Review: Air India Business Class A321 Delhi To Colombo

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After getting off the bus from the remote stand I followed the signage for international transit. Even though I already had a boarding pass, I was told I needed to go to the transit desk and get my boarding pass reprinted.

After that it was time for transit security. The line didn’t look that bad — there were maybe three dozen people in it. The last time I transited Delhi it was a great experience, but that’s probably because I was flying Air India first class, and they assigned me an entourage to whisk me through security in a matter of seconds.

This time around I had to wait in line. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life seen such a slow moving line. My frustration wasn’t even that I had to wait for an hour, but rather just how damn inefficient the process was. I wish I had a blindfold so I didn’t have to watch. They had separate lines for men and women, and while the line for women was fast, I couldn’t believe the pace at which they processed men. They took one person at a time, and then they’d put things on the belt, get a full body pat-down, etc.

It was just so, so, so inefficient. On top of that, just about everyone had to have their bags screened more than once. When it was my turn, they literally screened my bag five times. FIVE TIMES. It went through the x-ray, they took it off, put it back in, and did the same thing over and over and over again.

At some point wouldn’t it make more sense to just search the bag? After the fifth attempt I said “is there something wrong with the bag?”

“No, you can take it now.”

Boarding was scheduled for 12PM, and by the time I was through security it was a couple of minutes after that time. So I basically sprinted to gate #4, since I wasn’t sure how far away it was.


Delhi Airport terminal


Delhi Airport terminal

At a fast pace it took only about five minutes to get to the gate. The gate was one level down from the main concourse, as my flight was unfortunately leaving from a remote stand.


Delhi Airport terminal

As I arrived at the gate boarding was underway. There was a separate premium line, so I didn’t have to wait, and i just barely made the first bus to the plane.


Delhi Airport departure gate

It was quite a long ride to the plane, and the driver didn’t seem to take much consideration when making turns for the fact that we were packed in there like sardines.


Delhi Airport bus to remote stand

Air India 281
Delhi (DEL) – Colombo (CMB)
Saturday, January 6
Depart: 12:30PM
Arrive: 4:05PM
Duration: 3hr35min
Aircraft: Airbus A321
Seat: 3A (Business Class)

At around 12:20PM we arrived at our remote stand. Air India has one of the most recognizable liveries out there, especially with how they paint the perimeter of their windows. On one hand I don’t love the livery, on the other hand there’s something about it that I appreciate. You’ll never mix up an Air India plane with another airline.


Air India A321 Delhi Airport

While the 787 was modern and (mostly) beautiful, this A321 felt ancient. Oh my gosh, it was in awful condition. The business class cabin consisted of a total of 12 seats, spread across three rows in a 2-2 configuration.


Air India business class cabin A321

I had assigned myself seat 3A, the window seat on the left side in the third row.


Air India A321 business class seats

The legroom was reasonably good, marginally better than what you’d find in first class domestically on a US airline.


Air India A321 business class legroom

Each seat had a footrest, though mine wouldn’t stay up.


Air India business class footrest

There was a manual seat recline button on the center armrest, as well as an audio control panel, though I don’t think it was actually connected to anything, as there was no inflight entertainment.


Air India business class seat controls

Speaking of inflight entertainment, the bulkheads in both business and economy had little things that looked like personal televisions, but really they were just little signs that said “welcome aboard.” They even had volume controls. Hah. My guess is that Air India used to have screens on their A321s and then eliminated them, but didn’t want to pay to completely remove those consoles.


Air India A321 bulkhead

The tray table folded out from the side armrest, and was a single tray, so there was no way to fold it in half.


Air India business class tray table

On the center armrest was a small table that could be extended for drinks.


Air India business class tray

Just about the only impressive feature of the A321 was that they had individual air nozzles. Yay.


Air India business class air nozzles

One other thing I have to note is how worn the seats themselves were. The padding was just awful, and I could feel the metal inside the seat on my rear, as there was basically no cushioning left.

Also at my seat was a pillow and blanket. While basic, they at least smelled pretty good and seemed to be mostly clean.


Air India business class pillow & blanket

About 15 minutes after settling in, Sabitha, the cabin supervisor, came around to offer pre-departure drinks. The choice was between orange juice and coconut water, and I was also offered a (very small) bottle of water.


