This past March, my family decided to travel to India to see family. Due to the pandemic, it’s been so long since we visited (the last time was Christmas 2015), so we were really excited to go.
But first, we had to book our travel.
The USA-India travel market is highly saturated, with tons of demand and many flight options. There are endless connecting flight options through both Europe and the Middle East, but given the unpredictability of entry restrictions at the time and how long the trip would be if we changed planes along the way, we decided it was worth spending extra money to book a less-risky and relatively quick nonstop flight.
United, American, and Air India all had direct flights from the New York City area to Delhi, with American pricing at $1172, United pricing at $1362, and Air India pricing around $1600. We ultimately chose United because aside from it being the only airline flying both out of and into Newark, our preferred airport, on the dates we wanted, at the time we booked in early February, American wasn’t flying over Russia because it couldn’t secure overflight rights before launching the route late last year. We figured it would be much more comfortable if we could avoid flying hours extra and having a possible diversion on the return.
Go figure, we all know what happened a couple weeks later, leading to United stopping all its Russian overflights. Oh well! More hours to savor the miracle of aviation. 🙂
This was my first time flying United and going out of Terminal C at Newark since the pandemic began. Nothing has really changed since the last time I came.
We pulled up to the second of three levels of the terminal, where Economy Class passengers check in. Around a year ago, I remember when dropping someone off that United had a special check-in setup on Level 3 of the terminal for all international passengers due to all the extra pandemic documentation needed, but I guess that’s gone now. Check-in went smoothly, as we got our documentation checks and checked our four bags in with no issue.
Despite all the jokes about Newark Airport, Terminal C, exclusive to United, is both spacious and beautiful, with many restaurant options and technology to make everything more convenient for the traveler (such as iPads at every table around the terminal from where you can order food).
After a bit of shop exploring, I soon spotted out aircraft in the distance, a Boeing 777-300er delivered new to United in in 2018. It had arrived from San Francisco a couple hours earlier. It is the fourth largest commercial aircraft in the world, and has the most powerful commercial engines (GE-90).
Of course, as usual, I spent the extra time planespotting. And I may have done a bit of people spotting as well. It was funny when a guy who just missed his flight to Madrid screamed “COME ON!!!” in the middle of the pretty quiet and open terminal when an agent informed him. Word of advice: get to the airport early for an international flight! And don’t yell at others, especially when they have nothing do with the situation and will be the one deciding your next move. 🙂
I decided to wander around the terminal a bit more. I saw the now opened United Club under construction, and noticed a new passageway under it, so decided to explore.
It led to the far end of the terminal, where I got another nice view of our aircraft.
After running into a friend, I headed back to the crowded gate area. With limited seating available (more on that below), I met with my family at a nearby bar area to wait.
Our flight was boarding from gate C123. This gate is one of two in the terminal that has two jetbridges, so it is often used for wide-bodied aircraft. However, the seating space at the gate was about the same as all the others, so not everyone seemed to be able to get a seat.
Boarding started on time around 8:30 PM. After people needing assistance and those with elite status and sitting in premium classes, United seems to board its planes back to front, which worked out pretty nicely when it came to aisle congestion. The plane was completely full (with many people being rebooked to this flight from the cancelled Mumbai route; more on that below), meaning the agents were gate checking luggage for free.
Newark (EWR) – Delhi (DEL)
Plane Registration: N2645U (Delivered 2018)
Plane Type: Boeing 777-300er
Flight Duration: 13 hr 49 min
Flown: March 2022
I flew United’s 777-300er a few years ago. In that time, Premium Economy has been added (which looked very sleek in my opinion). In addition, the IFE system was slightly updated (but more on that in a bit). Besides that, nothing was changed in the aircraft.
The legroom was decent, and although recline was limited, the leather seating was fairly comfortable and supportive. The seat didn’t feel uncomfortably tight in my opinion, despite the 3-4-3 configuration. The seat slid forward a bit after reclining, which even though slightly reduced legroom, it slightly increased recline at the same time.
There were even individual air nozzles, which many find important on a long flight like this, particularly when the cabin is kept warm (in this case, the cabin temperature was actually quite comfortable throughout the journey).
There was AC power (2 ports for every 3 passengers on the side and 3 for every 4 in the middle) as well as USB ports at each screen.
There was a pillow and blanket waiting on the seat. The pillow was shaped like a travel pillow but was a bit too flimsy for my liking. The blanket was light but comfy.
The plane was completely full. Many of the passengers were originally scheduled to travel nonstop to Mumbai, but United canceled the route shortly after the Russia-Ukraine situation escalated (which shuttered Russian airspace to most carriers), meaning many of the Mumbai passengers were rebooked onto the Delhi flight. This also meant that interestingly, for the few weeks after we flew, United almost completely removed all inventory from this flight and its return, presumably to allow for space to rebook affected passengers.
