Along with being India’s best-known airline overseas, Air India is also the only local carrier to belong to a global alliance. This makes it easy to book Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class through Star Alliance partners, such as by using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.
That’s exactly what I did, combining a Bengaluru-Delhi flight onto the same ticket as an onward Delhi-Sydney journey. As for the domestic sector, here’s what to expect with Air India.
Check-in, lounge and boarding
Check-in for my journey is very efficient at Bengaluru’s Kempegowda Airport. With a booking in Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class, I’m straight down the priority lane.
I have an international connection on the same ticket. With the help of a supervisor (the first agent was in training), I’m soon handed boarding passes for both flights. My bag is also tagged right through to Australia, with no need to collect it during my Delhi transit.
With the paperwork sorted, I head through security and then to the lounge. I’d received an invitation to the BLR Domestic Lounge, courtesy of my Air India Business Class ticket. But at the entrance, I’m redirected to the nicer 080 Domestic Lounge – for capacity reasons, perhaps.
While curious to experience a new lounge, it’s hard to fault the 080 Domestic Lounge. I’d visited once before when flying IndiGo to Agra and the Taj Mahal, as 080 also accepts Priority Pass cardholders. I’d go so far as to say it’s the nicest Priority Pass lounge I’ve ever visited.
With high ceilings and plenty of space to relax and unwind, it pays to arrive early to enjoy the full experience. There’s a dining area with a reasonable selection of tasty bites, as well as multiple bars and a show kitchen.
But with a boarding time of 5:10 am and a 22.5-hour journey ahead of me, I prioritised sleep over hours of lounge time on this visit. Having stayed at the convenient Taj Bangalore hotel directly adjacent to the terminal, I strolled over to check-in at 4 am. That gave me time for a quick coffee here before boarding.
After all, I had breakfast to look forward to on the plane – and I’d had my fix with a longer lounge visit the week before.
Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class seating
Air India’s Airbus A320neo jets come equipped with 12 Business Class seats. Being a single-aisle cabin, it’s a typical 2-2 layout spread across three rows.
At first, the colour scheme doesn’t win me over. The mustard hues of the chairs against the bold red carpet – reminiscent of TWA, back in the day – certainly seem an interesting choice. But the palette is distinctly ‘Air India’. It matches both my boarding pass and Air India’s mascot, The Maharajah, visible on the headrest cover.
I’m more concerned with how comfortable the seat is – and on that front, I’m not left wanting. With a pitch of 38 inches (about 92.5cm), there’s plenty of space to stretch out. For those of shorter stature, a solid footrest tilts down from in front.
The seats also feature a six-inch (~15cm) recline. With nobody behind me on this flight, I don’t feel bad about gliding my seat all the way back after take-off. There’s more than ample shoulder room as well with 20 inches (~51cm) of comfortable padded cushion at your disposal.
Travelling with a laptop or tablet? There’s plenty of space for that bag down by your feet. To stay powered up, each passenger gets their own international-style AC socket plus a USB-A port. These are tucked away within the centre console at each pair of seats.
Rounding out the product, the storage pouch is suitable for most items including laptops and tablets. As a nice touch, full-length curtains also provide privacy for the Business Class cabin during the journey.
Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class food and beverage
I’m offered a refreshing welcome drink before departure, with a choice between buttermilk and watermelon juice. After my coffee in the lounge, watermelon juice sounded like a great way to begin this Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class journey, and I wasn’t wrong!
There’s also an offer of a hot or cold towel before take-off. It’s an amenity I’ve not seen on domestic flights for quite some time, and does well to make the experience feel a tad more premium.
Once in the air, breakfast is served on this 6 am flight. Not only is there a choice between vegetarian and non-vegetarian via the standard menu, but there are two further options within each category. Yes, that’s four meal choices in total on a 2.5-hour flight – not bad all.
Rather than using the local names for the dishes which I might not have understood, the very helpful cabin manager instead explained the main ingredients within each option:
- South Indian preparation – steamed rice cakes with a deep-fried lentil donut (vegetarian).
- North Indian preparation – flour-based bread with scrambled egg and cheese (vegetarian).
- Omelette and chicken sausage with toast.
- Scrambled eggs and chicken sausage on brown bread toast.
