Review: Air India Airbus A350 Premium Economy Class

For now, Air India’s A350-900 aircraft are the only exciting aircraft in their fleet. As of writing this post, all six have already been inducted. Although, when I travelled for this trip, it was just the first jet in service. I usually love first flights, but I was away on a personal engagement in January when the first aircraft was supposed to be pressed into commercial service. So, I had to pass on the initial dates. However, when AI put the flights out for sale, they stated that flights on the A350 would be available only for February 2024. So, I booked some tickets to try out the jet across the various classes, including the Business, Economy Class and the Air India Premium Economy Class.

Since then, Air India has also put the remaining A350 aircraft in service. The A350 currently operates daily flights between Delhi / Mumbai and Dubai. Also, flights operate domestically between Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, and Delhi. You can check the entire flight schedule on the A350 here.

After flying from Delhi to Bengaluru on the A350 in the Business Class cabin, I took a Bengaluru—Mumbai—Chennai flight in the A350 economy class the following day. I took a short break in Chennai but eventually stayed at the airport, cancelling my plans to get into the city for lunch on this hot day.  The arrival area was barren, and some dust-laden seats in the corner became my office for a few hours. They did not mind me sitting there killing time while I waited to transit to my next flight.

a row of chairs with metal armrests

Chennai Airport Kamraj Terminal (Arrival) Waiting Area

Eventually, at about 3:30 PM, I left that fly-infested waiting area and headed to the check-in area on a different floor. This was exactly three hours before the flight’s scheduled departure, and they would finally let me in.

two people standing in a large building

Kamraj Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4), Chennai Airport

cars parked cars on a road

Kamraj Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4), Chennai Airport

At the Chennai Airport, the only airlines that use Terminal 4 are all the Tata group airlines (including Air India, Air India Express and Vistara) and Alliance Air (at least as per the board)

a sign next to a building

Kamraj Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4), Chennai Airport Entry Gates

There was no DigiYatra in Chennai when I last visited, so we did it the old-fashioned way, standing in a queue and showing tickets and an ID to an officer.

Inside, there was no queue to speak of. The whole terminal is a ghost town for now.

people standing in a line in an airport

Kamraj Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4), Chennai Airport Check-in Counters

a group of people in a terminal

Kamraj Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4), Chennai Airport Check-in Counters

a man standing in a line in a airport

Kamraj Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4), Chennai Airport Check-in Counters

Air India’s check-in counters were right at one corner of this massive terminal. I have to admit, I was a bit confused seeing a First Class counter, only to quickly remember that there is indeed a daily Air India flight between Delhi and Chennai, and return, operated with a Boeing 777-300ER in the evening, which is equipped with a First Class.

a sign in a building

Air India Check-In Counters at Kamraj Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4), Chennai Airport

It took me five times longer to get processed at the check-in counter than I had to find the counter and get here. Reason: Air India ground staff in Chennai make a complete note of why they assigned you access to the lounge when they granted you a lounge access pass. It takes time. They should perhaps make a rubber stamp for half the details if they need this localised intervention.

a close up of a ticket

Air India Premium Economy Boarding Pass

a hand holding a piece of paper with writing on it

Air India Lounge Pass @ Chennai Airport

Security took a while as well, and from there, I headed over to the TFS Lounge for domestic customers. The lounge was right across the gate for my flight, which was good because I could keep an eye on my gate from the level above the gate.

a row of blue chairs in an airport terminal

Air India Boarding Gates at Chennai Airport T4

I spent about an hour at the TFS Lounge, which had improved from the last time I was there. But that is a story for another time.  An hour later, I could see VT-JRA come back to Chennai. From the time I’d deboarded, the aircraft flew from Chennai to Bengaluru and then came back. It would now head up to Hyderabad, where I already had a (tight) connection booked to Delhi.

a plane on the runway

Air India A350 arriving into Chennai

a group of people standing in an airport

Air India A350 at the Gate in Chennai

Once the flight arrived, I headed to the gate while it offloaded the incoming passengers. Boarding started roughly 55 minutes before departure, and the priority lane was strictly enforced. However, priority customers can walk in at any time.

a plane on the tarmac

Air India A350 at the gate at Chennai Airport

an airplane wing on the ground

Air India A350-900

However, all that good start was lost as we waited about 20 minutes in the aerobridge to board (while the plane was still being cleaned up).

