I’ve recently been trying to use Air India off and on, given their Star Alliance membership, to try and test how they react in various circumstances and whether it is in line with Star Alliance requirements or not. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not.

For instance, back in August, when I went with AI for my flight to Goa from Mumbai Terminal 2, AI offered me only one lounge access card, which made sure me and my fiancée could not go into the lounge together. As AI Golden Tier member and Star Alliance Gold, I was good for 2 passes due to the *A guidelines.

Just this past Saturday, I made a trip to Delhi on one of Air India’s 787 planes to Delhi from Mumbai Terminal 2. The reason this was not done for so long was because for a long while, AI did not put the 787 on Mumbai originating routes and I still don’t travel internationally with Air India.

I’ve known about Air India’s issues with the Boeing 787 for a long time, and the reason I booked this flight was to also check if I was going to be affected by these issues or not. AI has bought some of the early stage Boeing 787 planes, being one of the early customers of the plane, and these tend to be more heavy sometimes and not exactly everything is smoothened out on these planes.

Anyhow, I chose to fly Air India 348 from Mumbai to Delhi on the Mumbai – Delhi – Shanghai route, and the plane was supposed to board at 7:20 AM and take off at 7:50 AM. Except, the plane did not even board till 7:50 AM.

People, grappling with a lack of information, were frequently going over to ask AI agents about how various things would be handled, and AI agents had no answers to their questions. Factor this, people have connections from AI’s Delhi hub to Jammu, to Paris and to other places, and AI won’t let them know how would they make sure these people got on their once a day flights.

Till it came to this…

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With Air India, the agents were clueless, and they counted their job only as giving information to the passengers as per what emerged from the engineers on the plane, who told them that the plane had a mechanical issue and the flight won’t be able to take off.

First, they delayed the flight by 1 hour, and then by another 30 minutes, and in this meanwhile, the agents would vanish as fast as they could to avoid the crowds. Their response to connection queries… “we will send a message to our Delhi counterparts after the flight takes off.” That is so much reassurance folks, that you get to spend 24 hours in a different city if Air India acts on whim and does not hold the other flight for you, in spite of having issued you a boarding pass for the flight.

What should have really happened? Air India should have a formal plan in place for how to handle tight or missed connection flights, which customers would be rebooked on a later flight the same day, which customers would be rebooked on another carrier and so on. This formal plan would of course make sure the agents act according to this plan rather than just duck questions from the passengers.

About 8 years or so ago, Air India mishandled a flight of mine when I had no status on them, and this was a fog issue at Delhi airport, where they handled it so badly, making me wait 24 hours at the airport, that I did not get on an Air India plane for at least 5-6 years after that.

There are luxuries and their are basics. When a passenger has a ticket to go someplace on an airline, it becomes the airline’s responsibility to get him there and they owe their customers an answer. In this case, the airline just made a mess and all they did was to go further down in the eyes of their customers who think they are a big burden on the Indian taxpayer anyways.

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | No Comments

Last week, I put out my first thoughts on the Air India Flying Returns’ program, after they joined in the Star Alliance. One of my first observations was that it is more expensive to burn on Star Alliance partners than to burn on Air India’s own metal for international travel.

In the comments section, reader Krishnakumar makes a note:

Just spoke to Flying Returns agent over the phone. He says that since I am Base Member of flying returns, I cannot redeem AI miles on Star alliance. You need to be Silver , gold or Maharaja member !

To which I was very surprised. However, today he came back reconfirming this statement:

Dear AJ,

I reconfirmed. FR told me that one has to be Silver and above to be able to burn FR miles on any Star Alliance Airline.

Other than flying AI more, is there any quick way of getting Silver status on FR? Of course SBI AIR India card gives you silver status after spending 5 Lacs which I feel is time consuming and not very efficient way just for getting silver status.(I would rather spend 5 lacs on Citibank PM than SBI) .

Now, this sounds very surprising to me, and if it is true, then it does not sound very right that Air India bars some of their members from gaining access to the Star Alliance inventory. In fact, except for publishing the award charts and routing rules, Air India has not published/updated any terms and conditions to this effect about how Star Alliance earn and burn will work. For instance, there is not even clarification right now if the miles earned on Star Alliance carriers will be elite qualifying miles or just plain redeemable miles.

