Air India Boeing 787 Business (Executive) Class, Melbourne-Delhi

Airline Review: Air India Boeing 787 Business (Executive) Class, Melbourne-Delhi

Route:
Melbourne to Delhi
Airline:
AI and IC (Air India)
Cabin Class:
Business
Aircraft Type:
Boeing 787
Flight:
AI301
Seat:
2J

service:

meals:

seating:

overall:

What's Hot

  • Fully lie-flat seat
  • Top quality amenity kit, selection of quilts and pillows
  • Direct to Delhi, depending on day of the week

What's Not

  • Poor in-flight entertainment
  • Meals and meal service
  • Transit via SYD or MEL, depending on day of the week

X-Factor

  • It's a Boeing 787!

Introduction

It's been a long time since we’ve seen direct flights between Australia and India. Air India made a spectacular re-entry into the Australian market in late 2013 with Australia’s first commercial Boeing 787 Dreamliner service which offers the only direct flights to the sub-continent, dog-legging via Sydney and Melbourne on the daily return flight to Delhi.

Several airlines – among them Emirates, Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines – offer daily flights to most major Indian cities including Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Most necessitate at least one stopover, although in the end you can usually get to most cities in under 20 hours.

I travel to India every four to six weeks and with return business class flights on other airlines ranging from $6,000 to over $7,500, Air India's direct-to-Delhi service and competitive $4,000 business class fare offer a significant advantage for the frequent traveller.

Check-in

An email at 10:30 pm the night before my flight alerted me to a two-hour delay due to fog in Delhi, which in turn set back the departure of the inbound flight.

Check-in at Melbourne is via a single counter, rather obscurely placed at the end of China-Southern’s check-in. I had to twice ask the airport attendant where check-in was, even after walking up and down the correct aisle!

Air India's check-in staff provided me with a photocopied express pass that was questioned at immigration, however after showing my Executive Class boarding pass I was through the lot in 15 minutes and off to the lounge. 

Lounge

Air India's Executive Class passengers in Melbourne have access to the Qantas International Business Lounge. This is a cracking lounge, but disappointing that it’s on the lower concourse which means you miss out on what would be a great view of the airport.

Even though it was peak hour on a Saturday morning the lounge has plenty of space, great barista-made coffee and a huge variety of traditional and healthy food options. Wifi is fast and steady and provides a last minute opportunity for getting some work done.

Flight

Boarding was at Gate 14, in the lacklustre new section of Melbourne's international terminal.

Executive Class passengers were offered priority boarding and, although we boarded through one door only, I only had a short wait before I got on board.

As with all my Air India flights to date the welcome on board was warm and I was escorted to my seat in the front cabin.

And this being a Boeing 787 Dreamliner brings the boarding experience to a whole new level, with entry into the enormous galley giving a tremendous sense of space.

And then there are those extra large windows, which are tinted blue and are can be individually dimmed as well as being controlled by the crew. During the day, the crew limits how light they can get so as not to make the cabin too bright.

Read: Light fantastic – Boeing 787 Dreamliner's digital window tinting

The real advantage is having some sense of daylight outside when the shades are dimmed, in contrast to conventional flights where once the shades are down, you have no idea what time it is.

Seat

Air India's Boeing 787 cabin has gotten a fair bit of flack since its launch due to a less-than-glamorous palette.

While I wouldn’t have chosen orange carpet, I feel the interspersed rich reds and earthy tones really suit the spacious front cabin.

A simple yet useful amenity kit is provided to all passengers, as are slippers and eye-mask.

There are three rows in Air India's Boeing 787 Executive Class cabin and the 22 inch wide seats have an ample 74 inch pitch.

The seats are situated straight ahead, rather than the angled orientation which some airlines are adopting, so  you don’t sit on a funny angle and you don’t have to squeeze your feet under the seat in front.

This gives a great sense of space, and for my money, puts Air India right up with the best of them.

The foot rest – which has two open storage compartments underneath – forms the end of the bed when the seat is turned into a fully lie-flat bed.

It’s a real treat to get a lie-flat, non-angled bed these days – you don’t have to tuck your legs on an angle or put your feet under the seat in front of you.

Of course, being a 2-2-2 layout, if you're in a window seat you'll need to climb over your seatmate to get to the aisle.

The seats (and beds) are well padded with a selection of pillows and doonas offered.

I only use the light blanket, but the duck-down doona is a tremendous asset. Had the bed been uncomfortable I was considering putting this down as a mattress, but I didn’t need it.

After my meal the crew offer a decent-sized pillow for sleeping which really turns the Air India seat into one of the better beds in the sky.

However, the whole arrangement lacks space for personal items.

There's a slot for a laptop, tablet or book in the armrest between the seats, and a drink holder under the armrest (making it a bit hard to get in recline or sleep mode), but other than that there’s just not much for storage.

This makes it hard to keep your book, digital music player, toiletries and so on at hand.

There appeared to be minimal galley and lavatory noise from the front or rear galleys.

Meal

This is definitely not Air India's strongest suit.

On the first leg to Sydney all we were served was a cup of tea and some tired-looking open sandwiches. 

Coming out of Sydney we’re given a drink and a small pack of peanuts after take-off.

Lunch is offered as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘non-vegetarian’. I chose the non-veg, which I considered a pretty tasty chicken curry – but then I'm known for eating almost anything served on a tray at 35,000 feet!

A cheese platter was offered after main course. It came with a nice port, but Air India didn't offer a menu so it was hard to know what we were getting.

On such a long flight it would have been nice to spread the meal out and take up a bit of time.

The service was lacking and would be better with more attention to detail, such as with other airlines where the entrée is served separately. After all, we had 12 hours to kill so there was no rush!

