Air India to Muscat- Maharaja International Experience!

So far I never had an opportunity to fly international with Air India. This was mainly because ether Air India fares were never the cheapest whenever I wanted to travel abroad or Air India didn't have convenient flights out of Chennai to places I wanted to go. For destinations like US and Europe, Qatar, Etihad often offered cheapest fares and for South East Asia, Air Asia had the lowest fares.

But all that changed recently- During a sale Air India was offering 12330 INR return fare to Muscat, Oman. This was cheaper than any other alternative- Oman Air flies direct between Chennai and Muscat while few other carriers (Srilankan, GoAir etc) offer one stop flights. I decided to book on Air India. 39 countries later, it was finally time to fly the Maharaja on international route.

Air India advantages on Chennai-Muscat sector:
1. Slightly bigger and better A321, with ultra spacious exit row seats which can be selected at no extra charge (But this sector has been currently being operated on an A320, not sure when A321 will be reintroduced)
2. Meals and 30 kg baggage included
3. Convenient timings (late night/early morning)

Ticket Booking Experience: 4 out of 5

I booked directly on Air India website. It was possible to see fares for adjacent dates and select a lowest fare onward and return journey dates. I selected my seat but it wasn't appearing on the confirmation and I couldn't see it online. On calling customer care they confirmed that my seat selection is recorded in their system. It appeared later during web-check in so I am happy.

Bid for Upgrade: Users can bid for a business class upgrade. You've to pay upfront and if you are the highest bidder, you will be upgraded to business class during boarding. While Air India claims this bidding can get you business class seat for 75% less, you will not get any business class benefits like priority boarding, extra luggage, lounge access etc. You've to pay upfront and wait till last minute with uncertainty and wait further to get your money back if you don't get selected for upgrade. I decided to skip this part as I had my eyes set on extra spacious exit row seat which had more leg room than business class seat.

Data Compromise and Easemytrip Spam
I got SMS from Easemytrip asking me to bid for upgrade. I don't know how they got my flight details as I had booked directly on Air India website. Raised this concern on twitter- no one gave any response- Air India twitter handle doesn't respond to any tweets, Easemytrip gave standard replies asking for my contact details but refused to investigate with info provided, DGCA etc didn't respond. [read more here]
Later in the flight I saw Easymytrip's advertisement on the headrest. May be there is some data sharing agreement where easemytrip gets details of Air India customers and tries to sell more services to them. This explains the data compromise.
Web-Check in
Only a check in confirmation will be given, not boarding pass, as passengers need to visit check-in counter for passport and visa verification.

While original departure time for Chennai-Muscat was 7.25 PM, it was once refined to 8 PM, then again to 8.25 PM. wasn't showing on-time performance record for this flight (AI907). Actual departure was about 9 PM for past few days. Air India doesn't announce full delay in one shot- they keep communicating it in a staggered manner over a period of time, even though the flight has been delayed consistently since past few days. I think this is a trick employed to counter claims of any refund by customers. (more than 2.5 hours of delay passengers can claim for rescheduling or refund)

Actual take off was at some 8.50 PM. Nonetheless I think no one is expecting Air India to fly on time- as long as they take you to your destination without a drastic delay, you should be lucky. Had they delayed by another 3-4 hours I could have saved one night hotel rent.

On time performance is not something to look forward with Air India
Flight Experience:
Check-in: No separate counter for those who had done web check-in.

Change of Aircraft
As per Air India website, Seatguru etc the Chennai-Muscat route was supposed to be operated by an A321. Accordingly I had pre-selected exit row seat 22A hoping to stretch my legs as shown below. [Read A321 experience on Port Blair-Chennai] However Air India has changed the aircraft to a regular A320 which has standard economy seat in row 22. What I expected was on left, what I got on right- my big disappointment of the journey.

Let room- what I was hoping vs what I got. Air India not updating anywhere that they've changed aircraft type.

The seat back pocket design is inconvenient compared to a flexible ones found in Indigo- we can't insert a water bottle or juice etc into seat pocket as it is hard and non flexible.

Meals: Air India is a full service airline and services meals and coffee/tea. On international flights they serve non-veg as well (only veg on domestic sectors). I am vegetarian so this doesn't make much difference for me. Alcohol was served on this flight.

In-flight magazine shows meals as below- I took longest available banana leaf with me just in case they run out of it... but when they served the meal there was no vada, no dosa, no nothing... hehe

Ad above, reality below: Meal was good. Chapati was also included between the foils. Though I had pre-selected my meal staff didn't refer to any manifest or print out, asked us again for our preference and served veg food.

Light snacks and juice (or alcohol to who wanted it) was served before meals. Air India shows MRP of snacks procured this one was INR 5 aloo bhuji. Indigo on the other hand shows a 20 Rs paperboat juice printed as MRP 100

Rest of the flight was uneventful. Onward flight was almost full.

Return flight:
Return flight was also on A320 and not A321, so the rearrangement is not ad-hoc but a planned one. However Air India website still showed this flight as A321 and most other websites like Seatguru also didn't have any update on actual aircraft used. However having lost my ultra legroom seat on onward journey and having suspected change of aircraft for return as well, I asked for exit row seat on my return flight, got it in row 11. A320 exit row is of course better than normal seat but not as spacious as A321 exit row.

While onward journey meal had a chapati wrapped in the foil, return journey didn't have Chapati. Air India sources food in Muscat and doesn't carry meals from India for return journey.

Again the 3 hour delay was communicated in a staggered manner.

Return flight was on March 2nd, 2nd day of the month. There was no in-flight magazine of March month- may be they take a few days to get distributed.

Crew were reasonably friendly and polite. Don't have anything specific to complain. Return flight was one third empty.

Air India is currently looking for new buyers and hence there's a sense of uncertainty about its future. Hopefully all goes well and Maharaja stays on to serve flying public.

More muscat process: Oman Visa * Mutrah Fort * Using Public transport in Muscat * Traveling under Corona Virus Scare- what to expect * Cost estimate- budgeting Oman trip

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