There are two primary guiding factors for a privatised Air India. The first is a significant market for a non-stop flight from India to key global markets, such as the US, Europe and Australia. The second is that people will be willing to pay more in exchange for saving time and flying non-stop. So, a premium exists. Everything the airline has lined up for its international services breathes from these two guiding principles.
Air India’s First A350-900 is here.
To recap, Air India ordered 40 A350 aircraft, 20 being the -900 variant and 20 being the -1000 variant. Out of these, the airline has already (contractually) received six. These six were originally assembled for Russian carrier Aeroflot; however, with the sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of their war, these were offered to other airlines. Air India picked up six, and Turkish picked up six as well.
The A350-900 will be the first aircraft to receive the new Air India colours. After exiting the paint shop, these went to a workshop where the existing product installed on the plane was suitably modified to bring these to Air India’s (new) brand standards. The airline received its first A350-900 in December 2023 and chose to unveil it at the Wings India 2024 in Hyderabad.
The aircraft is scheduled to enter commercial service on Monday, January 22, 2024. While the A350-900 has a 9,500-mile range, it will fly domestically for the first month while the cabin crew gets acquainted with the onboard product and service protocols. The AI A350-900s are equipped with crew bunks, so if the airline wanted, they could also fly this aircraft ultra-long-haul to North America.
However, before the plane entered service, we got a good look inside the aircraft to find out if it was worth the excitement it was generating.
Air India’s A350-900 Configuration
Air India’s A350-900 is configured in a 3-class configuration. The airline has seen a good response to Premium Economy, which is seen on some of its 777s, and with the A350-900 (and later refurbishment of their earlier widebodies), will make it permanent.
Air India has the following configuration on their A350-900 aircraft for the long-haul missions:
- 28 Business Class seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration between doors 1 and 2.
- 24 Premium Economy seats in 2-4-2 configuration, behind the Door 2 Galley.
- 264 Economy seats in 3-3-3 configuration
Air India’s A350-900 Business Class
Air India has the Collins Aerospace Horizon Premier product installed for their A350-900 business class. These seats have doors in line with the current trend, where privacy is valued over everything else in a premium business-class configuration.
The seat has a 22″ wide seat, which converts into a full flatbed with 79″ length. You can stow your small bags under the cubby. The cubby has enough space for side sleepers to sleep on the side. That is my natural position, and I usually find space enough.
A small vanity cabinet is next to the cabin headrest on the seat, with a universal charging outlet and a USB. The headsets will be found there; there will also be space to keep your passports, glasses, and other small personal items. For instance, you can leave your phone to charge here. There is also a vanity mirror for a quick touchup before landing.
The seat finish is in blue cloth, with the headrest and other cheat lines around the cabin in brown. There is also a 21″ IFE monitor, which would serve you up content from the Panasonic eX3 system that Air India will inherit, consistent with Vistara’s choice.
All seats will have aisle access. For the middle seats, if you are flying with someone, you can keep the divider open, or shut it down if you are flying solo and won’t want to interact with your neighbour. It is roomy enough to chat with your travelling partner.
For solo flyers in business class, passengers will get to choose. There are seats on the window, but you can choose to be on the aisle with the console next to the window. Or you can better view the window and the console on your aisle. Both have good privacy, and you get two full windows for gazing outside. The window shades across the cabin are electronically operable.
The airline has done quite some work in terms of the service aspects and will roll out new tableware and china along with the rollout of this aircraft on international service. They did not miss the opportunity to showcase it, though.
The exquisite chinaware collection blends lightweight and durable materials with subtle brand elements like intricate Mandala patterns and India-inspired designs for a luxurious dining experience. First-class guests will receive exclusive copper-gold thalis for Indian meals, and on board, the Business Class tableware in silver trims was displayed.
Business-class guests would also get lead-free glassware from Slovakia, which boasts infinite transparency and stainless-steel cutlery with weight-saving hollow handles. But the most interesting part would be the India-inspired, tiffin box-shaped, salt-pepper cruet set in gold finish, sure to delight guests worldwide. Also, perhaps, very pinchable. Remember the salt and pepper shakers from Virgin Atlantic that used to fall into guests’ bags magically?
Oh, and the Maharaja is not going anywhere. He will be with you through the journey. On the teacup, for one. I want that mug for my home, like right now.
The airline has also worked with some smart choices to reflect their Indianness in their new bed linen for the premium cabins. Air India First and Business class guests will be provided specially designed linen. This includes plush bespoke duvets that are sustainable and lightweight and mattress toppers crafted with a memory foam layer that enhances the long-haul sleep experience in the skies. The mattress topper doubles as a cushion when rolled up, making it compact.
The First and Business class blankets are made of premium wool blend, bespoke to Air India’s new identity. The traditional Sozni embroidery of Jammu & Kashmir, a Union Territory of India, inspires the delicate jacquard border and the motif. Air India will be the world’s only airline to offer wool-blended blankets in First and Business class. The slippers offered will be made of Velour.
