Air India – Scare India

Laveena and I, like most of our friends, love to travel. And the adventure for us begins, not on arriving at our final destination but in choosing an airline, finalising our hotel, shortlisting restaurants, planning our sightseeing trips and of course deciding on what is required to be packed depending on the weather conditions at the place we’re visiting. Over the years, we have experienced the comfort of many airlines, our favourite being Qatar. Singapore airlines comes in a close second, followed by a fleet of others like Etihad, Emirates, Thai, Swiss, Korean, Turkish and Cathay. We even flew Kenya Airways to East Africa last December and were impressed with the in flight service standards.

Our flights within India are often on Spice Jet, Indigo, Jet and Go Air and we believe that our experiences on all of these local airlines have been excellent.  Air Asia flights from Bangkok to domestic destinations within Thailand, to Cambodia and to Bali and Virgin America flights within the US have also impressed.

So, most of you may have noticed that the name of my National carrier, Air India, is sadly missing from the above list. This has been deliberate, as repeated bad press and disappointing personal feedback from friends has kept us from risking flying Air India. Until last week, when my travel agent informed us that Thai Airways was unable to confirm our return flight from Bangkok as they were overbooked. Jet too was fully booked and the only choice we had was to fly Air India. After all, how bad could it be right?

Ahead of my flight I did do some ground work and called the PR department at AI informing them that I planned to write about my experience and that I was flying AI for the first time in more than three decades. On Wednesday last week, I received an SMS apologising and informing me that my flight to Bangkok was delayed. This was followed up with a personal phone call where the gentleman at the other end sounded genuinely apologetic for the hour long delay. I didn’t think much of it as just the week before my Cathay flight had been delayed over 3 hours from HK to Mumbai and an hour didn’t seem so bad. Moreover, flights are delayed all the time right? Late that evening, I got another message asking me what time we would arrive at the airport. When we finally did get to terminal 2, we had a lady from AI ground staff and a baggage attendant waiting to greet us. The moment we walked through the doors of the terminal, a second, more senior lady, Aiyona, politely welcomed us and assisted us through what can best be described as an extremely pleasant and smooth check in procedure. Laveena and I felt special and prepared ourselves for what we believed would be an excellent flight experience to Bangkok. We were seated in the lounge and when boarding was announced, we were yet again escorted to the gate by the ground staff.  So far, truly very impressive.


And here is where our ordeal began. When we boarded and were shown to our seats, we immediately realised that the aircraft was old and the interiors sadly dated. The seats in business class barely reclined. Also, there were no footrests. We were seated in the 1st row in business class and the personal TV screens on the walls were tiny. However, we consciously decided not to be too harsh or too critical as the flying experience in itself could lift our spirits. I thought I would check out the toilet before take off. It was filthy and wet and the basin was clogged with chewed betel nut. I summoned the air hostess who said that she would attend to it once we were airborne. I returned to my seat and grimaced.  Waiting for the entertainment system to start up, I reached for my seat pocket to look for the food menu. I was keen to find out what emperor’s spread my “Palace In the Sky” had planned for me that evening. Other than a crumpled in flight magazine, head phones and a safety instruction card, I found nothing. Once the seat belt signs were switched off, I asked our hostess for the menu. She said that on the Mumbai Bangkok sector, they didn’t print special menus, even though this was an international sector. Instead she rattled, “sir, would you like some whiskey, vodka, beer or wine?” I asked for my usual flight drink, a large vodka and tonic. I was amused when she said that there was no tonic on flight, but I could have it with soda instead. I declined and asked to see the wine list.  She glared at me as if I was being totally unreasonable. Finally I settled for some red wine which was served to be in a water glass.

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Later, when I asked about the in flight movies, she said I had a choice of 5 entertaining channels. Three hindi and two english. I settled for a film starring Adam Sandler, however I had no idea which film it was as I did not have the option of pausing, rewinding or forwarding the film and the movie according to the air hostess had started 15 minutes ago. A further 20 minutes into trying to enjoy the film with a very poor picture quality, the system auto switched off. Frustrated and angry, I called the stewardess once again and asked what my dining options were. As if on cue, two tiny roaches appeared out of nowhere,  just above my TV screen, almost as an audience to the response which was to follow.  I brought this to the notice of the stewardess who said that was the job of maintenance. She said it was them who had to ensure that the aircraft was properly fumigated. Nonchalantly she went on to say that I had a choice of Veg or Non Veg. My Non veg platter of dry and tasteless kebabs were served in foil. One would think that a national carrier, already battling bad publicity, would make some effort in presentation, but sadly, here too they failed miserably.

