Airline review: Air India Dreamliner 787 economy class

THE ROUTE

Delhi to Sydney.

THE PLANE

Boeing 787 Dreamliner 800 series. Air India uses the Dreamliner exclusively on this route and has 16 in total in its fleet. The plane is configured with 18 business class seats and 238 economy.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Flying Returns. Passengers can also earn points towards other Star Alliance airlines' programs. 

CLASS 

Economy class, seat 36C.

DURATION 

Twelve hours. 

FREQUENCY

Flights are daily, but operate on a round-robin system, alternating between Delhi to Sydney via Melbourne and Delhi to Melbourne via Sydney.

THE SEAT 

Seats are in a 3-3-3 layout and feature spacious storage nets and headrests with adjustable wings (so you have something to rest your head on while sleeping). The red and orange colour scheme is on the busy side, but the recline is good and there is plenty of leg room. A small pillow and blanket is supplied. Seat pitch is 84 centimetres. Seat width43 centimetres. 

BAGGAGE

Checked luggage allowance is 30 kilograms (which can be split over two bags) plus one carry-on bag up to eight kilograms and a laptop or handbag.

COMFORT 

Air India uses the Dreamliner exclusively on this route and its quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a much more pleasant flying experience. The superior air-purification system claims to reduce the effects of jet lag and dehydration and I disembark feeling fresher than normal after an overnight flight. 

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 ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment is via a responsive 26.5-centimetre touch-sensitive seatback screen. Content is clearly aimed at an Indian audience with a large selection of movies in Hindi. The range in English is limited with only 11 new releases and 24 older Hollywood titles. The TV selection is similarly sparse: a few comedies, some city guides, a talk show and – to the great consternation of the Indian man sitting next to me – no cricket (or sport of any kind). More entertaining is the inflight magazine, Shubh Yatra, with its advertisements for missile manufacturers, constipation cures and luxury light switches.

SERVICE

Air India's computer system in Delhi is down so check-in has to be done manually, and a 90-minute delay to departure. Apparently, this isn't a common occurrence but communication is sparse and check-in staff struggle to manage the ensuing chaos. On board, things are better – the elegantly dressed crew are efficient and courteous. 

FOOD 

There are three options for lunch: two Indian dishes (chicken with rice and vegetables, and mixed vegetable with rice and dahl) and an "international" dish of rice and lamb. The Indian dishes are better than the international one (although still only "average", according to my neighbour). Bizarrely, a supper is served eight hours into the flight (roughly 2.30am Sydney time) rather than a breakfast before arrival. This time, there's a choice of chicken or vegetable biryani, both of which are tasty and come with a traditional Indian dessert. Drinks-wise, there's a good selection of spirits plus a French white and a surprisingly drinkable Indian red.

THE VERDICT

Although Air India is no match for the top-tier airlines in terms of food and entertainment, it's the only carrier to fly direct between Australia and India. That convenience coupled with the superior Dreamliner flying experience makes it a compelling proposition. Air India also has direct flights from Delhi to Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan, London and Birmingham.

Tested by Rob McFarland, who flew courtesy of Air India.

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