Air India business class pre-departure drink and bottled water

A couple more buses showed up over the next 20 minutes, and at 12:45PM the main cabin door closed. At that point seven of the 12 business class seats were occupied. Fortunately the seat next to me was empty, as the other groups were just parties of two traveling together.


Air India A321 business class cabin

Shortly after the door closed, Sabitha announced our flight time of 3hr45min (which seemed awfully long to me for a 1,483 mile journey), and commenced the manual safety demonstration.


View prior to pushback Delhi Airport

Then at 12:55PM the captain announced that we were ready for departure, but that there was lots of congestion at the holding points due to poor visibility, so air traffic control had given us a 15 minute delay.

Just 10 minutes later we began our pushback.


Air India A320 Delhi Airport

Our taxi to the runway was pretty quick.


Taxiing Delhi Airport

By 1:20PM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 29.


Taking off Delhi Airport

Despite our climb out being smooth, the seatbelt sign stayed on for about 20 minutes.


View after takeoff from Delhi

Once it was off I visited the lavatory, located at the front of the cabin. It was clean but very basic, with no special amenities. The crew did an excellent job making sure no economy passengers used the forward bathroom. They were super aggressive in enforcing their policies.


Air India business class lavatory

30 minutes after takeoff the male flight attendant came around with tablecloths and said “we are opening the bar, would you like anything?” I asked what kind of white wine they had, and he said “I’ll just show it to you.” A moment later he returned with the bottle, and I said I’d have that.


Air India business class table setting

The wine was served on a cute tray — I was given a glass, the mini-bottle, and two packages of roasted peanuts. To my surprise, the wine, in spite of being Air India branded, was quite drinkable. Maybe it’s partly that I was just really bored on this flight, but I decided to have a couple of bottles, and it tasted better with every sip. 😉


Air India business class wine & nuts

A few minutes later I was asked if I wanted something to eat. There were no menus, and when I indicated that I did, I was asked whether I wanted veg or non-veg. I said veg, and then they gave me the option between “lasagna” and “Indian food,” as it was described to me. I chose the latter. A few minutes later I was brought a tray with the food. With the exception of the main, everything else was still packaged. I’m not sure if this is just laziness on the part of the crew or if it’s to show that everything was handled in a “clean” way.


Air India business class lunch

Here’s what it looked like with the packaging removed.


Air India business class lunch

The main course was good, though I was surprised that it was actually less spicy than what was catered out of Frankfurt.


Air India business class lunch — main course

Then there was a side salad with tomatoes and cucumbers.


Air India business class lunch — salad

And then this side, in a little aluminum pan.


Air India business class lunch

The dessert was excellent.


Air India business class lunch — dessert

The crew was friendly, and for the rest of the flight they passed through the cabin frequently to see if anyone wanted anything to drink. At this point I was bored out of my mind. There was no entertainment, my laptop was almost dead (and there were no power ports), etc. So I checked out the inflight shopping magazine, which was at least entertaining.


Air India in-flight shopping

To my surprise I managed to doze off a bit, and by the time I woke up we were initiating our descent, and on the center console were the landing cards for Sri Lanka.


Landing form for Sri Lanka

I spent the rest of the flight looking out the window. Not only was it filthy, but it had scratches on it that made it tough to take pictures.


View enroute to Sri Lanka

The seatbelt sign was turned on about 15 minutes before landing.


View approaching Colombo


View approaching Colombo


View approaching Colombo

We touched down in Colombo at 4:25PM, and from there had just a five minute taxi to our arrival gate.


Taxiing Colombo Airport


Colombo Airport plane


SriLankan A321 Colombo Airport


SriLankan A330 Colombo Airport


Etihad A321 Colombo Airport


SriLankan A330 Colombo Airport

We ended up parking at a gate right next to an Etihad A321.


Arrival gate Colombo Airport


Etihad A321 Colombo Airport

Upon arrival I had to get my visa and pass through immigration, which only took about 10 minutes. Then I took a taxi to the Shangri-La, and was ready for a proper night of sleep.

