Also, that garlic bread was very crisp.The crew brought along more bread when required.
Shipra’s wine and my Champagne glass was topped up frequently.
The crew came around and asked us if we wanted to try out some more entrees or have second helpings. We declined politely. But we appreciated the gesture.
Shortly after collecting the meal tray, the crew rolled out the dessert cart. There was a variety of desserts to choose from, and also cheese along with wine.
I did choose to get greedy and picked up one of both of the desserts to sample. We requested for a small cracker & cheese platter, and there was some lovely smoked cheese there which Shipra asked for repeats of.
The Indian Dessert was good, and no one can go wrong with Chocolate Cake.
After the cheese, came the chocolates. Air India has for the longest time been serving Chocolates made by the Taj Mahal Hotel. They brought around a tray full of those, and we helped ourselves to some of those wonderful chocolates.
There was also tamarind candy.
About the crew, they were attentive but not intrusive in a very nice way. They would walk by the cabin often, and they did not have to really keep an eye on us, because there were other passengers as well. I looked out of the window to notice we were flying across the English Channel, and loads of wind turbines in the water.
Soon enough, we were flying over London, and after some circuitous flying, lined up for landing.
We landed in London roughly ten minutes after our original arrival time. After taxiing through some nice AVgeek picturesque traffic, we finally docked on our gate.
As the doors opened, Ground services was waiting with some photocopies of an arrival fast track card, which was handed over to the both of us, and we could use it to join the fast track queue. Err, maybe they could have stuck with the ones that Heathrow issues to airlines?
Overall, it was a good flight after all the stuff we’d seen and heard from others about Air India. While Air India’s does lie a bit and more in their 2015 TV commercial, Proud to be Indian, Proud to be Global (hey, the meal service was not by course but in a tray, always!), it was a perfectly acceptable product for the price Air India commands for it (not the highest in the market).
Air India’s flight was good but not great, and like I mentioned above, if you were paying INR 99,000 for a round trip like they are offering at the moment, I don’t think you’d have any reason to complain. The hard product is not firm solid but does not lack either. The branding and marketing is however totally non-premium. However, the experience in the air makes up for part of it.
While in the air you’d have a nice experience, it is the quality of the decisions made on the ground that harms the brand. The cheap socks and eyeshades are one such example, and they use of a photocopied paper to invite guests for a fast track entry into London being another example. Good F&B, but bad presentation. IFE not
I’d definitely not hesitate flying AI 787 in Business Class again. Shipra, on the other hand thinks the same money could buy her much better. We’ll see how this goes for us.
What has been your experience flying with Air India? Do you like their premium cabins?