As I’ve adequately discussed over time, Air India is not sitting twiddling its thumbs for its own brand-new aircraft while it tries to improve the passenger experience on its long-haul flights. They’ve taken in five Boeing 777L Aircraft (earlier with Delta), which serve US flights from Mumbai and Bengaluru, and they recently started induction of the first of their six ex-Etihad Airways Boeing 777-300 ER aircraft. This aircraft will service flights between Delhi and London Heathrow, effective September 1, 2023. However, it is being used for domestic Delhi – Mumbai and vice versa runs to train crew and figure out teething issues with the aircraft, which would be forming a new sub-fleet in Air India. I hopped on one of these ex-Etihad Air India 777 aircraft yesterday, flying Business Class. air india 777 business class.
I was initially booked to fly on Air India’s AI 660, which usually operates at 6:15 PM from Mumbai. When I booked the flight, it was to be operated by an A320neo. However, on the day of departure, it was changed to one of the older A321 aircraft, which caused me to start looking again in case of a better flight. I had not considered the possibility of flying Air India 687 before, which is the 777 rotation on most days, with aircraft being positioned between Mumbai and Delhi for international flights. However, on this day, I noted that the seat map looked different compared to the 2-3-2 layout on Air India’s 777s.
I called Air India and got my flight switched to this one to try out the replaced product on its fourth day of trial runs on domestic flights before it headed over outside the country. I arrived at the airport at about 2:30 PM for my 4 PM flight and got a boarding pass printed from the business class counters before heading through security and to the gate. VT-AER, named Kriya, was waiting at the gate.
Boarding was supposed to start at 3 PM, and it did start slightly later at about 3:05 PM.
Air India personnel boarding passengers were a little troubled, though. If I heard it right, the seats on this plane, in business class, were A-D-G-K. However, Air India’s seat maps were configured otherwise on the check-in screens. There was also chaos on board because many people either found their seats gone or something else happened due to configuration versus actual being different. I landed up on the jet bridge amongst a sea of people, only to realise that Business Class they were boarding from gate L1, so I could walk to the front to board the flight.
Air India AI687
Mumbai(BOM) – Delhi (DEL)
Friday, August 25, 2023
Departure: 04:06 PM
Duration: 2 Hours 10 minutes
Arrival: 06:16 PM
Aircraft Type: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 11A (Business)
Meal Service: Snack
Air India’s (ex)Etihad 777 Interiors
As I walked through the gate L1, the first compartment on the plane was the First Class compartment, basically an enclosed suite. I am unsure if they were selling this on the flight because I was booked in Business Class (and transferred onto this flight), but I noticed at least one gentleman in a suite. There are eight fully-enclosed suites in a 1-2-1 configuration on board.
In business class, it was a familiar sight. The erstwhile Pearl Business Class was now Air India’s Business Class. Forty seats in two cabins, one right behind First Class and the second one between doors L2 and L3. Etihad has the Stelia Solstys seats, which now look a bit dated but are still popular with many airlines such as Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Turkish Airlines.
As you can see, the seats on the window sides are staggered in a near and far from the window configuration. If you want a seat near the window, go for the A/K seats, such as 11A, and if you want to sit away from the window, go for the even number seats, such as 10 or 12 B/H. I found the odd-numbered window seats to be more private than the even-numbered rows, such as this one below, which is pretty exposed.
In the centre sections of business class, you can sit with your travel partner next to you, as shown above and below, or far, if you are travelling solo. There is a compartment divider if you’d like more privacy as well.
Behind the Business Class section was the 3-4-3 configured Economy Class. I could not go further back since it was getting crowded as boarding was ongoing.
Air India’s (ex)Etihad 777 Business Class In-flight product
As I settled in on my seat, I noticed the familiar Poltrana Frau interior furnishings on the seat as I’ve flown this product with Etihad many times before. On Etihad, it was an ordinary product, especially in the face of their newer product configurations coming out, such as the Business Class Studio on the 787 and A380 and the even newer Business Class on the A350. However, for Air India, this is a big step up because their own product currently is not as great on their own 777s.
