Dispatch, India: Air India cleans up its act, and then some

India DispatchTravel Weekly Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski is spending three days in New Delhi, India, detailing experiences about his first trip to the country.

DAY 1: I boarded an Air India flight from New York to Delhi with some trepidation about the flight experience that lie ahead.

Last July, when I reported Air India's plans to use new Boeing 777 long-range jets on nonstop flights between Indian gateways and North America, Travel Weekly received a flurry of correspondence from dubious, even angry, travel agents.

One travel agent said, "I'm not so sure how well Air India will fare, as it may not be travelers' first choice."

Air India officials confided to me at the time that they faced an uphill battle because of the carrier's poor reputation in regard to performance, service, cleanliness and fleet age. Many international business and leisure travelers, as well as well-heeled Indians, had abandoned Air India.

I hereby report that Air India merits another chance. Granted, I hadn't flown the old Air India, the one agents claimed flew dirty planes with backed-up toilets and business-class seats held together by duct tape. But I have traveled on countless long-haul flights on U.S. and international carriers, and Air India's product matches or beats most of them.

indiadispatch1I sat in the airline's business class, but a walk-through in economy revealed pretty nice digs and relatively content passengers (as content as one can get on a 13.5-hour trip).

Business class had the usual perks like a welcome drink, amenity kits, slippers, eyeshades and gourmet dining. Plus, there were premium perks not offered in all airline business cabins: Bose noise-canceling headsets, lie-flat seats in a 2-3-2 configuration and 15-inch video screens at all seats.

There were also a couple of nice surprises: comfy pajamas, quilts and pillows. I ducked into first class to see what they could possibly be doing differently up there. All I could tell was that there are fewer, wider seats and that flight attendants' saris were red and gold instead of blue and green.

The service in Air India's business class was pretty darned good. Spot on, in fact, and superior to what U.S. passengers will find on many legacy carriers at home. (By the way, the crew didn't know I was a travel reporter until I identified myself as such an hour before landing.)

We landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule on the long flight -- and the bathrooms smelled fresh the entire way.

Kenneth Kiesnoski is Travel Weekly's destinations editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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