Air India AI587
Chennai (MAA) – Hyderabad (HYD)
Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Departure: 06:20 PM
Duration: 1 Hour 10 Minutes 
Arrival: 07:30 PM
Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-900 
Seat: 9A (Premium Economy)
Meal Service: Snack

The business class cabin takes the first section. The premium economy cabin sits behind door L2 (the second door on the aircraft), where the economy and premium economy passengers would usually enter from. The first thing you’d see as you enter is the bar, a social area created for Aeroflot by installing a monument right behind the business class section.

a white counter with blue and pink lights

Air India A350-900 – The Bar that sits between Business and Premium Economy

Air India’s A350-900 Interiors

Air India has 24 seats in the Premium Economy section, which is organised as a 2-4-2 layout with only three rows. It sits right behind the divider/galley.

a map of an airplane seat

Air India A350-900 Seat Map

Here is the Premium Economy cabin. It was hard to get a full shot with people moving around the cabin, but here is what I got.

a row of seats on an airplane

Air India Premium Economy Cabin on board the A350-900

You will note that Air India could not modify the blue divider developed in the earlier airline’s colours.

a person walking in an airplane

Air India Premium Economy Cabin on board the A350-900

And here, just a month into service, the A350 already had its first big gash.

a screen on a wall

Damage on the A350 divider

a blue surface with a white line

Damage on the A350 divider (a closeup)

Unfortunately, this was not present the previous day and was fresh. From the looks of it, a kid peeled off the paper from the divider while playing around on one of the earlier sectors. Oops.

Air India chose the Collins Aerospace MIQ Premium Economy class seat (Aeroflot selected it, and AI followed suit). This is a popular choice worldwide for a business-class fit on narrowbody planes and premium economy on widebody aircraft. The seat pitch is a generous 38 inches, and the width is 18.5 inches, a full inch wider than economy class.

a row of seats in an airplane

Legroom on board the A350 Premium Economy cabin

I was in 9A, in the middle row, by a window seat. Only one person was in the PE Cabin, and he was seated right ahead of me.

a row of seats on an airplane

Air India’s A350-900 Premium Economy

A nice headrest accompanied the seat, now covered in grey faux leather.

a close up of a seat

Air India’s Airbus A350-900 Premium Economy Class In-flight product

I settled into my seat and noticed the 13.3-inch in-flight screen. Working in-flight entertainment is an excellent sign for Air India. The monitor has touch controls for browsing and making choices on the IFE. Under the monitor, there was also in-seat USB power charging, both USB A/C.

a screen on a seat

Air India’s A350-900 Premium Economy IFE Screen

On the side, in my armrest, there was a small handheld control for the IFE.

a close up of a switch

IFE and In seat controls, Air India A350-900 Premium Economy

In the seat dividers, there was also in-seat universal power charging.

a close up of an outlet

Universal power, Air India A350-900 Premium Economy

You could almost miss the reading lamp as a trim on the seat, but it would be handy on long flights when your cabin is mostly dark.

a close up of a seat

Reading Lamp, Air India Premium Economy, A350-900

The legroom was extremely generous.

a close up of a card

Legroom on board the new Air India A350 PE

a person's legs in jeans and sneakers on an airplane

Legroom on board the new Air India A350 PE

A firm divider between both the seats means no one flows into their neighbour’s personal space, and there is no war for the armrest either. It also makes space to keep your drinks when you don’t want to have your tray table out.

a rectangular object with a light on it

Armrest, Air India Premium Economy

Adjacent to the IFE controls are seat controls, which just help you recline up to 8 inches or bring out the calf-rest. In this small sector, it did not matter, but on the 10-15 hour long flights, it would help give your body much-needed support to not have your feet left hanging.

a seat with a paper attached to it

Calf Rest, Air India Premium Economy

There is also some storage for your personal effects built into the seat, in the divider itself.

a white surface with a light on it

Air India Premium Economy on the A350-900

Air India’s A350-900 Premium Economy Class In-flight service

It was a quick turnaround from Chennai, and after boarding, I waited for the doors to close.

a large airport with airplanes and trucks

However, service was proactive. A few minutes after boarding, the cabin crew came around with cold towels.