The first thing to notice was the working in-flight entertainment. Although the monitor is fixed and you cannot turn it around, it worked well, which is good.
On each seat, a disposable headset and a bottle of water were already waiting. This would be a noise-cancelling headset for international flights rather than these disposable headsets.
In the armrest, the seat controls were embedded. Note the presence of a massage function in the seat, which still works very well, and one press gives you about 15-20 minutes.
Some seat connectivity options were coming loose, and I presume they are not needed in 2023.
The seat cubby is much bigger than many other products on the market, and sleeping won’t be a problem. Not even if you are a side sleeper. A blanket was waiting on the seat.
There is also a big, sturdy table which can be used for work or dining.
Lastly, there are multiple USB connectivity/charging options on the seat and a universal power supply available.
I made a quick trip to the lav, and while it is a standard-size lavatory where people could change into Pajamas and stuff, there were spelling mistakes everywhere.
Air India’s 777 Business Class In-flight service
There was a sizeable commotion, and ground services called in again and again due to people sometimes trying to self-upgrade and other people not being happy with their new seats (since the business class’s layout changed since they’d booked the tickets) and so on. So Cabin Crew and Ground Crew were on their toes. However, the cabin crew started pre-departure service once the commotion settled in.
They brought three options for the Pre-departure beverage, which included something like guava juice, buttermilk and water.
I went with the guava juice option.
A bit later, they handed out hot towels to all business-class customers.
Subsequently, the cabin crew came around to take orders for the snack service. While there was no printed menu, the cabin crew member shared the sheet with the options available on board for me to glance at. There were four choices:
- Indian Non-Vegetarian: Chicken 65
- Indian Vegetarian: Paneer Tikka
- Western Non-Vegetarian: Chicken Sandwich
- Western Vegetarian: Paneer Sandwich
Doors closed for an on-time departure, and soon, we lined up for departure behind other aircraft.
I shifted my attention to exploring the (now) working IFE. Apart from TV series, there was a decent assortment of English and Hindi Movies on board. Here are some examples. There were at least 30 movies each.
Once takeoff was done, we flew over familiar territory and took about ten minutes to level out.
Service began as soon as the seat belt signs were switched off. First, we had the cabin crew lay the tablecloth for everyone. In a few minutes, the snack service was brought around. I went with the Chicken 65 option. A salad, a main, and a dessert were on the tray.
Air India’s service standards are still wet behind their ears. For instance, on the outward flight, I had no table napkins, just a paper napkin on my tray. And as you’d note here, the cabin crew did not bother cleaning up the plate before putting it on the tray for service. So, while the food was good, the presentation could have been better. I glanced at the sandwiches being taken to another passenger, and they looked good, but also, I’ve had the same bread rolls in which the sandwich is made on AirAsia India, and I’ve regretted it in the past.
While the cabin crew walked around a few times, they left customers to their own most of the time. I noticed no one asked if a hot beverage was required, so I enquired myself to a member of the cabin crew. I was told it was available “on demand”. Rolling up my eyes, I asked for tea to be served to me, which took quite a while. They went to find lemon wedges for my black tea with lemon request. Also, this first arrived in a paper cup, and when I was amused at the paper cup, they brought a real cup and switched it to that in front of me. Dear Air India, you have a long way to go to compete with the finer airlines.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. Here is a view of the flatbed, as it would turn out if you’d make a bed. I hope bed linen is uplifted on these aircraft’s long-haul flights.
While the aircraft did not have a working moving map, perhaps because the software was not installed, there was a timeline that would be displayed to update the distance travelled at all times.
We soon commenced our descent, arrived in Delhi within the time block for the flight, and docked at the gate.
Overall, this was a good flight experience with Air India. Domestic flights on wide-body aircraft are rare, so I try and get in when I can, but this was even more special since this product will fly abroad from next week onwards. Hopefully, the Delhi – London Air India regulars notice the change in the product going forth. It would be a step up. For comparison, here is the last time I flew to London on Air India, on the 787 aircraft.
What do you think of these 777 aircraft being brought into Air India’s fleet and the experience they offer?
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