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Rumor: Will the Maharaja Soon be Flying to Washington DC? Air India Continues US Expansion

A water cannon salute for Air India's inaugural 787 service direct to San Francisco

A water cannon salute for Air India’s inaugural 787 service direct to San Francisco

Air India. Look up the definition of basket case then merge it with the term ‘airline’ and you’ll find them there front row and center.

It’s been many years now since Air India (AI) was ever considered anything more than a flailing government play toy and propaganda tool so forgive us if we sometimes come across as a bit dismissive of anything coming out of Delhi regarding AI.

But some subtle changes do seem to be afoot at Air India, all for the better. It could be because of the airline’s entrance into Star Alliance not too long back and the way they were forced by the organization to at least partially clean up their act before they were allowed entry. Or it could be the arrival of Jet Airways onto the scene and the emergence of them as a relevant player on the international market. Or possibly the airline’s management are finally realizing that India has over 1 billion people to tap into as a domestic market alone, and that hubs such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are finally getting the infrastructure they need and deserve.

Regardless, we like what we’re seeing at AI and this latest rumor is no different.

After launching what has turned out to be their very highly successful San Fransisco non-stop flights from India, the airline are now looking further east to provide what they dub a ‘capital to capital’ service from their New Delhi (DEL) hub to fellow Star member United’s hub in Washington DC (IAD). Believe it or not, these two cities have no non-stop service between them – and it makes it all the more remarkable given that both cities are massive Star hubs.

So to set things straight to begin with: we are just picking up rumblings from within the industry. Nothing official has been announced by either airport authority or the airline itself.

But let’s just say it’s a case of sooner rather than later with this one.

According to the Economic Times of India:

Travelers between India and North America will soon be spoilt for choice. Air India is planning more flights to the continent, by launching routes like a Delhi-Washington “capital connect”.

“We are looking at some cities in US for adding to our network. This expansion will be done with our existing aircraft and the flights will be operated by sweating the assets more (meaning making more extensive use of planes and crew). We are in talks with US airports which have traffic demand to and from India. Whichever airports gives us the best deal, we will opt for that.That could be Washington or any other city there,“ said a senior AI official.

And another important distinction to make, regarding SkyTeam affiliate airline Jet Airways, Air India’s primary international competitor:
AI is the only Indian carrier that has direct flights to North America as Jet goes only to one city there, Toronto, via Amsterdam.
So AI is at a major advantage here, even if Jet were to enter the non-stop market (they currently don’t have the aircraft capable to do so, but have some on order and are due in 2017) AI seems to be shoring up the market quickly and aggressively. Air India currently serves Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Newark non-stop from either Mumbai or Delhi. Once Washington DC comes online, look out for the likes of Los Angeles, Boston and Houston to pop up.
All in all it’s great news for Star Alliance passengers, while not the best in the skies AI are a cheap option (both price and mileage wise) to get to the other side of the world and are generous with things like mileage accuracy and baggage allowance. Keep in mind that AI flies their new 787 and 777 aircraft to the US which features fully flat (but no direct aisle access for all) seats and on the 777 also has 4 enclosed seats in First Class. Not a bad way to spend off some United Mileage Plus miles on the cheap.
Air India Business Class fares can sometimes go for just above Lufthansa, Emirates, British Airways and KLM fares in Economy or Premium Economy and their First Class fares (where available) are definitely comparable to Business on the aforementioned airlines. Sometimes all a guy or gal needs is a fully flat bed on an ultra-long haul flight. Skipping the transit in Europe or the Middle East is the icing on the cake.
Air India First Class on the 777 - at the price of Business? Yes please!

Air India First Class on the 777 – at the price of Business? Yes please!

Air India's Business Class seat on their North American flights

Air India’s Business Class seat on their North American flights

Check out local consolidators or travel agencies in the ‘Little India’ part of your home town for the best deals – these are often not shown online or not reflected on Air India’s antiquated website.
Air India surprisingly have a spacious 3-3-3 layout in Economy compared to 3-4-3 on KLM, Air France, Emirates, Etihad and others who offer one stop connections to India from the United States.

Air India surprisingly have a spacious 3-3-3 layout in Economy compared to 3-4-3 on KLM, Air France, Emirates, Etihad and others who offer one stop connections to India from the United States.

And if we’re talking non-stop options from the US to India, oneworld has a long way to catch up to Star with American Airlines’ sole Chicago-Delhi flight, and SkyTeam need to figure it out all together with Delta having cancelled all India operations altogether last year.
Would you catch a ride on the Flying Maharaja and zip over to India non-stop in record time? I know we would! 
(oh and ps – like Indian food? AI has the best in the air, bar none)
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