Air India is rebuilding its reputation after falling into disarray under state ownership.
The carrier recently started flying its brand new Airbus A350 with an improved business class.
I found the cabin a major upgrade after flying Air India's old legacy business class for 13 hours.
Air India is completely rebranding after years of decline — and it's finally giving business-class travelers something to look forward to.
The Tata Group — which first founded Air India in 1932 before it was nationalized in 1953 — bought back the carrier in 2021.
Under renewed management, Air India has vowed to improve its reputation, which has been plagued by broken seats and filthy planes.
Among its most important projects is improving the experience for its premium passengers, particularly those flying business class on its brand-new Airbus A350.
The plane started flying in January on domestic routes in India, with international routes still yet to be announced — though it's likely customers can expect the US as a destination.
I toured Air India's new A350 product in Hyderabad last month after flying its legacy Boeing 777 business class from New York to Delhi to see the improvements, and it's a night and day difference.
Before the Tata takeover, Air India's once top-tier reputation was in disarray.
Air India was considered the gold standard of aviation during its heyday — it even inspired the business model for Singapore Airlines, now considered one of the world's best carriers.
Under state ownership, however, Air India fell from grace, with customers regularly complaining of broken and filthy seats, bad on-time performance, and poor customer service.
But new management is already coming through on its promise of a new Air India.
"The list of things to do at Air India and the list of opportunities ahead of us are astonishing," Air India's new CEO, Campbell Wilson, told Business Insider in January. "And, in most of these cases, it is not a matter of 'Is there a case to do it?' but 'What do we do first?'"
The biggest and probably most important change is its 470-strong order for next-generation Boeing and Airbus planes.
The deal, announced last February, was Air India's first aircraft order in 17 years and is worth a whopping $70 billion at list price.
Air India officially unveiled the first of its new planes — an Airbus A350 — at the Wings air show in Hyderabad, India, in January.
The widebody jet boasted a fully transformed cabin, including sleek new economy, premium economy, and business-class seats.
Here are the amenities that stood out most to me during a tour of the new business class.
The A350 business-class hard product — everything physically connected to the jet — is that of the Russian carrier Aeroflot.
Air India obtained Aerolot's A350 after Western sanctions prevented its delivery. It kept the original seat design and added its own flare.
1. Each cube is fully private with a sliding door.
Each of the 28 business-class seats features a full sliding door, meaning each person can cacoon themselves off from the rest of the plane.
The middle-section seats have dividers between them.
The dated 777 business class, by comparison, lacked any type of privacy.
The old seats had no doors, and its awkward 2-3-2 layout meant someone could be assigned the dreaded middle seat — even in business class.
And there was no direct-aisle access, meaning passengers in the window and middle had to step around their neighbors.
On my flight, I couldn't avoid seeing my neighbors eating or sleeping — but that won't be a problem on Air India's new A350.
The doors on the new plane are high enough that it would be difficult for other passengers to easily peer into a neighboring pod.
2. There's now more than enough storage space.
According to Wilson, the design for the new business class came from conversations with five-star carriers such as Singapore, Emirates, Qatar Airways, and All Nippon Airways.
It's easy to see the inspiration in the new product. The sliding doors may come from ANA and Qatar, for example, while the different storage areas were probably cherry-picked from one or more.
Most impressive is the full closet at each seat, though there are several cubbies available as well.
The closets in the window seats are smaller than the ones in the middle section, but they can still fit longer garments such as dresses and coats.
The storage on my 777 flight was next to nothing, featuring just a shoe cubby, a cupholder, a seatback pocket, and a small side table.
The side table was big enough for a glass and snack, and the cubby held my sneakers. The cupholder was good for a water bottle, and I stuffed everything else I needed into the seatback pocket.
Customers can expect more organization space on the new A350 product, though.
3. The new bed setup looked more enticing than the legacy version.
The bed on the old 777 was comfortable, but the new bedding is a definite upgrade.
