Tried & Tested

Air India B747 business class

31 Mar 2009 by Michelle Harbi
BACKGROUND Air India flies from London to Mumbai once a day, from where passengers can connect to Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. This flight was one of the last to use the Boeing 747-400 because from March 29 the airline upgraded the route to B777-300ER aircraft, so think of this as a valedictory, and long overdue review. Air India is introducing seven B777s by September with the aim of replacing the older aircraft on all westbound services by the end of the year. CHECK-IN I arrived at a busy Terminal 3 at 0720 for my 0845 flight to Mumbai, from where I would connect to Chennai. Heading to Zone F, I was fast-tracked through check-in and security, both of which took about five minutes, and made my way to the Air India lounge at the right end of the terminal, past the shops and up one level. THE LOUNGE I checked my email (there is no free wifi – access is through T Mobile and costs £4.95 for an hour) and grabbed a drink from the selection of hot and cold beverages. There was also a choice of breakfast bites including fruit, yoghurt and pastries. I was then invited to board at 0810. BOARDING The walk to Gate 7 took five minutes and I was then fast-tracked through Channel B on to the plane. I was in my seat by 0820. THE SEAT Air India’s 423-seat Boeing 747-400 is in a three-class configuration of first, business and economy, with 12, 26 and 385 seats respectively. My class, business, was on the upper deck. It was arranged in 7 rows (10-12 and 15-18) in a 2-2 formation (AB-JK), with only one pair of seats in the back row. I was in window seat 15A. Seats were comfortable and upholstered in mustard-coloured fabric with grey leather/plastic armrests, and the head and leg rests could be adjusted to three positions – upright, reclined and flat (to a maximum of 175 degrees). The seat width was 21 inches and the pitch 82 inches, although as my seat was in the emergency exit row, I had no one in front of me. A handset for controlling the IFE system and making calls was fitted into the shared armrest. There was also a small privacy divider between seats but as I had no one sitting next to me I had no need for it. The class was about half full. A good-sized screen folded out of the shared armrest, as I had no seat in front of me (other seats had screens in the back), and a table folded out of the left one. There was a large personal storage space with a lid to my left, a magazine rack next to that, and all seats in the class had access to the overhead lockers. I had two windows to myself, and there was in-seat laptop connectivity. My seat was showing its age a bit – the reading light was attached to the privacy panel by tape. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? My row, 15, had the best seats as it was the emergency exit row and there was a large gap between it and the row ahead, so all seats in this row have lots of legroom and unimpeded access to the aisle. Seats A and K have the edge because of the storage space. All the other seats are fine though the front row is next to the toilets and the back is next to the galley, so you would be more likely to be disturbed in those. THE FLIGHT There was a rather lengthy wait for the flight to begin as it didn’t push back until 0910. It taxied for 15 minutes and took off at 0925, 40 minutes late. In the meantime I had been offered a welcome juice, a paper and a hot towel. I was also given a blanket, pillow, large headphones, an eye mask, socks and a Pierre Cardin amenity kit containing a hairbrush, clothes brush, sewing kit, mirror, toothbrush and toothpaste, moisturiser, cologne, mouthwash and lip balm. Breakfast was served about half an hour into the flight – I was offered a choice of omelette or boiled eggs with tomato sauce (there were no menus handed out). I went for the former and it was served with sausages, tomatoes and sliced potatoes, as well as a fruit salad, yoghurt, muffin, croissant with jam, water, orange juice, tea or coffee – all very substantial. The touchscreen in-flight entertainment system was on demand and consisted of a selection of English-language and Indian movies (five old and five more recent), TV shows, a wide range of music, and games, though I couldn’t access these. The choice of films didn’t tally with the in-flight magazine which was a bit confusing. About an hour into the flight the system had to be reset, which meant that anyone watching films was sent back to the beginning. Service throughout the flight was attentive and helpful. I was given a litre-bottle of water so I could top up throughout the flight. The lunch choice was lamb curry or chicken supreme and I had the curry, which was tasty with a nice kick. This was accompanied by a salad, roll, natural yoghurt and crackers, followed by a chocolate and coffee-flavoured cheesecake and Lily O’Briens chocolates. The curry was complemented by a nice glass of Espiritu de Chile 2005 cabernet sauvignon (there was a choice of two reds) and I was offered a top-up a couple of times, but I declined as I wanted to get on with some work. ARRIVAL The flight was delayed and we had to circle for an hour before landing, meaning we landed at 2340 Mumbai time, almost an hour behind the scheduled time of 2245. We disembarked at 2355, I was quickly fast-tracked through the crowds at security and immigration and by 0010 I was seated in the Air India lounge to wait for my connecting flight. VERDICT A comfortable flight with good food and service that didn’t seem long despite the hour’s delay. CONTACT Michelle Mannion
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