Given our departure from Southern India, the first option was an easy pick. It was lovely to try a little of everything, including with and without the accompanying sauces. On the side, fruit salad, yoghurt and a pastry. Tea and coffee are provided shortly after the meal itself.
While it mightn’t look like much there on the tray, it was really quite filling. With a five-hour transit ahead of me in Delhi, I wasn’t hungry again until several hours had already passed on the ground.
Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class service and entertainment
Being my first flight with Air India, I didn’t quite know what to expect. But the warm service aboard this Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class journey was among the best I’ve had in quite some time.
I’d go so far as to say the cabin service initially reminded me of Emirates First Class. No, there’s no Champagne, caviar or private suites, but the process while you’re getting settled has many of the same hallmarks.
For instance, we’ve not left the gate and I’ve already had three visits from the crew.
The first to offer a drink, another to deliver a choice of hot or cold towel, and a third visit with a selection of reading material. There are many titles to select from, including a good number of local English language publications. I’m curious to see what a local travel magazine is like, so grab my copy of Outlook Traveller to satisfy that interest.
There’s also relaxing classical music playing in the cabin until we depart, and again once we’ve arrived. When you’re still waking up from a shortened sleep the night before and a 3 am wake-up alarm, it’s a calming way to start the day.
Great service and reading material aside, there’s no other inflight entertainment available, unfortunately. There’s also no onboard Wi-Fi network for content streaming or Internet access.
I came prepared though, with shows downloaded and saved to my tablet before the flight. With a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to match, I’m all set. There isn’t really anywhere to mount your tablet while dining, but the seat beside me fortunately remains free. I’m able to use that spare table as an extended space: and it’s a handy way to keep items at easy reach, too.
Transiting onto an international flight in Delhi
I wouldn’t get a chance to explore Delhi this visit, as my time here was only in transit. My Air India Airbus A320neo Business Class flight was the first step of a longer journey home to Australia. From Delhi, I’d be flying non-stop to Sydney in Air India’s Boeing 787 Business Class.
With my bag tagged through and my onward boarding pass in hand, I follow the signs towards international connections. I’m pointed towards a queue of people at a transit counter, and join the line.
After waiting here for around 10 minutes, an Air India agent shouts that anybody connecting to Melbourne can go straight through to departures. I confirm the same is true for Sydney-bound flyers, and off I wander.
Oddly, this instruction came from the same agent who’d told me to join that very queue, even after showing my onward boarding pass. Righteo!
Even with hours to spare, ground staff give me a handy tip to speed things up. With a queue forming in the onward international transit passage, they look at my boarding pass and suggest I just follow the ‘domestic’ exit – and I don’t need to collect my bags.
Once I’m in the public area of the terminal, I can venture upstairs to the main international check-in floor. From there, I can zip straight through the fast-track ‘Business & First Class’ priority channel and be on my way.
True to their word, there are only a handful of people in front of me at both passport control and security. This gives me plenty of time to explore the duty-free shops (my gin collection gets larger again…) before my next stop: Air India’s international Business Class lounge. But that’s a story for another day.
Air India’s Airbus A320neo Business Class experience is surprisingly solid. I even remember thinking along the way that Air India could teach Australia’s domestic airlines a few things about service at the pointy end.
When I next visit India, I’ll certainly be booking Air India again on my domestic travels. But having said that, I’d also be keen to try Vistara. Both airlines are attached to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program, and you can use KrisFlyer miles to book either one.
On this journey, Air India made the most sense as I’d booked a KrisFlyer Star Alliance partner award to Australia. With Delhi-Sydney costing 100,000 miles in Business Class at the time (now 110,000 miles after the program’s recent changes), my Bengaluru-Delhi flight was included within the same award for the same number of miles.
Effectively, this great Air India Business Class flight was ‘free’, given I’d already be flying from Delhi to Sydney on the same day. That’s because KrisFlyer uses zone-based redemptions for these flights, and all of India is part of the same zone.
Not only that, but the total taxes and fees on my entire Bengaluru-Delhi-Sydney Business Class ticket were less than AU$100 when using KrisFlyer miles. A bonus Business Class flight on a journey that’s already kind to the hip pocket… what’s not to like?
All photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled at Point Hacks’ expense.
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