Air India 787-8 Business Class
Air India 331 BKK-BOM
Last summer, I found myself in an extended mileage run traveling with my dad. The idea had come to me as a belated 50th birthday present for him, and a belated 21st birthday present for myself. We had a chance to sample various airline products, and got to spend a boatload of miles. On one stop, though, my dad and I found ourselves without a mileage based connection from Bangkok (BKK) to Mumbai (BOM). About a month before we were supposed to depart from BKK, I looked up the options for the flight. The options were Jet Airways, Air India or Thai Airways for the direct flight. Economy class seats were selling at around $280 one way, and business class seats were around $375. I was tempted towards the business class because it was with Air India and had never flown them.
Recently, I had heard really negative things about the airline. Since I wanted to figure it out myself, I decided to try them on my own. Another factor that went into my decision was that it would be on a 787, Air India’s newest aircraft, featuring lie flat seats. We also visited the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (and a contract lounge as well) before departure, but I will cover the Thai Lounge in another post (the contract lounge was so bad we spent less than 10 minutes there).
About 20 minutes before boarding, we headed over to Concourse C where our flight would depart. Located on a lower platform, the gate had a ramp that connected in from the main terminal. There were agents checking passports and boarding passes to be sure that the right people would board the flight. When they realized my dad and I were American, they stepped us aside and asked us for a full body search (not really sure why, but I did not question it since I had never been to Thailand before).
After that was done, we proceeded down to the boarding gate. The gate was a hodgepodge of people. When the gate agents called for boarding, everyone (and I mean everyone) crowded the line. There was a line for Business Class passengers, but it was filled by people wanting to board the plane. When the gate agent asked people who weren’t in business class to leave space for elite customers and premium cabin passengers, surprisingly, people made space, but stayed behind the lines. The gate agent was very diligent of checking people’s boarding passes to be sure that they were boarding at the right time.
There is something really cool about the 787. As soon as you enter the aircraft, the ceilings are much higher than other widebodies, especially the 767. As soon as we entered the aircraft, the pursuer welcomed us aboard and directed us to our seats on the aircraft 2A & 2B. They are lie flat seats, 22 inches wide, and an ottoman in front that connected with the seat to form the bed. There was a fairly large screen that could be controlled by a remote in the inside side of the seat.
The tray table was in the center console. In small water bottle holders, there was a small paper bag that functioned as the “amenity kit”. It had a pair of socks, eyeshades and “noise canceling” headphones. The headphones were not very good, so I just used my own. On the seat there was a pillow and a large blanket. The pillow was fine, but the blanket was large and thin, which would end up being perfect given the temperature the cabin was kept.
When some are more equal than others?
While the cabin continued to board, the flight attendant for my aisle came by with pre-departure beverages. She offered orange juice or champagne. I had one of each. During the boarding process, I continued to see a man come down the aisle to talk with the purser. After his fourth trip down, I saw him and his wife come from the economy cabin and seat in 3H and 3J. I had heard that Air India was notorious for giving non-rev passengers upgrades to Business Class, and I think that was the case for this. I did not mind, since the cabin was otherwise 6/18 seats full.
When the boarding door closed, a man came up to the purser and began demanding his entire family (which I overheard was 5 people total) be seated in first class. It was weird how the purser explained to him that he could not (given that he had not paid for that seat), yet she had given the non-rev a seat a few minutes before. After about 10 minutes of loud arguing, the First Officer came from the cockpit (the door had not been closed yet) and told the man to take his seat or he would be removed from the plane. The man fumingly agreed, and soon after we began to taxi out to the runway.
As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the captain came on the PA and thanked us for flying with Air India. He anticipated a smooth flight, and turned off the fasten seatbelt sign. The flight attendants came by with leather binders with the menus. It was the first time I had seen leather binders on such short flights. The colorful menus offered a salad, two vegetarian options, garlic prawns and chicken korma, as well as desserts. I chose the korma.
The flight attendant came by and set the table, along with a linen. She places a plate and brought packaged snacks branded with the Air India logo. Instead of offering a ramekin of nuts, they came in a package. It was fine by me, but I know some people would take offense to this (Looking at you Korean Air). They presented the whole meal in one tray. The salad was more an assortment of vegetables. Nonetheless it tasted fresh. The dessert was, well, there. I did not try it as I did not like the texture. The food though, was amazing. I am a big fan of Indian food, and I was basically a little kid in heaven. The dish came with naan and a dipping sauce.
It was truly one of the most complex-flavored meals I have had on a plane. After dinner, the flight attendants came by with small boxed chocolates. They were tiny, but it was a very nice touch.
Seat and Bed:
The seat turns into a fully flat bed, and although it is not very wide, it was perfectly comfortable for the hour and a half I slept. The pillow and blanket were good enough, in my opinion. Before we landed in Mumbai, I went to the bathroom. The 787 bathrooms are larger than the 777 ones (as far as I can tell). Before landing, the purser came around and thanked us for flying Air India and asked if we had enjoyed our flight. We landed on schedule at Mumbai an proceeded on to the gate.
Air India offers a solid hard product out there for regional business class in Asia. Fully flat seats, and delicious meals. My one main issue with Air India lies in the way that non-revs are upgraded and the way that some passengers behave (although that is out of the control of the airline, as worse things have happened in China). Given the price, I would not hesitate to fly them again on a similar route, since the cost was unbeatable. I would like to see however, how their first class compares to their business class in the future