Connecting To Air India First Class At Delhi Airport: An Interesting Experience

Filed Under: Air India, Travel

Introduction: Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Economy Class Showdown
Review: Zurich Airport Observation Deck
Review: Emirates A380 And 777-300ER Economy Class Zurich To Dubai To Delhi
The Delhi Airport Ground Experience
Review: Air India 747-400 First Class Delhi To Chennai
Review: Jet Airways 737-800 Economy Class Chennai To Mumbai
Review: Qatar Airways 777-300ER Economy Class Mumbai To Doha To Beirut
Transiting Beirut Airport On Separate Tickets
Review: Etihad Airways 787-9 And A320 Economy Class Beirut To Abu Dhabi To Muscat
Review: Premier Inn Abu Dhabi International Airport
Emirates Vs. Etihad Vs. Qatar – Who Has The Best Economy Class?

Ben has written in the past about his experiences with slow procedures and employees asking for “appreciation” in India. While India offers great hospitality in my experience, I had a few peculiar instances when connecting flights in Delhi. This post is only meant to prepare you for what flying through India could be like since I’m sure many people have stress-free transfers too.

My day in Delhi started when I landed on Emirates at 9:00am from Dubai. Following the quick walk to the stunning immigration hall, I got into the “eVisa” line.

Thankfully, it moved quite fast, at least until (what I think was) a celebrity showed up. He probably stood at the immigration desk for thirty minutes before he was cleared. At that point, several immigration officers left their booths to take pictures with him, while leaving everyone waiting.

It took approximately an hour for me to get through, even though there were only ~25 people in front of me.

Next, I cleared customs and followed signs to domestic transfers for my Air India First Class flight. The security officers refused to let me in given that my flight wasn’t departing for another eight hours. They directed me to the departures level to clear security there.

Delhi Airport arrivals area.

Another security officer was guarding the elevator up to departures and didn’t want to let me in. I pleaded and told him his colleagues had specifically told me to go there, which worked to my relief.

Upon entering the beautiful check-in area, I headed to the Air India First Class desk.

The lady looked at my ticket, giggled and said “sorry sir, you are too early — come back in three hours.” I asked if there was any lounge I could wait in, to which she responded there were two on the departures level, and I could use the free Wi-Fi.

Alright… after walking around for thirty minutes, tourist information told me there were no lounges on this side of security. They also said Wi-Fi was only available after clearing security (though it didn’t work there either). I hadn’t slept or eaten much the night before, but all I could do was sit on a bench for two hours writing on my laptop until I decided to give check-in another try.

To my relief, she left me check in this time. The Air India First Class ground experience is incredible (see Ben’s post here) and the employees couldn’t have been friendlier. I went from rags to riches in a matter of minutes and spent the next four hours in the lounge, which Ben has also written about.

When it was time for boarding, an agent came up to me and said she’d be escorting me to the gate. I asked her about Independence Day (the day I was there) and typical ways of celebrating. She responded that they get to wear different clothes to work, which she enjoyed. She then immediately asked if I’d ever heard of Air India’s feedback form. “You’re such a nice boy, very very friendly” she said, before telling me her full name and employee number so I could write something nice about her later.

I understand that feedback forms incentivize employees to work harder, but there’s a point where great people lose all credibility because of them. If someone has helped with something tough or does a good job, it’s OK to ask for feedback. However, it’s a shame she had to use it as a conversation starter, making it so obvious why she gave me the compliment too.

Air India First Class staff.

Overall, most people I interacted with were delightful. It’s the unfortunate bureaucracy and strange company culture that set this experience apart from typical First Class ground experiences. I still plan on leaving a kind word for the girl who helped me since it seems the feedback genuinely makes a difference.

My main disappointment is that Air India can’t treat their First Class passengers better at a hub airport. Leaving me stranded in the departure hall without being able to leave the building (since security wouldn’t let me back in for hours) and misleading me about lounges and Wi-Fi is suboptimal. Stay tuned for my 747 flight review though — it turned out to be a blast!

What’s your strangest ground experience?

  1. Typical Indian bureaucracy. I was shocked at how slow the evisa line moved. I spent 30 minutes filling out a ridiculously long form online (why do they need my father’s name?), then they spend 3 minutes with each person fingerprinting (the only time I’ve ever been fingerprinted by any country) and taking pictures. Really? How many people are illegally immigrating to India that they need your fingerprint?

  2. Typical Indian bureaucracy. I was shocked at how slow the evisa line moved. I spent 30 minutes filling out a ridiculously long form online (why do they need my father’s name?), then they spend 3 minutes with each person fingerprinting (the only time I’ve ever been fingerprinted by any country) and taking pictures. Really? How many people are illegally immigrating to India that they need your fingerprint?