a hand holding a roll of tissue

Air India Towelettes, Premium Economy

The crew also brought a glass of water and placed it with a coaster (something missing even in the business class the day before).

a glass of water on a tray

Air India Pre-departure beverage, Premium Economy

Menu cards were distributed for the meal service, which would just be a quick snack.

a hand holding a menu

Air India Menu, Premium Economy

For those interested, here are the options on offer.

a hand holding a white paper

Air India Premium Economy Snack Options

Right about time, we were ready to go. The doors closed at 6:20 p.m., and we pushed back shortly after.

a screen shot of a computer

Air India Premium Economy IFE

We took off right in time, and as we climbed out of MAA, it was a nice view out of the window at dusk.

an airplane wing and a city

Air India 587 departing from Chennai.

After takeoff, the crew jumped into action, and when the flight levelled, they brought out the meals. I went with the Thai Chicken Sandwich, served with a diet cola, as I’d requested.

a sandwich and salad on a tray

The flight was, honestly, uneventful. The seat was very comfortable, and I plan to try for a longer flight someday. But I did have an interesting chat with the cabin crew member who came after the entire service routine to say hello. He realised he’d seen me on the flight the day before as well between Delhi and Bengaluru. The usual script about thanking you for being a Gold member was played out today, but there was no point in it, given that the service was already done.

We had the mood lighting in the cabin for most of the flight time.

an airplane with seats and windows

AI Premium Economy, in-flight mood lighting

Soon enough, it was time to prepare for landing.

a seat in a plane

Air India A350-900 Premium Economy

We landed in Hyderabad and were assigned a remote gate. That meant the opportunity to deboard and go through Hyderabad Airport on a bus.

the wing of a plane at night

The Air India A350-900 at Hyderabad Airport

an airplane wing at night

The Air India A350-900 at Hyderabad Airport

I was thankful that I’d engaged a travel agent to book my MAA-HYD-DEL itinerary together because this was now a tight connection. Luckily, once at the arrival gate, Air India’s ground staff called for the names of all the 15 or so people who were going to have the same connection, and we had someone escort us through transit security and to the gate.

a group of people boarding a bus

AISATS Ground Transport

a glass doors in a building

Hyderabad arrivals and transfers

Bottomline

This was a good flight experience with Air India, but it was too short. Domestic flights on wide-body aircraft are rare, so I try to get in when I can, but this was even more special since this product will eventually fly abroad and is the new flagship of Air India. The premium economy class cabin looks very comfortable. It is valuable for those who don’t have the budget to fly in business class but those who need more comfort than the economy cabin for 8-9 hour long flights. As I keep stating, though, all the airline has to do is bring their crew service standards to an even level.

What do you think of these A350 aircraft being added to Air India’s fleet and of the experience they offer?


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Pros

+ Brand new aircraft
+ Comfortable, well-padded seats
+ Hard dividers between two seats
+ Working IFE
+ Meal Choices

Cons

None, really

Rating

About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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Comments

  1. Hi Ajay – Fantastic writing and report, as always. One question: you say “As I keep stating, though, all the airline has to do is bring their crew service standards to an even level.” I believe you said this in your earlier report also.

    I did not see you express any concerns about service, and your CONS section did not have any. So, can you reconcile why you make the statement about service without stating any concerns with service.

    Thanks

    • @Deepak, there is no flow to the service. Every aircraft, every flight, every crew, seems to have their own idea about what to be done in what sequence. Basically, the SOPs are missing. That is the problem. On Qatar Airways, I know exactly what will happen from the time I get on the plane to the time I get off the plane. On Air India, at the moment, there is vast unpredictability in my view. All great airline brands have it nailed down to the T on what to do when which situation occurs. AI needs to, as well. Hope that answers your query.

      • Thanks Ajay. Noted, and this resonates with me. I am guessing they will also get it right, given how fundamental this aspect is (once you have explained) and also perhaps new hires from other airlines will contribute to improving the service ethic and process. Best.

        • @Deepak, I don’t have much faith in that, unfortunately. Most people being hired come from No-frill carriers. For them, while this is an upgrade and an opportunity to travel the country and then travel the world, they are technically qualified for it (safety), but hey, a cabin crew is as much about putting your soul into the job to have the guests feel welcome. KF and 9W codified those feelings somehow. AI will take a long while to get there.

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