But back to the flight itself. While it seemed like we’d be departing close to on-time, I noticed some commotion taking place on the other side of the cabin. It turned out someone threw up and needed medical attention. It was obvious we would be delayed.
As we spent a couple hours on the ground with limited announcements, I decided to check out the entertainment selection. The interface was updated from last time I flew, and it was amazing. After choosing a few settings like language and accessibility, you could see the service schedule from the flight, and then could choose from either seeing destination information, or the endless movie selection.
There was even a relaxation section! I believe there were Headspace meditation videos as well.
There were also some fun games.
Around this point, I checked out the bathrooms. The lavatories were a standard size and were generally kept quite clean throughout the flight.
After a little while, the sick passenger was taken off the plane with two ambulances present. The captain apologized profusely for the delay and announced our estimated flight time of 13 hours 49 minutes. At 10:50 PM, the doors were finally closed, and at 11:13 PM, the pushback began just over two hours late.
At 11:26PM, we began taxiing to the runway. The mood lighting was illuminated around this point.
The taxi was pretty quick. We lifted off from runway 22R at 11:34 PM.
We reached an initial cruising altitude of 29,000 feet. Throughout the flight, as fuel was burned, we would gradually increase to 35,000 feet.
The dinner service began a little over 45 minutes after departure. There was a choice of a chicken or vegetarian dish. The meal was tiny, but I wasn’t hungry anyway. The hot portion was good, and even though the salad was bland, it tasted fresh enough.
The tray table was nice, as it had the ability to slide out in case the person in front reclined their seat.
Around this point, I went to bed.
After a couple of hours of sleep, we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise.
The views over the Alps were incredible – among the best I have seen from a plane.
A few hours after that, at around 6:15 AM Eastern time, there was a water and snack service. The sandwich was apricot cream cheese, and was fine for the timing. There were also bottled water (cups of water were brought every few hours or so throughout the flight), gluten free cookies, and more M&Ms.
Water and snacks were available throughout the flight in the galley. We could even make our own tea if desired.
The terrain became more flat as we entered Asia, but it remained very pretty.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset as we flew East over the Caspian Sea.
After passing Iran and Afghanistan from the north (since we weren’t allowed to fly over the vast majority of either nation), we made a 90 degree right turn to fly through the one permitted airway over Afghanistan, on its eastern sliver, which would take us through the country for only a few dozen miles and a few minutes. The turbulence at this point was insane. Luckily, however, it didn’t last too long after clearing the Himalayas.
I’m sure the views would have been incredible over the Himalayas, but of course, it was pitch black.
After that, we flew through Pakistan. Around this point, my phone started lagging for some reason, so I apologize for the bad photo qualities in the rest of the post.
Interestingly, at one point over Pakistan, I noticed a bright green light shining at our aircraft, so I’m guessing someone was shining a laser pointer at us.
Around this point, around an hour and a half from our estimated arrival time and about lunch time in New York, some oatmeal was served. It tasted fine, though was pretty small.
We started or descent around 11:15PM Delhi time, around 30 minutes before our estimated arrival time.
Indian immigration cards were passed out around this time.
We passed Delhi Airport from the north traveling east, then did a 180 turn for a long final approach.
We had a smooth landing on Runway 29 at 11:52 AM (a little over two and a half hours late). The 13 hour 49 minute estimated flight time at the beginning of the flight was spot on!
We had a relatively quick taxi to our arrival gate.
We parked at Gate 1 at 12:03 AM, next to a United Dreamliner preparing to depart for Chicago.
After disembarking, we had a short walk to the beautiful immigration hall. Indian citizens (including those on reparation flights from the Ukraine area) were directed to the main hall, while everyone else went to a smaller side hall. The wait wasn’t too terrible, possibly because we were arriving after most other international flights.
After going through immigration and retrieving our bags, we got an Uber from the pickup point in the garage, and were off!
Overall, this was a very standard United flight. Besides the delay (which wasn’t really United’s fault), the flight was smooth, the seat was decently comfortable, there were myriad of entertainment options, and the food was pretty good.
There are many options to fly to India, but considering jetlag, convenience, and risk minimization (especially in winter), I would always recommend choosing a nonstop flight if available and a decent price. While I can’t speak for American since I haven’t flown them internationally, compared to Air India (which also runs the same route), I’d say United is about equal quality: Air India has more space in coach and great food, but also has less entertainment options and is known for having more operational unreliability, though both things will probably improve since the company is newly privatized. Between the two carriers, if flying economy, I would probably go for the cheaper option since the pros and cons of both even themselves out in my opinion.
Thanks for reading. I flew on some domestic flights within India, which I’m looking forward to writing about, so stay tuned!