10 Reasons I’m Glad I Gave Air India Another Chance
As you may recall, Air India is… not my favorite. In fact, my journey from Delhi (DEL) to New York-JFK last year was arguably the worst business-class flight of my life, and quite possibly my most uncomfortable flight in any cabin. It was just terrible.
But, as luck would have it, I needed a one-way flight to London in order to review Malaysia's new A350 between LHR to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Air India’s biz fare was a fraction of the competition, at $1,226. For a six-hour transatlantic redeye on a 787-8 Dreamliner, I decided to bite the bullet and give the airline another try. I'm actually glad I did, too. Here's why:
1. The flight was cheap — for a one-way in biz.
As I mentioned, the one-way flight cost $1,226. While that's still a considerable amount, it's a fraction of the more than $5,600 that every other carrier charges for a one-way trip in lie-flat seats from New York to London. Competitors become much more viable when there's award availability, of course — starting at 57,500 miles for AAdvantage redemptions, for example — but for less than $1,300, this seemed like a great opportunity to give Air India biz another try.
2. I loved the late departure time.
Air India's fifth-freedom flight departs Newark at 11:15pm, arriving at Heathrow at 11:05 the next morning. While that timing's not going to work for morning meetings, it was perfect for me, given that I was connecting to a Malaysia flight the same evening. The late departure also meant I had no problem falling asleep right after the meal.
3. Air India passengers can access the best lounge at Newark.
I received an invitation to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which is easily the best lounge at Newark Airport. Even Cathay Pacific uses the lousy British Airways Galleries Lounge next door, so this really was a nice surprise. There’s a fantastic bar, sit-down a-la-carte dining, showers, plenty of seating and more.
4. There’s a Dreamliner flying this route.
Air India’s 787-8 is hardly the world’s most luxurious, but it’s a huge step up from the dated and filthy 777-300ER I flew from Delhi. That said, the plane could have been cleaner — I used the hot towel to wipe down my seat and still ended up picking up quite a bit of dirt.
5. The seats were comfortable.
Though a 2-2-2 configuration in business class isn’t anything to get excited about, the lie-flat seats on this plane are much more comfortable than those on the older 777s, especially in bed mode. I managed to get more than four hours of sleep on a six-hour flight, and I even ate dinner. Not bad!
6. I didn’t have anyone next to me.
Air India’s 787 business cabin is small, with just three rows of six seats. That means it’s probably often full, depending on the route. But I lucked out with the only empty seat in the cabin right next to me, which no doubt impacted my experience. With some of the best fares to London, I wouldn’t expect this to happen often, though.
7. The food was decent.
I got sick on my flight from Delhi — that didn’t happen here. The food wasn’t restaurant-quality, but my Indian supper was certainly edible, and parts were even flavorful. The curry chicken was spicy and delicious, for example — even more flavorful than what I had in the lounge. I really wish there had been a menu, though, and that a flight attendant had asked if I'd like to be woken up for breakfast, which I ended up sleeping through.
8. The flight attendants were friendly.
Based on my previous flight, I was pleasantly surprised to find service with a smile. Everyone I interacted was polite and patient, and I noticed the crew treating everyone respectfully. This should be the norm, of course, but the flight attendants on my 777 left much to be desired.
9 . The bedding was pretty good.
Back when I used to fly economy almost exclusively, I traveled with my own full-size pillow. Now I expect airlines to provide something almost as appealing in biz — oftentimes they fall short, but Air India's pillow was comfortable and decently large, and the larger blanket (not pictured) was soft and sizable as well. Both contributed to me getting a decent night's sleep.
10. There was plenty of time to sleep.
Thanks to a heavy tailwind, our flight lasted just over six hours from gate to gate. With short taxis factored in, plus preparations for landing, that's just over five hours of potential lie-flat time. I would have managed close to that had I decided to skip the meal, but even with a full dinner I was able to snag nearly four hours of sleep, thanks to speedy service — including the dessert cart, the meal was complete within an hour after takeoff.
All that said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. 2-2-2 seating is hardly competitive, the boarding process was a bit of a mess and the lack of menus is quite bizarre. The in-flight entertainment selection is incredibly limited, and Air India doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, either, though I didn’t mind too much on this transatlantic redeye. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly AI on this route again in the future, though, assuming the price is right. Stay tuned for my full review!