Home » Travel Experiences » Flight Review – Air India – San Francisco to New Delhi ( AI-173, AI-174 – SFO DEL)

Flight Review – Air India – San Francisco to New Delhi ( AI-173, AI-174 – SFO <-> DEL)

Recently I had the opportunity to take Air India’s (AI) non-stop San Francisco to New Delhi flight (AI-173, AI-174). I was little prejudiced against AI and it wasn’t my first choice. Still I took it, as it was a last minute trip and I didn’t have many options left. Here is my unprejudiced review for the same.

The Booking
AI website is not the best airline website out there. There is still a lot of scope of improvement, but it gets the work done. I eventually made the booking through Expedia as cheaper tickets for the AI flight were available there. Confirmation email was received within minutes. I later headed to AI website and selected seats and meal options. I wasn’t able to provide my frequent flyer number (United Mileage Program). Their mobile app sucks big time, and you are better off using the browser version. Overall experience 3/5.

The Check-in
There was no option to check-in online. So one has to stand in queue at the airport to get the boarding passes. It is better to keep some buffer time, as the lines at check-in counters at SFO can get pretty long. I was carrying just one 26kg bag and the agent didn’t bother about it. However, they were enforcing the 23 kg per bag and 7 kg per hand bag rules for others. I was lucky as I had just 1 bag instead of 2. The agent also updated my United mileage number in the reservation, and the miles showed up within 2-3 days. Overall experience 4/5.

The Boarding
Boarding at SFO was smooth, and the airline was successful in boarding passengers according to seat numbers. Passengers respected the same and waited for families with kids and passengers with special needs to board first. However boarding at Delhi was chaotic. No one respected what the agent was announcing, and soon the agent gave up. There were multiple queues merging into one. Total chaos. Most people seemed to be honoring the allowed hand baggage limit, and so everyone settled down pretty quickly. Overall experience 3/5.

In Flight Meals
Although one can provide their meal choices when making the reservation, it didn’t matter as they had ample veg packages. There were no kids meal served and I am not sure if they had any vegan or gluten free options (or may be no one opted for that). 2 meals were served while going to Delhi, while 3 were served on the way back. The crew kept few sandwich, water, juice and cold drink bottles in the common areas, where one could go and help oneself. The food was average+. Also, there was no alcohol served – I didn’t ask so not sure if they would have served on request. Knowing that most of the passengers would be India, I expected them to serve more tea and coffee in b/w, but that was not the case. Once the main meal was done, nothing was served.Overall experience 2/5.

In Flight Entertainment
Although there were lot of Hindi movie choices, there weren’t many regional films. The Hollywood collection also looked pretty week. In addition their catalog is valid for 2 months so there is a good chance that you will have the same movies during your return journey. Lastly, the entertainment software was couple of generations old, and not very receptive to finger touches. Overall experience 2/5.

The Crew
A lot needs to be desired here. They were smiling but were firm. There were lot of older generation passengers and as expected, some of them had very naive questions. I would expect the crew to be more understanding and patient, but it wasn’t the case. I could sense sarcasm, unfriendliness and impatience in their responses. The AI management needs to train their crew on how to handle such passengers, who may be traveling internationally for the first time. Overall experience 1/5.

The Passengers
Air India flights are good place to earn Karma points. One should be open to swap seats (so that families can sit together), put or take down baggage from overhead bins (so that senior folks don’t have to lift then), complete immigration forms for others (so that folks who are traveling to US for the first time are helped) and explain in-flight entertainment system (so that non-tech savvy passengers can watch something). Some passengers would revert back and say Thanks and/or smile; others will just move on as if it was your duty to help them. Overall experience 4/5.

The Lavatory
I boarded the flights remembering the horrifying news articles about blocked toilets and overflowing pots. Well, it wasn’t so. Yes, there were passengers who didn’t flush after them or lavatories where paper wasn’t restocked, but nothing as horrifying as what I read in the paper. Overall experience 3/5.

The De-boarding
I knew exactly what to expect here. As soon as the plane would reach the destination airport gate, folks would stand up, open the overhead bins and rush to the door. No surprises there and it holds true whenever there are Indians on board. I may sound as prejudicial here, but I am yet to witness a different Indian passenger crowd. Still things moved along smoothly. Overall experience 3/5.

The Baggage Claim
Usual stuff. No lost baggage and it was there on the conveyor belt within my expected time. Overall experience 4/5.

