Flying to India from the U.S. has never
been quick, easy or cheap. But thanks to a flood of new competing
air connections, including several nonstops, on tap between the
world's largest and fastest-growing democracy, India, and its
oldest and richest, prices may fall while frequencies and options
in India is sky-high, spurred both by an economy -- the world's
10th-largest and second-fastest growing -- that's expanding at more
than 9% annually and by vigorous competition between subcontinental
carriers as varied as state-owned Indian Airlines, budget line
Spicejet and luxury carrier Kingfisher Airlines, founded by
beverage kingpin Vijay Mallya.
airlines are going global with their airborne rivalry, launching
new intercontinental services, both nonstop and direct, to compete
with each other and U.S. and European carriers flying the
Air India announced
it will launch daily, nonstop service between New York (Kennedy)
and Mumbai on Aug. 1, competing directly with Delta, which
pioneered the route on Nov. 1, 2006.
Airlines, which has flown nonstop daily between Newark and Delhi
since 2005, enters the fray with four nonstops a week from Newark
to Mumbai as of Oct. 1, going to daily on Oct. 30.
privately owned Jet Airways launches its first-ever transatlantic
service to the U.S. on Aug. 5, with the debut of daily
Newark-Mumbai flights via Brussels, using new 777-300ER
Further down the
line, Kingfisher -- on the home front, busy investing in low-fare
Indian carrier Air Deccan -- has ordered long-range Airbus A340-500
and A380 jets with an eye toward launching U.S. service.
The increase in
airlift is warranted by a surge in interest in India, according to
travel agents specializing in the destination.
"There is a huge
amount of traffic between these countries now, due to IT and
outsourcing and the Indian economy doing well," said Sangeeta
Singh, owner of Ambi Travel in Fremont, Calif. "We have also seen
an increase in non-Indian-American leisure traffic, people going to
India for vacation. It's becoming a popular
Singh said every
day is a busy day at Ambi Travel, "not like earlier times when we
had many lean years."
Kennedy-Mumbai route is the first in its planned series of new
nonstop, long-haul connections between the two countries, according
to Commercial Director V.K. Verma, who noted that international air
passenger traffic in and out of India is growing by up to 19%
carrier, currently undergoing a merger with domestic carrier Indian
Airlines, also plans to launch nonstops between New York and Delhi
in January and between San Francisco and Bangalore in late May,
said Verma. Both cities are meccas for IT and high-tech
Air India already
flies direct to India from four U.S. cities via Europe. It flies to
Mumbai daily from Chicago, three times a week through London
Heathrow and four times a week via Frankfurt. It flies daily from
New York (Kennedy) via Heathrow and from Newark via Paris also
connects Los Angeles with Delhi three times a week via
Economy fares on
the new nonstops will be priced some 15% to 20% higher than the
existing direct services that they mirror, which will eventually be
discontinued, said Verma; the disparity in business- and
first-class fares will be even greater.
Air India chose to
inaugurate its transatlantic nonstops on the New York route because
of its "blue ribbon" status, he said.
"Right from the
1960s, it has had pride of place in Air India's operations," said
Verma, noting the carrier used the route to showcase its Boeing 707
jets in 1960, 747-200 jumbos in 1971 and 747-400s in
"Today, after 14
years, we're on track to debut the best, most competitive product
on the New York-Mumbai route ... where Air India has always set the
In keeping with
tradition, Air India's New York-Mumbai route will introduce the
airline's first-ever Boeing 777-200LR aircraft, flying with a
The carrier will
take delivery of two of the airplanes on July 25 and 26. Air India
has placed orders with Boeing for a total of 68 new aircraft,
including 27 of its 787 Dreamliners, to be delivered in late
brand-new livery, outfitted with new interiors and seating and
staffed by retrained or new crew members, the 777s will herald a
rebirth for India's much-maligned flag carrier, according to
Singh of Ambi
Travel is not as sure. "I'm not sure how well Air India will fare
[as] it may not be travelers' first choice," she said. "The service
is not 100%; the staff are nice people, but the aircraft are not
Air India has
suffered from a poor reputation in the industry in regard to
performance, sanitation and the age of its fleet. Verma
acknowledged the challenges ahead.
"I will be candid
in admitting our product has had some flaws," he said. "But we're
setting that right, [and] Air India is set to regain its glory of
just a few years past."
Verma said Air
India will offer the only first-class cabin on nonstop routes to
India from the U.S. as well as industry-leading flat-bed seats in
business class and the most legroom in economy.
Jet set for U.S.
Jet Airways, in the
midst of a $3.7 billion growth plan, is taking a more traditional
approach to extending its reach to the U.S. and Canada. It's
developing a major hub in Brussels that will eventually connect
flights from six North American cities to five key gateways in
India: Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Ahmedabad.
service between Newark and Mumbai inaugurates the plan, followed by
Toronto-Delhi service starting Sept. 5.
Jet Airways will
fly new Boeing 777-300ER planes on the routes. It has placed orders
for 10 777s and 10 Airbus A330 jets as well as 10 Boeing
The carrier said it
will begin direct flights from New York (Kennedy), Chicago, Los
Angeles and San Francisco as aircraft deliveries are completed
through October 2008.
Jet's new aircraft
will feature eight private, first-class suites with sliding
double-doors, 83-inch beds, 23-inch TVs, two closets and a
work/dining table. Business-class cabins are outfitted with 73-inch
flat beds; TVs with 15.4-inch screens; and oversize work tables,
and economy has new, ergonomically designed seating with 130-degree
recline and individual, in-seat reading lights.
Jet Airways' new
in-flight bells and whistles may help distract from longer overall
travel times, but the stopover in Brussels itself may be just what
some passengers are looking for, said Singh of Ambi
"We get some
clients, especially those flying economy, who say [long-haul]
nonstops are too hard on them," she said. "I'd say 70% of travelers
are happy with nonstops to India, but the rest say it's not
feasible and would prefer to have a break."
meanwhile, is not sitting on its laurels while awaiting delivery of
its A380 superjumbos. The Bangalore-based carrier signed an
agreement with Continental implementing frequent-flyer and lounge
access reciprocity as of Oct. 1.
By year's end,
Continental will place its code on Kingfisher's domestic Indian
flights out of Delhi and Mumbai that connect to its own Newark
nonstops. Customers will enjoy single check-in for all flights,
including electronic tickets, boarding passes and checked baggage
to final destinations.
contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].