A few years ago we took a flight with Air India Express from Mumbai to Kochi. The flights were very cheap, but boy did the experience FEEL cheap. The plane was old, battered and the seats were so squeezed in that we almost had our knees under our chins. I said to myself that I wouldn’t do that again, that I’d pay a little more and go for a ‘proper’ airline. This year we did that and upgraded from the ‘Express’ to the proper Air India. I wasn’t expecting much as I’d read many reviews slating their international flights, but I knew I’d had Air India flights in the past as parts of pre-arranged tours, and I didn’t have any recollections of anything too horrendous.
We took four domestic flights in total - from Mumbai to Delhi and on to Bagdogra in W. Bengal, and then 11 days later, the same in reverse. We paid less than £100 per person for all these flights although I should admit that they were booked 9 months before we travelled. Over 80% of the total cost was taxes and fees.
There is nothing logical about flying to Mumbai if you want to visit Sikkim. Kolkata would be much more sensible and even Delhi more logical but I used airmiles to book the international flights and Mumbai had availability, the others didn’t.
We checked in at 5.30 am for a 7.00 am flight. My first impressions were very positive because the lady on the check-in desk was very friendly and helpful. Not only did she spot that on our second flight we’d been given seats in different parts of the plane, but she went straight back into the system and reallocated them for us. She also then kindly instructed us to put away the boarding passes for the later flight and to put away our passports. "You won’t need them so put them inside your back right away". I felt a little ‘mothered’ but it was quite nice to be looked after.
Boarding started very early, not in any attempt to get us away quickly but because our plane was parked many miles away on the other side of the airport in the International part of the airport. Once we reached the plane we were in the first row of economy which was separated from business case by a full divider rather than a silly flappy curtain. The leg room was excellent and the seats were comfortable, considerably more than most European airline seats.
Each leg of our journey came with a full hot meal service although it’s worth being aware that there is no alcohol served on Air India domestic flights. The food was very standard Indian flight fare - a small starter, a cold drink and a bread roll, and a hot dish comprising two curries and some boiled rice. I could have predicted the curries before getting on the plain - a veg and spinach dish and a paneer in orangey red sauce. The service is calm and efficient and whilst the food is unexciting, I’m so used to getting nothing or just a bag of crackers on most European flights.
Transfer between the two flights in Delhi was easy and straight-forward in both directions. Bags and passengers are searched a second time. Our first flight was about half an hour late but we had a two hour gap between flights so there was no risk of missing the connection.
Air India’s planes were better than I’d hoped for, the service on board was generous and comprehensive, and in flight movies were provided even on flights lasting only two hours. I didn’t use this service but fresh earphones were offered on every flight. Luggage bins were large and there was no problem with customers fighting for space. Air India was infinitely superior to their budget ‘Express’ format and given the chance I would definitely avoid AI Express in future. We’ve also flown some of the newer airlines like SpiceJet which have a reputation for being a bit more ‘modern’ but I can’t honestly say I was in any way disappointed by Air India.