This past weekend, I went to Dubai for a few days and flew Air India in economy on AI983. I usually try to book Jet Airways when I am flying on routes within India or to destinations where it doesn’t make sense to fly Etihad. This is because I can earn both Etihad Guest and Tier miles and enjoy benefits thanks to my Etihad Gold status when flying 9W. However, due to some timing issues, Air India flight 983 made the most sense for me. I booked Jet Airways for my return to Bombay a few days later, check back in a few days for that flight. The total for both the flights worked out to 18,400 Rupees, with the Air India flight costing around 7,300 Rupees. We booked the tickets pretty late so this was an excellent price in my opinion.
I got to the airport at around 5:50 for the 8:00 PM flight and after meeting up with my sisters and cousin, we got in line for check-in around 6:00. Since Air India operates both international and domestic flights out of Terminal 2 at BOM, there were two banks of check-in desks, one for all international flights and one for all domestic flights. We got lucky that the line wasn’t too long when we got there, but by the time we reached the front of the line, the line was much longer. Even though Air India had all the check-in desks available to them, only a few were occupied and check-in was moving at a snail’s pace.
At check-in the agent checked all of our passports to make sure we had the correct documentation for our visas on arrival in Dubai and also made sure we had a return ticket. He asked us if we would like to sit together and then proceeded to offer us the exit row at no extra charge so we could be seated together. We were assigned Row 8, which we would later learn is more of a faux exit row, which I’ll explain below.
I decided to credit this flight to Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles because I plan on status matching to them whenever I have a Turkish Airlines flight coming up. Turkish status matches to Miles and Smiles Elite (Star Alliance Gold) for a few different airlines, Etihad Gold and Platinum included. At around 6:35 we were handed our boarding passes and made our way to security,
Security and Immigration
I was expecting security and immigration to be a zoo at this time because when I have flown out on Etihad’s 9:35 flight I am usually in immigration by around 7:00 and the line is always extremely long. I was both shocked and relieved to see that there was almost no line at security and immigration and we were through both in about 15 minutes.
Mumbai International Airport – Terminal 2
After clearing immigration and walking through duty-free we were deposited into Terminal 2 at Mumbai’s airport, which is in my opinion amongst the most beautiful in the world. Since I have no status with Air India or Star Alliance we didn’t have access to any of the GVK lounges. However, with Priority Pass Select, I had access to the Loyalty Lounge. I haven’t read the best things about the lounge and since our flight was already boarding we decided to grab some food from the food court and head to the gate. Mumbai’s airport has a pretty good selection for food at the food court and a few places outside the food court as well. One place I would have loved to get some food from if I had more time would have been Olive Bar and Kitchen. The food court is one of my favorite places in the entire airport as it offers stunning views of the tarmac, gates, and runway. For the avgeek in me, I could spend hours here. I’ve included a photo from a previous trip below. The food court has a number of fast food chains, including: Subway, Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut. There are also a few Indian options and one for Chinese food as well. I decided to grab a sandwich from Subway for the flight.
There is also a plethora of shopping to do at Terminal 2, between duty free and stores like Michael Kors and Forest Essentials.
This flight is operated by A321 and features 3 rows of standard recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration in business class, while economy is in a 3-3 configuration (mostly).
We boarded the flight around 7:25 PM, 15 minutes before the gate was meant to close and made our way to our seats. This is what we came to, which are pairs of seat in front of the “true” exit row. These seats do still count as an exit row, but are non-reclining seats and don’t come with the extra legroom that most exit row seats come with. In fact, these seats felt a little bit more cramped than normal economy seats. I waited until the door closed and boarding was complete to ask the cabin crew if the exit row seats behind us were empty and if we could move there. He confirmed with us that we were okay with sitting in an exit row and after we agreed we got a small upgrade in terms of comfort with a lot more legroom as you can see below. So if you find yourself on one of Air India’a A320 series aircraft, make sure to ask for “true” exit row seats.
