With Tata's takeover (or "take-back") of Air India – India's national flag carrier is certainly looking at an exciting future ahead, being hailed as the "biggest turnaround in aviation history". Due to a loss-making venture stretching back decades, Air India has long had a less-than-stellar reputation, with underwhelming and outdated soft- and hard products that render it far behind its competitors. However, Tata's to-do list for the airline has made airline pundits quietly optimistic that a makeover of Air India is well underway that will catapult the airline and its Executive Class offering into a source of national pride and regain the prestige it once held.
The airline has recently announced new premium cabins, logo and livery.
Air India's main hub is Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, and the carrier is headquartered there too. Being the national flag carrier of India, it operates the largest number of international flights from the country with a combination of Airbus and Boeing aircraft. The airline has more than 200 female pilots - not unusual in India, where 12.4% of pilots are women, but more than double the global average of 5.4%.
Air India's mascot is the Maharajah, who sports a turban and large moustache and is intended to represent the warmth and hospitality you can expect from Air India. It is imprinted on many of Air India's paraphernalia – including the boarding pass. Speculation suggested the Maharaja Mascot might be changed following Air India’s takeover and merger. However, the carrier has said the Maharaja is one of the many historic assets it wishes to retain.
Air India is starting to receive new aircraft starting with A350-900s that were originally commissioned by Russian carrier Aeroflot. They will not - however - feature the cabins unveiled by Air India. These will only appear on the new A350-900s - of which two are now in service on domestic routes - and also on the airline's existing Boeing 777 and 787s that will be retrofitted. The work is scheduled to start on these in mid-2024 and take around 30 months.
The airline's livery combines design elements from the merged Air India and Indian Airlines liveries. The body of the plane is white with a red underbelly. The vertical stabiliser and engine covers feature the Air India logo - a red swan in flight combined with an orange 'Konark Chakra' - a chariot wheel from the Konark Sun Temple in Odisha. One notable feature of the livery is the red arches painted around each window - a remnant of the former 'Palace in the Sky' livery.
Air India's frequent-flyer program is Flying Returns, and members can earn points with Air India and its 25 partners, as the airline has been a member of the Star Alliance since 2014. There are three tiers - Silver, Gold, and The Maharajah Club (for members accruing more than 75,000 points during a 12-month period).
Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi is the busiest airport in India in terms of both passengers and cargo, and served more than 67 million passengers in 2019. The airport is named after India’s third Prime Minister, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, himself the first Prime Minister of India.
Indira Gandhi International Airport is in Palam, Delhi, 16 kilometres from the city centre. There are three terminals: Terminals 1 and 2 both handle domestic flights, while Terminal 3 - one of the biggest terminals in the world, operates all international in addition to some domestic flights.
Air India operates Domestic and International Maharajah Lounges, which can be found on the mezzanine level next to the food court area in the respective terminals. All Air India First Class, Business Class, Flying Return Elite members and Star Alliance Gold customers can access the lounge prior to their flights. The lounge offers a variety of seating options. There is a selection of hot food, snacks, a salad bar, tea and coffee. There is also Wi-Fi, television, workstations, recliners and showers, along with a wide selection of newspapers and magazines. The majority of Air India’s Maharajah Lounges are based in India, with the only international lounge located at New York’s JFK airport and London Heathrow airports.
Air India no longer provides a complimentary Chauffeur Pick-up and Drop-off service to Executive (Business) Class and First passengers on long-haul routes originating outside of India.
Air India provides a complimentary Chauffeur Pick-up and Drop-off service to Executive (Business) Class and First passengers on long-haul routes originating outside of India. However, this service has been suspended due to the pandemic, and doubts remain whether it will return.
