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My First Thoughts on Air India’s A350-900 Business Class

by Staff

Air India has recently started the induction of their first six A350-900 aircraft, all of which were built to Aeroflot specifications but will now be seen in Air India’s fleet because AI picked these in a flyaway condition. Some of these aircraft have also made their way to Turkish Airlines in similar conditions, so it might not be surprising that you see the same product on different carriers. Air India’s specifications for the A350s are still being defined, and the first of their specs aircraft has not even gone to the assembly line yet. So, you will see the Aeroflot A350-900 specs flown on Air India for a while.

Air India had initially announced the operations of VT-JRA, their first A350-900 to arrive in India on domestic routes till February 29, 2024. In this process, the aircraft and the crew are all accumulating experience on the aircraft and also being used for check rides so that the crew can be released to fly the A350 as captains or first officers independently, without an Airbus captain or a senior Air India captain who is also an A350 trainer supervising them.

This has since been extended further for the time being, and VT-JRB has also been brought into the mix. But I wanted to make a trip on the A350 before it went away from domestic service to see what the product offers for long-haul flights.

My first Air India A350 Business Class flight

While this is not a full review of the Airbus A350 of Air India, which will come later, I wanted to share some initial thoughts on the A350 based on my first flight with Air India’s version. As has been clear since January, Air India will release its new service ware on the A350 when the airline takes the aircraft internationally in a few months. So, for the time being, while the aircraft and crew uniforms are new, the service is as per the earlier protocols.

As I wanted to fly the A350 on a long route, I chose to fly the aircraft on its once-weekly Delhi – Bangalore rotation, which would give me about 2 hours or so on board rather than the 1 hour or so that most sectors such as Bangalore – Mumbai or Mumbai – Chennai etc. would have afforded me.

The aircraft is gorgeous and clearly signals a turn of the page in Air India’s journey. For one, the Collins Aerospace Horizon Premier Seat, installed on these aircraft, gets it right on many levels. The seat comes with a 21″ television screen, a full-length wardrobe for your coat or other clothes, and enough space in the cubby for you to be able to have your feet there and sleep on the side or your back, with enough space to move around.

a seat in an airplane

Some of the tools the airline has received along will also add to the joy of flying even better. For instance, the Panasonic eX3 platform, which will serve up the in-flight entertainment content, will also offer the Panasonic arc in-flight map product similar to the one on Vistara’s 787-9 and A321neo aircraft. At the end of the flight, the system served me some avgeekish statistics as well.

a screen shot of a device

Coming back to the suite itself. The doors really do make a difference in this case. I felt the doors and the suite as a whole were just the right height, so no one could peep in, and neither could I look out into someone else’s private space when the doors would be closed. However, this also creates a problem. When the airline couldn’t play the safety video, as was the case on my flight, it was very hard to see the safety demonstration by the cabin crew.

a grey and white lockers

Oh, and there are deficiencies. For instance, there is USB-C in the seatback entertainment in the premium economy and economy cabin, but not in the business cabin.

a black outlet and plug on a wall

Additionally, there are no armrests, and the console is intended to be used as an armrest on one side. However, seat controls are installed in the same place, which means one could accidentally hit the do-not-disturb button, and their whole flight experience could go amiss from there.

Coming to the soft product, it was a hit and a miss. The flight started with an enthusiastic cabin executive going around, chatting people up, and so on. However, no effort was made to inform people about the features of the new aircraft or the cabin, given it might be their first flight on this aircraft, be it on Air India or otherwise. Oh, and it confuses me when, on some flights, Air India cabin crew come and greet me specifically as a status holder on the airline, and on other flights, they don’t.

Wet towels, pre-departure beverages, and printed menu cards came out. But then, there was a mistake made, and it was all befuddling from there on. I requested the non-veg international meal choice, and during service, the vegetarian international meal choice was brought. I told the cabin executive about the mistake, and he said he would get me the original meal choice.

However, he first brought over the cabin crew member who took my order to show that it was her mistake and not one from his end. I did not appreciate him throwing a colleague under the bus for such a small error. Team leaders got to own the actions of their teams. The meal came, and it was luke cold (like the opposite of lukewarm, a word I created as I wrote this post). The garlic bread was sitting there for a long while and had gone rock hard, and the Thai fish curry and a lump of cold rice did not gel well.

a plate of food on a tray

Meh! I guess the crew training should pick on these issues and finetune them over time.

Bottomline

Air India has a great new product in the A350-900; however, there are minor deficiencies that they can do nothing about anymore. The cabin looks amazing, and I hope it is taken good care of by the ground team as well as the airline’s customers. On the soft product side, I hope the crew are more proud of the product and take more ownership in spreading the good word about the aircraft in the future.

Have you flown Air India’s A350 aircraft yet? What do you think of it?


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