Air India A321 business class bottom line

While Air India’s 787 impressed me, their A321 didn’t. The crew was friendly and the food was quite good, though everything else was disappointing. The plane felt ancient, there were no power ports, no entertainment, and the seats lacked padding. In the future I’d generally try to avoid Air India’s narrowbody Airbus fleet, though if they were the only option I guess I wouldn’t mind flying with them again on this plane.

If you’ve flown Air India on a regional flight, what was your experience like?

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Comments

  1. Can’t help but noticed that you boarded the plane on the starboard side, the same as the cargo. Quite rather rare, but then, no surprise to India doing things a bit differently lol

  2. Inefficiency is common at airports in India. I’ve flown through the Delhi and Mumbia airport each a number of times and they’re by far the absolute worst airports I’ve ever experienced. These days I will(and have) pay extra to avoid them if needed.

  3. Indian government is in a rush to sell off Air India to a private airline, so hopefully things will be better in 3-5 years. Air India has been bleeding money for a while, so I wouldn’t expect any upgrades to the narrow-body fleet any time soon.

    @Chris: Indian airports like Mumbai and Delhi make it painful for passengers to change flights. That is why, Indians prefer to change flights somewhere in Middle East or Western Europe.

  4. @Thomas – It’s a common procedure when an aircraft is transitioning from domestic to international or vice versa to segregate boarding and services by port and starboard to ensure nothing gets mixed up. Happens all over the world, although less common nowadays than before.

  5. Wow, these are literally the same F seats that are on the old US Airways planes! And the condition is about the same.

    So, flying in India is almost exactly the same as flying American’s US Airways planes. Even down to the horrible boarding process. Oh, and the food on AA is worse.

  6. @Lucky – Always found duty free at arrivals at Colombo airport interesting. Surprised you didn’t pick up a washing machine or refrigerator upon landing there (as one does). =)

  7. Visa on arrival in Delhi was an absolute nightmare. I spent at least 2 hours waiting for a line of 20 people to clear. Never again!
    Too bad Sri Lankan has drastically scaled back its flights to Europe. Their A333-300 business class is rather nice.

  8. I flew Air India from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi last year on the A321 in J and Id say I had a similar experience. The food is the highlight of any Air India experience by a long shot.
    2 points though:
    1. The windows mimic the ancient window designs of the forts of Rajasthan.
    2. The wine served was from the Nashik region in Maharashtra, particularly from the Sula vineyards. They have a famous annual music fest (SulaFest) too!

    Hope you review Vistara business class sometime; its a collab between TATA and Singapore Airlines.

  9. @Lucky if you have a visa for India, then your best play would have been to go through immigration using the first/business class lane and clearing security landside, also using the first/business class lane.

  10. Your experience transiting Delhi airport brought back painful memories of my experience flying KTM-DEL-CMB. The line at DEL was the slowest, most chaotic ever. Extremely long line, segregated by gender. In my case, the line for the men was moving a lot faster… to the point that by the time I got close to the head of the line there were about 15 women ahead of me, and literally Zero people on the male side. Several of us tried to move over to the male side but were told that was not allowed. This was about the only thing that was enforced during the process, because the rest of the experience required assertively holding your place in line while more aggressive folks barged through – all in full view of the security folks. So frustrating that I found myself losing all decorum and literally yelling at the security people (to no avail). I was raised better than that, but the frustration level just got the best of me. 🙂

  11. Anyone who has to transit DEL should have their head read unless they’re first class. Absolute horror show!!!!
    Any body transited Mumbai since the new International terminal opened there?

  12. My experiences on Air India narrow bodies also had the issues with no functioning TV’s.

    All the Indian Food looks exactly the same no matter what the dish served.

  13. What? You didn’t have your second boarding pass inspected by 5 people over about 10 metres? Of course, your only need to have it inspected 4 times if a cute airport worker walks by and stops for a chat.

    We also had the female x-ray machine offline, so all women still needed to load their bags with the men and then walk past everyone in line back to the female security line.

    But in all fairness, I found Delhi’s transfer process to be much better than Mumbai’s. I have a personal minimum transfer time of 4 hours between Domestic and International, and even then it can be touch and go as to whether you’ll make it.

