~Flying to India~
We've previously flown to India by Gulf Air via the Middle East and direct by both BA and Virgin and had issues with all of them. We thought it was time to give Kingfisher, India's only "Five-Star" rated carrier a go. We booked our flights back at Easter through the Travelocity website which was offering the same prices as Kingfisher's website but a much easier booking process. We paid £480 per person for London-Delhi return. Our outbound flight was the day after the Commonwealth Games ended so we expected it to be busy with all the people who'd put off their travel to avoid the chaos of the big event.
Kingfisher fly from Terminal 4 at Heathrow. We easily found the check-in desks and waited about 15 minutes in an orderly single queue. The days leading up to our flight were not filled with our normal pre-flight stress of worrying about online check in because been able to pick our seats when we booked and knew where we'd be. Coming back there was no queue at all in the new Delhi Terminal 3 building so in terms of length of wait to check in, I have to give a bit thumbs up to Kingfisher.
On the way to India we got our pre-chosen seats without any problems. Since we were travelling with my sister and her girlfriend, we'd taken care to choose pairs of seats in two consecutive rows. For our return flight we turned up at the airport relaxed that there was no need to rush there because we'd got some nice seats lined up. When the check-in assistant said we'd got 27 H&K I was horrified. I pointed out that the seats were on our booking. They blamed the company we booked through claiming that it's not possible to reserve the bulk-head seats.
They were making up excuses and changing them every few minutes. The assistant was calling her supervisor and whispering away to him about us. She then confirmed that they couldn't let us have the seats because they were blocked. OK, I said, then unblock them. Then she claimed the entertainment system was broken on one of the seats. OK, I said, we can live with that. Then she changed the story and said they'd already given someone else one of the seats but we could have the other. I asked why we had to be SO far back and why if they couldn't give us what we'd booked we couldn't at least have something nearer the people with whom we were travelling. It was like talking to the BT Internet call centre in India – eternally polite, utterly incompetent and frustratingly similar to talking to a brick wall. The supervisor was no better. I asked for a feedback form and filled it in there and then. Then to make things even more peachy they told us the flight would be late because the entertainment system had broken down.
~On Board – on the way to India~
Boarding was through a gate that was very close to the air-side shopping area and was straight onto the plane via an air-bridge. The queues moved quickly and we were soon on board and were there early enough to not have to fight for overhead luggage space. The seats were of a good standard and of a red leather or leatherette. We had pillows and blankets and each seat back already had a 500 ml bottle of water in it. The magazine and shopping guide were also in place. There wasn't a lot of legroom although it was no worse than many other airlines we've used. There's a footrest that might be helpful for shorter travellers but not much use if you have long legs.
The seat back TV screens in economy were larger than many airlines put in business class. If anything they were a touch TOO big for the limited distance between viewer and screen. The on-demand video system was excellent when it worked and they started it playing very early on, before we had even taken off which really surprised me. So much for the claims by most airlines that you can't keep your headphones on during take off – half the plane was watching a film long before we started to taxi. The choice was excellent although the touch-screen response was very iffy.
Unfortunately my husband's headphone connection wasn't good so he gave up on watching very early on. The socket didn't take my noise reduction headset that I'd brought along so I missed everything but the loudest of dialogue but still enjoyed the film I'd chosen. It's not a lot of fun to sit with your hands pressing your headset against your ears just to try to catch the dialogue.
Food was served quite a long time after take off which was strange on a late night flight. If you want vegetarian it has to be 'AsianVegetarian' although the meat eaters get a choice of Asian or 'continental'. The veg meal was a lot spicier than the European airlines would ever dare to serve and the sweet potato salad with kidney beans and pomegranate was particularly hot. The main dish consisted of two small curries and some rice. I ate one of the curries and avoided the other. There was also a yoghurt raita that I skipped and a sweet pudding that somehow disappeared down my husband's throat when I wasn't paying attention.
Now onto the big surprise. An airline started by a beer mogul had absolutely no beer on board. We thought the stewardess was joking but it turned out to be true. They also had no diet coke which was almost as surprising and the white wine was disgusting. Breakfast next morning was bland in the extreme and was served almost two and a half hours before landing which seemed way too early on a flight that only took eight and a half hours.
On the whole the flight was very smooth and calm and not typical of a flight to India on which people have a tendency to get a bit over-excited. The only 'trouble' came from a few people who were really annoyed that their seat back screens didn't work. Admittedly I think the crew could have done more to placate them (they didn't do ANYTHING) and I could understand why they were frustrated since it's happened to me before. My sister was left without any entertainment on a flight to Australia and Qantas gave her $50 worth of duty free to compensate. If Kingfisher can't fix their screen problems, maybe they need to think about something similar.
After our outbound flight we were pretty impressed but everything went wrong on the return leg. The flight was delayed by over an hour and then they kept us waiting on the plane for another hour and a half. As we lined up to get on board a particularly sycophantic young man was assigned the task of ritually apologising to every customer that the entertainment system was broken. Most hadn't known about this and I had to wonder what was the point of telling people at that point - too late to buy books or magazines. The apology was hollow and completely pointless since no compensation or offer of alternative entertainment was offered. I suspect they were trying to avoid that the flight crew caught all the flak but everyone was pretty peeved by the time they got on.
Ironically by the time we eventually took off after sitting on the plane for what seemed like an eternity, they'd managed to fix the system. After delaying us so long, the cabin crew then took an eternity to bring food and drink. Some customers were getting really ratty and one irate passenger went storming down the plane shouting "For god's sake WHEN are you going to feed us".
My sister came down to see us half way through the flight to tell us that the people who'd been given our seats were a guy who refused to put the window blind down and upset everyone and someone who threw up after a couple of hours. She thought we were rather lucky to have been able to escape especially since her girlfriend was about to start a diplomatic incident with the window blind man.
Again my husband didn't do well with the so-called entertainment system and this time got a distorted screen. The cabin crew were clearly in a collective foul mood throughout the flight and I didn't see a single genuine smile. The food was second rate – especially the bizarre afternoon snack which came at a time that didn't fit Indian or UK time zones. When we finally landed nearly 3 hours late, we were really questioning how this airline had ever got its five-star rating.