British Airways 777-200 Economy – London to Mumbai: The convenient alternative?

Mumbai is a rapidly-developing megacity with a fast-growing population of over 20 million people – I lived there for five years between 2010 and 2015 and I was very eager to return. I hadn’t visited my old home since I moved back to London 3 years ago, so I was certainly overdue a return. Mumbai’s main airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, is the busiest single runway airport on the planet with over 47 million annual passengers transiting through the two terminals, overtaking London’s Gatwick Airport back in March 2017, which currently sees over 45 million annual passengers. CSIA Mumbai is one of the most well-connected airports in Asia with over 50 international airlines operating amongst the airport.

I was travelling on BA199 tonight, our aircraft for the flight was a 21.5 year old Boeing 777-200ER (reg. G-VIIH) which was delivered to British Airways in 1997. I managed to find cheap tickets for only 310 GBP (~400 USD) on BA’s website, so I was intent on gaining an insight into if the hospitality and experience onboard reflected the cheaper cost of the flight. The gate was announced as B48, 1 hour prior to departure, and the boarding process initiated on time. We pushed back on time and began taxiing to the active departure runway. A Jet Airways Boeing 777-300ER (Flight 9W117), also flying to Mumbai, had a departure time five minutes prior to ours and was about 500 metres in front of us in the takeoff queue. We were behind a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 and in front of a Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 (painted in the special ‘Negaraku’ livery). After aligning ourselves with the Heathrow’s 3,900ft runway 27R, we quickly accelerated forward and took to the night skies as we made a sharp left turn towards the English Channel.

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The flight routing we took over Europe and Asia. Photo credit Flightradar24.com.

Approximately 30 minutes after departing London Heathrow, a wide choice of beverages were served accompanied by the usual sour cream & chive pretzels snack. The ice-cold Coke was very refreshing and was something I definitely needed. The aircraft’s economy layout is designed in the standard 3-3-3 configuration. The seat legroom is 31 inches and the seat width is just over 18 inches which was quite comfortable (that is if you have nothing big stored in the seat pocket in front of you). The lavatories, to my surprise, had plenty of space inside; nearly double that in BA’s A380 product! Unfortunately, when I returned to my seat I realised the seat-recliner button beside me was completely jammed and would not work. I guess I was going to be stuck upright for the next nine hours… I decided I would charge my phone as it was only had 30% battery and that’s when I realised the USB power charging slot was also broken.

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Pre-departure at London Heathrow I was informed of the terrible news that Cobalt Air (a Cypriot carrier) was ceasing all operations after CO327, inbound from London Heathrow, landed at Larnaca International Airport just after midnight local time.

Dinner was served about 3 hours into the flight over Bucharest, Romania. There were two options: vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I picked the non-vegetarian choice which comprised of a tasty hot meal (chicken breast in onion gravy, creamy risotto and sliced carrots), served alongside a flavoursome portion of lime pickle, a box of couscous, a small water bottle, a bread roll with butter, and a scrumptious, creamy chocolate ganache pudding for dessert. The dessert was excellent and was the highlight of the meal.

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The non-vegetarian dinner served onboard BA199.

I’ve heard somewhat negative things about BA’s Inflight Entertainment System so I was anxious to explore it and see if the rumours were true. Unfortunately, they were. If you’re into pop music especially, don’t expect much as the selection is very outdated. On the bright side, the movie selection exceeded my expectations with many excellent movies on offer.  Some of the movies that were available included: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, ‘Deadpool 2’, ‘Incredibles 2’, ‘Love, Simon’ (I recommend this), ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’, ‘Game Night’ (which I also recommend), ‘Isle of Dogs’, ‘Justice League’ and much more. However, my favourite movie on offer was ‘Tag’. It is a new release and in my opinion is worth your time watching. However, it is rated 15+.

I cannot say the same for the TV programme selection. There was a very limited selection of TV shows including: Rick and Morty, Modern Family and the Big Bang Theory – and that too there was only one episode from each series. There was an interactive 3D flightpath map which you could control, switch aircraft views and view interesting information such as the external aircraft temperature, aircraft ground speed, and the flight distance/time remaining.

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A vibrant sunrise over western Iran.

We witnessed a stunning sunrise over west Iran with under 3 hours of the flight remaining. The cabin lights were only turned on when breakfast was served; about 2 hours pre-arrival in India as people started to awake. There was a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option like in the dinner service. The vegetarian “Indian” option consisted of a masala dosa, idlis and sambar (a traditional South Indian meal). The non-vegetarian “English” option, which I picked, was made up of a sliced tomato, mushrooms, a scrambled egg and a hash brown. Both meals were accompanied with orange juice (from concentrate), a box of diced pineapple and a honey flapjack.

While cruising over the Arabian sea, we were told that the airport was very crowded and we would have to enter a 25-minute holding pattern. As we approached the coastline from the west, the seat belt signs were turned on. We landed 23 minutes past schedule and ironically parked up next to 9W117, our competitor, which beat us to Mumbai. It landed 20 minutes prior to us and didn’t enter a holding pattern!

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Cruising over the UAE at 39,000ft.

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Final approach for RWY09 over the smoggy air-polluted city.

Other options when travelling to Mumbai direct include Jet Airways’s Boeing 777 and Air India’s Boeing 787. Virgin Atlantic used to operate daily flights with their Airbus A330 aircraft but ceased in doing so back in February 2015. Virgin Atlantic Founder, Richard Branson, has directly stated once Heathrow “achieves its long-overdue expansion” they would “love to re-enter Mumbai.” Other popular choices when booking flights to Mumbai from London (indirect only) include Gulf Air’s new Boeing 787 product (via Bahrain), Emirates’s Airbus A380 (via Dubai), KLM’s Boeing 787 (via Amsterdam), Swiss’s Airbus A330 (via Zurich), Brussels Airlines’s A330 (via Brussels) and Lufthansa’s Airbus A330 and Boeing 747 (via Frankfurt). Be aware however, Brussels Airlines are terminating flights to Mumbai on the 6th of January 2019. From previous experiences I do not recommend Air India’s economy, but on the contrary I have heard their business and first class is superior to others. Jet Airways, the other major international Indian carrier, is currently going through some severe financial issues; employees have had to take pay cuts and multiple aircraft in the fleet have been grounded to save money. Their hospitality used to be incredible and very consistent but in the past few years their reputation has gone severely downhill. Relatively new Indian startup airline, Vistara (joint venture by Indian conglomerate Tata Group and Singapore Airlines) have expressed interested in launching flights to London from India (probably New Delhi though) with their soon-to-be-delivered Boeing 787 fleet. Another major Indian airline, IndiGo, plan to commence flights to London Gatwick with their new Airbus A321neo via Istanbul this winter, with new gate slots they recently gained from the former British-based leisure airline, Monarch.

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The busy international night lineup at CSIA Mumbai.

Overall, the flight experience was pleasant with a few problems but nevertheless a relaxed flight with no major delays or inconveniences. In my opinion, with the convenient flight timings and options offered by British Airways, I would fly them again next time. However in saying that, the crew did seem to be a bit unresponsive during the flight with no appearance from any crew members when people around me required assistance. I believe the service I experienced was adequate and what one would expect for a nine-hour flight in economy; and for that reason I would recommend travelling British Airways.

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The flight deck of the 21.5 year old Boeing 777-200ER.

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Our aircraft seen parked at the gate from inside the terminal.