Domestic airlines of India: Our anecdotes, reviews & experiences

While our airports and airlines are light years ahead of where we were only 30 years ago it is no one’s business that a lot more can be done on airline service.

BHPian V.Narayan recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

All of us here on Team BHP, or most of us at least above age of 30, largely travelled long distance by train as children. Circa 1990 private airline carriers started entering service and it was only a decade later at the turn of the century that air travel became prevalent beyond the well-off and the business travellers.

With 123 cities connected by air and the Government working through the UDAN scheme to take that number to 400+ {492 locations to be exact} we will soon be seriously connected by air for passenger travel and small parcel transport {the fastest growing segment} to support all your buys on Amazon & Flipkart.

India is now the 3rd largest domestic air passenger market in the world after USA and China. Indonesia comes in 4th and Japan 5th. December 2022 which saw airport crushes at major airports especially Delhi saw a little over 13 million travellers that month. Not surprisingly the six busiest routes in India are, in that order, Delhi-Bombay, Delhi-Bangalore, Delhi-Bangalore, Mumbai- Bangalore, Delhi- Kolkata, Delhi – Hyderabad and Delhi – Pune. Indigo with a fleet of 295 machines and a seat capacity of ~99 million is the 8th largest in the world by seats.

While our airports and airlines are light years ahead of where we were only 30 years ago it is no one’s business that a lot more can be done on airline service, punctuality, airport connectivity by road and metro. With a whole new segment of early travellers and first time travellers we do have the additional issue of passengers struggling with our many checks and procedures. It is very heartening for the socialist in me that air travel is now cheap enough to be affordable, financially and in terms of mental barriers, by society segments that would not have dreamed of it 15 years ago.

Gone are the days Indian Airline and Air India counter clerks would yell viciously at hapless passengers, where 50 of you fought desperately for those 2 waitlist seats, where despite burgeoning demand the Govt simply would not add more flights etc. But we can’t rest on our laurels. Passenger needs and expectations have gone up and our infrastructure and service have to keep pace.

The biggest lacunae I observe is the lack of adequate surface {read metro} connectivity to our airports. If we need to cope sensibly with the numbers, we will face in 10 years then we need serious good quality bus and metro connections at our major 10 to 15 airports. The present system where the majority arrive by car or cab is unsustainable.

Indian carriers between them have 725 airliners in their fleet. A large number but not large enough. Studies indicate that if we charged less for aviation fuel and increased our fleet size by 50% all flights could still fill up.

Here’s what BHPian vigsom had to say on the matter:

Valid points. Some from my side:

  • Until pre-COVID-19 days, air fares were still in order, but on many sectors post 2021, I’ve seen insane fares being published. Some solace (not sure if this is trouble brewing again) is that air fares are competitive on sectors that Akasa Air is flying on. Example : I could see Indigo offering fares as low as INR 3600 on BLR- BOM when Akasa Air was offering tickets for as low as INR 2943. This isn’t sustainable, but the passenger wins as a result . But yes, given current fuel prices, and thr general state of affordability, a ticket priced at INR 7000 for a 2 hour flight is definitely within reach of a large section of air users.
  • Customer service is yet to move up to gold standard and my recent experiences with Vistara are a pointer to that. However, I feel sorry for the pressure that check in and gate agents have to go through at airports, large ones especially. On innumerable occasions, I’ve seen people throwing their weight around just because they hold air tickets; not done.
  • Chennai and Delhi have thankfully got metro connectivity, but I still see a huge demand for cabs. When I used to travel frequently on personal visits via BOM, the public transport fan in me would use BEST buses to connect from the Airport to Vile Parle or Andheri from where I’d take a train to Borivali or Mumbai Central for my onward connections. Same in Chennai – until 2014, MTC Volvos from the bus stop just outside the Airport used to offer comfortable transport for a mere 35 bucks. Volvos are gone now, but the bus connectivity is still tops there even now.

Sharing some again for the benefit of users:

  • Do not carry a print out, instead, download the boarding pass on the mobile phone and present it at gate entry to the terminal and at check in.
  • Be careful with your proof of identity as there are multiple check points and there is every chance of it getting misplaced.
  • Organize your USB drive, laptop charger, power banks, and mobile chargers in some packs such that taking them out of the hand baggage for security checks is an easy affair. I put the chargers and USB drive in one perforated case, my spare mobile, power bank and Bluetooth mouse in another pack. Key here is to keep metal objects and electronics separated ao that they get scanned without fuss, and the bags pass through without recheck.

Tip for Indigo flyers:

On one flight, I got my pre-booked meal just before commencement of descent, and this had happened to me a few times earlier too. On analysis, I found that four attendants start their service as follows (observations may be off by a row or two):

  • Attendant#1 – row 37 or 39 (last rows in an A321neo) backwards till around row 28.
  • Attendant#2 – rows 22-28.
  • Attendant#3 – rows 14-22.
  • Attendant#4 – rows 13 to 01

Which means, it pays to be seated in the last two or three rows to earn quick service.

Here’s what BHPian ACMerchant had  to say on the matter:

Just did Mumbai – Madurai via Chennai in Air India.

  • Terminal 2 in Mumbai gets chaotic in peak times so plan accordingly for domestic flights.
  • The security check – if wearing sport shoes without any metal then no need to remove but for boots they have to be scanned.
  • Previously my camera bag was scanned without removing any equipment.But now have to compulsorily remove the camera & lenses and put them in the tray with the empty bag.
  • Air India will serve refreshments if flight time is more than 2 hrs also web checkin is not charged.

Return did Madurai-Surat via Chennai by Indigo.

