Hong Kong to New Delhi
I currently live in Hong Kong but have to make frequent trips to India where my family lives. As a result my husband and I are constantly on the look out for flight deals.
Business class flight deals from Hong Kong to India usually have to be booked way in advance. So when we recently had to make a trip to India at short notice, we couldn’t find anything that was not outrageously expensive. After a couple of hours of searching on the net, we found a flight deal for Air India for little more than a USD 1000 per ticket, a price that was inclusive of taxes and fees. I used to fly Air India on trips back home when I lived in the USA. Even though I was never impressed by their service, I used them for they were the only carrier that offered a non-stop flight from New York to Mumbai for less than a grand.
Air India used to be a much-admired air carrier when it made its debut in the 1930s, but mismanagement and government interference over the years have contributed greatly to the airline’s declining standards. The airline is trying hard to turn things around and has recently introduced Boeing’s newest planes, the B787 Dreamliner into its fleet. These efforts have not gone unnoticed and in December 2013, Air India became the 27th member of the Star Alliance Network. As I was aware of these developments, I was hopeful that all would be fine, and I went ahead and booked the tickets before they sold out.
Two days before our departure I received an email from the online travel agent informing me of a half hour delay for our departing flight. The email said our flight had been pushed back from 6 pm to 6.30pm. As a result, we left home at 4.30 pm so that we could get to the downtown check-in desk in time. However, once we got there, we were informed that we had erred, and the desk had closed, as the flight was due to leave at its scheduled departure of 6pm.
Flabbergasted we frantically began calling the Air India check-in desk at Hong Kong International Airport. They confirmed the flights on time departure and advised us to get to the airport as soon as we could. We jumped on the Airport Express train and throughout the 24-minute journey kept pleadingly with them to hold the flight, all the time explaining that the travel agent had made a mistake. The staffs were unrelenting as they advised us to get the next flight to New Delhi scheduled for the following morning. We couldn’t afford to do that as our hotel bookings in India would also get messed up and decided to try our luck at the airport.
Once at the airport, we went directly to the Air India Check-In desk, the desk had closed but the neighboring Star Alliance desk was open. Luckily for us, the agent understood our plight and asked one of our colleagues to escort us to the gate. By this time, there were only 20 minutes left for departure, and she told us to run to the gate with our check-in baggage in tow. Thus, began our mad dash through HKIA with our luggage, with a pause for screening at the security console used by the flight crew.
Severely out of breath and panting, we arrived at the gate with two minutes to spare. Once there, we were issued our boarding cards, and our luggage was whisked away by Mr. Parmeswaran, the airline’s security officer who put our bags in the hold. Once inside the aircraft, we almost collapsed on our spacious seats while the staff fussed around us and I couldn’t help but wonder would we have been afforded the same treatment had we been traveling in coach?
We were soon airborne, and as I nestled into my luxurious wide seat leather seat, I finally relaxed and began to notice my surroundings. The business class cabin aboard Air India’s Dreamliner features a configuration in a 2x2x2 setting with the seats aligned straight rather than the popular angled alignment used by many other airlines. This seating arrangement is convenient if you are traveling with a companion for you can sit side by side, and both of you have access to the aisles. This arrangement is only applicable if you are seated in the center row as we were. However, if you are in the window seat, you will, unfortunately, have to disturb your seatmate to gain access to the aisle.
The seats themselves are generous in size and are 22 inches wide with a 74-inch pitch. The seats have a pale yellow leather covering; that somewhat complements the airline’s red and orange color scheme.
The footrest of each seat offers two storage spaces and forms the end of the bed when the seat converts into a lie-flat bed. This lie-flat bed measures at full length as much as two meters (6.5 feet). The seats are plump and are outfitted with plush blankets and full-sized pillows.
The seat while being well designed for sitting and sleeping but has only one slot to keep for your laptop or tablet or book close at hand. This slot is located in the armrest between the seats. Also located on the side of the seat, are two power outlets including a USB port to power up personal devices. The IFE system features a large LCD Screen, controlled by touch or the console available on your seat. However, the choice of films is rather limited; the offerings featured a good selection of latest Bollywood and regional movies, but the English and international selection was lacking as it hardly had any latest releases.
Soon after the seatbelt sign was switched off, a stewardess wheeled a trolley round the cabin offering magazines and newspapers to guests. This quaint system is characteristic of Indian Airlines have yet to experience it with other international carriers. Since the flight from Hong Kong to Delhi spans, only six hours no amenity kits were offered but a toothbrush and toothpaste combo was available in the restroom.
The restrooms aboard the aircraft warrant a mention. For on this particular aircraft, they featured groovy mood lighting and were spotless. In fact, the entire cabin was illuminated with soothing LED lighting that changed color periodically and enhanced its tranquil ambiance. The aircraft also seemed to be way more silent than other aircrafts. Much has been written about the dimmable lights of the large windows of the Dreamliner aircraft but since I was not seated on a window seat I didn't get a chance to tinker with the settings.
As for food and drink, soon after the magazine service, we were offered drinks with a packet of Indian dry snacks. Both my husband and I chose the champagne and staff were very generous with their pouring. Other than Champagne, the drinks trolley had French red and white wines and an assortment of spirits like vodka, gin, and whiskey.
After two rounds of drinks dinner was served. Here too the choice was limited to Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings and an Oriental chicken-based meal. While my husband chose the Lamb Rogan Gosht (Indian Non-Vegetarian, I had the Oriental choice. The meal was substantial but not spectacular though the service was good with silverware and napkins being used.
We read and watched movies for the rest of the flight. On landing in Delhi, we were a tiny bit worried about our luggage as we were not very sure if it had traveled along with us as we had checked it in at the gate. However, we had no cause for worry for it appeared soon enough on the luggage carrousel and we proceeded towards the airport hotel where we were due to spend the night.
All in all it had been rather an eventful journey and we were quite happy at the end of it. While Air India has much ground to cover in comparison with the business class products of other Asian carriers, in terms of service, comfort and value for money, I would not hesitate to fly the airline again.