Air India Express, which has traditionally operated the Boeing 737 aircraft, will be in for a significant upgrade with the Boeing 737-8 that is on order. The airline has 190 of the newest generation 737 MAX aircraft on order as a part of parent Air India’s orderbook. They received two of these aircraft and will have another 48 join them by December 2024. While the airline has not publicly stated this, these aircraft are allocated to them from those that were initially manufactured to the specifications of various Chinese carriers but are now being handed over to AIX because the airlines concerned did not pick them up in time (China was the last country to unground the MAX).
VT-BXA, the first 737 MAX to enter commercial service for Air India Express, was one such aircraft that first debuted at the Air India Express rebranding announcement and was towed away for entry into service.
As I rounded up at the event venue, I got an Uber to take me back to the hotel and, from there, bring me to the airport. It was late at night, and Air India Express was going to operate a one-off Mumbai – Delhi flight to bring this aircraft to its regular pattern, which was to start from Delhi on October 19, 2023. The flight operated from Mumbai’s Terminal 2, where Air India’s ground handling team would handle the flight dispatch.
I was very impressed to see that unlike parent Air India, which has still not used the logo and brand assets they launched with much fanfare, Air India Express had already rolled out the new brand assets at the airport.
Air India Express only put flowers and LED Diyas on their counters to celebrate the event.
I headed to the counter at about 11:20 PM when most seats were already gone (even though most people flying this plane were staff, I believe). I was assigned seat 20C at the counter, which worked fine as it allowed me to look at the operation flows of AIX on board. The staff was either too happy or too hassled. I couldn’t figure it out. But they forgot to offer me one of those roses and sweets placed at the end of the counter to be distributed to passengers on the flight.
I was handed my boarding pass, also in the new colours of Air India Express, and I proceeded towards the security check area.
At the gate, things started to get a little shaky, though. Air India’s management team, apart from many of the staff representatives and some commercial passengers, were supposed to fly on this aircraft at 00:45 a.m. and arrive in Delhi at 02:55 AM. Accordingly, I skipped the lounge and went straight to the gate, hoping to get some pictures of the plane being towed in, but it turns out the aircraft did not arrive on time at the gate. The plane only came in at 01:25 a.m., and the reason for the delay was given as ATC congestion. Not a good start, I thought to myself.
To cross over from the hangar to the T2 Apron, the aircraft had to cross a live runway, which needed the ATC to give them the go-ahead. The airport was busy during the night due to international traffic, which caused an hour or so of delay to get the plane pulled in. The passengers were restless due to this, and some also caused commotion when a message from AIX announced the wrong time for the rescheduled flight. The aircraft finally docked at about 1:30 a.m., and the flight cabin crew accessed the aircraft.
In a short while, boarding was announced. Boarding was supposed to be in a row-wise fashion. However, it was not followed to the T, given that many people seated in the front rows were in the queue right behind me when boarding for rows 20 – 30 was announced.
Air India Express IX5101
Mumbai(BOM) – Delhi (DEL)
Thursday, October 19, 2023
Departure: 02:29 AM
Duration: 1 Hour 40 minutes
Arrival: 04:09 AM
Aircraft Type: Boeing 737-8
Seat: 20C (Economy)
Meal Service: Buy-on-Board
Given that these aircraft are not customised to Air India standards, Air India has taken over an aircraft originally designated for Shanghai Airlines. Hence, the plane was still in the seat covers and configuration designated for Shanghai Airlines, and therefore, had two rows of 2-2 Business Class seats in the front, along with a cabin divider.
These seats are sold as “Vista VIP” for INR 4,500 on this flight. As you can see, there is an IFE system, but given there is no IFE content loaded, this is useless, and it was kept switched off during the flight (apart from the moving map in the first few minutes after take-off). You only pay extra for the seat; no meal service is included.
From there, I headed behind the divider to be seated in the Economy cabin of the flight. Look at the economy cabin on board this 737-8. Since AIX will receive aircraft meant for different airlines initially and will not reconfigure these before induction into the fleet, other colours will be seen on various aircraft, just like for Akasa.
For an LCC product, this is impressive, though. There is a headrest, and there are comfortably padded seats, perhaps three seat cushions of India’s largest airline stacked atop each other.
Additionally, while these are Recaro seats like Air India uses as well, they come with seat pockets, a coat hook, and, surprise surprise, a cup holder.
The one thing that Air India Express needs to talk about is the USB-A ports installed in all seats on the new planes. When the airline goes live with its in-flight streaming service, these should come in handy to keep your phones/tablets charged while watching content streaming on your personal electronic device.
Eventually, the plane filled up, and we closed doors and pushed back for departure on a delayed red-eye flight to Delhi. Air India Express has still not announced the new uniforms, so AIX cabin crew clad in the saree uniform of the airline were to be seen taking their positions for a safety demonstration.
I also noticed the comfortable legroom on this specific aircraft.
Captain Vikas Nautiyal, the captain of this flight, announced the historic nature of this flight and then went straight for the runway, trying to get us out of Mumbai at the earliest. In the meantime, the cabin was darkened, and the Boeing Sky Interiors were in full glow.
Once the flight levelled out, carts were rolled out, and in-flight snacks were sold to customers. It was late in the night, so I passed. But Air India Express has a whole host of hot meals that they’ve brought in from AirAsia India (need to be pre-booked) and a lot of snacks available on board. The menu is placed in the seat pocket.
The flight was uneventful. Very soon, we arrived in Delhi, and I was thankful for no checked bags to walk to my cab and get home. The delay meant I only put my head on the bed at about 6 a.m. when the city woke up. Oh, and a critical mention. There were no water cannon salutes on arrival. I’m not a fan, but I’m making a note for those curious if the long-standing tradition was followed.
Air India Express’ new 737-8 aircraft was a comfortable ride between Mumbai and Delhi. However, I am unsure if the same amenities will be available on all aircraft in the coming days. You will see many more Air India Express colours, both in A320 and 737 fleets, in the coming days, but the new ones (hopefully) have USB ports and inflight streaming IFE. Overall, the feature set looks suitable for a competitive LCC in the coming days.
What do you think of the features of the new Air India Express passenger experience?
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