Review: Air India Business Class A320-2, Chennai – New Delhi


Continuing on what was already a very long travel day, we were looking forward to our third flight with Air India today. It would be the first on a two class aircraft with and actual business class cabin. While we did end up with the larger business class seat, the service was pretty much the same as in economy. We did end up with a pre-departure drink and a nicer meal, but the business class upgrade did not offer too much more in the way of bells and whistles.

This post is one chapter on our third Round the World trip via South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, the Maldives and India. This trip was redeemed through Air Canada’s Aeroplan and through Starwood Preferred Guest (Marriott Bonvoy) and Hyatt Gold Passport (World of Hyatt) loyalty programs. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Review: Air India Business Class A320-2, Chennai Madras International Airport – New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport

“Air India Domestic Business Class features a proper meal, along with a little more space and occasional priority services. That seems to be it.”

After flying Air India Male – Trivandrum, and having a short technical stop in Trivandrum, we were about ready to get going again.

Air India
Business Class
MAA – DEL (Chennai International Airport – Indira Gandhi International Airport)
AI43 – Business Class (I) 
9:00 PM – 11:45 PM
April 14, 2015
Booked: Airbus 320
Flown: Airbus 320

We had started the day flying Air India Male – Trivandrum, followed by Air India Trivandrum – Chennai and visiting the Air India Chennai Maharajah Lounge. After a few hours of existing in the Air India Chennai Maharajah Lounge, we left and went into the departure hall.

India, where anything is possible, of course has things backwards from normal airports. The departure hall was downstairs in a dark basement whereas most airport departure halls are upstairs. The consequence was that the departure hall space was sterile, drab and dark. The bright lighting over compensated for a departure hall that wasn’t too impressive. 

Chennai Departure Hall
Chennai Departure Hall
A Dark Underground Mall Like Space

While we were waiting for the flight, you’ll never guess what came next. It was another flight delay; announced again courtesy of the Flight Track Pro iPhone app. This time it was another +45 minutes from the scheduled departure time. To make matters more frustrating, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite to operate on time, nor any effort on the part of the carrier at communication with flight delays.

All in today, we had 3 Air India flights today, with three of these delays longer than 45 minutes. It was a cumulative total delay time of over 4 hrs and 15 minutes. Add this to our needless early wake ups at the Park Hyatt Maldives, our last minute flight re-schedule and we were pretty much done with Air India by this point (laughing). If I wasn’t really impressed, you could imagine MrsWT73’s delight. “You are never putting us on this carrier again.” All right. I guess that’s settled! 

When boarding was called, we entered into a long line. There was no priority board or boarding by zone but I sent MrsWT73 to the front of the queue to ask ground agents about priority board and she waved me up. We bypassed the long boarding line

Boarding Queue at Chennai for Air India
Which Extended Down to the Gate

On Board Air India Business Class:

With our last flight of the day, we finally settled into an actual real business class cabin. We were looking forward to a better experience than our last two economy flights. As we settled in on board, the first thing that I happened to notice was that the carpets were showing a lot of wear without much effort in cleaning them thanks to stains that had been ground into the carpet. We settled into a nice off olive colored barca-lounger seat in a 2 X 2 configuration with a total of three rows (twelve seats) in this configuration.

Air India Business Class A320
Air India Business Class A320

Pre – Departure Services:

A pre-departure beverage of apple or orange juice was offered. Not completely unexpected, but there were no bubbles available on Air India domestic services. Water was also not offered; presumably as they would typically provide bottled water as the tap water may not be safe to drink?

Pre Departure Juice or Apple Juice

The Meal: A Dinner

Shortly after takeoff, dinner service was offered. Tonight’s serving was butter chicken on proper plates. It was complete with your own serving of curd. It seemed to be the exact same economy meal we had earlier today between Male and Trivandum instead plated on business plates. No celebrity chef here! 

Butter Chicken for Dinner
Actually Fairly Tasty for Airline Food

 It was indeed tasty but not super fresh. 

I was looking forward to a beer – a Kingfisher or anything else by this point. Unfortunately it was another dry aircraft. This alcohol free condition was announced via the public address system that alcohol was prohibited on board. At his point, MrsWT73 sternly reminded me that “You are never flying me on Air India ever again”. Yikes. I later learned that this dry rule is an Indian government regulation that all domestic flights remain alcohol free. 

Rounding out the meal, I enjoyed a dessert with coffee. The catering was by TAJ hotels of Madras. This seemed to be a theme of our Air India flights in that the food catering was executed by a local high end hotel chain. 

Dessert sponsored by Taj Madras Flight Kitchen

In flight entertainment:

I was looking forward to catching up on a movie since there was no entertainment or television on the earlier legs. Unfortunately, the in flight entertainment system was inoperative. There was no change in that condition for the entire flight.

A Dead an in-operative in flight entertainment system

This equipment type featured some very dated IFE systems and their related controls. It was reminiscent of the Boeing 747-200’s I used to fly when I was very young.

In Flight Entertainment Controls

I attemped to relax a little after the dinner. Unfortunately, my seat was also busted and there was no recline. I didn’t bother to move a different seat at this point as our flight and day were almost over. 

Arriving at Indira Ghandi Interntational Airport

We landed at very remote gate at Indira Ghandi Inernational Airport. As we arrived at the Customs Hall (in the international arrivals hall, despite it being a domestic flight) we arrived at the mudras hands. A mudras is a spiritual gesture and an energetic seal of authenticity employed in the iconography and spiritual practice of Indian religions. These are among the coolest sculptures I’ve seen in an airport that are representative of the country that they feature.

Welcome to India: Arrival at New Delhi
Mudras Hands above the Arrivals Immigration Desks at New Delhi
Super Cool Mudras Hands above the Immigration Desks at New Delhi

Thankfully, our bags arrived in Delhi one piece. I probably should have just been happy that they arrived. The Indira Ganhdi New Delhi arrivals hall looked more like arriving to London Heathrow than it did arriving to India; High ceilings, relative cleanliness, Costa Coffee franchise and various other high street retail outlets along with ample space and elbow room dotted the public side of the arrivals hall. 

We eventually located our luggage and made a bee line for the exit.

Baggage Claim: New Delhi, India

Our experience on Air India A320 Business Class Short Haul:

The day being almost over it came time to sum up my feelings about Air India. Air India is obviously very proud to be in Star Alliance. The Star Alliance logo is featured almost everywhere and mentioned at almost every opportunity. Surprisingly, the service levels, as with many aspects of Indian culture were quite high in that staff genuinely appeared to want to assist and accommodate you. Every time we had an interaction with staff, we were greeted with warmth, sincerity and compassion. They also feature some unique branding with their friendly Maharajahs’ characters that greet you at almost every opportunity. 

Unfortunately, Air India has a very long way to go to get anywhere near the levels of the other members in Star Alliances. This may sound elitist, but it’s true. Their reputation of being less than a stellar carrier was well earned. It’s planes and lounges are atrociously tired and their hard product seems to have been badly neglected and worn. There appears to be no appetite or interest to run on time. Delays must happen so often that staff don’t even bother announcing them. Even Egypt Air appears to have things much more together with proper cleaniness, functioning hard product and prompt flight timings. Needless to say, flying Air India is not a way to impress your wife or significant other!! For us, it was a way to get from the Maldives to India on the same award. Ultimately it’s short haul product, is a very mediocre product with a very long way to go to improve to get to international levels. It’s worth while to come prepared with what you’ll expect.

If you’ve flown Air India, did you experience the ever present rolling delays like I did?

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