Air India’s seats on the A321 look dated, both in business class and economy, but for the most part are fairly comfortable. In my original seat (8C) the aisle side hand rest was a little bit loose and would shake a little bit if I moved my hand around. Air India isn’t exactly known for excellent maintenance of their aircraft so I wasn’t too surprised with this. I have definitely seen worse on their planes.
One thing I’ll note about the seat I ended up sitting in which was a window seat, 9F, is that there is a cabin crew jump seat directly across from it (see below). While this wasn’t very awkward for me as I was looking out the window most of the time, I can see how it can be awkward for someone as they are seated there for most of the taxi, and all of the takeoff and climb and then once again for descent, landing, and taxiing. I figure it would be more awkward for the person sitting in 8E as they are sitting very close to the flight attendant but in the opposite direction. Its kind of the economy version of British Airways’ Club World seats.
For those who don’t know, Bombay is a very, very congested airport at times (most of the time) and has in fact set the record for most aircraft movements in 24 hours for an airport using only one runway at 1,003 movements. While everyone was boarded by 8:00 PM (our departure time), we were still sitting at the gate at 8:05. At around 8:10 the captain came on the PA system and let us know that we were 8th in line for pushback, apologized for the delay and said he would let us know with any other updates. At around 8:25 PM we began our pushback and had a fairly quick taxi to the runway. We were about 4th in line for takeoff and were in the air at around 8:45 PM.
Our climb took about 15 minutes and at 9:00 the seat belt sign was turned off and we were free to get up. About 45 minutes after takeoff, at 9:30 PM, the crew came around handing out bags of peanuts and offering drinks. I just had some water, but there were a few different sodas and juices available and I think I saw two bottles of wine, but couldn’t really see. At 9:40 the crew came around collecting garbae and 15 minutes later, the meal service began. On this 3 hour flight, Air India offers a dinner service. Out of interest, I had requested for a Vegetarian Oriental Meal and both my sisters and cousins had as well, but we never saw them as we were just asked if we wanted veg or non-veg. All meals came with a bread roll, Amul butter, a bottle of water, a plain salad with some vegetables, and a dessert, although I’m not really sure what it was. The veg option consisted of rice, saag paneer, and mixed vegetables which included cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, green beans, onions, and peas. I didn’t actually eat any of the food as I had eaten half of my Subway sandwich prior to the meal service, but my sister did. She said that the main dish wasn’t bad, but wasn’t anything special either. She said the salad was not too great and was bland and quite cold, but the bread roll she was pretty great and not stale at all. While I would have liked to try the vegetarian oriental meal, this seemed like an okay alternative. I have also ordered the same on Jet Airways for my return flight so hopefully I will be able to get it then.
Additionally, after the meal service, the cabin crew came around offering tea and coffee for the passengers. While this is fairly standard on all flights, one thing that was pretty neat on this flight was that the flight attendants came around with actual metal kettles of tea and coffee rather than the thermoses you see on most flights. While this isn’t anything too important, I thought this was an interesting and pretty cool switch from the norm.
Air India’s A321s have no IFE systems, neither personal IFE or something for the entire flight so make sure you have enough to keep yourself entertained for the flight. Even though it is only 3 hours and a pretty good flight (timing wise) to take a quick nap, you might get bored. However, note that there is no in-seat power in any economy seat so if you are planning on using your laptop, phone, tablet, etc make sure it is all charged up beforehand.
I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to my flight on Air India. The debt-ridden national carrier of India has had no shortage of bad customer experiences. From delays, to food, to the seat, to the crew I haven’t heard much good about the airline and I have had some bad experiences myself in the past. What I got was a flight that was better than I expected, but this was largely helped by being able to get an exit row seat with much more legroom than many other passengers. Couple that with the fact that this was only a 3 hour flight, I don’t have any complaints. The crew on this flight were perfectly fine, not bad, not great. In the end, the airline did what I paid for in getting me from Bombay to Dubai safely. If I was in a similar position again, I wouldn’t mind flying Air India again