  • The Madurai – Chennai flight (A320) at Chennai Airport had the conventional steps to deplane(taken by bus to the terminal)and not the aerobridge.
  • Again had to take a security check as separate boarding pass was issued for Chennai – Surat(at Madurai ).Never understood why transfer is not directed to the departure terminal (so that security check is not needed).
  • Indigo and others web check in is chargeable.

Here’s what BHPian anjan_c2007 had to say on the matter:

Thanks Mr V. Narayan for posting such a thread. I would like to share an anecdote about travel by someone else on Vayudoot. I will share more personal anecdotes about Indian Airlines, Air India and Alliance Air (poor cousin of Indian Airlines) plus private airline travels soon.

Vayudoot: Air travel was newly inaugurated connecting Jabalpur to Indore, some three decades ago. The traveller was a senior office colleague in my govt department, who was eligible for official travel by air. Post the sixth pay commission all Central Group A officers are now eligible for air travel, but earlier it was a certain basic pay threshold that made only senior Group A officials eligible. Back to the topic, this official boarded the small aircraft, an old Dornier if I remember correctly, at Jabalpur. En route, the pilot missed the air route due to some reasons. He flew over the Howrah- Mumbai (via Jabalpur) railway line and somehow reached Indore. The aircraft was bouncing all the way perhaps due to air pockets (not pickpockets who abound in trains). The plane landed. We met him after some days to listen to his experience asking “Sir how was your travel by Vayudoot?”. He replied curtly “much better than a government jeep. “

Here’s whst BHPian sameer sultan had to say on the matter:

Akasa Air:

I recently flew the new kid on the block in Indian skies on 2 short flights BLR-MAA and MAA-BLR. Akasa Air operates a fleet of Boeing 737-8 MAX aircrafts the same infamous type of planes which were involved in 2 horrific crashes in 2018 and 2019 after which they were grounded by various airline regulators around the world. I had flown on the 737-8 MAX in September 2018 just a month before the Lion Air crash on Jet Airways metal after that in April 2019 I was booked on an Oman Air flight which was on the MAX but before my date of travel the MAX planes were grounded after the Ethiopian crash in March 2019 and Oman Air flew me on the 737-800.

Since the MAX were back on air I was apprehensive to fly them. Then Akasa Air started operations in India, they bought the 737-8 MAX planes at a heavy discount from Boeing as another airline had cancelled the order which Akasa picked up. I am sure Akasa would have done their home work before going for this particular aircraft type as Boeing, after coming under fire from the regulators have done re training of the pilots who fly the 737-8 MAX so they can be accustomed with the MCAS which was the primary reason for the twin crashes.

Coming to the review I found a convenient time and cheapest fare on Akasa when compared with other airlines flying on BLR-MAA sector.I did not opt for any add on’s as this was a short flight. Online check in has the option of Auto Assign seats if you select this option then one need not pay for the seat selection which ranges between Rs 250 – Rs 99. Once I selected Auto Assign seat option I got a prompt that the Boarding Pass will be delivered by email 6 hours before departure. We were a family of 4 I received the BP by email 6 hours before departure but the seats were assigned separately. Usually airlines seat family’s together when they assign the seats themselves I was surprised this was not the case with Akasa Air. When dropping the check in bags at the airport I asked the staff to re assign our seats together she informed it was a full flight hence that’s not possible.

Boarding was delayed by about 15 mins Akasa closes the boarding gates 25 mins before departure. Once in the cabin I lucked out with an empty middle seat though it was a full flight. The seats were basic but comfortable though the legroom was tight as I am 5’11 for context.I wanted to try coffee from the Akasa Cafe but the cabin crew said they don’t serve hot beverages on short flights.I was given a bottle of water as complimentary. The MAX 8 lavatory was compact when compared to Airbus 320 planes. The flight was smooth though the flying time is 35mins between BLR-MAA the pilot announced that we would be flying for 50mins due to air traffic congestion at MAA. So the flight went into a holding pattern for 15mins about 70kms before MAA.

Then a week later I flew MAA-BLR again on Akasa Air. This time the seats were assigned together for my family after I had selected auto assign seats at online check in. So I guess Akasa also follows the norm of seating families together like other airlines. The flight was not full this time and it was an on time departure and arrival with a flying time of 35 mins. The same night I flew Indigo and got a chance to compare the leg room with Akasa Air. I feel Indigo has better leg room than Akasa Air as my knees were not touching the seat in front unlike in Akasa.

Overall I have positive impressions about Akasa Air the planes are new cabin is clean and I believe Akasa Air has the best livery and best dressed cabin crew on Indian skies!If I find a cheap fare I’d fly them again though my preferred aircraft type is Airbus 320 series than the Boeing 737 series as I find the Airbus 320 aircrafts more spacious have better seat pitch and engine noise levels are much lower inside the cabin.

Some pictures:

Here’s what BHPian fhdowntheline had to say on the matter:

First flew back in 1978, all of some 4+ years old, on an Indian Airlines Boeing 737-200, from BOM to GOI. I remember commenting how the clouds below looked like thick cotton sheets. They gave a big fat samosa and some toffees and earbuds back then. A parting souvenir was the B737 Safety card, printed in dark jungle green with the plane sketched on the front. I collected souvenirs of both of IACs mainline planes, B737 and Airbus A300B2 and my dad got some on planes which I never flew (HS748, Caravelle) . I vividly remember my first trip on the A300 as well, flying from BOM to DEL, and was allowed to visit the flight deck for a short while. It was a truly fascinating experience. The bonus was that I got to see Hema Malini who was seated amongst the first few rows on the way back to my seat. Imagine my delight ! But sadly, I vividly recollect those earlier childhood flights but since the industry opened up, most of the domestic trips have been just like glorified bus journeys sadly.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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