Sunday, August 02, 2015

Airavat Club Class: Thrissur to Mangalore!

Booking for this trip was very simple. There are only two options on this route - Karnataka RTC's Airavat Club Class and two services by Kallada Travels. I quickly glanced at the fares, and decided to go with Airavat Club Class - it was around Rs. 300 less than Kallada, plus the benefit of being able to board from a bus station. Booking through the KSRTC website is a breeze, plus the mTicket is an added advantage.

July 27, 2015:
Sometime around 8pm a message with the crew details popped up in my phone. The departure time at Thrissur was 2240hrs. My dad was to drop me at Thrissur - I reached Thrissur by around 2200hrs. I was at Thrissur bus station after a very very long time. Nothing had really changed here - its still crowded like hell. I had a long time to go and just kept wandering around. My bus, KA-01-F-9343 of Mangalore Depot-2, turned up at 2251hrs - 11 minutes behind time. The bus did not pull up to the platforms - infact, there were no empty platforms - but he just stopped near the entrance itself. Just as I walked towards the bus, the driver moved it a bit more closer to me. The conductor asked my seat number, and let me in. As soon as I was in, the bus the got moving (2253hrs). They did not try to attract more passengers. The driver meant business - he picked up pace quickly, and we were off towards Mangalore.
KA-01-F-9343, of Mangalore-2 Depot, after dropping me at Mangalore.
The conductor came around to check my ticket sometime later. Three passengers got in from Thrissur - two reserved, and 1 unreserved. He checked the two tickets and issued a ticket to the unreserved passenger. A while later, he came with the blanket and water bottle. Lights were turned off, while the driver got busy handling typical Kerala traffic on the busy 2 laned state highway towards Kuttipuram. We would join NH17 (now NH66) at Kuttipuram. I dozed off for sometime, and woke up just as the bus stopped at Changuvetty to pick-up a passenger (0021hrs) - this means we did around 80kms in around an hour and a half - not bad for a two lane road. I slept off as soon as the lights were turned off.

I had another short sleep, and woke up only when the bus stopped at Kozhikode bus station - the bus was already stationary when I woke up. The bus got moving at 0130hrs from Kozhikode. It was my first visit to the new Kozhikode bus station - but couldn't enjoy much of it, since I was half asleep. I slept off even before the bus left Kozhikode city. As usual, the driving was perfect - no hard braking, no honking, no rash cuts. I work up only when the conductor called out for Kasaragod passengers. Only one passenger got off here - he was dropped outside the Municipal bus station, at 0520hrs. This meant we were running over an hour late already! The road after Kasaragod was in good shape - it was a rough ride after Kasaragod.

I couldn't sleep after Kasaragod because of the bad road. We picked pace whenever the roads were good. The bus stopped at Thokkottu at 0610, where a couple of passengers got off. I pulled up my backrest and prepared to finish the journey. The bus then stopped at Pumpwell (0618) and finally dropped me at the Mangalore KSRTC Bus Station in Bejai at 0626hrs - almost an hour late. The 7h35m ride averaged around 50kmph - totally in two lane roads! The driving was sleep friendly. The bus maintenance wasn't great - there were lots of rattles, including lots of noise from the rear axles. The seats and interiors were clean - the curtains were in perfect shape as well. The rear LCD screen was missing - only the base plate used for mounting the display was present. Loads weren't great - but had just over 50% loads - but then this was a Monday night!

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, did not use
Entertainment: Available, not used

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? This will surely be my preferred option when I need to travel on that route.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Unexpectedly - Indigo from Bangalore to Kochi

This was another trip planned at a very short notice. I had no intentions of going home that weekend. But the situations changed rapidly as the weekend approached. I had two important personal work to finish - one in my hometown and one in Mangalore. I initially toyed the idea of flying in to Mangalore - but the exhorbitant prices on that sector made me replan my journey. I was badly homesick - it had been close to three months since I went home, and decided to make a quick hop home as well. I was taking offs on Monday and Tuesday, and had an important meeting on Saturday in office. I thought it would be a risk to book for Saturday evening, and decided to fly out on Sunday morning. I initially toyed the idea of taking a morning flight - but Saturday turned out very hectic and I badly wanted to sleep for sometime. On Saturday evening, I decided to fly by Indigo, the 1255hrs flight. Booking was made through my Credit Card issuer's site, and I immediately checked in online in order to get the seat of my choice.