While I am trying to find out this first hand, I just wanted to check the experience of other readers. Have you heard or experienced the same thing?

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Air India has joined the Star Alliance today, culminating a seven-year long effort to get inside the world’s largest club of airlines. One of the things that also changes then, is the Flying Returns program, which will now offer earn and burn opportunities across the Star Alliance network of airlines.

I had indicated earlier in this post about how will Air India elite members be mapped to Star Alliance tiers, and how will they be able to receive benefits today onwards. However, the new earning chart for Star Alliance carriers has just been released a while ago.

Earning on Air India for Star Alliance member flights: While you can have a detailed look at the PDF, here are the broad thoughts:

  • Usually, earning rates are quid pro quo between the various carriers. So, if United is offering a 100% earn rate on all Air India fare classes, Air India would also do a 100% on economy. This reflects amply in the accrual chart.
  • Most First class flights will net you 200% to 300% of flown miles, but flying United, ANA and Thai will earn you 150% of flown miles on flying first class.
  • Business Class flights on *A carriers will net you between 100-200% of flown miles towards accrual on Flying Returns.
  • Economy & Premium Economy flights will earn you anything between 25% to 125% of flown miles depending on the class in which the ticket is booked.

Burning Air India miles for Star Alliance member flights: Burning Air India’s miles on Air India’s own metal is cheaper than new award chart Air India is offering for Star alliance redemptions. This is consistently displayed across the award chart. The burn rate is 2x of Economy redemption rates for Business Class seats, and 2.5x for First Class Redemptions.

  • America redemptions: While you can get an F class seat one-way from India to Air India stations in USA at 112,500 miles, here you are expected to shed 137,500 miles one way. Similarly in Business Class, while AI will get you a seat in 90,000 miles, you spend 110,000 miles on another carrier. However, the award chart is similar for North, Central and South America. Which means if you choose to burn AI miles for South America, you may be hitting a sweet spot.
  • Europe redemptions: Europe redemptions from India are again a tad bit expensive over using Air India’s own metal. While you can get a ticket to Europe for 50000 miles to fly AI’s own metal one way (in Business Class), in this case, using a Star Alliance carrier you could be burning 65000 miles.
  • Routing Rules: The award chart has been published with round-trip ticketing mileage, and 50% of miles will be required for one-way travel. You cannot backtrack, and one stopover (of over 24 hours) or one open-jaw is permitted per itinerary.
  • Booking: At this moment, Air India’s website is not showing Star Alliance carriers on its redemption web engine. So, you’d have to perhaps work the phones to get yourself a ticket.
  • Fuel Surcharges: It is possible that AI may charge fuel surcharges on the *A carriers as well, because they charge these on their own metal. This is my expectation of them.

The key difference between burning on Air India’s own metal and that of Star Alliance carriers is the reach. When you burn on Air India’s own metal, you pay for positioning flights separately. For instance to fly Mumbai to Frankfurt, you have to redeem for Mumbai-Delhi and Delhi Frankfurt flights. In this case, you are paying a flat amount of miles for anywhere in India to anywhere in the other continent, which I believe, is the reason that Air India has created a buffer for in terms of redemption.

Those are the first few details I have on Air India’s new charts. Of course they haven’t circulated the fine print yet so this is still a matter of speculation. I will update you with more information when Air India publishes it.

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 14 Comments

The big day is still about 12-15 hours away, but Air India seems to be ready this time to join the Star Alliance. In 2011, they were jilted at the altar, and now Star Alliance and Air India have kissed and made up. Here are a couple of pictures of the Air India A320 VT-ESF, […]

Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 3 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 7 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 2 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 2 Comments

It has been a nerve-wracking journey for Air India, but they finally made it. Okay, inspirational speech over. Now time for the real thing. Back in 2007, Air India was invited to join the Star Alliance, with Lufthansa sponsoring its entry. The Government of India practically dropped their pants to make concessions for Lufthansa group […]

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This is just a news report at this moment, but it looks like Air India has grown tired of insisting upon Star Alliance to let them into their group, and is now using other tactics to try and get them to make up their mind. Air India’s application to join Star Alliance was put on […]

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