  3. @Matt-

    you must not travel much. MANY countries have lengthy Visa applications, and MANY countries fingerprint visitors.

  4. @Matt – first world citizen got a taste of own medicine? Your country has the same ridiculous visa process (though not as stupid as your neighbour to the South).
    Fingerprinting is common – even Cambodia does that.

  5. Fly Air India is punishment enough. I took a US to India flight in business class and it was a sad state of affairs. Plane was worn and looked like it was falling apart. Service was very mediocre (to put it mildly) and the state of the bathrooms was a tragedy. Food wasnt too great either. Never again.

  6. as far as I know, passengers can only be allowed inside the terminal 3-4 hours before departure. This is an Indian government rule, based on security, and there’s nothing Air India can do about it.

  7. It always makes me giggle when third world countries quiz me about my visit as if there’s a risk I’m going to overstay my visa and take away a job from a local person.

    What do they honestly think I’m going to do other than spend lots of money there?

  8. To the idiot Matt of Canada:

    1) Illegal immigration is a serious problem in India and there are millions of illegals living in there primarily from Bangladesh. India also has lot of western tourists who just stay back illegally. Dont believe me? Just go to Goa

    2) The reason they ask for your father’s name is to prevent another Mumbai style attack that happened in 2008. There a guy born to a Pakistani father changed his name to David Headley and got into the country easily. That is why they ask your fathers name and their nationality. If your parents are from Pakistan you would get extra scrutiny even if you are a Canadian citizen

    3) Finally India treats its foreign visitors much better than USA/Canada. Every Indian has to appear in person for a US or Canadian visa and they get fingerprinted on arrival too. So don’t bitch about filling out a long form for visa on arrival when it is a luxury that Indians don’t have when they travel to USA/Canada

    Indian bureaucrats maybe inefficient and corrupt but they are not stupid

  9. Daniel –

    Your post makes little sense!

    Air India First Class wouldn’t let you in.
    Air India First Class lied to you.
    Then you say… ” The Air India First Class ground experience is incredible (see Ben’s post here) and the employees couldn’t have been friendlier. ” HUH?!?!?!

    Then… “My main disappointment is that Air India can’t treat their First Class passengers better at a hub airport.” HUH?!?!?!

    Let me help you… Air India ground experience was terrible. You were left out in the lobby. And you were lied to. IT WAS TERRIBLE!

  10. Ben,
    It is not that you may take someone else’s job. There are many other reasons. For example, one issue is that there are many who come in the guise of visitors and then proselytize, and that is prohibited (there is a separate “missionary” visa — at least there used to be). Some have been known to create trouble. But the main worry is about terrorism — do a google check on “David Headley”. There also are quite a few NGOs who seem quite keen on opposing many developmental projects of the current government, so there is that too.

    Matt of Canada,
    The last line above is also meant for you (check about “David Headley”).

  11. We showed up five hours early at New Delhi Airport for our Air India Business Class flight. They sent us to a lounge on the far left which was a secure holding pen for ticketed passengers. The is a small fee for those not in Business or First Class. We managed to get in at the 3:45 hrs before flight departure. Not the Airlines fault however.

  12. @Matt of Canada

    Is India the only foreign country you have visited? Many many countries take fingerprints.
    Oh and FYI many many Nepalis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Burmese, Cambodians, Uzbeks, Afghans, Zoroastrian, Sunni, Christian and Jewish Iranians illegally enter India on a daily basis, and and don’t claim you don’t look like one, many Uzbeks looks like any Canadian and would probably forge a Canadian passport.
    Really naive comment on your part.

  13. @ Ben

    Except you’re orobably a lot poorer than many many Indians! Seems Lakshmi Mittal, Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, K.P. Singh aren’t names you’ve heard of.
    India isn’t so in awe of the West as you may think.
    Ok maybe of the British gentry they are in awe but no sorry the light skin tag isn’t doing anything.

  14. Your experience at immigration is typical. I don’t think I’ve ever waited less than 30 minutes to clear immigration. As far as the wait for check-in and security, that’s not AI’s fault so much as government security regulations. They have long restricted entry into the secure area until a relatively short time before departure. Heck, back before the airports were rebuilt, you couldn’t even go through security check until your specific flight was listed on the board, which was usually about an hour before departure.

  15. It’s typical that most airlines don’t allow passengers to check in until 3-4 hours before departure in most countries. In India, you cannot enter an airport terminal until 4 hours from departure time – a government rule and a security measure. Best to do the research before going to another country.

    My experience passing immigration in DEL and BOM have been good – much easier than getting back into the US for sure. It usually took me 10-15 min to clear immigration in India as a US citizen. Frankly, it puts our immigration and visa procedures to shame.

