Skift Take

With the airline focusing so many of its turnaround initiatives on the A350, the jet marks a huge opportunity to showcase the new Air India to the world.

Air India is starting the new year with a bold statement of intent. On Thursday, the carrier showcased its new flagship aircraft, as part of a bigger plan to present a re-energized Air India to the world.

On display at the Wings India aviation show, was the airline’s first Airbus A350-900. This marks one of 20 such aircraft on order (along with another 20 of the larger A350-1000). The company received the jet on December 23 and has been busy since then getting it certified and ready for entry into service. 

For many insiders and industry watchers alike, the A350 is being considered the cornerstone of the new fleet and a representative of a ‘New Air India’. The airline has snapped up six A350-900s, originally prepared to Aeroflot’s specifications. However, with international sanctions on Russia, these aircraft were ultimately offered to other carriers. Turkish Airlines was the other big-name brand that snapped up six of the rerouted airframes.

What’s Inside Air India’s A350?

Thursday’s airshow in the southern city of Hyderabad was the first time Air India had publicly presented its new flagship, and Skift was among the first to take a look.  

Despite the jet being initially bound for the Moscow-based operator, Air India has taken its time to reupholster the aircraft to make it ‘their’ product. There’s little evidence of any Aeroflot colors in sight. The A350-900 seats 316 passengers in a three-class configuration: 28 in business, 24 in premium economy, and 264 in economy.

On board, the product and experience are designed to reflect a premium carrier, a positioning not typically associated with Air India in recent years.

The Collins Aerospace Horizon Premier seat (originally destined for Aeroflot) kits out the business class cabin. Variations of these can be found on some Turkish Airlines and Air Canada widebody aircraft. 

The seat, or suite, is equipped with sliding doors to keep up with the current trend of enhanced privacy. Inside is a 79-inch fully flat bed, a personal wardrobe, and direct aisle access for all passengers. The seats have ample stowage for personal items, five recline modes, and a big 21-inch screen.

Business Class seat onboard Air India Airbus A350-900
Air India’s A350 business class seat and tableware / Photo: Ajay Awtaney

A nuance not noticed otherwise, but these A350s are also fitted with inflight humidifiers for the business class cabin. These should bring the humidity from 5-7 percent in the front cabin to 20-22 percent. The impact is noticeable not just on the passengers’ wellbeing but also on the flavor of the food and beverages served at 35,000 feet.

Rather excitingly, directly behind the business class cabin is a social area, which can be transformed into a bar. Skift understands that Air India plans to use the space to serve drinks and snacks to premium cabin passengers.

Air India A350 Premium Economy

Premium economy uses the Collins Aerospace MIQ seat, a popular choice across the aviation world. This is laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration, making the window seats perfect for couples. With a 38-inch pitch and 18.5-inch width, the seat is a full one-inch wider than the plane’s economy options. Entertainment-wise, there’s a 13.3-inch screen and a calf rest for kicking back to watch a movie.

Premium Economy seats on Air India's new Airbus A350
Premium economy is in a 2-4-2 configuration / Photo: Air India

Economy passengers can expect a 31-inch seat pitch and a very respectable 12-inch HD screen. When sampled by Skift, the seat padding also felt good enough to keep travelers comfortable for a long-haul flight.

Air India is offering the Panasonic eX3 in-flight entertainment system, which boasts more than 2,200 hours of content. In-flight WiFi will also be offered, although payment plans are currently to be confirmed. To keep electronics charged, seats are equipped with USB-A sockets, while the premium cabins offer universal A/C plugs. 

Air India is due to introduce its first six A350-900s on international routes in mid-2024. Where does the airline intend to fly these? It wouldn’t say, but expect these to be a familiar sight in and around Europe, given they are purpose-built for longer missions. 

The homescreen for the new inflight entertainment system / Image: Air India

New Amenity Kits for Air India

To coincide with the international A350 launch later this year, there will also be an upgrade to the amenity items and tableware across the fleet.

First and business class passengers (the A350-900 doesn’t offer first class), can look forward to exclusive Ferragamo amenity kits. Currently, the airline offers TUMI products for travelers in its top-tier cabins. Despite the relaunch, TUMI has been retained to supply premium economy items. Economy customers will also receive amenity kits, albeit only on ultra-long-haul flights, such as those between India and the United States. In the interest of sustainability, these will be produced using kraft paper. The airline has also refreshed the sleepwear designed by TUMI.

Air India New Business Class amenities
New amenity options are on the way for Air India’s refreshed business class / Photo: Air India

Air India is also focusing on the linens used in its high-end cabins. The airline will have bespoke duvets and mattress-toppers that can also be used as pillows. New blankets in the business class and first class cabins are made of a premium wool blend with a delicate jacquard border and motifs are inspired by the traditional Sozni embroidery of Jammu and Kashmir, a Union Territory of India. Air India claims to be the world’s only airline to offer wool-blended blankets in first and business class.

Air India Dining Concepts

New tableware will also be introduced later this year. It is a smart mix between the new brand identity of the airline and a reflection of the premium airline it wants to transform into.

Premium passengers will dine with fine chinaware, complete with intricate Mandala patterns. Hot beverages will be served in a mug with the airline’s beloved mascot, the Maharaja. A uniquely Indian tiffin box-shaped, salt and pepper cruet set is sure to delight guests worldwide. Presented with a gorgeous gold finish, it seems to have been designed to be pinched, just like those provided by Virgin Atlantic.

The Maharaja mascot appears on new-look chinaware / Photo: Air India

As for the food itself, an Air India insider confirmed to Skift that a new menu for the premium cabins will follow the international launch, along with an expanded wine list.

While the A350 will be the first aircraft to see the new service elements, it will be subsequently rolled out on the other aircraft flying internationally. 

When Does Air India’s A350 Launch?

The A350 will enter commercial service with Air India on January 22, 2024. As is customary in the airline world, the new jet will operate familiarization domestic flights for several weeks. This will be an opportunity for the crew to be trained on the unique features and service protocols on board and for the airline to make any last-minute tweaks.

Overall, this is a great product to start the new beginnings for Air India. With this new aircraft, the airline will have ample opportunity to fix its image as a tired and uncompetitive airline.

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Tags: a350, air india, airbus, airlines, india, passenger experience

Photo credit: Air India's new Airbus A350 Business Class / Air India Air India / Air India

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