“ India's only 5 star airline carrier. „
~Flying to India~
We've previously flown to India by Gulf Air who treat their passengers worse than cattle and by both BA and Virgin, both of whom have proven to be not as good as they should be. Gulf's core clientèle are migrant workers in the Middle East returning to see their families and the planes resemble a Michael O'Leary fantasy of squish-em-in and treat 'em mean. BA and Virgin both have a nasty tendency to use their oldest and grubbiest planes on the Indian routes so we thought it was time to give India's only "Five-Star Carrier" a go - that airline is Kingfisher. One big advantage - if it's relevant for you - is that Kingfisher have enormous baggage allowances.If you like to shop or if you have a desire to take presents for half the population of India, then it's worth considering Kingfisher as they give an allowance of two bags, each of which can hold up to 23 kg. I believe that if you join their frequent flyer programme, you may get even more. And that's in economy class! BA will charge you something like £70 per extra bag PLUS excess weight fees if your total goes over the 20 or 23 kg allowance. Truth is I can't lift 46 kg but it's nice to know we could shop 'til we dropped if we wanted to.
~Hopefully the Pilot hasn't been on the Brew~
If you are playing Word-Association-Football you may well be thinking "Hmm, India plus Kingfisher equals BEER!" and then wondering that anyone who made their fortune in gassy lager could have stretched their brand quite so far. Why not? Richard Branson stuck Virgin on everything from records to phones to condoms to an airline via very poor cola.
Kingfisher has a large domestic network within India but of most relevance to users of the Ciao.co.uk site will be their links into the UK. They fly direct to London Heathrow from both Delhi and Mumbai and the Delhi options include flights that arrive in Delhi late morning and depart early afternoon - these are much better than arriving in Delhi in the wee small hours and flying back at stupid-o'clock in the morning. Other European destinations are served through an arrangement with British Airways. Their non-European non-Indian direct flights are to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Dubai, Kathmandu, Colombo, Dhaka and Singapore.
We booked our flights back at Easter through the travelocity website which was offering the same prices as Kingfisher's website but a much easier booking process. We paid £480 per person for London-Delhi return. Our outbound flight was the day after the Commonwealth Games ended so we expected it to be busy with all the people who'd put off their travel to avoid the chaos of the big event. We were also travelling on the Friday night of the last school week before half term so we were not surprised that the plane should be full.
~Check-In - They Lie Worse Than a Cheap Rug~
Kingfisher fly from Terminal 4 at Heathrow which is a much nicer experience than Virgin from T3 and I prefer it to BA from T5. We easily found the check-in desks tucked in the far end of the check in area. The queue was split in two parts to allow access through the middle path and thus create lots of potential for "Oi mate, who do you think you are jumping the line?" but actually this only happened the once. There was a shorter queue for people who'd done online check in but these must have been people much smarter than me because we'd not been able to figure out how to do that. Luckily, the couple of days leading up to our flight were not filled with our normal pre-flight stress and 'How to do the online check in' trauma because we'd been able to pick our seats when we booked and knew where we'd be. Or at least we thought we did - more on that particular cock-up a bit later.Coming back there was no queue at all in the new Delhi Terminal 3 building so in terms of length of wait to check in, I have to give a big thumbs up to Kingfisher for doing much better than Virgin who took over an hour last year despite us having done online check in.
When we booked our tickets way back in April we were able to pick seats. On the way to India we got our pre-chosen seats without any problems. Since we were travelling with my sister and her girlfriend, we'd taken care to choose pairs of seats in two consecutive rows. For our return flight we turned up at the airport relaxed and confident that there was no need to rush there because we'd got some nice seats lined up. When the check-in assistant said we'd got 27 H&K instead of 11A and B I was horrified. I pointed out that the seats were on our booking and had been for a very long time. They blamed the company we booked through - Travelocity - claiming that it's not possible to reserve the bulk-head seats.
Quite honestly if it's not 'possible' it's surely their responsibility to make that clear or to get back to people who booked so far in advance and offer something else. They were making up excuses and changing them every few minutes. The assistant was calling her supervisor and whispering away to him about us and behaving in a really cagey way. She then confirmed that they couldn't let us have the seats because they were blocked. OK, I said, then unblock them. Then she claimed the entertainment system was broken on one of the seats. OK, I said, we can live with that. Then she changed the story and said they'd already given someone else one of the seats but we could have the other (thanks for nothing). I asked why we had to be SO far back and why if they couldn't give us what we'd booked we couldn't at least have something nearer the people with whom we were travelling. Apparently they couldn't swap any of the hundred or so people that hadn't yet booked in in order to help us out.
It was like talking to the BT Internet call centre in India - eternally polite, utterly incompetent and frustratingly similar to talking to a brick wall. The supervisor was no better. I asked for a feedback form and filled it in there and then, making the point that their so-called 'five star airline' only offered '1 star' service. And then to make things even more peachy they told us the flight would be late because the entertainment system had broken down - so we should expect 9.5 hours with nothing to watch.
~On Board - on the way to India~
Boarding was through a gate that was very close to the air-side shopping area and was straight onto the plane via an air-bridge. The queues moved quickly and we were soon on board and were there early enough to not have to fight for overhead luggage space. Some people really do have a strange idea of what constitutes 'hand baggage'. In my book, if you can't lift it over your head, it's not hand luggage.
The seats were of a good standard and of a red leather or leatherette. We had pillows and blankets and each seat back already had a 500 ml bottle of water in it. The magazine and shopping guide were also in place. There wasn't a lot of legroom although it was no worse than many other airlines we've used. Sadly I didn't spot the footrest until we'd nearly arrived but I appreciated that they'd bothered to give one.