  14. Lucky, you obviously fail to note the difference between branding and production. Your statement about the white wine being surprisingly nice inspite of being AI branded reveals a lack of knowledge about who makes the wine, and who pays to have the name plastered on the side.
    If you did get your solar powered head out of the extra large clouds, you might have been bothered to read that Sula is one of Indias best vintners Are they as good as Chateau Margaux, eg, no way. Do they produce decent wines at a good price point, yes. But then, there wines may not be expensive enough for your solar powered self to consume without losing your dignity. 🙂

  15. Never transited through Delhi since I prefer to go through immigration since I have a Visa. I’ve found no hassles with immigration or security in DEL. I find them consistently efficient and much easier, especially compared to my home bases, JFK & LGA. I think the two major airports in India are very well appointed and easy to navigate – again I’m not referring to airside transit. The longest I’ve taken to land, clear immigration, and meet my cab was shy of 20 min (much of it was walking the length of the terminal). Worst experience at any airport was in BKK where my friend, a Maltese citizen, took 2.5 hours to receive a VoA. Let’s not even mention the hell-holds known as LHR, CDG, FRA or any major American airport.

  16. @Emily +1

    As as non-US citizen, clearing immigration at Ohare is the most painful travel experience. DEL is a breeze in comparison and I actually like the airport. Why doesn’t the US invest into making their airports simple and comfortable to navigate?

  17. So flying short distances on AI is just like regional flights in the US, but with better food and wine. Kind of anti-climactic.

  18. Lack of IFE sounds like typical Airbus bait and switch sale. Airplane at very cheap price and then “oh you wanted IFE units in those monuments”?

  19. “A few minutes later I was brought a tray with the food. With the exception of the main, everything else was still packaged. I’m not sure if this is just laziness on the part of the crew or if it’s to show that everything was handled in a “clean” way.”

    Hey @Lucky

    It’s indeed to show it’s handled in a clean way.
    Reason being that, “foreign pax don’t trust us when it comes to unpackaged food or water.” (As per AI cabin crew)

    I can say so as while flying a short sector (BOM-GOI) recently, a couple asked a younger crew to provide them hot water for their baby (gave him the bottle). when this crew asked his senior in the galley, she told him the very same and instead of doing it himself to heat up bottled water and give it to the couple for them to do it themselves. Was a matter of “trust” as per the senior.
    (They were quite loud for me & others to hear)

  20. Sorry, @Lucky, I love your blog but I can’t stand the amount of times you use ‘etc’. I don’t know if it’s because I am Australian, and American language is slightly different, but it bugs me so much. It’s overuse in your reviews is to the point where your sentences become confusing, such as:

    “There was no entertainment, my laptop was almost dead (and there were no power ports), etc.”

    Whilst we pretty much know exactly what you’re trying to say, it makes it sound like an incomplete list and doesn’t sound well put-together. You also use it when describing the contents of an amenity kit too: “A toothbrush, toothpaste, socks etc”. I know it’s such a minuscule criticism of your otherwise outstanding blog, but I would really suggest that you consider more effective use of language in general. Otherwise, I love your blog!

  21. @David78

    It’s Lucky’s style and he rushes articles out rather than proofreading them. You should look back a few years ago when every article he wrote was full of GIFS which made it look like a teenage girl’s blog…

  22. I fly Air India’s A319 and A321s quite frequently in both Y & J. While the planes could be in better condition, the pitch is better than other local Indian airlines and lounge access as a Star Gold can’t be beat. I would count their Mumbai domestic lounge as one of the top 10 domestic lounges in the world.

  23. I need a C-class domestic flight DEL-BOM in August.

    Everyone, like this review, gives AI barely passing scores in Business.

    Thoughts on Jet or Vistara C-class?

  24. Flew Air India A321 about a year ago.

    The IFE screens are still installed, the signs you see are covering the LCD panel. You’ll find that the two buttons to the right of the sign are the brightness controls. For the non-bulkhead seats, the seat covers cover the screen. Notice how there’s an outline or indent of a screen behind the cloth? In Y, it was possible to partially lift the cloth off, revealing a de-activated IFE screen. My understanding is that the system wasn’t that great – being loop based, and with little content.

  25. That airplane picture that you titled “Colombo Airport Plane” was a Mcdonnell Douglas MD-80 just in case you didn’t know.

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