Our experience of flying Air India with a baby

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 9:15 PM

The crisp Friday morning when we left our home in San Francisco to take a 16-hour flight to Delhi (India) with our 1-year old infant was filled with anxiety. The fact that it was our baby’s first flight ever wasn’t making things any easier. She had never been away from home for longer than a day and had never experienced the air pressure challenges of a boxed airplane compartment.

Air India had seemed welcoming on the phone. They allowed infant food and milk on the flight and gave the baby an extra 10-kg luggage allowance on their nominally priced infant ticket. No separate seat for the baby yet though. We reserved a bassinet seat on the phone a few days before the flight. We were told that our Boeing-777 had about 7-8 of them. Upon boarding though, we saw maybe just 3-4. We flew economy of course.

After priority fast-track TSA checks at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), we were at our gate and waiting to board. The boarding started on time and we were boarded on priority here too. Thankfully because it was a weekday flight and because it was peak summer season in India, the flight was sparsely full. We managed to get the seat next to us empty. In retrospect, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Kids have stuff… a LOT of stuff! We had several bags full of baby food, baby formula, cooler for milk, diapers, toys, our papers, blankets, etc. and realized that we totally needed that empty seat to shuffle our stuff around.

Air India’s bassinet seats have a lot of legroom. While we slowly got comfortable with our new surroundings (the airline checked in our stroller at the airplane gate, the car seat had already been checked in with the other bags), an airhostess came to brief us about take off with a baby. The brief was fairly informal and surprisingly simple – just hold the baby against your chest during take off, hold them cheek-to-cheek against you and hold their head with your palm as the plane takes off. No separate seat belt was provided to attach with ours for the baby. I repeat… no separate seat belt was provided (unlike other airlines, I hear).

The plane took off on time and thankfully it was easy on our baby too who sucked on yogurt melts to keep the air pressure from irritating her ears. An airhostess came to ‘warn’ us that the bassinet (which we didn’t have yet) had an upper limit of 14 pounds and could be dangerous for our baby who clearly weighed more than that. She moved a lonely passenger behind us to another row to give us extra room to put the baby to sleep. 10 minutes later, another airhostess came and plugged in a bassinet for us. When I enquired about the upper weight limit, she said it was 14 kilograms. I asked her to please confirm this with some other crew and after assuring me that she would, I never heard back from her. Another 10 minutes later, the first airhostess came to check why we had still opted to take the bassinet seat. Tired of the confusion, I checked the weight limit tag on the bassinet myself to see that the upper limit was indeed 14 kilograms and not 14 pounds. Our 1-year old was good to go in the bassinet. At this point, the airplane’s entertainment system crashed and had to be rebooted which took 30 minutes, much to the dismay of the other passengers. But I’ll save that story for another post.

Did I mention that the exit door right in front of our seats on the left made a horrible clanking sound during take-off? Almost like the door would fall off once we were airborne. But it didn’t. And thankfully it didn’t make that sound again either. We could see the left wing from our middle row seats and it looked charred and burnt out too. A big downgrade from Emirates flights that we normally took, but there is sadly no other direct flight that flies from SFO to Delhi. So we grinned and decided to bear the minor inconvenience.

Back to the much-touted bassinet seat. Well, it was pretty much useless. While it said it could hold a baby 14 kilograms heavy, it could barely contain our 10-kilogramer. She has average height for her age too and still she couldn’t fit with her legs straightened out in the bassinet. Ultimately when it was time to sleep, she slept with her legs slightly bent and her head sticking out a little over the pillow. And she couldn’t turn because there was no room. But to be fair, she did sleep for 4-5 hours in the bassinet, spread across two spells. With the occasional cry out of course from discomfort and not being able to turn (she would fall out!) and from the hard and tight zip-on ‘patch’ that I had fastened around her. It was straight out of the 80s. Maybe when adjustable harness straps hadn’t been invented. Just two pieces of fabric on either side with a zipper in the middle to open it and zip it. I couldn’t zip it up all the way either because it was so tight around her belly, so I made peace with zipping it up just halfway and then put the blanket over it.