Air India currently operates Boeing's wide-body aircraft on its long-haul routes. The Boeing 787-8 comes with 18 Business Class flatbed seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, a seat width of 22 inches (56 centimetres) and a pitch of 74 inches (190 centimetres). Whereas the Boeing 777-200LRs and 777-300ERs are equipped with 35 Business Class flatbed seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, a seat width of 19.95 inches (50.6 centimetres) and a pitch of 76 inches (193 centimetres). It is worth noting that although the airline markets the seats on the B777 as flatbeds, it is more of an angled-flat rather than fully-flat.
While Air India's existing interiors are dated, and without direct aisle access, better news is on the horizon for travellers thanks to the Tata-Group-owned airline merging with Vistara in 2024. With the merger comes the promise of an extensive overhaul of all long-haul 777 and 787 Business Class Cabins with latest-generation Business Class seats and best-in-class in-flight entertainment systems to begin rolling out in mid-2024 to coincide with the merger.
In addition to the upgrades, Air India has made the world's largest ever aircraft order of 470 narrow- and wide-body Boeing and Airbus aircraft, including 20 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, 10 Boeing 777-9s, 34 Airbus A350-1000s, 6 Airbus A350-900s, which will significantly modernise and greatly expand the airline's fleet.
The first new narrow-body aircraft will see service in late 2023, with the majority penned for 2025. However, Air India isn't resting on its laurels and is taking delivery of eleven leased Boeing 777s and 25 Airbus A320neo-family aircraft from other airlines, including Boeing 777-200s from Delta Air Lines, containing the Delta One Suites, which sees a vast and immediate passenger upgrade experience over the existing Air India Business Class product. A further six 777-300s are planned for the first half of 2023, and the first of the wide-body Airbus A350-900s – intended initially for Russian carrier Aeroflot – will begin joining the airline's fleet by the end of 2023 and will likely retain the Russian airline's cabins.
These are exciting times for Air India and its passengers, and the substantial aircraft orders will provide a significant economic lift with their manufacture.
Air India has introduced a bright and airy Business Class cabin. The suites are configured in a 1-2-1 layout - complete with all the modern coveniences of a modern Business Class offering - including full lie-flat seat, wireless charging, ottoman and sizeable touchscreen monitor. All have direct access to the aisle. The suites feature a grey & aubergine colour scheme - accentuated with rose gold and silver accents.
This new cabin feature on the airline's A350-900 aircraft along with a new First Class and Premium Class offering.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com features images, videos and seat maps for most airlines and aircraft. Search results also highlight details including seat pitch, width and recline. You can visualise the seat and cabin configuration of the flight in which you are interested before making your choice.
As a full-service airline, Air India offers a range of refreshments and meals on all flights. Passengers receive one major meal during a flight of five hours or less, one major and one minor meal on flights between five and nine hours, two major meals and one minor meal on flights between nine and eleven hours, and two major meals and one minor meal on flights over eleven hours.
Air India has updated the entire in-flight menu choices, including international, modern Indian fusion and delicious regional Indian dishes. Passengers on international flights can now expect a nutritious and healthy gourmet meal service that also now includes vegan options such as vegetable kebabs, Thai red curry with tofu and vegetables, and Medu Wada (lentil fritters) to name just a few of the plant-based alternatives. Meals vary according to the flight/route, but the main sample dishes include mixed vegetable paratha, kadai panner, masala dal and brown rice. International main dish samples include grilled prawns in fennel cream sauce, baked fillet of fish with a herb almond and garlic crust, chicken mortadella salad with English mustard, and zucchini cheddar steak with red pepper sauce. Dessert lovers will find various exotic treats ranging from Mango passionfruit delight and espresso almond crumble mouse cake to Khajur Tukda with Kesar Phirni and single-origin chocolate slice.
A wide selection of special meals – religious, children's, medical, and dietary - are also available on request.
Admittedly, the food on Air India is the highlight. Although the meals somewhat lack presentation that does not necessarily feel "premium" – as different courses tend to be served on a single tray with no branded cutlery or celebrity chef collaborations – they make up for it in taste. The curry dishes are as tasty in 40,000 feet as they are on the ground. However, do be careful if the flight attendant casually mentions that "it may be a bit spicy" – heed the warning!