July 26, 2015:
I had a lazy start to the day - woke up a bit late, then went about lazily reading the entire newspaper and having a rather filling breakfast. It was almost 0930 by the time I was ready to leave. I had initially planned to take a bus to the airport, but then made up my mind to call a taxi instead. I was using the services of a cab aggregator - no less than 3 drivers refused to accept the ride - the fourth driver turned up without any questions. That was seriously a good driver - he drove at very sane speeds, and still landed up at the airport in around 55 minutes (covering 47 kilometres) through Bangalore city! I was at the airport by 1135hrs. The entry to the terminal was unusually crowded - certain gates were absolutely empty, while people mobbed certain gates. I got in to the terminal through one of the empty gates.
The first departure gate - look at the crowd
The remaining gates...
The FIDS... my flight is on time as per this board..
I was in for quite a surprise when I saw that the IndiGo check-in counters were deserted - infact, the "express baggage drop" counters had longer queues than the regular check-in counters! The agent at the check-in desk said my flight would be 10 minutes delayed - that was okay! I got my boarding pass by 1139. I wanted to rearrange my bag a bit, and hence sat down at the waiting area before security check. While waiting there, I receive a message from IndiGo - a bombshell to be more precise - my flight was rescheduled to 1420hrs! A good 85 minute delay! This was the worst thing to happen - I stand to lose the entire day now! A 1420 departure means I reach home only by 1730hrs! Being on time is a wonderful thing - my foot! Leaving the feelings aside - the reschedule was due to "late arrival of incoming aircraft" and Runway closure at Kochi airport.
Deserted check-in counters of IndiGo..
The boarding pass..
On my way to security...
Deserted security check...
Updated FIDS - now my flight is late..
I went to security check - the area was absolutely deserted - there was no queue at all. However, the cops too were in a relaxed mood, and it took some time to get my bag scanned. I cleared security and headed to the security hold by around 1205hrs. By now, the FIDS starting showing my flight to be "delayed" and the ETA was put at 1420hrs. I decided to check out if lunch was ready at Malgudi - they said they'd open for lunch only at 1230. I headed straight to the waiting area near Gate #1. That area gives a marvellous view of the apron and the taxiway used by aircrafts to exit the runway after landing on #27. I spent considerable time watching aircrafts there - the turboprop corner was busy as hell - ATRs and Dash8s coming one after the other. I headed for lunch sometime around 1245. Malgudi Tiffin Centre, now MTC, is a good choice for people to have some good food.
The Prop corner!!
Lunch @ MTC...
The food was awesome - a very soft Malabar parotta (note the point), a very limited quantity of rice, with a vegetable gravy, sambhar, a curd based curry, a dry vegetable, a sweet, curd, rasam, a fritter and some fried crispies. The meal was good - not really value for money, in my opinion, though. After food, I headed back to the waiting area near Gate #1. By now, I could see VT-INV (my aircraft) parked far away in the apron. Sometime around 1330, I headed towards Gate 10. Gate 10 is on the lower level - in fact, majority of the domestic gates are on the lower level. Gates 10-14, 19 and 20 are located below the international area. The gate area was crowded, but there were lots of empty chairs around Gate 11. The waiting passengers were largely composed of families - especially with small kids. I felt really bad for them - the reschedule meant all the kids were getting restless, many of them missing their afternoon nap, or timely lunch.
The airport was mostly deserted...
Way to my gate.. ahead of the partition lies international departures..
Date of Journey: July 26, 2015
Flight No: 6E-407 || Seat: 08F
Aircraft type: Airbus 320-200 || Regn: VT-INV
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 1255hrs, ATD: 1408hrs
STA: 1355hrs, ATA: 1517hrs
The reaction to the first boarding call...
In the boarding queue...
Lots of passengers were restlessly walking up and down. The first boarding call was made at 1345hrs - by the time the agent finished calling for passengers, a long queue of restless passengers was ready. I remained seated till the queue shortened. I got into the second bus at 1352. Interestingly, IndiGo displays the flight number and destination on their buses - its a reassurance to passengers. The bus headed to the aircraft only when it was packed. The aircraft was parked far in the apron - towards the end of the passenger area. We got to the aircraft by 1357hrs. This was my first experience with the IndiGo Ramp - the ramp really made boarding the aircraft very easy. I applaud IndiGo for this innovative thinking. I got into the aircraft - VT-INV, Airbus A320-200 (cn 3618) delivered to IndiGo in September 2008 - at 1359hrs.
