Best Long Flight I have Ever Taken – 10 “WoW”s

We began this blog by asking “Are Bollywood Interpretations Better Than Their Hollywood Originals?”. I grew up hearing the plaintive cry “why can’t India make films like Hollywood”. A few years ago, I began noticing that, Bollywood interpretations were turning out to be better than their Hollywood originals – more gripping, more innovative, more chic and more enjoyable.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced a similar awakening. This awakening is so astonishing that I simply have to share it with our readers.

I had to fly to Mumbai literally at a moment’s notice. My travel agent recommended the non-stop Air India flight (about 15 hours) from New York JFK to Mumbai. There are other aviation companies such as Business Air, but I had heard positive feedback about this flight. But, given the necessity but with some trepidation, I got an economy class ticket to Mumbai on this long, non-stop Air India flight.

Do not get me wrong, I did consider chartering a private jet at one point. One of my best friends has to travel a lot for work and he is always telling me how much quicker flying via private jet can be. I even got as far as looking at private jet websites like this one here. However, in the end I decided to take the advice of my travel agent.

Anyone who has taken a flight recently knows that air travel has become an exercise in frustration – disinterested and uncaring airport agents, frustrated and rude in flight crews, delayed flights – a series of experiences that scream to you “stay at home”. I have given up flying in America and told all my friends that they should come to the great, wonderful city of New York and stay with us but not expect me to fly to their locales.

Against this backdrop, the non-stop Air India flight was an joyous awakening. My first positive experience was right here at New York’s JFK airport. When I reached the counter, there was a line ahead of me. In a few minutes, a smiling Air India lady came to us and escorted a group of us to the First Class/Executive Class counters for faster and a courteous check-in. It was my first “wow” experience of this flight.

Air India was smart enough to begin boarding early and all the passengers were on board and in their seats well before the departure time. This is was another “wow” because my experience is that boarding a full flight is a painful experience filled with delays. The flight left the gate on time, again a relatively rare event in air travel.

Air India uses its new 777 airliner for the non-stop NYC-Mumbai flight. This was my third “wow” of the flight. These are gorgeous planes with decent legroom in economy and with deep, wide bins for hand bags. Unlike Delta and Continental, the decor is sunny, cordial and cheerful. It does create a festive mood, characteristic of the friendly Indian travel scene (recall the many Bollywood hit songs in trains and buses).

Our flight did not have a Shah Rukh Khan type entertainer and no one burst into a song on the flight. They did not have to. The on-board entertainment system was a marvel – the absolute best I have EVER seen on any flight and in any class. This was a huge “wow”.

On other flights (Delta, Continental and British Airways), the system plays a number of movies and TV show episodes at determined intervals. The timing and the pace is determined by the Flight. In contrast, the Air India system is like a DVR. You can play any movie or episode at any time; you can rewind, pause or fast forward at any time. The choice and the flexibility is yours.

Then the selection – that was another “wow”. Check out the Delta and Continental flights to India. The vast majority of the passengers are “desis” or global Indians. Yet, the in flight entertainment systems on these flights are overwhelmingly Hollywood in its offerings with a couple of Bollywood movies.

The Air India in flight entertainment system is on a different planet compared to Delta and Continental. The diversity and the number of offerings is astounding. In every language category, it gives you a choice of new or classic films. I was thrilled to see my old favorite “Rio Bravo” (John Wayne and Dean Martin) among the classic Hollywood offerings. The choice of classic Hindi films included evergreen hits like Shammi Kapoor’s “Brahmachari” and Rajesh Khanna’s “Anand” to name just a couple.

The Air India system provides a rich and diverse choice of “regional” entertainment with Marathi, Gujarati, Panjabi, Tamil, Telugu films and TV shows. I enjoyed watching Marathi films and serials on my flights. There is so much entertainment that you could not watch all of it in 4-5 fifteen hour flights.

I expected the food to be much better than on Delta and it was. Since I expected this, I do not give the food a special “wow”. But, I have to give a couple of “wow”s to the in flight service. The stewardesses were superb, friendly, caring and attentive to needs of every passenger. The in flight service in economy class on this Air India flight was far superior to what I have experienced in Delta, Continental and British Airways Business Class Sections.

Air India Management must be given full credit for this standard of in flight service. After all, Delta and Continental have Indian staff in their flight crews as well, but these Indian crew members do not come close to the standards of Air India in flight staff’s friendliness, courtesy and efficiency.

Then the utter “wow”. The flight landed in Mumbai about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. This is not a miracle. I have heard that arriving a little early is a fairly regular experience for passengers on this flight. Despite an economy seat, I was able to get off the plane and clear immigration in less than 20 minutes. Another “wow”.

I do not exaggerate when I say that this was the BEST flight I have ever taken in my life. I speak as a jaded traveler with a long history of flying on Delta, Continental, British Airways. Air France and occasionally Alitalia, Jet Airways and Kingfisher.

I say this to every reader, try the non-stop NYC-Mumbai Air India flight on your next trip to India. You will love it.

From what I am told, Air India Management has designated this as their flagship flight. It has a separate management that has been segregated from the rest of Air India and this management is committed to making this flight as the standard of a new flying experience from Air India. From this traveler’s viewpoint, they have succeeded. This deserves a special “wow” to Air India Management for creating this flagship experience.

So, forget about what you may have heard about Air India in the past or on other sectors. Try the New and Shining Air India Non-Stop NYC-Mumbai flight.

Editor’s Note:
The return flight from Mumbai to JFK was just as nice. The ground staff at Mumbai was even more friendly and helpful as Air India’s staff at JFK. For those who follow the bigwigs, Anil Ambhani and his wife were on the same Air India flight from Mumbai to New York (based on the welcome signs at the jetway at JFK).

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