Welcome back to SFO! said the Air Traffic Controller to Air India One Seven Three as it landed at San Francisco on December 02, 2015 after a long flight from New Delhi. The thrice a week flight was quickly ramped up to six times a week in 2016, further increasing it to nine times a week in 2018. Back then the nay-sayers doubted the San Francisco foray. The very same year, the auditors were investigating why Air India sold the B777s to Etihad for a loss. But all of that is now behind us as Air India – now a private entity, expands services to San Francisco starting December 02, 2022. This further strengthens Air India’s position in the India – USA market and ensures that it will continue to dominate the market, convincingly.
The SFO – India market has become a monopoly for Air India right now and the team is doing its best to guard it so well that United will think multiple times before reentering this route.
The airline will operate six additional flights per week, three each from Bengaluru and Mumbai. The Bengaluru – San Francisco operations start on December 02 while those from Mumbai start December 15, 2022. The airline will operate as per below timings
AI175 BLR1420 – 1700SFO 357
AI176 SFO2100 – 0425(+1)BLR 357
AI179 BOM1430 – 1700SFO 246
AI180 SFO2100 – 0340(+1)BOM 246
This will complement the existing 10 weekly flights from Delhi, which operate as below
AI173 DEL0340 – 0600SFO Daily
AI183 DEL1500 – 1705SFO 246
AI174 SFO0930 – 1515DEL Daily
AI184 SFO2030 – 0215(+1)DEL 246
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – one can spot two B777s of Air India at San Francisco – a rare sight on foreign shores.
With a block time of 15 hours and 50 minutes outbound and 16 hours inbound, this is a tight operation with three aircraft which can seamlessly fly this route.
San Francisco v/s Los Angeles
There has been a lot of debate on returning to Los Angeles as well for Air India. Instead, the route additions were to San Francisco. It makes absolute sense to strengthen an existing station which is well established rather than invest in a new one. The number of Indian Americans at Los Angeles and San Francisco is nearly the same and rather than opening another route from Delhi, the airline has connected San Francisco to Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Routesonline had stated that Mumbai – San Francisco had 138,090 two way O-D passengers in 2019. This is roughly 189 passengers per day, a very large untapped market for non-stop. Current options include those via the Middle east and Europe. Pre-COVID, Hong Kong, Japan and Beijing were other options but not all markets have opened up, yet.
This is a brilliant move by Air India. San Francisco will be connected to three destinations in India with non-stop flights, something which even New York has not been able to achieve with these many years of uninterrupted service.
With the current geopolitical situation not allowing western carriers to overfly Russia and similar restrictions not in place for Indian carriers – Air India is in a position like never before. There is no competition from India and there is unlikely to be in the immediate future and with the conflict still raging, immediate resolution allowing United or American to overfly Russia also seems unlikely.
The new flights will help Air India snatch Mumbai – San Francisco and Bengaluru – San Francisco traffic from Middle Eastern and European carriers. Hitherto, Air India offered one-stop via Delhi for passengers at Mumbai and Bengaluru and now it becomes non-stop. But it also has another impact – freeing up seats ex-Delhi. The passengers who earlier flew one-stop via Delhi would have their own non-stops to take and these additional seats available ex-Delhi will be used to develop new markets and feed the flights ex-Delhi.
There has been a lot of flak on the quality of seats and amenities of Air India. Indeed everything cannot be corrected in a day and there are challenges on all fronts – especially supply chain, but a lot of passengers who may want to try Air India because it is now a Tata Enterprise may relook at their plans after their flight.
As Vihaan, the former Delta B777-200LR landed on Sunday evening in Delhi, the stage is set for another four joining in soon and more expansion before the eventual order . The decision to merge Vistara with Air India makes the network, even interesting.
East coast or West coast, Air India can be your host! All eyes will be on the product and the upkeep and passengers will not give many chances to the airline.