Air India is in a situation where there are dark clouds hovering over with no certain future. On one hand, its’ owners want to hire professionals to steer Air India, on the other hand, they keep trying everything to keep it alive, including feeding money to an inefficient organisation.
Which brings me to the point of Air India First Class, which is one such inefficient organisation. Air India has First Class seats on their Boeing 777 and 747 fleet. The 777-300ER has 4 First Class seats whereas the 777-200LR has 8 First Class seats. The Boeing 747-400 has 12 First Class seats. While the 16 Boeing 777s operate on Air India’s USA network apart from some domestic routes, the 4 Boeing 747-400 operate a few commercial flights, largely on standby for government flights including sorties for the Prime Minister and the President of India.
Air India has usually not been able to sell First Class on their international flights. The product is outdated and shabby at best. It isn’t maintained (so is the rest of the aircraft), seats are broken and dirty apart from other problems. Air India does get some brownie points for the fabulous crew who take care of the Premium service and also the catering to some extent. But it isn’t enough to pay thousands of dollars for First Class.
So in order to enhance revenue and optimise the space, Air India had long back decided to remove First Class cabin. Air India first came up with this idea back in 2011. Then there was radio silence till 2014 when there were some reports following their entry into the Star Alliance. Then again in 2016, after launching Delhi-San Francisco route, Air India started cosying up to the idea. Finally, in 2018, Air India in a media event confirmed that all Business Class seats and First Class seats will be refurbished and branded as Maharaja Business Class seats. Note: Since 2011, Air India has seen only 25% seat occupancy in their First Class till date. Pretty consistent.
So what is Air India planning to do now?
During the media event for the refurbished product, Air India did not mention whether they are going to increase the Economy seat count or the Business class seat count to compensate for the decrease in First Class.
If we look at the 2016 reports, Air India had planned to keep the Business Class seat count as it is while increasing the Economy seat count to 298 from the current 195. I still cannot figure out if they are moving to a 10-across Economy layout or are they reducing the seat pitch from the current 33″, as there is no way they can add 103 Economy seats by removing 8 First Class Seats.
Air India would miss an opportunity of increasing their premium revenue if they didn’t balance the number of premium seats to economy seats following the reconfiguration, especially on such ultra long-haul routes.
Air India has stopped selling First Class seats
As for the past few days, First Class isn’t bookable on any of the nonstop USA flights from India. Take, for example, Air India’s Mumbai – Newark – Mumbai flight,
Or their San Francisco – Delhi – San Francisco flight, where incidentally, they are showing codeshares over their own flight first.
The case is same on all other routes: Delhi – Chicago, Delhi – Washington D.C., Delhi- New York JFK and Mumbai- New York JFK.
On domestic routes, First Class is still bookable but for a staggering amount of INR 98k for a roundtrip between Mumbai and Delhi. But looks like Air India seems to be pulling that inventory also slowly.
However, OTAs are still selling Air India First Class.
But what bugs me is that Air India didn’t give some sort of prior notice or anything. Nor did they put forward a concrete plan which airlines usually do when they are planning on reconfiguring their fleet. In this case, Air India just pulled off the inventory in a matter of a few days that too for all flights effective immediately.
So when did the reconfiguration start?
I guess Air India has removed First Class seats from a sizeable number of aircraft and hence they decided to remove the inventory completely to avoid mismanagement. From October 2018, a couple of 777s have headed to Nagpur (Air India’s maintenance base) and that is when the change may have happened. The following 777s went to Nagpur for maintenance,
- VT-ALF (777-200LR): October 28, 2018 – November 1, 2018
- VT-ALH (777-200LR): November 10, 2018 – December 6, 2018
- VT-ALG (777-200LR): December 11, 2018 – December 28, 2018
- VT-ALX (777-300ER): December 28, 2019 – January 3, 2019
- VT-ALQ (777-300ER): January 4, 2019 – January 9, 2019
- VT-ALN (777-300ER): January 9, 2019 – January 13, 2019
- VT-ALR (777-300ER): January 13, 2019-
That’s an impressive pace. Six Boeing 777s are already, seemingly reconfigured, and another one is underway. That leaves six more active 777-300ER (VT-ALJ/L/K/M/P/S) and three 777-300ER (VT-ALO/T/U) that are stored for over 4-5 months now.
Update: One reader confirms that he flew in the First Class cabin just three days back, so we now know that the planes did not go for maintenance. Also, a journalist friend confirms that the Nagpur facility does not have cabin reconfiguration facilities. So the maintenance has to be other checks.
We don’t exactly know why Air India has stopped selling their First Class cabin given they still fly it on the aircraft, or if they have plans to officially withdraw it in the near future.
What do you think of Air India’s move to stop selling First Class? Have you recently flown First Class on any of Air India’s 777s?