Flying business class used to be a luxury reserved for the elite. These days, however, everyone from travel bloggers to point pinching frequent flyers can score an upgrade or even – in the case of Air India – purchase a business class ticket outright.
To put this into context, one can get a return business class flight from Sydney to New Delhi with Air India for about AU$4,000, a journey which would normally cost between AU$5,000 (Singapore Airlines) and AU$15,000 (British Airways).
While we’re all for this (and are not averse to the odd ‘affordable‘ flight ourselves), the problem is, these ‘value for money’ pointy end offerings, though tempting, can occasionally make you wish you had stuck with Economy. Do we exaggerate? Check out the following Skytrax reviews and decide for yourself.
Left by one Prashanth Shetty, whose Skytrax profile says she is an American first-class traveller, our first review of Air India’s business class epitomises the perils of opting for ‘affordable’ business. Reviewing her Air India business class flight from Delhi to San Francisco, this is what Prashanth had to say.
“This was my first time in AI business class, I was travelling at very short notice due to a family medical emergency and AI had the cheapest fare $3400 RT. My collection of experiences reaffirms why this airline which had its heyday in the 70s and 80s is now the laughing stock of the airline industry.”
Ouch. But can she back up this (rather intense) claim? You be the judge: “The staff’s attitude is unmotivated and their approach lacks professionalism – they kept trying to take away my food and drink when I clearly hadn’t finished, and otherwise wouldn’t clear items when I had finished for a while.”
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“The chief purser only stayed in the 1st class section,” she added, “And never came out once to introduce himself or spend any time in the biz class section. The tray table hinge was broken (both ways of the roundtrip) which meant it was pressing against my thigh and couldn’t be moved front or back.”
Not only that but – according to Prashanth – “The seat controls are atrociously bad (it’s hard to figure out which way it’s actually moving) and the grating jerky movements make for a poor customer experience.” Additionally, she says, “The meals served [sic] was mostly lukewarm or cold and the staff didn’t seem to care.”
You might be forgiven for thinking – by this point – Prashanth was done venting. Alas; not quite: “If this is the experience in business class, I really dread to think what the economy class must be like. Clearly the airline strategy is to compete on price, not quality of service.”
“And the final straw is that I got an email today asking for feedback – when I provided it and [sic] try to submit I got a response, ‘Server Error Please Try Later Sorry for Inconvenience… Team Air-India.’ This is an unbelievably poor airline that is being badly managed and run for years. It will be a miracle if they ever find a buyer, probably best to cut off the oxygen, liquidate it and not burden Indian taxpayers any more.”
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Of course, some other reviews suggest Air India’s business class is not always like this, with one Australian Janet Aisbett remarking that she was “pleasantly surprised” by her Air India business class trip from Tel Aviv to Sydney (via Delhi).
“Aircraft staff were friendly and attentive, food was great and wine free flowing. The seating style seems a little old fashioned, but provided for [reasonably] comfortable sleeping. Air India also provided crisp cotton covered quilts in addition to a lighter day blanket.”
That said, a large number of Skytrax reviews of Air India business class are negative, with the one common grumble being the lack of care from personnel – and even the otherwise-positive Janet remarking, “The staff at the lounge at Delhi was the only weak point. The lounge itself was well provisioned and well equipped, apart from the lack of a shower, but the woman at the desk was unhelpful to the point of rudeness.”
Adding to that, customers Christian Lind and H Devuti, also reviewing Air India’s business class on Skytrax, minced fewer words, with Christian saying: “Worst customer service ever experienced” and Devuti saying, “Never fly Air India.”
“Without any notice,” Christian wrote, “Air India changed the flight to an all-economy flight. All staff were extremely rude and the only answer we got was, ‘This happens sometimes.’ Got told to contact ground staff on arrival in New Delhi to get a refund. Ground Saff said I’m not eligible for a refund since I didn’t book my ticket with an Indian bank card.”
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Having said all that, there were a few positive reviews, with Claus Dirnberger, another pleasantly surprised Australian recounting “two excellent flight experiences,” and explaining that – if you navigate the 2-2-2 layout correctly (and keep your expectations in check) Air India business class may not (always) be as bad as the previous reviews suggest.
“Another very good flight with Air India. I was able to upgrade myself to Business and have not regretted it. The plane was very new and clean (including toilets throughout the flight), flight attendents and food excellent. The flight left on time and arrived in Melbourne about 10 minutes early. Although the layout is 2-2-2, the lie-flat beds are comfortable and Air India provided a warm blanket, pyjamas and a nice amenity set.”
“The only slight drawback,” he adds, “Was the check-in procedure (that was not flight-specific but for all AI flights) and that took about 1 hour and 15 minutes of waiting to get four lines of passengers checked in before me, although these were the drop-bag’ check in counters. Either Air India has upped its game or I was very lucky to have had two excellent flight[s].”