Air India's Dreamliner livery - Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Air India’s Dreamliner livery – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Let’s start with the bare facts: India’s flag carrier Air India doesn’t have a great reputation. Whenever I’ve asked people about their experience on the airline, they cite inexplicable delays, poorly maintained aircraft, a non-negligible risk of food poisoning, or rude staff. Or, sometimes, all of the above. As a friend of mine put it, “If my only choice for a flight was Air India, I would just skip the trip and stay at home.”

Am I going to regret this? - Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Am I going to regret this? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

As an American of Indian descent, I’ve always been a bit disappointed that my ancestral homeland’s flag carrier apparently doesn’t seem to have its act together. As someone who has never flown with the “maharaja,” part of me also wondered whether the airline is actually better than the reputation suggests. I decided to find out for myself.

Getting set up for the special 100th celebration, next to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA

Getting set up for the special 100th celebration, next to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA

In the scheme of how long the universe has existed, 100 years is barely a speck in time. But in the world of aviation, it is one heck of a long time… and a huge chunk of human flight’s existence.

It is crazy to think that the Wright Brothers first flew on December 17, 1903 and just over 12 years later, William Boeing had the foresight to create his own aviation company (called “Pacific Aero Products Co” until 1934). I am not going to go into the vast history of Boeing — there are plenty of places where you can read about it, but if you have never heard of the company before, let me give you a basic rundown.

Part of the Boeing 7-series line up at Boeing Field.

Part of the Boeing 7-series lineup at Boeing Field

About 100 years ago (July 16, 1916), William Boeing created his company, which since then has made lots of cool flying machines and defense tools, and shot cool stuff into space, along with making some other oddball contraptions. So now that we are all on the same page… let’s party!

A Thomas Cook Airbus A330 taxis by the Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

A Thomas Cook Airbus A330 taxis by the Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Every few days, I tweet out another installment of my “airline you’ve (probably) never heard of before” series. For many of you reading this, Thomas Cook Airlines probably fits that description. Thomas Cook is not a new airline, or really even that small. But unless you are European and going on holiday, you probably have not come across Thomas Cook as an option before. 

That is slowly changing, as Thomas Cook starts its transformation from a primarily holiday booking and charter operation to full-time scheduled airline alongside its sister airline Condor. This is a daunting challenge, nearly as difficult as starting up a new airline from scratch in some regards. The airline reached out to me to give me a look at how they are changing, and offered a review flight in its Premium Class product. My response to them, basically, was “you have a premium class product?” It does, and it is worth a closer look.

The Premium cabin on my Thomas Cook A330 - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The Premium Class cabin on my Thomas Cook A330 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Before I continue, it’s important to convey that Thomas Cook is not competing with other airlines on a basis of lie-flat seats or posh lounges. What it brings to the table is a specific value proposition. Getting passengers from A to B in relative comfort for the lowest fare possible. The airline is often hundreds of dollars less than its competitors flying between New York and Manchester — the route that I flew.

I wouldn’t blame you if you were to say “save hundreds of dollars? The flight is probably crap, right?” It isn’t. In fact, flying between New York and Manchester, it’s one of the better options. The Thomas Cook intercontinental fleet operates using the Airbus A330, and each aircraft has recently been refurbished. Each A330 sports economy in a 2-4-2 configuration, not the squishy 3-3-3 you might have found in the past. Each seat has its own on-demand entertainment screen, complete with USB port to charge your own device. You won’t find either of those things on a certain U.S.-based airline also operating this route.

The first ever Boeing 747-8i to visit Prague arrives on a hot summers day Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

The first ever Boeing 747-8I to visit Prague arrives on a hot summers day – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

The 1st of July not only marks the start of the summer school holidays in central Europe, it is also a big day on the local aviation calendar. Last year, Emirates debuted the Airbus A380 on the Dubai-Prague route to celebrate five years of service. This year was no exception, as Korean Air announced the launch of Boeing 747-8I services on the Seoul-Prague route from the 1st of July until the 30th of September.

While the Korean Air 747-400 is no stranger to Prague during the peak summer travel season, this was the first time the carrier announced the route would be operated by the Boeing 747-8I, the longest aircraft in commercial passenger service today. Korean Air had previously operated a one-off Airbus A380 service to Prague, and if this event was anything to go by, I was quite excited to be part of this historic moment. Not only was this the premier of the 747-8I in Korean Air colors in Prague, it was also the first-ever flight of the aircraft type to the town — there have not even been any cargo versions.