Passengers in all the premium cabins are in for a treat when it comes to cutlery, chinaware and glassware.
First Class will enjoy their Indian meals from gold-copper thalis.
All cutlery will be made from stainless steel and tiffin box-shaped salt & pepper shakers with a gold finish will almost-certainly become a “collector's item”. The chinaware will feature Indian - Mandala - designs. And there will also be an amazing-looking tea service. Premium Economy passengers will enjoy a deliciously-designed service plate.
Alcohol is not served on domestic flights but is available on all international flights. Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut Champagne is offered during boarding - with a side of nuts and a selection of wines and spirits, soft drinks, juices, tea, and coffee can be ordered once airborne. It is surprisingly pleasant to find that Air India often carries a wide variety of different fine wines from the vineyards of Chateau de L'Hestrange, Les Oliviers, Chateau Milon and wines from the Piedmont region of Italy, even on shorter international flights. The new beverage menu also includes premium spirits and beers. There is also a wide selection of teas onboard that is true to its roots, and one ought to round off the meal with a masala chai (spicy tea) whenever possible.
The airline tends to roll out the beverages on selection prior/during the main meal service, so one can at least physically see the choices on offer.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on which Champagne is served in Business Class and First Class on many airlines. We do our best to keep track of any changes, but feel free to let us know if there is something we missed.
Service onboard has traditionally been hit-or-miss and inconsistent, but one can expect a friendly "namaste" from the cabin crew upon boarding. It is to be expected that the cabin attendants serving Business Class passengers will be the airline's more senior crew. With the large expansion of the airline fleet comes the need to find new pilots and cabin crew, and the airline has recently advertised these positions with an extraordinary response. Following Tata's takeover, the airline's image change promotes friendly interactions onboard, and 4,200 new cabin crew and 900 new pilots will form the cornerstones of Tata's makeover plans.
Air India's uniforms are designed by the National Institute of Fashion Technology, with female cabin crews choosing from three different outfits, including a traditional bright yellow sari with a red border, a long black jacket with trousers, and a yellow kurta (a long, loose-fitting, collarless shirt extending below the knee) with black trousers. Male attendants wear black jackets, trousers, a blue pinstripe shirt, and a red tie. New rigid grooming rules have been applied to the male and female crew, and a new uniform is expected to be introduced soon.
Air India has showcased new celebrity-designed uniforms for its cabin and cockpit crew - reflecting the airline's refreshed brand identity. The attire, crafted by renowned Indian designer Manish Malhotra, encompasses ombré sarees and bandhgalas for cabin staff, and sleek double-breasted suits for pilots.
The junior female crew will wear striking red-to-purple ombré sarees, paired with red blazers. In contrast, senior crew members will don aubergine-to-burgundy sarees accompanied by matching aubergine blazers. An innovative option allows the wearing of sarees over trousers, offering a blend of Eastern and Western fashion while providing the female cabin crew with a choice that resonates with their personal style.
The cockpit crew's attire will consist of new black double-breasted suits, adorned with a pattern reflecting the Vista, symbolising “the professionalism and prestige” associated with piloting. The uniform accessories include black and burgundy block heels, pearl earrings, and sling bags for the female crew, while the male staff will be equipped with black brogues.
Existing, non-retrofit aircraft are equipped with Thales i3000 in-flight entertainment system. Passengers can choose between Hindi and English content, including international (Hollywood) and domestic (Bollywood) movies, television shows, cartoons and music. It's a modest offering, but it does the trick – although it is a bit sad to be able to spot the actual pixels of the screen, such is the lack of resolution. As previously stated, a considerable retrofit programme is in place on the long-haul fleet that will see the introduction of new state-of-the-art IFE systems. However, the exact details are unknown at the time of writing. It's also worth noting that Air India does not currently offer inflight Wi-Fi but has plans to introduce services on its long-haul flights.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on Wi-Fi and inflight entertainment.