All along, Laveena quietly observed my interactions with the Air India staff. Finally she did share her views on the experience thus far. Her response was short but it hit home hard. She said that even if she won a free first class ticket to London on AI, she would politely decline the reward and would instead pay full price to travel on an airline of her preferred choice.

Meanwhile, I brushed off the experience as a one off bad flight. I was confident that our return journey would be better. On our way back from Bangkok last evening, the aircraft was as dilapidated and old as the one which flew us to the land of smiles. Before take off, I noticed a passenger was seated in the jump seat, usually earmarked for the air hostesses. Later when I spoke with the passenger, she said that since it was a full flight she was asked by the crew to occupy the jump seat. I thought I had heard it all, when the purser voluntary shared information with me saying that the flight was to have 8 crew members, but they were flying with only 5 as three jump seats were reserved for passengers. Is this even legal?

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The bathroom had roaches, the water leakage from under the sink was dried by the crew with newspapers.Where the toilet seat covers are to be kept, there were paper towels, hastily arranged, a used toilet paper roll was thrown onto a storage shelf, a bottle of hand sanitiser and an eau de toilette bottle were clumsily stored in a draw which was clearly not meant for open storage. The aisle was filthy, the cabin socks and eye masks were packed in paper. The business class fare on Air India is only marginally less than Thai or Jet. But the service standards are so pathetic and the interiors so depressing, we would have been happier cramped in a hot air balloon ride back home.

All in all I could not wait for this nightmare to end and was glad when we finally touched down in Mumbai. Our National Carrier is a national embarrassment. Air India should be re-christened ‘Scare’ India. Despite countless negative reviews, the airline has done little to improve it’s service standards. I believe that the Star Alliance network should drop them from the membership list as they do not belong there with some of the stellar names the network boasts of. Air India is a reflection of what plagues progress in our great nation and how some selfish people in power, blatantly abuse their position without a care in the world.

15 comments on “Air India – Scare India”

  1. Government apathy and meddling by crooked politicians like Praful Patel, have completely killed what was once a world class airline. Privatisation is the only solution. Sadly, I doubt there will be any takers.

  2. Flew AI from New York to Delhi earlier this year and it was fantastic on the Dreamliner! But I agree with you that AI will probably be my last choice and its just a stress booking and then waiting for either the flight to get delayed/cancelled or the crew striking…..yup…wouldn’t book it unless I had no other choice…

  3. I have travelled with AIR INDIA for a long time . But till date I think they are the best , very spacious and atleast better than the bigger companies which keep buying new planes which are good looking but not spacious . Only cost cutting . I would prefer air india any time .

  4. I have flown most of the airlines that you mentioned, along with Air India. Honestly, you’re comparing the service, aircrafts and overall experience you had with the national carrier of a country like Qatar, or UAE-countries with bare or no taxation; to the national carrier of India- a country with over 20% of the population below the poverty line and the most diversity in the world. Isn’t it obvious we don’t have the resources to spend on things like improving dying airlines when we have hunger, sickness and pollution and SO MANY social issues to deal with everyday? Congratulations, this is THE most petty post I have read today. Boohoo you got served wine in a water glass, well guess what people are dying everyday because 70% of the water in India is polluted with shit. Hope you have a great day.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my travel blog. I admire your high moral standards but would like to stress that my blog is a travel blog and the few followers/ readers I have, expect me to write about my travel experiences on TravelMango. It is not a platform to highlight my charitable side nor does it feature any of my commitments to social causes. Since you have talked about 70 % of water in India being non drinkable, you will be happy to know that last month, my wife and I donated 24,000 litres of potable water to Mr. Vijay Karande’s Dreamz homes in Mumbai ( Since I do not know you and hence cannot judge you, I am sure you do a lot more charity than we do and may God bless you for that.

      I am sorry you found my post to be petty, but am surprised you didn’t stop reading it immediately as the content at the start is not very different from the content at the end.