The seat back TV screens in economy were larger than many airlines put in business class. If anything they were a touch TOO big for the limited distance between viewer and screen. The on-demand video system with 29 English language films to choose from was excellent - when it worked - and they started it playing very early on, before we had even taken off which really surprised me. So much for the claims by most airlines that you can't keep your headphones on during take off - half the plane was watching a film long before we started to taxi. The choice was excellent although the touch-screen response was very iffy.
Unfortunately my husband's headphone connection wasn't good so he gave up on watching very early on. The socket didn't take my noise reduction headset that I'd brought along so I missed everything but the loudest of dialogue but still enjoyed the film I'd chosen. It's just not a lot of fun to sit with your hands pressing your headset against your ears just to try to catch the dialogue.
Food was served quite a long time after take off which was strange on a late night flight. If you want vegetarian it has to be 'AsianVegetarian' although the meat eaters get a choice of Asian or 'continental'. The veg meal was a lot spicier than the European airlines would ever dare to serve and the sweet potato salad with kidney beans and pomegranate was particularly hot. The main dish consisted of two small curries - one with okra, the other with paneer - and some rice. I ate one of the curries and avoided the other. There was also a yoghurt salad that I skipped and a sweet pudding that somehow disappeared down my husband's throat when I wasn't paying attention.
Now onto the big surprise. An airline started by a beer mogul had absolutely no beer on board. What was THAT about? We thought the stewardess was joking but it turned out to be true. They also had no diet coke which was almost as surprising and the white wine was disgusting. Breakfast next morning was bland in the extreme. I ate my yoghurt and gave my husband my croissant, butter and jam. It was served almost two and a half hours before landing which seemed way too early on a flight that only took 8 hours. The time between clearing the dinner trays and bringing breakfast was really not long enough for anyone to get much sleep.
On the whole the flight was very smooth and calm and not typical of a flight to India on which people have a tendency to get a bit over-excited. The only 'trouble' came from a few people who were really annoyed that their seat back screens didn't work. Admittedly I think the crew could have done more to placate them (basically they didn't do ANYTHING) and I could understand why they were frustrated since it's happened to me before. My sister was left without any entertainment on a flight to Australia and Qantas gave her $50 worth of duty free to compensate. If Kingfisher can't fix their screen problems, maybe they need to think about something similar.
After our outbound flight we were pretty impressed but everything went wrong on the return leg. Boarding was delayed by over an hour and then, once they'd got us onto the plane, they kept us waiting another hour and a half. As we had all lined up to get on board a particularly sycophantic young man was assigned the task of ritually apologising to every customer that the entertainment system was broken. Most hadn't known about this and I had to wonder what on earth was the point of telling people just as they got on - too late to buy books or magazines. The apology was hollow and completely pointless since no compensation or offer of alternative entertainment was offered - they could have run off and bought up a load of extra papers and magazines or offered complaint forms or at least done something. I suspect they were trying to avoid that the flight crew caught all the flak but everyone was pretty peeved by the time they got on.
Ironically by the time we finally took off over two and a half hours late after sitting on the plane for what seemed like an eternity, they'd managed to fix the system. I wanted to scream "Switch it off and switch it on again".
As if we weren't already fed up, the cabin crew then took an eternity to bring food and drink. Some of the customers were getting really ratty and my sister told me that one irate passenger went storming down the plane shouting "For god's sake WHEN are you going to feed us?" If you think you're taking off at 1.20pm and have skipped lunch in the expectation that you'll soon be fed, it's not surprising that some people will get a little light-headed when they've been denied even a sniff of a peanut several hours later.
My sister came down to see us half way through the flight to tell us that the people who'd been given our seats were a guy who refused to put the window blind down and upset everyone and someone who threw up after a couple of hours and there was a fractious baby howling the whole way through the flight. She thought we were rather lucky to have been able to escape especially since her girlfriend was getting arsey with the window blind man and a diplomatic incident was on the cards.
Again my husband didn't do well with the so-called entertainment system and this time got a distorted screen. I was luckier and managed to see four whole films and write a book review during the flight so it wasn't a total waste of time. The cabin crew were clearly in a collective foul mood throughout the flight and I didn't see a single smile that reached the eyes. The food was a bit second rate - especially the bizarre afternoon snack which, due to the delays, was not really at a suitable time for Indian or UK time zones. When we finally landed nearly 3 hours late, we were really questioning how this airline had ever got its five-star rating. When all goes well it's a pretty impressive airline but it seemed that the moment anything went wrong, the whole system went to pieces.
Would I use these guys again? I'm still in two minds about that. The flight out was better than BA or Virgin but the return leg was awful - the mess they made over our seats, the ludicrous delay and the extraordinarily slow food service combined with the miserable nasty cabin crew all make me question how they ever achieved their Five Star status. For all the tannoy announcements about how we weren't passengers, we were honoured guests and all the 'We hope you have a wonderful Kingfisher 'experience' bull****, the reality was that when something went wrong, they just couldn't deal with it. If you buy a rubbish entertainment system then fix it - don't keep flying with it and hoping you can fob your customers off with an insincere apology and statement of regret. And PLEASE don't keep everyone waiting three hours whilst you arse around with the system trying to fix it.
I'm waiting to see if my complaint form gets a response - I could be persuaded to consider them again if someone puts togeher an outstanding apology but I'm not holding my breath. And we still have one more airline to try (Jet) before I give up shopping around.