JANUARY 28, 2022
NEW DELHI: Air India flights started operating under the Tata banner from Friday after nearly seven decades. Getting the most suitable buyer means the debt-laden airline has avoided a shutdown like Kingfisher or Jet Airways. But what does it mean for passengers?
This TOI reporter took a Friday morning Delhi-Mumbai flight to find that out and ended up realising why most great romantic movies usually end with the lovelorn couple tying the knot after much trouble. Because the realities dawn subsequently and success lies in making the tie-up work.
In AI’s case too, the euphoria — rather relief — of Tatas taking over the airline gave way to a reality check while preparing to travel on AI 665 late on Thursday night. The ticket purchased via a leading travel portal did not mention the terminal to go to at Delhi Airport. While the AI website mentions that clearly in flight details, Tatas must ensure the same is reflected on tickets purchased from all channels.
On reaching T3 at 5.45 am for the 8 am flight, there was no sign of the night-before-change-of-ownership till boarding a 12-year-old Airbus A321 (VT-PPX) around 7.20 am. A struggle to survive in the past few years meant AI had no funds for the upkeep of its now-ageing aircraft interiors. Lumbar support for back cushion is poor. Covers on seat tops are meant to hide non-functional back-of-seat inflight entertainment screens.
Clearly, hardware in terms of fleet and/or cabin upgrade will take lot of investment and time. The change of ownership started becoming visible in the “software” — the human aspect. Aircraft doors were closed on time.
Captain Varun Khandelwal’s pre-departure welcome inflight announcement was about the “aitihasik… flight into the future of AI” (as a Tata Group airline). Soon after an on-time takeoff, polite cabin crew started serving meals to the about 50 passengers onboard as the 182-seater-A321 given low flyer numbers during Omicron.
Perhaps AI 665 hadn’t made it to the list of flights that are supposed to get an enhanced meal service on a staggered basis. The serving was the old but generous — bun, muffin, strawberry yogurt, hot idly-upma in sambar and tea/coffee apart from accompanying condiments. The hostess happily gave another bun and butter which was among the more delectable items on the tray.
Captain Khandelwal gave a detailed enroute briefing on which city we were passing by (Indore), the cabin temperature (25 degrees Celsius) and speed (0.77 mach). He and First Officer Dipali Pratape emphasized on the flight taking off five minutes before time in Delhi and an earlier than scheduled arrival in Mumbai.
Clearly, the $100-billion salt-to-satellite conglomerate Tatas realises the uphill, capital intensive and long drawn task ahead in terms of reviving the airline both financially for itself (daily losses Rs 20 crore) and comfort-wise for passengers. That’s why they have not raised expectations by creating a hype and opting for a trademark low key takeover.
Tata Group company Taj Hotels around 1970 took over the dilapidated 1747-era Jag Mahal in Udaipur. It recently celebrated 50 years of running this as the famed Lake Palace. Indian travellers really hope Tata’s Talace can repeat the act with the Maharaja’s kingdom by transforming it into a profitable and comfortable entity.