Advantages Good food, some nice people, clean planes
Disadvantages Punctuality, airport services, some old planes
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A lot of people have a lot of bad things to say about Indian Airlines. They tut, shake their head, roll their eyes. Even cringe.For many years India had just two airline, both state-run: Air India, who did the international flying, and Indian Airlines who did the domestic flights. This resembled the old days in the UK where BOAC flew longhaul and BEA flew within Europe. The British government realised this wasn't working back in the 1970s, but it continues in India today. The lines are a bit blurred, as Indian Airlines does now fly some international routes, to the Middle East and to the Far East, and Air India operates some domestic routes. There is talk of merging the two, but nothing has come of it.
Being a monopoly for so long in a country the size of a continent, and being government run, is not likely to lead to good, efficient service. However, in the 90s they got a shake up when domestic flights were opened to private airlines, and they now have real competition from Jet Airways, Air Sahara and the low-cost Air Deccan. In 2005 several more private airlines started up, so they are facing unprecedented competition.So how are they facing up to it? I've flown with Indian Airlines several times over the past six months, from the Gulf into India and within India. There have been some inconsistencies, but mostly they are quite comparable. They still have the widest network within India, operating to places that others don't want to.
In India there is a 24 hour call centre. The number is available on the website, or on the ticket if you already have it. In dealing with them, I've found them polite and reasonably helpful but a bit bureaucratic, and anything outside the norm is a challenge. However they have usually tried to help.
Bookings can be done through the website, for registered users. The website does provide quite good schedule information so I imagine that booking on line is fairly simple, but have not tried it.
Outside India they have a network of offices around their network. The offices that I've been to have been a bit cluttered and untidy, looking a bit tired, but the people have been quite helpful and pleasant.
What I try to avoid are the flights operated by their low cost subsidiary, Alliance Air. These operate some ancient B737s, due for retirement. I have twice ended up on flights operated by Alliance (Hint: flight numbers 7000 and up) and the second time was delayed nearly six hours with a technical problem. Since then I have steered clear!
In most cases I have found the check in people to be pleasant and helpful. On a few occasions they could have been more cheerful; on most occasions they could have looked smarter - doing up their top button does wonders. They could have been more informed. But they were always polite and helpful, and usually responding cheerfully to some chat and banter.Once, checking in for a flight, I was offered an Alliance Air flight leaving after twenty minutes, or an Indian Airlines flight after an hour. I made the wrong choice - but at least I was given the choice!!!
At most airports, Indian Airlines has an airport lounge for its Executive Class passengers. These vary in size and comfort - at Delhi they use the Ashok Lounge which is a glorified canteen with a few armchairs in another room. At Kolkota there is a larger lounge, more comfortable.When it comes to boarding it is usually a scrum. This is partly down to poor airports and even poorer facilities at these airports; often the loudspeakers are out of order - or even if they are working they are better without - so boarding announcements are usually done by a man with a loud voice. The alternative, at some airports, is just to open the door, prompting a scrum. The A320 only carriers about 140 passengers, but it can seem a lot more once the scrum starts. As soon as there is any sign of the gate opening, people just pile in. Children, women, babies be damned, it is like a rush for free condoms at a Students Union night club. I've seen a child travelling alone being literally shoved through, under arms and between legs, to get them to the front of the queue. I don't know if it is funny or pathetic. In fairness this is more down to the airport, or the people, rather than the airline
Indian Airlines offer two classes, "Executive" and "Economy". Most of my flights have been in "Executive, where the seats are configured two either side of the aisle. They are quite wide and reasonably comfortable, with a small tray atop the armrest that is just big enough for two glasses. The seats recline enough to be able to get to sleep and thhere is no leg rest but the leg room is quite good, so that you are comfortable until the person in front fully reclines their seat! cruising, which can be a while after take off.
HOW ABOUT ON BOARD?