The airline went with the Phitek Cumulus noise-cancelling headphones range, consistent with its first-class offering. Ferragamo has designed amenity kits exclusively for Air India. Each Business class kit – encased in a bespoke presentation bag with unique motifs celebrating different printing styles of India – includes Ferragamo body lotion, hand cream, lip balm, comfortable socks, a plush eye mask, and a specially designed Air India keepsake.
Business-class guests will enjoy Air India’s refreshed loungewear by TUMI. Keeping style and sustainability as key considerations, Air India’s TUMI loungewear is made from recycled materials blended with cotton for extra softness and breathability. Each set of pyjamas would be made with 23 recycled plastic bottles.
The bar/social area for Business Class customers will be right behind. An inheritance from Aeroflot, but now Air India paid for it, and it is there. The social area will not see a lot of foot traffic in terms of people standing at the bar and drinking as they’d do on a Qatar Airways A380 or the Emirates A380 bar.
Still, it is more useful to display the drinks and snacks for the premium cabin customers and allow them to pour one for themselves. Airlines would do this at other times with the bar built up in the side structures rather than in the cabin’s centre. And many airlines would leave some drinks on display, such as Qatar Airways on their 787s and Lufthansa on their Boeing 747s.
And while the airline won’t tell you this, an onboard humidifier has also been installed for the business cabin. Since the premium cabin is sparsely populated compared to the back, the humidity does not go up naturally. By having a humidifier on board, the airline will hope to have another 10-15% humidity in the front cabin, bringing it to comfortable levels. It also helps that the food and wine will taste better as well.
Air India’s A350-900 Premium Economy
Air India got a 2-4-2 configuration for their Premium Economy cabin. The cabin is again from Collins Aerospace, and the airline went for the MiQ seats. These seats serve as Business Class on a narrowbody aircraft (such as on Vistara A320neos), and on a widebody, they are relegated to PEY. The seats are 18.5″ wide, and those on the seats with aisle access can drop the armrest to get a bit more space as well.
Burgundy is the seat colour of choice, with dark grey headrests. One of the things I did not notice at the viewing, but I notice now, is the discrete reading lamps tucked inside each seat. Just have a look at those pipes emerging out of the headrests.
The MiQ seat sets the standards for comfort and functionality through its ergonomic shape, flexible equipment options and generous space. Its main comfort features include the individually adjustable calf rest, an 8-inch reclining backrest, and a four-way adjustable headrest, which creates a relaxed atmosphere for long-haul passengers.
The ‘relax’ position is extremely comfortable and allows a pleasantly relaxed sitting position. The calf rest is individually adjustable, which is a significant plus, especially for taller passengers.
The large tray table, plentiful storage space, and an integrated entertainment system improve the passenger experience. Air India’s PE has a 13″ IFE screen, and the seat pitch is industry standard. Two people can comfortably share the centre console’s armrest. I think this will be a business-class experience in Premium Economy. For one, Air India will have both versions of the USB installed for in-seat charging of phones and other electronic devices.
Air India’s amenity kit for Premium Economy guests will be refreshed to incorporate the Air India Red colour in its design and includes skincare essentials by the Swedish label Verso. Premium Economy guests will enjoy a twill weave cabin blanket. Noise Canceling headsets will also be provided in Premium Economy; however, they will not be from the same brand as those for the First cabin, for instance.
For F&B, Air India will go with Mandala-patterns etched melamine tableware.
Air India’s A350-900 Economy Class
Coming to the part where most of us will travel. Air India went with some brilliant colours for their Economy class, and there are 264 seats in Economy Class, configured in a 3-3-3 configuration.
Air India went with the Collins Aerospace Pinnacle economy class seat. The modular design gives it the lightest weight in its class without compromising on comfort. With features such as the four-way headrest, high literature pocket, and easily-accessible power ports, Air India will be able to make sure you travel in comfort, sleep well on this Economy cabin, and don’t crush your knees into the person ahead of you.
The seat has enough going for itself. Everyone gets a 12″ IFE screen and a USB charging port, and between a set of 3 seats, there are two power ports for sharing. The seat pitch is at 31″.
While the blankets will be the same as PE, Air India will hand out themed Kraft paper amenity kits on ultra-long-haul flights. Enough different kinds will be going out, which might become a collectors’ thing.
Air India’s A350-900 Entertainment
The full suite of the new IFE content features over 2,200 hours of entertainment content across formats and genres, including 1000 hours of movies, 600 hours of TV, and 600 hours of audio. The airline will use the Panasonic eX3 system and also have cameras for those who like to see where their plane is (at the gate, in the air and so on).
Overall, Air India has a winner on its hands with their A350-900. The aircraft will indicate what Air India wants to be in the future: an airline that can deliver non-stop service from India but also command a premium for their product and deliver on the customer’s expectations. Finally a product that might tempt people to switch back from the Middle East carriers to their own Air India.
What do you think of the Air India A350-900 product?
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