New Delhi: Starting this autumn, National Aviation Co. of India Ltd-run Air India will start flying between New Delhi and San Francisco—the longest non-stop flight between India and the US by any carrier.
The longest Air India flight operates between Mumbai and New York.
Air India is inducting seven Boeing Co.-made long-haul aircraft to its fleet of 154 this year and plans to start several other flights using Frankfurt airport as its European hub from end-March.
Long haul: The new service will be the longest non-stop flight between India and US by any Indian carrier. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The date for starting the San Francisco service has not been decided but it will be only after August, Air India’s executive director Jitender Bhargava said.
New international routes planned include daily New Delhi-Frankfurt-Chicago and Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Frankfurt-Newark from the summer, besides Ahmedabad-Frankfurt and Amritsar-Frankfurt-Toronto from winter.
“Some of these flights are already available in the (reservation) system,” said a senior Air India executive, who didn’t want to be named, adding that the airline plans to shuffle its network in a way that domestic flights feed into the international flights at Indian metro airports and converge in Frankfurt to take the traffic forward, providing a wider choice of international destinations.
The increase in flights comes despite a slowdown in global travel. India’s international air traffic between April to November last year expanded 9.4% at a time when domestic passenger traffic shrank by the same rate, according to data from civil aviation ministry.
Four Boeing 777-200LR planes will join Air India’s fleet between July and September. Three more Boeing 777-200ER will join by August.
“We are working on a schedule where Frankfurt will act as a hub,” said Bhargava, adding it is yet to be decided if the German airport will become its permanent European hub. Air India’s new flights to Chicago from New Delhi will touch Frankfurt as will also a Mumbai-Newark flight.
The airline runs non-stop services to New York that takes around 16 hours and started in 2007 on Boeing 777-200LRs from Mumbai and New Delhi. The flight to San Francisco, expected to take under 18 hours, will be its third non-stop route to the US.
No American airline offers such a long flight and Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, that had planned to start Bangalore-San Francisco flights last year, abandoned the plan and sold its Airbus SAS-made A340 aircraft. Jet Airways (India) Ltd, too, had started a flight between Mumbai-Shanghai-San Francisco but pulled it back last month, citing poor load factors.
Other international carriers flying from the US provide non-stop services to their hubs in that country from which passengers can take a connecting flight across the region. American Airlines, for example, connects its New Delhi flights to Chicago, allowing passengers the option to take a connecting flight within few hours to San Francisco, while NorthWest Airlines uses Amsterdam as its hub for the same route.
Air India says it is hopeful its non-stop flights will do much better. “With a lot of Indian population in the region (West Coast), we expect the flight to do well. After all a person wants to fly with the least hassles,” Bhargava said adding the airline expects to have its San Francisco-New Delhi flight to be fed by passengers from Los Angeles, Seattle and Vancouver to fill seats on its flight back to India.
With the second largest population of Indians in the US living in San Francisco and surrounding areas, Robey Lal, former India head of International Air transport Association, rated Air India’s opportunity to fly passengers direct as good, so long as the airline maintains its quality of service.
“It’s a great concept if you can make life on onboard comfortable,” he said. For instance, he said, passengers will want to walk around to stretch themselves on an 18-hour flight and the airline will need to factor this in “without charging them extra”.
Also, he advised attention to other issues such as more leg room in the economy class, a chat area and attention to child travellers such a long flight.