Air India is about to become the first Indian carrier to offer direct flights to the US via a Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet.
And while the airline says the new service will be available from January 1, its first passenger is likely to be a Chinese national.
The company has been under scrutiny in recent weeks for its alleged lack of transparency on how the new aircraft will be constructed and run, and its lack of details about how the service will affect passengers.
The carrier is also facing a public backlash over its handling of the J-20 aircraft, which India has accused of violating US air space rules and violating international law by secretly flying from the Indian capital, New Delhi, to the Pentagon and then back.
A new airline, Indian Airlines, is the first to offer the same service to US customers, a new travel advisory has revealed.
Air India, the state-run airline, says the first passenger will be a 25-year-old Chinese national, and that the airline will also allow passengers to book a roundtrip flight to New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC.
Airline representatives confirmed to Next Big News on Friday that the Chinese national will be on board.
The airline has said the service is to help the airline meet the needs of its customers and boost its business, but the airline has also been criticized for its “pink slip” approach to its plans, which includes not disclosing the price or route of its service.
“It’s the first of its kind and it’s an important step in helping us to meet the challenges we face,” CEO Vijay Mallya told reporters on Friday.
“We will have more information soon on our new service.”
The announcement comes after the government approved the use of a Boeing 747 aircraft to fly to New Delhi from its capital, while other carriers in India have also begun offering direct flights.
But Air India says its new service, which it describes as a “new option for travel”, will be more cost-effective.
“We are also committed to offering a very low-cost option for international travel and a higher level of connectivity to our customers,” the airline said in a statement.
“The new service has been approved by the government, so it can be offered on January 1.”
Air India’s “new” service will allow it to carry a maximum of six passengers per aircraft, with the pilot seated at the controls, the company said.
In addition to the new route, the airline’s “airport hub” will include an additional passenger seat for the pilot and additional seating for ground staff.
The airline’s service will cost $3,250 a person and includes one-way and roundtrip flights to New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta and Denver, as well as a complimentary stay in an airport hotel.
Air India will also offer a “first class” cabin for passengers who book their tickets through the airline and then use the “international economy” option to pay extra.
The service, it adds, will be offered by an “industry-leading” airline, with a “highly trained team” and “a very competitive price.”
Airline spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Next Big.