Kingfisher Airlines has launched its first overseas service, with the inaugural flight between Bangalore and London taking off on September 3, served by a brand-new A330-223. The airline, which began operations in 2005, is part of the UB Group, the second-biggest drinks manufacturer in the world, and has earned Skytrax’s five-star status for its premium services on domestic routes. The carrier also now offers a low-cost product, thanks to a merger in August with Air Deccan, which has been rebranded “Kingfisher Red”. The airline is operating a once-daily service from Bangalore, leaving at 0840 and arriving in London at 1450 local time, with the outbound flight departing London at 2040 and landing in Bangalore at 1235.
I arrived at the new Bengalaru International airport (BIAL) in Bangalore at 0630 for return flight IT0001. The new airport, which opened in May, is located 40km from the city centre – quite a bit further than the old HAL Bangalore International airport which it has replaced. As my flight was in the early morning, the roads were quiet so the drive only took 30 minutes; however, arriving in the afternoon means it can take well over an hour to do the same journey. Passengers should note that you will need a print-out of your booking to enter the terminal – if you don’t have one, you need to go to a counter outside to get one. Plenty of eager porters are on hand to help with baggage and expect a Rs 50-100 (around 75p) tip for doing so.
There were two Kingfisher First desks open and barely anyone in the queue when I arrived. Check-in for my fellow passengers was prompt but I had a problem – my passport was examined by various members of staff, the computer consulted, and after 25 minutes I was given a boarding card with no explanation of why it took so long. When going through security, make sure all hand baggage has a tag (they give them to you at check-in) and that it is stamped with the date after you have been through. Women are sent through a separate metal detector and are patted down in a curtained area.
The Executive Club lounge is through duty-free, on the right past the Kingfisher bar, and is for all the airlines flying out of BIAL. Seating is across two areas divided by a glass-panelled wall with armchairs, sleeper chairs, and a canteen-style arrangement in the larger room. The lounge has no windows and the décor is bland, with wooden floors, bare wood-panelled walls and brown furniture. There was one unisex toilet with a broken seat, a selection of papers (from the day before) including The Times and the Deccan Herald, and one refreshment zone in each room with a poor selection of drinks. Food options included a dispenser of Rice Krispies, a few pieces of fruit and a dish of scrambled eggs – the rest must have been from the day before as the sandwiches, cherry cake and croissants were so stale they were inedible. Wifi access is available free of charge throughout the terminal.
A member of staff informed me that the flight was ready for boarding at 0810 (there didn’t seem to be any departure boards or announcements), so I joined the single queue at Gate 20 just to the right of the lounge. Security guards checked the tags on my hand luggage before I boarded at the front end of the plane.
The business class cabin is configured 2-2-2 (A, B – D, G – H, K) and I was sitting in 1G, right behind the galley at the front. Kingfisher First features red-leather, fully-flat beds with vibrating massage functions and lumbar support with a touchscreen control on the armrest, a 17-inch (43cm) screen with IFE remote in the side of the seat, mirrored privacy screen, in-seat power and USB connectors, personal reading light, and mood lighting. (At night, the roof of the cabin is illuminated with a “starry sky” effect.)
As soon as I sat down I was offered an alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktail. Crew then handed out bottles and glasses of mineral water, eye masks and socks, menus, Bose noise-cancelling headphones and an amenity kit. (Sleep suits were not distributed, although they were on the night flight.) When we started taxiing at 0840, a member of the crew came around with a trolley of magazines, although they never got as far as me so I had to get up and get one from the bar area later on. Breakfast orders were taken shortly after – there was juice, smoothies, yoghurt, cereal, fruit and bread to start, followed by a choice of three mains including smoked salmon and mascarpone mousse omelette, or vegetarian south Indian breakfast. (Wine and champagne – Krug or Dom Pérignon 2000 – were also offered.) Take-off was at around 0850 and breakfast was served just over an hour later.
Given the position of the seat (at the front near the exit), it was rather chilly, so I made use of one of the blankets provided and checked out the IFE. While Kingfisher has installed a state-of-the-art system, the choice of English language movies was poor – out of the dozen releases on offer the newest was made two years ago. There was a good choice of Bollywood flicks, along with a number of dramas, live channels such as BBC World (although the signal was pretty hazy), and live footage from the cameras attached to the base and nose of the aircraft. The cabin is divided in two, with two rows of seats in the front part and three in the back. Between the two is a spacious area with white leather sofas on each side and a bar in the middle with three stools. It has a kind of “Seventies James Bond” feel to it, with glossy black trim, a display case with designer perfumes, mauve mood lighting and a red carpet.
At around midday, landing cards were given out, lunch orders taken and snacks including sandwiches, popcorn and nuts offered. I reclined the bed and slept comfortably for a couple of hours, and then watched a film until lunch was served at 1545. I chose a salad of mesclun greens with citrus fruits, goat’s cheese, roast peppers, pine kernels and maple dressing to start, followed by the shahi subz Indian thali which was warm and flavoursome. (Food is served on china crockery with metal cutlery.) A selection of bread was available, and dessert options included ice cream, cheese and fruit followed by a selection of teas and coffees. There are two white and two red wines available on board, including a Château Smith Haut Lafitte 2000 and Château Gazin 2001 Pomerol, but I decided to stick with a glass of champagne.
We began our descent at 1830 and the cabin crew came around to collect the headsets. Although we landed on time we had to wait for 20 minutes for a gate, but disembarkation was prompt. There is no fast-track at Heathrow Terminal 4 but there was no queue at immigration so I was at baggage reclaim within about ten minutes. My luggage took about another ten minutes to arrive, but it was one of the first out, along with the other bags with “priority” tags.
The fully-flat bed and the bar are undoubtedly the highlights of this Kingfisher experience. While the cabin crew were charming, the service was a little shaky – but it was the first international flight for these attendants, so I’m sure it will improve. I also hope that the choice of films will be upgraded.
CONFIGURATION There are 30 Kingfisher First (business class) seats over two cabins in a 2-2-2 layout. There are 187 seats in economy (Kingfisher Class) configured 2-4-2.
SEAT STATS Pitch is 198cm/78in, recline is 180 degrees and width is 51-62cm/20-24.5 in.
IFE SCREEN 43cm/17in.
PRICE Return fares in mid-October from London to Bangalore with Kingfisher started from US$5,648 for business class and US$1,125 for economy online. (Fares are quoted midweek to midweek including a Saturday-night stay.)