Tuesday, Air India announced several new routes worldwide, including previously announced service from Delhi to Washington Dulles. However, also included in the announcement were two new but long-rumored non-stops to the US. These flights bring Air India service to DFW International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. Certainly, this represents a huge win for both airports. For this post, though, I’ll focus on the service to DFW, which seems to have surprised some aviation experts.
Air India Service to DFW – Long Sought, Limited by Connections
Texas’ attempts to lure the Maharaja to the Lone Star State are, in fact, nothing new. As early as 2005, both Dallas and Houston competed to land a coveted non-stop during the height of India’s economic boom. Unfortunately, the ensuing global recession hit India hard, reducing demand and killing expansion talk. Rumors recently began swirling about a major AI expansion to the US. Both Dallas and Houston made the list once again. Many commentators assumed Houston would win the route, thanks to Star Alliance partner United’s hub there. Many of these same commentators expressed surprise at AI’s choice of DFW.
Much of the concern seems to stem from lack of Star Alliance domestic connecting opportunities at DFW. Indeed, United operates a limited schedule at DFW:
At this point, we actually know very little about AI’s plans for DFW. Though the airline announced a September 1 start date for Delhi-Los Angeles flights, no specific date was announced for Delhi-DFW. The airline also didn’t specify frequency or aircraft type. However, if we assume a similar departure to AI’s existing Chicago service, that means a 1:30 pm departure. That leaves only a handful of connections via DFW:
That’s only 6 flights, just two of which are United mainline flights. Clearly, there’s not much opportunity for feed, virtually none if you need to first connect in a United hub. On the other hand, assuming again a similar schedule to Chicago, that means a 7:25 am return to DFW. This means 4 realistic connections to Denver, 4 to Newark, 7 to Houston, 1 to Los Angeles, 3 to San Francisco, and 2 to Dulles. Better, but still not great. I’d assume minimal connections through EWR, IAD, LAX, and SFO, with AI service from all four. Air India, therefore, must rely on O&D traffic to make it work. Or perhaps we’ll see something bold, like a codeshare agreement with American?
Air India’s Domestic India Connections a Strength
As far as connections beyond Delhi, Rohan covered those in a previous post. A mid-afternoon arrival provides a good coverage of flights to secondary Indian markets.
Perhaps more importantly for me, a domestic connection on AI allows for a comfortable evening arrival at my final destination. The worst part of flying to India via Europe or the Middle East for me is a midnight (as in midnight to 4 am) arrival in Chennai or Hyderabad. Given the typical long wait for bags and immigration, that means a brutal couple of days. An eastbound redeye followed by a couple hours of sleep at best upon arrival is no fun, trust me.
Air India Service to DFW – Decent O&D Potential
The good news, at least: DFW to Delhi carries decent O&D potential. Front and center stands metro DFW’s sizeable Indian-American population. An estimated 100,000 Desis called North Texas home per the 2010 census. That’s actually slightly larger than metro Houston (91,000), and comparable to Los Angeles (120,000) and Washington (127,000).
More importantly, many companies either headquartered or with substantial presence in the area also have significant operations in India. A small sample of the better known include:
- Brinker International
- Commercial Metals Company
- Deloitte (via worldwide training center Deloitte University)
- Kimberly-Clark Corporation
- Sabre Holdings Corp.
- Scarlet Technologies Inc.
- Texas Instruments Inc.
This doesn’t even touch on the numerous DFW-area IT startups with operations in India. Perhaps the most interesting connection, though, is that of Deloitte. The professional services giant opened Deloitte University in Westlake, about 15 minutes west of the airport, in 2010. Deloitte employs tens of thousands at offices in Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. As these employees advance, the result is a steady stream of travelers headed to Dallas for training.
In short, the combination of a large Indian population and strong business ties between Dallas and India suggests decent O&D potential. In addition, should the rumored expanded electronics ban take effect, add one more selling point for AI. At least for now, until the ban gets expanded yet again…
Air India’s Service Reputation Remains a Roadblock
If Air India has one obstacle towards making any of its US routes work, it lies in the airline’s less-than-stellar service reputation. Admittedly, AI has worked hard in recent years to improve, but its reputation continues to lag. Friends and family remain reluctant to fly the Maharaja due to its checkered past. When I mentioned the new DFW nonstops to my mom, for instance, her reaction wasn’t positive. “The place you get a promotion for being rude!”, or something to that effect. In the past, stories abounded about international passengers stranded in places like Lucknow for days due to fog. Even now, AI suffers bad press for its service failures, such as allegedly delaying flights due to pressure from government VIPs to operate other ones instead.
Air India actually has strong selling points as far as its hard product goes, at least in coach. Economy features 33-34 inch pitch, and its 777s retain a 3-3-3 configuration. That makes it one of the most spacious coach products in the sky. Catering also generally rates highly, at least if you like Indian food. On the other hand, the Business Class product remains generally average, with only angled-flat seats and middle seats. The new 787-9 presumed to operate the DFW route should improve that, with full lie-flat seats. But in the end, a good product only works if people want to fly the airline. AI still has work to do in that regard, to convince flyers that it really has improved.
Air India Service to DFW – Final Thoughts
Of course, as a DFW resident, I’m delighted at the prospect of nonstop flights to India. Will AI be able to pull it off? To me, it’s a risky bet. Air India will have to rely heavily on O&D traffic. That seems like a challenge, given the lack of Star Alliance loyalty in the area, and the airline’s still poor reputation among some. However, the favorable demographics and business ties in the Metroplex give the route a fighting chance. I’ll certainly give it a try if it does indeed get off the ground.
Photo of Air India aircraft: “Air India B787” by Ozzy Delaney, via Flickr Creative Commons, license Attribution 4.0 International.