The bus that got me to VT-INV..
VT-INV... my ride to Kochi..
Our neighbours.. thats Air Pegasus' VT-APA at the front..
Right before getting in..
There was one more bus of passengers to board. Boarding was completed at 1405hrs, and doors were armed at 1407hrs. Now began the flurry of announcements - starting with Welcome to IndiGo, then their bragging about their On-time performance (seriously??), then some more. The leading lady, Aita, introduced the deck and cabin crew along with their native place. In the deck were Capt Himanshu and Capt Abhishek Jain, while Aita was joined by Barnali, Komal and one more female attendant, whose name I couldn't get. Safety demonstations began right after the flurry of announcements. We were pushed back at 1408hrs. It took some time before taxi began - we had to wait for the "follow me" vehicle to escort us. Ahead of us was an Air Costa E-190 (heading to Jaipur). We started taxi at 1415 - there was no waiting, and we turned directly on to Rwy27 at 1420hrs. We were airborne at 1422 hrs - we took off straight to the west, and then turned to south west soon after climbing up. I was on an identification spree - and I was successful spotting my office campus up from air.
Taxiing to Rwy 27 @ Bangalore..
Lifting off from Bangalore...
Somewhere en-route...
Seatbelt sign was turned off at 1432hrs and the trolleys starting rolling out. Since the flight was badly delayed, most people had finished their food from the airport and hardly anybody bought things online. I restricted myself to a glass of water. There was heavy cloud cover for most of the time - and hence there was no spotting outside as well! IndiGo doesn't provide any magazines - all they have is a catalogue on buy-on-board items, called Hello 6E. The catalogue did have some interesting details about IndiGo, including a fair bit of bragging about their on time performance and their mega orders for A320s. The Buy-on-board service was folded up real quick. As the clock ticked closer to 1500, I could see the western coast below - a marvellous scene. I knew we were holding over till the runway opens in Kochi. We were flying over my hometown at this moment - I was again busy trying to identify landmarks below. Landing announcement was made at 1503hrs, and we turned back towards Kochi. What was irritating here was the constant announcements bragging about their commitment to "being on time", when we were heavily delayed already. We turned around, and headed towards the airport - then turned around once again to align to Rwy27 of Kochi. We finally touched down at 1515hrs, and reached our parking stand by 1517hrs.
Hello 6E - The on-board BoB catalogue..
Approaching the western coast..
On the finals to Kochi...
Welcome to Kochi!!
Another Indigo flight had landed right before us (from Mumbai), and a Jet Airways B738 came right behind us (from Mumbai, again). I was out of the aircraft at 1523hrs. Since we parked right in front of the terminal, hence no tarmac coaches were provided. I was shocked at the crowd inside the terminal as I got in - three aircrafts had landed behind each other, and all of them had fairly good loads. The arrival area of the terminal isn't big enough to handle so many movements - and to make things worse, baggage of both the Indigo flights were put on the same belt. It was a bad rush to collect baggage - I remained away till the "Last Bag" signs appeared for the Mumbai flight. Thankfully, my bag was among the first to come among the Bangalore flight baggage. I got my bag at 1531hrs and got out of the airport by 1532 hrs - back into the hot and humid God's own country after almost three months!
After reaching Kochi..
This is what happens when three aircrafts land together..
Epilogue: I am not impressed! An 85-minute delay, and no advance information to passengers. Passengers struck at the terminal during noon hours - no courtesy, not even a word of regret. The airline keeps bragging about on time performance and their commitment to "being on-time" - but absolutely silent and regret free about keeping their passengers waiting for a long time, and then bragging about their so-called commitment. The flight attendants lacked the warmth in service - frowning on passengers who don't buy anything - the very lack of a smile was irritating. The leading lady did her job efficiently, and did show her expertise when dealing with passengers - the other three weren't great.Overall a flight I wouldn't want to remember for long.
Tracking of my flight from Flightradar24.
Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (used on-line check in, and got my boarding pass at the check-in counter)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 0/5 (To hell with the commitment of being on time)
Crew: 3.5/5 (A smile while dealing with passengers will be great)
Catering: Did not use
Overall: 3.5/5 (Okay - I am being a bit generous) 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Flying 'Smart' from Bom-Bay to Bangalore..