While the privacy alone is an improvement, the coolest part is the unique pillow-mattress combo.
Air India designed a pillow that converts into a mattress pad. You can see the opening in the photo, although I didn't notice it until it was pointed out to me by one of the representatives.
The two-in-one is convenient for storage and efficiency and is just one of the myriad bedding elements included alongside more pillows and fluffy blankets.
The dated 777 bed didn't have the same thick mattress pad, and it was slightly slanted rather than fully lie-flat.
The slight slant at the bottom half of the legacy bed didn't bother me because I'm short and sleep curled up, but taller travelers may find it uncomfortable.
The new A350 bed is fully flat, though.
4. The soft product boasted the "elite" look Air India is going for — and I loved the purple color scheme.
Wilson told BI that Air India hoped to one day compete with the elite carriers it took inspiration from, and I could see this shine through with the attention to detail in the soft product.
I particularly liked the purple throughout, which is a nod to its merger with Vistara.
There were items such as a cheese platter, a cocktail glass with a stirrer, and a coffee cup with Air India's Maharaja mascot.
The aforementioned pillow-mattress combo is another example of Air India's incredible A350 soft product. The carrier also boasts improved silverware, plates, and amenity kits on board.
My absolute favorite, however, was the glass cheese platter because its two parts came together to resemble "The Vista" — Air India's gold, window-shaped logo. I thought this was clever.
The soft product on the dated business class wasn't as nice, but I still thought it was pretty good, considering.
Air India doesn't deny its old 777 business class is uncompetitive, but I could tell that it was trying to make up for its shortcomings where it could — and the best way was in the soft product.
On my 13-hour trek to India last month, I liked the Tumi amenity kit, pajamas, slippers, linens, and tableware — but the A350 elevates that to a better, more luxurious level.
5. A bar has been placed behind business class.
The bar was stocked with high-dollar liquors such as Johnnie Walker Black Label and Grey Goose.
The stocked liquor station reminded me of those on carriers such as Emirates and Qatar.
Although there isn't an accompanying bartender or lounge area, this is another good example of where the world's best airlines have inspired the reimagined Air India.
Customers won't find the same luxury on the 777 legacy product, but passengers can still order beer, wine, and liquor in business class.
I liked the wine and beer served, though I didn't try the liquor — mostly because I'm not a fan of mixed drinks, anyway.
The Bira 91, an Indian craft beer, was my favorite.
Aside from the standouts, other noticeable differences on the A350 include a bigger and brighter TV and more charging ports.
The charging outlets on my 777 flight were broken, and the flight attendants tried to fix it to no avail.
I also had a remote, which worked OK, and a flimsy tray table. These amenities are upgraded on the A350 and better resemble the premium business class Air India is going for.
Not to mention there's an overall newness and sleekness of the upgraded cabin. I didn't see any duct tape holding seats together.
Air India is notorious for holding parts of its business class and economy class seats together by duct tape — which I found to be true on my flight.
It’s important to note the new A350 and old 777 business-class seats are not the only business options in Air India's fleet.
Travelers flying on Air India should check the plane they're flying on before booking to see which product they're paying for.
Note: Air India also has its legacy business class on Boeing 787s.
The company has leased 11 Boeing 777 aircraft from carriers such as Delta Air Lines and Etihad Airways.
Air India passengers flying from San Francisco to Delhi, for example, may find themselves on a Delta 777 business-class product.
Meanwhile, those flying between New York-JFK and Delhi (like me) are set to be on the legacy 777.
The company is also undergoing a colossal $400 million retrofit project that's set to upgrade its widebody planes with all-new cabins.
Wilson said this meant the dated 777 and 787 business-class cabins would be gone, though not until at least late 2025.
"By the end of 2025, the entire legacy widebody fleet will also be upgraded to match what we're getting on the A350," he told BI, "So, essentially, our fleet will be completely reborn by then."
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