The airline was established on 20 September 1991 and began operations on 3 December 1993 with two Boeing 737-200 aircraft as Sahara Airlines. Initially services were primarily concentrated in the northern sectors of India, keeping Delhi as its base, and then operations were extended to cover all the country. Sahara Airlines was rebranded as Air Sahara on 2 October 2000, although Sahara Airlines remains the carrier's registered name. On 22 March 2004 it became an international carrier with the start of flights from Chennai to Colombo. It is part of the major Sahara India Pariwar business conglomerate.
On January 19, 2006 Jet Airways announced that it was to buy Air Sahara for $500 million in an all-cash deal. Everything, including Sahara's assets and infrastructure would belong to Jet Airways. This deal would have been the biggest in India's aviation history and the resulting airline the country's largest, had it gone through. Jet Airways management had planned to rename Air Sahara to "Trans Jet", with a separate corporate logo and livery.
The Indian Government had initially expressed its doubts on whether such a deal was legal, since no such deal had previously taken place in Indian Civil Aviation. However the Indian Civil Aviation Ministry ultimately gave approval in principle for the deal.
Market reaction to the deal was mixed, with many analysts suggesting that Jet Airways was paying too much for Air Sahara. The deadline for the deal to be completed was June 21, 2006, but in the days before this, the chances of the takeover being completed began to look shakier. Jet Airways claimed that a final sticking point was the government's delay in giving Jet chairman Naresh Goyal approval to be appointed to the Air Sahara board. Air Sahara countered that Jet Airways had engineered this impasse by delaying the request for such approval, as a way of extricating themselves from a deal they now regretted. Jet was said to be willing to go ahead with the deal only if the originally agreed price was lowered by 20-25% on the basis of Sahara's mounting debts, an option which was firmly rejected by Air Sahara. Finally both sides confirmed that the deal was off.
Following the failure of the deal, the companies have now filed lawsuits seeking damages from each other.
The Bombay High Court on Friday 22 September allowed Jet Airways to withdraw Rs 1,500 crore deposited by it for acquiring rival Air Sahara. "Jet will have the right to withdraw Rs 1,500 crore against bank guarantee of the same amount," Justice D K Deshmukh said in his order. The amount in the escrow account will go to Jet and the interest will go to Air Sahara. However, the escrow account formalities will be decided by an arbitration tribunal. Arbitration is to begin on 9 October 2006.