  5. Very nice review. When I had a closer look on your pictures, I always had to read the first part again (Business Class?!?). I had the feeling that you were writing about Economy Class or something way worse.

    So sad to see that Air India is such a shame for India 🙁

  6. Er…did you pay a Business Class fare for your trip, or did the AI public relations staff upgrade you?

    @dhwanee90, since when does AI fly Miami – London? What lies are you spreading or more accurately, what have you been smoking lately?

  7. First of all I’m so sorry to hear about your ” air india” experience. Secondly I’m amazed that so many Indians who claim to be frequent flyers don’t know the truth about their national carrier. Air india was founded by J R D tata and it was one of the best airlines in the world. Please google it if you have any doubt. Then our efficient indian government took over air india. Since then its downfall started. The nail in the coffin was the merger.A few years back Indian airlines was merged in air india. Air india used to fly only international sectors and indian airlines only domestic. Today their are two parallel airlines running in one. Ex air india flights are as great as ever because they have fantastic crew and new aircraft’s. They mostly operate flights to newyork, Chicago, London, Paris, frankfurt, Sydney , Melbourne , hongkong, shanghai, Moscow , Rome, milan.etc. Their aircraft’s are boeing 777s and 787s. But ex indian airlines flights are pathetic reasons known only to them. They fly mainly domestic in india and a few neighbouring countries. Their aircraft’s are old airbus 320 and 330s and crew least interested in service . But they have the name air india thanks to the merger. And people say air india is bad …etc. Next time please raise a question for our government too who decided to merge these two airlines! Air india crew still does international routes and ex indian airlines mostly domestic and neighbouring countries like Kabul, bangkok etc. Next time ask the crew if they are ex indian airlines or really the original air india! You will know the difference! Also you will get your answer ! Hope you get to fly with air india soon!

  8. A few details about our national carrier which should lay to rest any doubts shared by Anonymous.

    The aircraft to employee ration in the national carrier is the largest in the world, and from my last check a big multiple of the industry standard.

    The pathetic nature of the airline is a reflection of our “chalta hai” attitude. Thousand of crores pumped in to help the staff fly their families and extended families for free.

    And as far as how “rich other countries are” ( and this is for you Mr. Anonymous- “please get educated”.
    No airline operates as a charity. Most international airlines operate on a decent profit margin in standard times. I wonder if Air -India has ever? Thanks to the attitude of their least designated employee who thinks he can talk down to you just because he as an assured job.

    My experience with Air- India- Economy, London to Mumbai.(Christmas eve 2011).
    Most airlines were lenient with their baggage regulations.
    I on the other hand was asked to lighten my bags and whats even worse was a couple with a new born was asked to lighten up the 1kg from their bag(23 to 22), and their pleading did not help much.
    I could not help but notice the cabin crew who walked in unchecked with 2 (let me say “huge”) bags in.
    No checks at all on the weight and it pains me to say that my tax money is used to subsidize these unworthy parasites.

    Try getting a decent job in Air India and you’ll realize what I am pointing at. Try checking for family and blood relatives among employees and that will open your eyes wide enough to realize how our money is used to enjoy an assured job and also secure your near and dear ones. Needless to mention- deserving candidates are left out.

    Not only ministers, I am supporting a family business wherein all ex-employees, present employees, their families who’ve managed to get jobs through relatives, their families and even their extended families have fed on.

    but why bother – “Chalta Hai”- Phir bhi Mahan. Eh Anonymous!!!!

  9. My son and I flew Air India almost 14 years ago and even then the service was awful not to mention the unhygienic conditions on the air craft. the aisles were littered , a Sardar made himself comfortable on the floor beside an exit door and none of the crew seemed to mind that. My son was about 4 at the time and refused to use the toilet, the stink worse than that at a public urinal in Mumbai. it was awful. never again if I can help it….. I absolutely enjoy reading your travel blog. you simply tell it like it is and best of all the reader is transported to lands that they can only dream of visiting…… happy trails to you and Laveena

    1. Lalitha, thank you for appreciating our travel adventures. Comments like yours encourage us to keep sharing our travel experiences with our readers. Let us hope that the aviation ministry takes note of the honest feedback it has received over the years from innumerable flyers and restores the standards of our national carrier to the levels of excellence it once enjoyed under the Chairmanship of Mr. JRD Tata

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