On this 13 hour flight, we waited another 8 hours before being fed supper – again a curry but slightly smaller in serving size.

I asked for something in between and was brought a selection of savoury snacks which got me through. It would have been good if they had an ‘anytime menu' or snack bar for guests to help themselves, especially for a plane-food addict like me.

Entertainment & Service

The inflight entertainment system is easy to use but the content was a bit of a letdown with only four 'new' movies, all of which I had seen last year on different airlines.

Obviously catering to the airline's native audience there was a great selection of regional, classic and Indian videos.

Noise cancelling headphones are provided and the 15 inch screen is on par with most competing airlines.

Summary

The comfort level, seat and bed certainly make Air India a worthy contender when choosing to travel to the sub-continent. Executive Class comfort is far superior to some other carriers plying the route and the benefit of direct flights (which can reduce total time to Delhi to about 13 hours) is very attractive. 

Air India currently only flies to Delhi, which makes it unattractive if you need to get to anywhere in southern India as you have to transfer in Delhi and head south again.

For my money, a return flights under $4,000 make this the obvious choice if you need to get to Delhi – but anywhere else comes with the risk of an overnight stay in Delhi due to delays, which puts the other airlines back in the game.

(As an aside, on this trip I was flying on to Hyderabad and would have missed my connection due to the late arrival of this flight into Delhi, had I not already decided to stop in Delhi for the night and catch the morning flight to Hyderabad). 

I’m not yet sold on the day flight. Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines offer a midnight departure from Melbourne, getting you in to Bombay or Delhi mid-morning and allowing you plenty of time to work in the afternoon. By comparison, Air India's schedule doesn't see you arrive into Delhi until at least 6pm.

Chris O'Neill

Chris O'Neill (happyflyting)

Chris is an Australian engineer who travels internationally almost too regularly for work. He enjoys airplane food (seriously!) and collects model planes – for his son to play with, of course.
 

12 Comments

  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    24 Mar, 2014 12:37 pm

    OMG...was that a Business class meal?

    I shudder to think what was served in Economy!

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  • Newbie7

    Newbie7

    25 Mar, 2014 10:31 pm

    I actually flew on them DEL-MEL back in November in Y, and it was this exact same meal - makes me wonder if AI actually has a J class meal separate, aside from the wine list and the cheese and crackers? We also got a "veg" and "non-veg" option and the tray layout and items are identical to this article's photo. As Chris wrote, it was actually pretty tasty, but that's severely disappointing if they serve the same meal across the entire plane...

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  • rg

    rg

    24 Mar, 2014 12:38 pm

    I'm more worried about AI trying to land at Essendon instead of Tullamarine!!

    The whole thing sounds like a shambles from check-in to copy lounge pass to rather sad looking cheese and crackers for "dessert"!

    Looks rather like poor man's Tiger Air and pilots who don't know where the airport is!!

    Need to pay me $4000 to fly with these clowns!!

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  • ssn

    ssn

    24 Mar, 2014 03:04 pm

    Definitely AI still has lot to do more but for me AI 787 J travel has been way better than compared to my experiences with Thai, Asiana, Air China, China Southern & China Eastern. 

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  • eminere

    eminere

    24 Mar, 2014 06:55 pm

    In economy seat row numbers are handwritten on masking tape and then stuck to the overhead bins.

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  • Libertyscott

    Libertyscott

    24 Mar, 2014 07:58 pm

    Catering looks just dire, but if it's all about the room and the seat then it's good value, but that's about it.  

    This comment seems odd:

    "It’s a real treat to get a lie-flat, non-angled bed these days"

    Really? It is increasingly commonplace and expected in business class.  

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  • eminere

    eminere

    25 Mar, 2014 10:56 am

    It's certainly expected but I'm not too sure about it being commonplace. 

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  • gabes80

    gabes80

    24 Mar, 2014 10:55 pm

    Great review - the cheese and crackers picture is gold. I wouldn't expect any meal on AI to be void of curry - perhaps a curry and non-curry choice would appease some palates.

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  • rg

    rg

    26 Mar, 2014 11:22 am

    AI dreamliner en route australia to delhi made emergency landing in KL in Feb when all 3 onboard FMCs failed!!

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  • the flight guy

    the flight guy

    23 Jul, 2014 01:27 pm

    I thought that meal was served in economy! Air inside have some work to do in general!

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  • CSN

    CSN

    6 Nov, 2014 09:25 pm

    I just arrived back in Sydney after a trip to India. I flew the same route as you and the price was fairly the same, I chose Air India because of the nonstop no fuss flight and I loved it! And let me tell you there has been a lot of change in the last few months, prehaps its AI's introduction into Star Alliance? Well  anyways, they now have an improved meal service to what you have shown in your review. In fact the meal I got looked completely different to yours and actually looked like someone had taken time to make it, not just whipped up in a hurry. They also now  serve their meals on plates accompanied by proper table wear, not just on a plastic tray with a bowl, and now the meal truly looks J class. They have also now got more English movies, although many of them are not fairly recent (I recall there being about 20+ to watch). I enjoyed my Air India flight and would recommend Air India to anyone, the seat is also very nice and spacious (when you compare it to the angle lie flat seats some airlines still use....e.g. EK 77W). Geez I wish I knew this sight existed so I could have taken photos and write a review. 

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  • Rishi Kataria

    Rishi Kataria

    20 Feb, 2015 05:22 pm

    I just hope one-day if they happen to fly to Mumbai direct or maybe even Bangalore or Hyderabad then I am hooked. Delhi has too many fog problems and just having to go back south is a pain in the arse. But hey for $4000 compared to $6000 it's fairly decent.

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Guest

11 Dec, 2016 09:20 am

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