    @Ben – sorry but you just sound like a tart. Not sure which country you come from, but here in the US, the Indian minority are the most well educated and the highest earners. Finally, biometrics are not just about illegal immigration, but also about security – yours and the host nation’s.

  16. @Ben
    Sorry, but any country is subject to foreigners not obeying immigration laws. India in particular is highly integrated into the global economy and many “first world” visitors may be coming to work without the proper authorization (perhaps briefly, but nonetheless). Is there a multinational company left without a substantial operation in India?

  17. Although there is no lounge in the departure area land-side, there is a Plaza Premium lounge in arrival hall area which has a nap room/shower as well.

    If any *A flight leaves at night or morning, I’d also recommend visiting SilverKris Lounge or Lufthansa Lounge. Both have decent food and their Wi-Fi also quite good.

  18. Delhi also has rule that one needs a printout of e ticket to even get into the airport. I had a print of my reservation but not the full “e ticket” and was not even allowed to get to the Etihad desk (Flying F!). I had to go to a separate desk and pay a couple bucks (in rupees only) to get a printout.

  19. @Brett

    Although there may be some ‘first world’ as you put it, visitors flouting the system, the endemic is from the bordering countries which I aready mentioned: Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, even so far as Cambodia. If India turned a blind eye to this they would be in the same state as the aforementioned countries, and yes Westerners don’t look any different to Uzbeks, Iranians or some Tajiks to most Indians so they do need to check, just like most people in the West don’t know the difference between North Indians and Arabs and Iranians.

  20. The only time I flew Air India was on my first ever flight to US. I pay more to fly Qatar or Emirates but never AI. Personally, I think it is an embarrassment to the country.

    @Ben…You are absolutely right. Only developed countries have right to do fingerprinting as only they have security concerns, illegal immigration and visitors overstaying their visa.
    May be these articles will enlighten your arrogant white [email protected]#:

    @Matt of Canada…more than number of people illegally immigrating to Canada. Never been to Canada so can’t comment on Canada’s immigration. But on US airports, it is very common for a visitor or work visa holder to wait in the immigration line for over an hour. And on top of that USA’s requirement that work visa holders can’t get their visa stamped in USA and MUST leave the country to have it stamped is as stupid as immigration policies of any other country.

  21. @ Charlie, you can also show the ticket on your phone/ iPad etc. – no need for a printout. Flying F doesn’t entitle you to flout norms.

    On a ticket counter, you can get a print of your ticket and also pay by a credit card.

    Please refrain from posting incorrect information.

  22. India’s treatment of ethnic Pakistanis is shameful. An American is an American, regardless of where there father was born.

  23. I’m not sure what the point of this particular segment of the TR was…? Am I missing something? Yes, Lukcy wrote about the lounge, but a second opinion would have been much more appreciated. This whole segment seems rather pointless.

  24. India’s treatment of ethnic Pakistanis is shameful. An American is an American, regulardless of where their father was born.

  25. @K4

    Nepalese do not enter illegally, Nepali citizens are allowed to work in India, and Indians in Nepal.

  26. I visited Mumbai late 1999, right after the Kargil war. An overzealous immigrantion officer ripped a map page out of my almanac. Apparently, I had committed the crime of importing an “illegal map” that showed the internationally recognized borders of India.

  27. When you can enter the airport (once out) is due to government regulations, not airline. However, many airlines don’t start airport check in process till a certain time before the flight. For example, Japan Airlines personnel don’t even show up till that time. Nobody to talk to. I have had similar experiences with BA and AA staff at many airports.

    Similarly, and perhaps sadly, fingerprinting and photographing a visitor is quite common now a days.

    Visa process for Indians (and many others) wishing to visit USA, Canada, UK etc is at least 10x more unwelcoming than the other way round.

  28. @Matt of Canada
    Gee, imagine what ppl have to do in order to visit your country. Your Online Visa requires me to state my employer and how long I’ve been working for them. How’s that interesting for your government?
    Americans are even worse, asking for parents names and social media accounts.
    Welcome to travel in 2017!

  29. Well, Marina, it makes a lot of sense for Canada and the US to screen people coming in, as these are countries where it’s not the norm to defecate on the streets. Just sayin’.

    I’m sorry if facts hurt your feelings. They’re still facts.

  30. @ben
    It’s not that they are afraid you are going to overstay your Visa or take someone’s job… Maybe they just want to make sure a stupid person like you wouldn’t come into their country. Actually, there should be a sort of Stupid Visa for people like you, so you’d have to pay more to come into any country, if allowed.

  31. @William Y. Thanks for the enlightenment. Didn’t know sereenings were meant to stop defecation on streets. I thought there were security concerns.

    @Julia, palermo, agree. Don’t see a point in this TR.

