AI102 Delhi Indira Gandhi DEL – Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji BOM
AI441 Delhi Indira Gandhi DEL – Aurangabad IXU – Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji BOM
Original STD-STA: 1645-1855
Airbus A321-200 VT-PPB
Gate 30A to 28B Seat 31F
Air India – I read all about the negative publicity and I had not wanted to take this airline considering there are other better ones in India to choose from. However when Air India was advertising fares on the DEL-BOM route to be operated by a 777-300ER, I bought that ticket expecting a widebody airline serving a direct flight 2 major cities in India. Turns out to be a really bad move…
My hired driver dropped me off at the Indira Gandhi International Terminal 3 from where Air India domestic flights depart from. On check-in I could not find the counters for my flight numbers and was directed to one of the other check-in rows which was empty and was supposed to handle check-in for Ahmedabad. That was when I knew something was up and turns out my flight was not operating that day at all and Air India has re-routed me through Aurangabad. The worst part of this was the agent did not even mention the new expected arrival time to Mumbai to me. In fact when questioned, she just told me to refer at the boarding gates. It was one of the worst experiences on check-in with an agent that seemed nonchalant that a passenger who was supposed to fly on a direct flight got re-routed.
The good thing was that Delhi’s new airport terminal is swanky and after the immigration counters, passengers are routed through the Duty Free just like in Sydney and London, as they get passengers to shop. Behind it was a large departure concourse with lots of seating and bright areas. On the second floor was where the lounges are along with a food court. There was also a variety of shops around the terminal selling books and other travel essentials.
Since I did not have lunch yet, I headed to the food court and got myself KFC for a snack, and I was expecting to purchase some drinks from the stall next to it since I wanted some mango juice. However, there was no service personnel at all. Such is the service standards in India it seems. No one seems to care at all since there is not even a sign indicating when the attendant would return. Even after 20 minutes when I finished my fried chicken, there still was no one to be seen in the drinks stall! Amazing really!
After my small snack, I proceeded to find my boarding gate and noticed a gate change from the one indicated in the boarding pass. The gate has moved from 30A to 28B and I was able to spot my plane as it was parked close to the main atrium. At least the new airport has good views especially with the sunset in Delhi.
I waited by the gate for a further 15-20 minutes before boarding was called at around 16:15. Surprisingly the passengers were quite organized in queueing and it was quite an orderly process. Not as bad as I expected and I have seen worse boarding before. Though I do have to note that a couple of passengers did not seen to realize the flight is not a direct one to Mumbai since I had an elderly woman who was not expecting the stopover in Aurangabad at all.
I was able to be one of the first to board the plane after all the other priority passengers and proceeded to what would be the absolute last row on the A321. Let’s just say the seat pitch was not the best though at least I did get a window seat. There was also a personal TV screen in every seat but I never got around to use it since there was no headphones provided at all.
Boarding took a while and after it was completed, the announcement mentioned that Captain Indranee Singh would take us the whole journey into Mumbai via Aurangabad. The flight to Aurangabad was full and the experience was really different from SQ First. Turns out the guy in the middle seat was a rotund guy and I really wondered how he would cope during the flight. Fortunately the guy in the aisle and me are lean. One thing I noted was that the guy in the middle asked for water during boarding and was provided with one. At least there was some level of service in the cabin and it seems they still do their best to cater to Economy class passengers.
For the first portion of the flight to Aurangabad, the meal choice was veg or non-veg but my meal tray did not come with cutleries. And here I thought Indians have brought the culture of eating with hands to the skies! Anyway it took some time for me to grab the attention of a crew before I got my cutleries. I chose the non-veg option and had a tandoori chicken with some beans pastry. There was also a dessert bowl and a pack of sandwiches. Cabin crew also came around with coffee or tea after they finished serving everyone their meal tray.
My seat mate did order a veg option and it comprised of samosas and pastries which seems like a better option. In addition to the meal, there was a small booklet with some scratch-and-win offer where you can pay a certain fee to redeem the items. It was more like a gimmick to get passengers to ‘buy’ these items since all 3 of us got the lower priced items. Overall, the meal was fine and perhaps better than nothing at all.
Enjoyed my iPad entertainment during the flight and it was a beautiful sunset as we descent into Aurangabad. Both seat mates in my row disembarked at Aurangabad, as this place is apparently a site for Hindu worship. One of my seat mate was an American Buddhist who would be spending 2 months plus on a pilgrimage here. The landing was uneventful and beautiful due to the sunset and we made a stop in the airport of around 25 minutes.
During this time, there was a flurry of activities, the first being security personnel coming onboard and asking whose baggage it was on the overhead bins to ascertain that there was no left baggage by disembarking passengers. Then the cleaners came in to do some cleaning but they did not even clear the newspapers my seat mate placed on the seat back.
I was able to take some shots of the aircraft during this time though I do not think passengers continuing to Mumbai are allowed out of the aircraft. Not long after the security check and cleaners were done with their duties, new passengers boarded but the continuing flight proceeded to Mumbai with several empty seats. In fact the last row would be quite empty except for those passengers who boarded from Delhi. Thus I had 3 seats all to myself this time round.
The next flight is forecast to take 35 minutes and I was surprised when they serve refreshments for the continuing flight too! Refreshment was a small pack of mango beverage and packet of nuts. In addition, the cabin crew also obliged my request for a bottle of water. before we landed into Mumbai.
Arrival in Mumbai was not as nice as Delhi but it was still an adequate airport in my experience since we arrived at the ‘International’ terminal which was better. The baggage claim took about 20 minutes before I head over to the taxi counter to order a pre-paid taxi headed to the Grand Hyatt Mumbai.
For my first time onboard Air India, I was sorely disappointed with the ground handling of the flight and non-existent service or communication to passengers. On the other hand the flight was adequate but comparing to other domestic flights in Economy, I cannot say it offers a pleasant experience. From the crew forgetting my cutleries and tattered inflight magazines to the full flight, it was not my best flight nor my worst flight. But Air India is still not an airline I would likely to fly again. As they say, once bitten, twice shy!