The flight crew of course was blissfully unaware that this secure hold even existed on their bassinets and asked us to just hold the baby when the seat belt sign turned on. Which was like over 20 times in the 16-hour long flight. Nope, kids don’t sleep like that. And hence it lead to my discovery of the horrible secure baby hold. We did manage to fit in 3-4 hours of sleep for ourselves too while the baby slept face-up in her bassinet.

The in-flight entertainment system finally came alive after a few hours of take-off, but our screens didn’t roll up because the bassinet was in the way (screens are tucked under the seats in front row seats and need to be rolled up). We managed to pull the screen on the third empty seat up, only to realize that the remote on that seat wasn’t working. And it wasn’t a touch-screen like Emirates (again, that was our airline of choice before we had a baby and had to consider direct flights). So we had a LONG flight with no form of entertainment ahead of us.

A kind word about the cabin crew would be fair here though. They were super accommodating with doing all that they could to make our journey easier. Their demeanor was semi-professional but friendly. They asked us several times if we needed help with anything. They happily refrigerated the baby milk and food that we were carrying. They took it out for us each time we requested them to. While there are no ovens to heat food and milk on a plane, they gave us hot water to do so each time we asked for it. And they were chirpy while they did it. Not grumpy. Not once. So no qualms about the effort the crew put in to do their bit.

The toilets were a different story altogether. There are no kitchen-style washing sinks on a plane. But baby milk bottles and bowls still need to rinsed out every once in a while (if only for storage). Rinsing had to be done in toilet sinks and on this particular Air India flight, most sinks did not self-drain. A knob had to be pressed while the sinks slowly drained water. It was kind of gross. Thankfully, no toilets clogged up on this flight unlike another Air India direct flight from Chicago to Delhi that I read about where all 8 restrooms on the plane got choked. Small mercies.

The food servings were all Indian and very basic. The beverage options were simply water, juice, coke or scotch. Some people treated the plane like a private bar. But that’s not an Air India problem. One of the three tray tables on our seats was broken and two remote controls out of three (for even turning on the lights or calling the attendant) were non-functional. But we survived that too.

As we prepared to finally land in Delhi, our bassinet seat had to be taken away and the poor airhostess apologized profusely for waking our sleeping baby up and asked if we were ‘sure’ that she could take the bassinet away. Well, that was the ONLY safe option and so yes, we told her that we were absolutely sure that she could take the bassinet away. I broke out into a laugh. Safety is never an ‘option’ in the US. And nor should it be. We are just not used to these type of questions.

The landing was fairly uneventful. We held our baby on our lap, without a seat belt again, and she did fairly well with managing cabin air pressure changes. We de-boarded, collected our bags and were our way home! My observations about flying Air India with a baby are as follows – The planes need an overhaul and the bassinets definitely need an upgrade. I have heard that other airlines like Etihad have amazing bassinets.  While the staff is friendly, they are way too informal to be flying over international waters, or anywhere else, for that matter. On several occasions, I caught the airhostesses chatting sitting huddled in a group at the back of the airplane (a scene straight out of a college canteen) when I went to take out some milk or baby food from the refrigerator. They sometimes even failed to notice me standing there! The airline serves no infant food (again, unlike some other airlines) but is happy to give you hot water at convenience. Overall, I wish there was another option to fly straight from India to SFO, but till there is, we will stay thankful for this Air India direct flight despite the operational and logistical inefficiencies.


Very nicely written :) Will always be a reminder of our first flight with Ariya. And what an adventure that was :) The details are captured very nicely and written in a very calm, detached yet very involved manner. At no point do you across as a ranting angry passenger. I also liked how you presented a very even handed account of things - the fact that the crew, despite not knowing much, was still very helpful to their credit. The comforts at other airlines obviously are high but the direct flight aspect was obviously the clincher. And Ariya is too young to remember it but one day when she asks excitedly about her first plane ride, we can always direct her to mommy's blog! <3

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