Going Global

Air India’s increased fleet will help the airline become an even larger player

By: Terra Judge

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Clients can now travel nonstop
to Delhi from New York.
Last month, Air India launched its nonstop Delhi-New York flight, making it the first airline to offer nonstop service between Delhi and JFK, New York. The new route joins Air India’s nonstop service between Mumbai and New York, which began last August. These new routes, in addition to a rapidly growing fleet and onboard amenities, are a sign of the airline’s increasing significance.

“I feel that this is the most significant time in Air India’s history,” said Jitender Bhargava, Air India’s executive director, in an interview with TravelAge West. “We have arrived on the global scene.”

Also part of Air India’s efforts is the induction of the latest Boeing 777-200LR (Longer Range) aircraft intended for long-haul flights. Four of the aircraft have been launched already on the Mumbai-New York and Delhi-New York services.

“The Boeing 777-200LR is the world’s longest range commercial airplane, capable of flying more passengers farther and faster, and in the utmost comfort, than any other aircraft in the industry,” said A.K. Mathur, regional director, U.S. and Canada. “Our introduction of this remarkable aircraft into the North American market reflects our commitment to providing passengers with the highest quality in-flight experience in the industry.”

The Boeing 777-200LR offers 238 seats with eight in first class, 35 in executive class and 195 in economy class. First-class seats boast ottomans (buddy seats) so that colleagues can opt to be face to face for a meeting, a drink or a meal. Executive seats boast a divider between seats for added privacy.

And economy seats are not being ignored either; seats are wider and larger than any Air India has offered before and feature therapeutic footrests and over 250 hours of video and 150 hours of audio programming.

“With the wide range of programming, we can now meet the expectations of any passenger,” said Bhargava.

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Air India operates a fleet of 146 aircraft.
Air India now maintains 146 aircraft in its fleet and will continue to induct aircraft from Boeing and Airbus at the rate of two aircraft per month until December 2011.

The recent merger of Air India and India Airlines (retaining the name of Air India) has also boosted the airline’s profile. Travelers can now expect a more seamless transfer from major inter-national airports to smaller destinations in India thanks to the merger. The U.S. will also continue to be a major area for growth for the company. In the last five years, Air India has increased the number of flights to and from the U.S. and India from 10 to 38. New destinations will continue to be added, including San Francisco and Houston.

Air India is also setting up a hub in Europe. Flights will operate from six to 10 cities in India as the fleet grows, arriving in Munich and continuing to the U.S.

“By getting a new kind of aircraft, a better product, enhancing our reach and getting more destinations started, we are making a statement of change to the traveling public and the travel trade,” said Bhargava. “Air India is improving.”

And the industry is taking notice. In December, Air India was invited to join Star Alliance and expects to be a full-time member by March 2009. This move will benefit both consumers and travel agents alike. Frequent-flyer miles can be earned and used on any Star Alliance carrier. In addition, agents will still receive 4 percent commission in addition to incentives.

“Air India continues to maintain relationships with the travel trade,” said Bhargava. “Agents are partners in Air India’s progress. We are reliant on them. We grow, agents grow. Agents grow, we grow.”

Consumers also have reason to celebrate. To promote the new nonstop routes, Air India is offering members of its frequent-flyer program, Flying Returns, double mileage points until April 30. Members must travel on the nonstop flight AI-101/AI-102 from either Delhi or New York to receive the double points.


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