For the longest time - I didn't fly Air India.
Friends had detailed their experiences; rude hostesses, clumsy sari uniforms, dirty toilets and annoying travel companions.
All that changed when I took a London roundtrip aboard AI101 in June 2006. In fact I'm a big fan now and recommend it to all my friends.
1. Service was fantastic. The hostesses were polite and super-efficient. For e.g. I asked a hostess if I could have 2 glasses of water instead of one; she was quick to oblige.
Dear drinking friends, AI is liberal with their alcohol offerings. In addition to red and white wine, they offer vodka, rum, whiskey and scotch among other beverages. The alcoholic drinks come in peg-sized small bottles. Mid-flight I went up to the airline pantry and requested an additional bottle of wine; I had finished the one previously served. But the hostess was in her break-time and in between her meal. Without hesitation, she put her spoon down, went to another pantry and fetched the bottle. She didn't forget to get a glass and asked me if I'd like anything else. This felt like high-energy service; it spoke to me.
2. Service to non-Indians. Non Indians were naturally the minority; the hostesses gave a little extra attention to them. For e.g. they would explain the Indian menu or often ask if they needed anything. I read this as trying to make them feel comfortable. I've been in the minority when flying Lufthansa and didn't feel the same way; in fact Lufthansa's hostesses need training on spoken English.
3. Ground staff. These guys were super helpful, both at New York's JFK and London's Heathrow. Both times, I requested leg room seats and they were happy to oblige.
I wish I remembered the name of the London guy. He suggested that the flight was 1/2 full and asked if I'd like 4 continous seats to lie down. How can you refuse such an offer? I appreciated his eagerness to give me the best. With other airlines I've often got a mechanical and cold - 'I'll see what I can do'
4. Fantastic TV entertainment. They had 5 movies playing at any given time; both Hindi and English, the the hits. I watched King Kong, Rang De Basanti. Naturally, they would re-play the movies on their individual channels so you could watch more than 1. Other channels had hit TV shows.
The Bad ...
1. The return flight from London to NYC left and landed 1/2 hour late. The attendants mentioned it would be late but failed to explain why? Was it AI's fault, was it Heathrow's fault? Airlines like Jet Blue try their best to explain what's going on; passengers feel great being kept in-the-know; as opposed to wondering what's-going-on?
2. Poor audio system. Often I couldn’t hear what the flight attendant was saying. I feel the audio systems from Air Bus were fine; but AI didn’t tune them right. I'd also recommend changing the language order i.e. first in English and then Hindi. I can read, write and speak Hindi; but changing the order does not make me less patriotic. I think international passengers will appreciate English first.
Word of caution ...
My parents feel that the service is fantastic between America and Europe, but drops dramatically with flights going to India. They hinted that passenger-quality drops too. I don’t feel that way; my next India flight will most-likely be on AI. More soon...
Labels: air india, plane, travel