In the end, AI would still not be first choice of travel when traveling with my toddler son. There are lot of things that go in this flights favor – comparatively cheap tickets, direct flight and short duration of 16-17 hours; but there are others that go against it – average customer experience, bad in-flight entertainment selection, and limited days when one could fly.

If you want to reach from point A to point B by spending least money and in shortest time, this is the best flight out there. However, if you like to have a nice+ experience, then there are other options available like Etihad. Etihad airlines has an added advantage that immigration is done in Abu Dhabi and so it saves you long immigration queues at US airports.

It is time Air India pulls up their socks and tries to match the facilities provided by other major airlines. They still need to do a lot especially with adapting new technology and training personnel. Overall experience 2/5.

Image Credit : http://www.holidaymood.com/images/airlines/air-india.png


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  1. I had travel to sfo this month’s and last minute booking was only done on air india. In would rate this airline 1 out of 10, worst experience , bad quality of food, cabin crew not attending to passengers properly, no food in time and quality also not good, web site doesnt work and no web check in allow, entertainment device not working properly, seats are also not comfortable.. very bad experience . I will never travel again on air india.

    • Our flight experience was horrible, travelled from SFO to Delhi. More than 90% of screen didn’t work so forget forget about in plane entertainment experience, funny thing is when I travelled way back sometime in 2009 or so when it was not private about 50% entertainment screen worked but now when AI went private now hardly 10% of them work. Some of seats were broken, meal trays behind the seats were flimzy. Food was horrible. Another thing when we travelled back from Delhi, they didn’t serve even water for at least 5 hrs. Toilets were horribly dirty. I will never ever travel again on Air India.

  2. This flight is good in comparison of other flights . If you are indian, you can start feeling India right from SFO . Quality of meal & entertainment system is to be needed improvement , Rest of all things are similar as are in other flights .

  3. I have travelled multiple times on AI 173, Lufthanza and SIA. By far the best service is on Singapore Airlines.
    I have also travelled on AI 173 from SFO to Bangalore in business class couple of times. One example: I asked for Veg food and was served Shrimp Salad by the AI Business class attendant. Attention to detail is totally missing. The seats do not go all the way down.
    Economy class is more like a Bus Travel in AI

    Basically AI173 is meant for mostly parents travelling to and from India and that is where the revenue is coming from.

  4. Good, detailed review, looking at all aspects of the journey. Thanks for taking the effort. It was very helpful to me. An update would be great if you have flown again.

  5. Thanks for the review. I am about to take my first flight to India and I specifically chose Air India for the flight timing, despite reviews that service would not be as good as other airlines. SQ was the same price, but it would have added 5 hours to my return due to the connection. The Gulf carriers would have me arriving at my final destination at 3am, 2 days later and I’d basically go directly to work after flying. Not ideal. AI and SQ were the only ones that allowed for an evening arrival allowing me to get a decent night’s sleep in the hotel.

    I now see that only Air India and Jet Airways have in city check-in of luggage in Delhi at the railway station. Considering that the flight now departs at 4AM for the next ~6 months instead of 2:35am, I’m really glad I picked AI to allow me to check-in early and enjoy Delhi in the evening, luggage free.

    Anyone have experience with business class on this route? I see from Seatguru that the seats are angled in C and only lie flat in F, which is my only concern, but the upgrade charge is $900 from Economy. Tempting offer

  6. Do they have individualized, seat entertainment? I ask this Q, bcz, United doesn’t have this for SFO to Frankfurt.

    • Krishna G Upadhya,

      Yes, they do. I traveled on United once internationally, and things that I disliked were – no infant seat belts and no family bathrooms for diaper change.

  7. Overall an informative article, will certainly come for great help when deciding whether to take AI or not.

    However, I found one observation or the comment bit out of place. Or say that it was very biased against Indians. De-boarding “As soon as the plane would reach the destination airport gate, folks would stand up, open the overhead bins and rush to the door. No surprises there and it holds true whenever there are Indians on board”. It is true that Indians do rush with luggage as soon as the plane lands, but then this is equally true for Americans and Europeans too. I have been on international and domestic flights on both these continents, and believe me there is not even iota of difference in the manner passengers react during de-boarding process.

    • I agree. Lack of sensibilities in this regard is not just an Indian thing.

