I wasn’t an aviation aficionado until I first flew in an Airbus A350. I had never previously craned my neck from an aerobridge to stare intently at a parked metal bird, admire its blended ‘sharklet’ winglets at the end of the wings, marvel at the slick design. And once the bird took off with a seamless glide, as if levitating, and soared through the clouds noiselessly, there was no need to review the in-flight entertainment system—the ergonomics of the aircraft and cloudscape from the window were entertainment enough.
Just like this, different models of passenger planes promise different experiences. Keeping abreast of your ride for the day is not only a rewarding intellectual exercise, but it adds wonder to your journey. If you are still confused, let this guide clear things out for you.
First, the basics. Your aircraft will most probably be an Airbus (a European consortium) or a Boeing (an American corporation). The latter may have faltered magnificently in recent times, but minus the grounded fleet, both companies boast incredible engineering and some fine crafts. On some rare occasions, however, you may get to fly aboard a Bombardier Q400. A small aircraft with about 80 seats (roughly 40 per cent of your usual Airbus A320), expect to be allured by its uncovered propellers that make a loud sound (courtesy the turbine engine, as opposed to the usual jet engine). The flying experience though, as I learned in a Spicejet Delhi to Dharamsala flight, is a noisy affair. On even rarer occasions, you could be flying in an Embraer ERJ (on a Star Air flight, possibly from Bengaluru), Air Deccan’s Beechcraft1900D, which only has 19 seats, or Alliance Air’s ATR 42/72, which are similar to Bombardiers. In each case, you are a lucky sod.
Second, the body. Have you ever looked at an airplane and thought, “Isn’t it massive?” If you have, there is a good chance you were starting at the Airbus A380. The only wide-body (or two aisles instead of a narrow-body’s one) aircraft with two complete decks, it can accommodate up to 853 people in an economy-only configuration. While the model was poorly timed—in the 25 years between its conceptualisation and its discontinuation, only 235 aircrafts have been delivered, while the A350 has managed more than that in half the time—everyone gawks in awe at this superjumbo, whether parked or taking the skies. The second-largest passenger aircraft by size, the much older and iconic Boeing ‘Jumbo Jet’ 747 (you may remember it from the last time the American president came to India, or the film Air Force One) evokes just as much wonder with its distinct hump-shaped upper deck. Every aviation geek’s dream come true, Air India operates two 747-400 (the variant launched in 1988) on certain routes connecting Hyderabad, Mumbai, Jeddah and Kochi (airindia.in/time-table.html).
Third, the stalwarts of the sky. The 21st century has seen great strides being made in aviation technology, and there are certain aircrafts that have harnessed this development very well. Icons, super-sizers and rare crafts aside, these are the ones that arrive at a middle ground between comfort and fuel efficiency. I have already spoken about the Airbus A350, but a certain Boeing airplane, the Boeing ‘Dreamliner’ 787, is equally impressive: it has possibly the sleekest look of them all. Made almost exclusively with composite material, its cabin pressure control is impressive (so you don’t feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable mid-flight), it is admirably spacious, wonderfully fuel-efficient and easy to operate. The Boeing 777 is older but larger (even more so than the 747 in some cases, in terms of sheer passenger capacity), and the wide-body aircraft you are most likely to have travelled in. Finally, there’s Airbus’s answer to this dynamic Boeing duo (along with A350): the A330. Once again super fuel-efficient, it is suitable for both long-haul and short-haul flights, and it has a simple, classic appearance.
Fourth, the finer touches. Did you know that every SpiceJet airplane is named after a different spice? After having travelled in dalchini, asafetida and saffron—you can find the name printed somewhere between the cockpit and the deck—I wonder what’s next for me. IndiGo and SpiceJet are otherwise ‘no-frills carriers’, which means all their flights are mostly on shorter routes, either A320s/B737 or even smaller airplanes, and you will have to buy your own food. GoAir, on the other hand, is an interesting exception: it provides business class seating on A320s, and manages to up the comfort without really upping the investment. Air India is what you opt for larger carriers and incredible seating space—33 inches for most economy seats as opposed to IndiGo’s 30 inches—while Vistara has invested heavily in their business and premium economy categories to make the A320 almost unrecognisable—in a good way.