Air India Maharaja Experience after long time-10/10

It has been long time since I had flown on Air India, India's national carrier. Had a few short flights in 2018- Chennai-Coimbatore, Delhi-Bikaner etc- those were short haul flights on turbo prop and didn’t give proper Air India experience. Could have booked Air India to Kathmandu this year but for some reason went with Indigo as it was a bit cheaper. Finally flew Chennai-Port Blair and back on Air India A321 last week and it was a perfect experience on all aspects. No complaints at all.
Booking: Was done in Feb 2019, on Air India website- Chennai-Port Blair return for 5200 Rs, meals and bags included. At times I have seen booking on some websites like Easemytrip could be a few rupees cheaper-but in case of cancellation they charge Rs 250 extra eroding any savings. So unless difference is significant, I usually book direct on airline website.

Bid for Business Class Upgrade: Air India allows you to bid for business class seat and claims to help you save up to 75% on business class fares. Got dozens of SMS and emails asking me to try this. But for this you need to big an amount, make a payment and have to wait till you reach the gate. No business class baggage allowance, no priority check-in/boarding, no lounge access, no nothing. If not upgraded we have to wait for 10 days for refund. I was happy to try my luck getting extra leg room emergency row than trying my luck upgrading. One way to encourage more people to bid is to give some guaranteed benefits- such as priority check-in or boarding etc which doesn't cost anything, to passengers who have bid, irrespective of their winning or not.
Web Check-in- did a day prior, smooth process, though wasn’t offering emergency rows. However at the Chennai airport there was no dedicated counter for web check in passengers. I would have asked for exit row but didn’t want to stand in line for half an hour for this, so printed by boarding pass in a kiosk and went to security.

Departure: Was perfectly on time, both onward and return flight

Meals: Air India serves proper meals on non-ATR aircrafts, but all vegetarian, which was fine with me. We were served breakfast which included pongal, wada, bread, mango flavored yoghurt etc. No complaints on the food. A piece of chocolate would have been nice. Also Air India can take some tips from Vistara and Qantas to reduce plastic usage onboard.
Aircraft: Was A321 both ways. A321 is slightly bigger than A320 and has more seats. Air India has about 12 business class seats and some 150+ economy seats. Mine was of course economy. Leg room was decent. Aircraft had entertainment system but in disabled form. I guess aircraft was being used for international sectors earlier.

Super spacious emergency row seat: The A321’s emergency row is amazingly spacious. I had more legroom than my legs could extend. There’re two such rows in the aircraft- Row 9 and Row 22. 9A, 9F, 22A, 22F offer maximum leg rooms. On my return journey, my sequence number was one.  Implies I am the first person to check-in for the flight. Andaman has hopeless internet speed, so no one had bothered to do web check-in. At airport, counter staff refused to assign exit row seat initially saying they will be assigned towards end. But upon insisting he assigned us emergency row.

Return flight was uneventful. Flight was on time. Bags came out within reasonable time.

Above left: My legroom in economy was more than what business class passengers got (refer right side image)
Legroom in standard economy seat for reference- still feels a few cms more than low cost airlines.
I had got similar legroom on Srilankan airline A321 last year- check this post.

In-flight magazine Shubh Yatra was good, but only few seats had it. Like in my row, none of the 3 seat pockets had one, I had to get it from another row- this was on August 10th, 10 days into new month. I guess passengers tend to take them away in their bag.
Above: armrests showing signs of aging and now defunct entertainment system controls.

Ava megamart- I saw the ava in-flight shopping booklet on the floor of the aircraft when I boarded in Chennai- I have written about Ava skymart in detail here. However we were not given any fresh booklet on Chennai-Port Blair or Port Blair-Chennai sector. Now the handling fee for free gift has gone up to 1200 Rs from 999 few years ago.

I hope to fly Air India long haul international sometimes, but Air India fares never match middle east based airlines.

There’re some people who have a generic hatred towards Air India. I can assure it isn’t that bad. Of course delays happen and disruptions happen- which are common in service industry like air travel with so many dependencies. For one or two flights that suffer major disruption, Air India also operates 800+ flights every day without any issue. So your probability of facing something wrong is fairly low. If the ticket fare is attractive and flight schedule is convenient, I don’t see a reason why you should avoid Air India

Update: My tweet on this topic gets 11000+ impressions, particularly after Air India retweeted it.

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