Getting onto the plane, you are greeted by a stewardess in traditional sari, uniform brown and blue, with hands together in a welcoming "Namaste". On most flights, there has been a smile and, if you look unsure where to go, she will point you down the aisle.
Indian Airlines don't offer menus, so the crew have to explain what food is on offer. The choice is mainly "vegetarian or not" and there is no menu so the crew explain what is on offer. On a domestic flight, there is usually a starter, salad, main course and desert, whereas on the international flights there is more.
WHAT WAS THE FOOD AND DRINK LIKE?
I've always found the food on Indian Airlines to be quite good, though the choice and amount of food on offer varies depending on the route and how long the flight is. In my experience the best food has been on the flight from Dubai, though ironically as it is an overnight flight, leaving after midnight, it is the one where you may want to eat least!
On my flight from Dubai we started with an appetiser of chicken tikka, served with a drink. This was then followed by the meal tray with a salad and a soup. The salad was a bit dry but the soup was quite tasty. The main course was vegetarian, chicken korma or pepper chicken. I went for the korma which was very nice, served with minted peas and rice. Bread was offered, traditional nan or chapatis, warm and individually wrapped. Desert was a traditional sweet dumpling in sugar syrup.Domestic flights within India are "dry", alcohol cannot be served, but it is available on the international flights. I've not seen wine being served, the choice seems to be beer, whiskey or gin - not even vodka! Horror!
Once the meal service is under way, they can forget to offer another drink. On one occasion, when I asked for one, the stewardess giggled and I never found out why!
On a two hour domestic flight, a carton of juice is offered before take-off, which I have not seen on many other airlines. The meal was a choice of vegetarian or none-vegetarian and I went for the carniverous option. There was some chicken tikka, which was tender, vegetable patties and chick-peas. Desert was a couple of sweet balls in syrup, followed by tea and coffee.
On board the crew all looked smart, if a bit drab, in the brown and blue sari. What has struck me is the age of most of the crew. Unlike the non-veg catering, there are few spring chickens in sight. Most of the crew look in their forties, and I think I have only seen one or two obviously below 30.Now I'm not ageist - heck, I can't afford to be, it would be like a turkey wishing for Thanksgiving. However, when I get on board and am welcomed by a lady with thin grey hair scraped back across her scalp, makeup falling out of the cracks and hips so wide she almost has to walk sideways down the aisle, I do wonder.
However, most of the crews of all ages that I have flown with have been pleasant, helpful and taken good care of me and those around me. Some have been positively sweet and gone out of their way. On a typical flight there are three crew in Executive Class and there is always at least one, usually two, who may not look it but turn out to be warm, pleasant and attentive.I once filled in a customer survey and a few weeks later got a genuine response, individually written. That is better than a lot of European airlines!
Once I was told in advance that the flight was an hour late, so I was able to delay going to the airport, and once I was told of a ninety minute delay at check in and sent to the lounge. However, as the delays are happening there can be little information; they just don't call you for boarding. Twice I've sat in the lounge wondering whether the flight was late or they just hadn't called us.
SO WERE YOU ON TIME?
About half of the time. This is where Indian Airlines can let themselves down; their punctuality is not great and they are not good at keeping people informed.
On board too, they were good and told us that there we would have to wait, as the weather at our destination was bad, then the next announcement was forty five minutes later - coincidentally, a minute after I asked the stewardess if there was any update. Of course they cannot be responsible for the weather, but it is good to keep the passengers informed.
The toilets are kept reasonably clean, particularly bearing in mind that some of these aircraft are 15 years or older. One small irritant is that there is rarely a towel, only the box of tissues, and I hate drying my hands with tissues - you end up finding little rolled up balls of damp paper on your clothes for the next half hour!
Their fares are comparable to the others on the routes. They haev several special deals and bulk-purchase offers. Rather than quote the prices on all 50+ routes, have a look at their web site!So how to rate? food food and service 4 stars, but a star lost for punctuality.
Pleasantly surprising and surprisingly pleasant!
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