    Daniel, assuming you are an experienced traveler, shouldn’t you read up on the local rules and regulations rather than cribbing on a blog. Procedures for entry to airports and check-in are available in public domain. Don’t consider yourself entitled just because you are flying F – you are one among thousands!

    @Ben, you may want to read this:

    Again, the point is not to prove country X is better than Y, but rather accept that each one has it’s own set of norms and you may find them inconvenient at times. Either live with it or stop traveling.

  32. @Bill Pike If Pakistanis dont want to be treated with suspicion around the world they should put pressure on their govt to stop sponsoring terrorism. Pakistan is a democracy so if they continue to elect terrorist supporting governments we have to assume the general population supports terrorists.

    @William Regarding defecating on the streets I would ask you to visit the downtown of any big US city like San Francisco. You will find a lot of homeless defecating on the streets.

  33. If only the “first world” nations had better security measures where it mattered (such as in all public venues, transportation terminals, malls, hospitals, hotels, stores, etc), as in “third world” countries such as India, then perhaps we wouldn’t have a lunatic enter a hotel with an arsenal and cause havoc on hundreds of innocent bystanders….or sabotage a marathon….or have senseless carnage in schools and theaters…..or have riots during elections…..or have idiots for leaders…(ok, the last is unrelated to security measures :P)

  34. @ James

    Yes sorry you’re right, I mentioned Nepal because there are hundreds of thousands of Nepalis working in north india but I forgot they are not subject to immigration controls.
    That a US/whatever Daniel, Ben, and Matt of Canada passport holder shouldn’t be subject to passport control and visa requirements is ludicrous, Nepalis have freedom of movement due to a treaty between India and Nepal. There is no such arrangement with the US.

  35. When I complain to my family about the hassles of visiting them in India they often retort that visiting the US or Canada is far more onerous. I agree with that, but the other side to that is that the global market for tourism and business travel is competitive. People have options and at the end of the day hassles are enough to discourage travel or even for that matter doing business. I think in India there is a myopia about how attractive India is to visit because there is a lot of foreign investment and tourism, but no one notices the millions and millions of investors and tourists that are not coming to India and instead doing business or tourism elsewhere.

  36. @William Y
    I was referring to Matt of Canadas disbelief of the screening procedures of other countries and just wanted to let him know about how his own country handles that.

    How the name of my employer or my parents will keep me from shitting on American streets, is not quite clear to me, but I’m sure you got it all figured out.

  37. I like to see how people like to defend their country procedures attacking others. Or maybe just attack others.
    It’s not like you have made the rules for visa and immigration.
    So every country have their rules, and it’s our duty as travelers to respect that. (I said respect, not agree)

  38. Get a multiple entry visa ahead of time! I have been through Indian airports on entry many times and never had a serious problem. Got a long layover? Get a hotel at the aeropark.

    The only thing I don’t like at most Indian airports is the aggressive security. Plus if your cabin luggage tag breaks loose (very easy; poor design!) you will get in a heap of trouble. Get some extras at check-in.

    Most of the internal flights I have taken in India are no worse than taking the big 3 in the U.S.

  39. As an American citizen I’ve certainly had my share of fingerprinting experiences at foreign ports of entry. It’s an understandable necessity.

    One thing I’d mention, it’s incredibly hard to get into the states from most foreign countries, even sometimes from countries with tight relationships with the US.

    For those of you in the first world reading this – respect your passport and your access to the world. We’re lucky. My passport is one of my most prized possessions – a statement of what I can do as an American. Most of all though, don’t shame those less fortunate than you. If you’re from the US, expouse what the American dream should be – freedom and kindness. Don’t be the people who add to the negative reputation the US has internationally.

  40. using the street as a toilet is disgusting. what is wrong with these people, have they no dignity or self respect.

  41. I’d just note to everyone who keeps bashing Matt about the fathers last name. David Headley lied on his visa application and said his fathers name was William Headley, and was still easily able to get an Indian visa. So it’s not like it did much good in that situation anyway. I sure hope Indian customs now backcheck People’s stories.

  42. One note on the immigration debate: other than the delay in clearing passport control because of the starstruck officers, all of Daniel’s problems were getting through security for a DOMESTIC connection. He’d been cleared by immigration with nothing more than a passport-officers-getting-selfies delay.

    Yeesh, people enjoy arguing too much sometimes.

  43. @Matt of Canada – Mr International Traveler with your own blog?….I don’t think so.

    A good many of us would much rather visit India than Canada even if it does mean getting finger printed. I also wouldn’t imagine that every visitor to Canada wants to stay there permanently if I were you. You’ve taken a bit of a bashing in these comments but maybe you will think twice before being so gratuitously rude again to a whole sub-continent in future.

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