The airline has recently unveiled a new range of amenity kits by American luxury travel & lifestyle brand TUMI, which will be offered to passengers in First Class, Business Class and Premium Economy. The Business Class kits offer a hard shell mini-case inspired by TUMI's 19 Degree collection. Passengers receive a bonus vegan leather patch which can be monogrammed with their initials at TUMI stores. The kits contain products by Malin + Goetz and include lip balm, hand and body lotion and face mist. An eye mask, dental kit, ear plugs, socks, pen and tissues are also supplied.
TUMI also supply sleepwear made from recycled materials, with each sleeper suit comprising the equivalent of twenty-three 500ml plastic bottles – resulting in 18 million plastic bottles being diverted from landfill sites annually.
Air India has unveiled a raft of soft-enhancements including premium bedding, tableware and amenity kits. Air India has partnered with the luscious Italian family-owned fashion house Ferragamo. Business and First Class passengers will receive a travel set includes luxury soft socks, high-quality eye masks, and earplugs made from recycled plastic, while the toothbrush is crafted from wheat straw. There are also tubes of lip balm, toothpaste, moisturising hand cream and a comb. First Class passengers will get an added bottle of scent.
Air India is introducing its own line of premium bedding - for Business and First Class which includes memory foam mattress toppers and duvets and Premium Economy - lush blankets.
Air India currently operates a wide range of the narrow-body Airbus A320 family of aircraft on its short and medium-haul routes. The cabin comes with 8 or 12 Business Class recliner seats, depending on the aircraft type, and is in a 2-2 configuration, with a width of 21 inches (53 centimetres) and pitch of 40 inches (102 centimetres). A rule of thumb is that there are 8 Business Class seats on the A319, while both the A320 and A321 have 12 seats. Also worth noting is that a few A320s are in an all-Economy configuration and do not have Business Class.
But with the massive order of new aircraft, the short- and medium-haul fleet will see the introduction of 210 new Airbus narrow-body aircraft with much-needed updated products and interiors made up of 140 A320neos, 70 A321neos, plus an additional 190 Boeing 737Max aircraft.
On flights up to 90 minutes, cold snacks are served with beverages. Flights between 90 and 120 minutes are served meals by 'time of day' with vegetarian options and beverages, and for longer flights up to 5 hours – meals by 'time of day' with multiple choices are on offer with tea and coffee. Alcohol is not served on domestic flights, and cabin crew are empowered to refuse alcohol to any intoxicated passengers on international flights.
Air India is now flying two newly delivered A350-900s with First Class, Business Class and Premium Economy cabins. They are being used on domestic routes until the crews are fully familiar with their upgrades.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on CO2 emissions for each flight. Our quality algorithms also give a higher score to flights operated by the most modern and environmentally-friendly aircraft.
Air India is investing heavily in expanding its global fleet with highly advanced aircraft with industry-leading fuel efficiency. The use of the Boeing 737MAX aircraft on domestic and short-haul international routes will see a reduction of 20 per cent in fuel and emissions compared to the aircraft it will replace. Meanwhile, the long-haul Boeing 777X will be the largest aircraft in the Air India fleet and the world's largest twin-engine jet. While the Airbus A350 is a proven efficient and quiet long-haul aircraft.
The airline has also minimised the usage of single-use plastics onboard its aircraft by around 80 per cent on its global network. This has been achieved by a series of initiatives, including completely revising how passengers are served water – removing all 500ml bottles from economy class, replacing plastic straws with paper straws, plastic stirrers with wooden stirrers, and introducing 100 per cent compostable materials in place of plastic alternatives.
Decarbonisation must and should be a priority, and given its access to feedstock and solar energy, India is well-placed to become a leader in Sustainable Aviation Fuel. Indeed, in March 2023, Vistara of the Tata Group became the first Indian carrier to operate a wide-body aircraft using sustainable aviation fuel on one of its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Air India is certain to follow suit soon.
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