      I don’t get it – everybody will de-board eventually a few minutes apart, and will be well on their way a few minutes apart one way or the other. What people plan to accomplish by running one another down (Indian AND non-Indian), skips me. I bet most of these people while away PLENTY of their time otherwise. Mob mentality is not just an Indian thing.

      • When the plane lands and seat belt sign goes off, BANG! Passengers from row 1 to the last row get up at the same time, frentically pull out their luggage and the stand their in a crocked way for at laest some 10 min. It always amazed me, how the last row can get off early / The difference it makes by sitting and standing is not more than 10 sec. This trait is universal, white, black, brow, yellow and all!

  8. Now when I look at my previous comment again, and other people’s reactions, I see that my comments came out really rude and unprofessional. I just got carried away. I sincerely apologize. Keep up the good work guys!

  9. I too agree with Staff courtesy. In couple of my flight journeys they were pretty rude to passengers and didn’t discharged their duties properly. I saw them scolding passengers, who pressed flight attendant help button just after flight has started descend. Refused alcohol beverage to my co-passenger and didn’t had courtesy to say if it not served in the flight / other options available. Just gave ugly glaring look and left.

    And @MSK, I didn’t see any scanting / cribbing remarks in the article as you mentioned in your last paragraph. Just plain observation and is fine

  10. This article kind of looks a bit out of place at this website. I assume most readers are from India, and we already know about India, and its limitations. What is generally covered in articles here is the experience in USA aspect. I was expecting something new about this longest INDIA to USA flight, its comparison with MUM to EWR, or ORD, etc., if there is any.

    I am also a bit surprised at this article on criticism of Air India, as I have always travelled with Air India. The best reasons being cheap tickets, good food, and most importantly, shorted nonstop travel time (15 hours between MUMBAI/DELHI and CHICAGO ORD). I have always taken AI 126 to travel between HYD and ORD, even my parents. The only way to get better facility now a days is to travel 30+ hours, to Europe/UK, with 6-7 hours lay over. Who wants that? And I love watching some Hindi stuff in flight. Expecting regional cinemas in the in flight entertainment is a bit too much. Also, for first time travelers it is highly recommended, as you can ask all your questions to your fellow travelers without fear. They will most likely relate to you. My parents and in-laws loved it when they came here.

    I have extensive travel experience: Singapore Airlines, US Airways, American, Delta, United, etc. And I live in USA (past 7 years). I think Air India is fine.

    I am always amazed at people, who are born in India, grew up with terrible infrastructure, weather (hot 45C+ weather), and then suddenly coming to USA and talk as if they are entitled for luxury: expect best weather, shocked at snow and flight cancellation, and what not. Give me a break.

    • MKG,

      Because of people like you, who gets offended for non-issues are the reason why most of the service industry in India is treating people badly.

      Most of the people knows what is the service levels in international airlines like Cathay Pacific, Emirates, etc., and one will obviously compare it in that levels for any new service, regardless of the carrier having ‘India’ in its name or not.

      Do you know Emirates has entertainment in about 10 different indian regional languages? Do you know Southern China airline serve great indian food?

      I’d suggest you to stop complaining about things you don’t know, and stop being a hater. It’s good for your health.

    • I have lived in the United States for 18+ yrs. so I think I qualify to reciprocate to your criticism as to how some Indians behave like wannabes. They don’t. They have seen better travel conditions, and simply want Air India to get up to those international standards. NOTHING wrong with that.
      If you are competing on an international platform, you better offer top-of-the-line resources, else you lose. Most Indians can tolerate less than optimal conditions, but that is a different issue.

      Second, who likes layovers?? I LOVE lay-overs. Gives me an opportunity to take a break, go explore the city a little (learn about other cultures that are different than mine). The other reason being that I am less jet-lagged and tired when I reach India, when I take a break in between. The time ‘lost’ makes very little sense to me, because I have accomplished exploring another culture, AND I am not ‘wasting’ time after reaching India in coping with the jet-lag (takes me a good day or two where I spend substantial time sleeping).

      Also, just an FYI: Good food doesn’t necessarily have to be Indian food, you know. There’s exceptional food in other cultures (served by the other airlines as well). As far as entertainment goes: no, I don’t care about Indian movies, or Hollywood movies. Never cared for movies. What other choices does Air India entertainment system offer then??

      People have their reasons to prefer other airlines, so chill. Every Indian doesn’t have to have your preferences.

      Lastly, yes, we (Indians) do have to conduct ourselves on par with other international travelers. There is no excuse for that.


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