The reunion was initially planned to happen in the evening. Hence, it was important that I pick the last flight of the day from Mumbai to Bengaluru. It was also important that the flight had to be within my budget. The last flight was selling at exhorbitant rates, while the one before that had somewhat sane fares. It all finally boiled down to a tight competition between Jet Airways and two departures of Go Air. The flights were at 2100, 2125 and 2145hrs - I picked the last among them. That was Go Air. Now, that meant another opportunity to sample Go Air as well. My only experience with them was in November (read here) - and that was a no-nonsense experience. I was surely looking forward to try them again.

I booked through their site, and pocketed a small cashback for using the services of a third party website as well. Surprisingly, Go Air did not charge for seat selection (except he "preferred seats" at the front) - I opted for #10A while booking. A few days later, I decided to add a Veg Combo Box to the booking as well. I checked in the previous night as well.

July 19, 2015:
The reunion was a grand bash - the time just flew by, and we never realized that we spent close to 6hrs together. By the time I got back to my hotel room, it was 1900hrs. As usual, I did not realize that I was running late - it was 2025 hrs by the time I checked out of my room. I rushed to the reception - sensing my urgency, the lady at the desk first called up the driver of the airport transfer cab and asked him to hurry up, and then went about the billing process. The cab was still on its way from the Airport, and it was 2045hrs by the time it reached the hotel. He confirmed my flight timings and the terminal before he stepped on the gas. I was dropped at Mumbai Airport's Terminal 1A at 2055hrs - exactly 5 minutes to go for closure of the check-in gate. There was a long queue at the entrance to the terminal, and a rude girl with her mom cut across the queue as well. The lady picked up a quarrel with the CISF guard for "checking the documents too slow". The guard kept mumbling as he verified my documents - but that Thank You from my side evoked a nice beautiful smile from him.

I had to rush to the check-in counter now. Terminal 1A handles Go Air and Air India only - and hence, the terminal wasn't very crowded. There was fairly good rush at the check-in counter - just as I reached the counter, staff were calling out for passengers to Bengaluru - we were directed to two dedicated counters for check-in. The agent at the check-in counter verified my identity proof and printed out my boarding pass, and checked in my baggage (2059hrs). I rushed to security check now - only one baggage scanner was functional, and there was a fairly long queue for the same. The scanner was quite quick and hence did not cause much of a delay. Two frisking booths were open, and hence I could finish security check by 2103hrs.
The boarding pass..
The FIDS..
I found the security check very disordered - there were no tokens for the tray that takes the valuables. There was no table for you to repack your hand baggage after scanning as well. There was another CISF checking after security check - the guard here verified if there as a security stamp on the boarding pass, as well as the hand baggage tag. He was also directing passenger towards their respective gates. On looking at my boarding pass (Gate #A16), he said, "aapko dho baar neeche jaana padega" (loosely translated to, 'you'd have to go down two floors'). Yes - this particular gate was on the lowest level. I was a bit happy with that - I somehow like taking the bus to the aircraft than getting through a Jetway - the simple pleasure of seeing the apron while going to the aircraft, and also seeing the aircraft in its entirety while boarding.
On my way to A16..
The area had mostly shut for the day..
Date of Journey: July 19, 2015
Flight No: G8-325 || Seat: 10A
Aircraft type: Airbus 320-200 || Regn: VT-WAM
Sector: BOM-BLR
STD: 2145hrs, ATD: 2141hrs
STA: 2330hrs, ATA: 2336hrs

As I reached the gate, I was quite shocked to see that boarding had already commenced, and there was a very long queue already! I waited for sometime, and then joined the queue. I got into the tarmac coach by 2111hrs. With just around 20 minutes, this was surely my shortest wait at an airport terminal! The rickety and noisy bus got crawling by 2116 hrs - the bus was packed to the brim. The bus ran straight till the end of the terminal building, then took a U turn and traced its way back. The aircraft was actually parked right next to the gate where we boarded the bus! VT-WAM, an Airbus A320-200 delivered to Go Air in August 2010, would be ferrying me to Bangalore. This was to be my first non-sharklet A320 trip in a long time as well.
Boarding in progress...
In the crowded bus to the aircraft...
There was a long queue to get into the aircraft as well - I was stuck on the stairs for quite some time. I got into the aircraft at 2122hrs. People were blocking the aisle as they stowed their baggage on to the overhead bins. The crew kept playing the "please step aside" message over and again. The attendants were seen helping passengers with the hand baggage as well. The seats wore a grey coloured fabric upholstery - the same colour as the dress for the attendants. Interestingly, most of the middle seats were empty on the flight. The last bus came with passengers for these middle seats. Boarding was completed at 2133hrs. Doors were armed at 2135hrs. The welcome messages started pouring in by now. Capt Rajiv Gaur and Capt Bhavin were in the deck, while Dava, Sumit, Anjali and Sandra handled the cabin. The captain came on the PA system and briefed passengers about the flight. We were pushed back at 2141hrs, and then pulled a bit forward. The engines started up even as we were moving forward - the engines made beautiful vortexes below as it powered up. We started Taxiing at 2146hrs. It was a long taxi, as we cut across the long domestic apron, and then roamed around the international apron to join the takeoff queue.
Getting into VT-WAM..
The last bus with passengers...
Taxiing...
I could see an IndiGo ahead of us. We had a long wait near the runway. We turned on to Rwy27 at 2205hrs. The engines powered up almost simulataneously as we began the take-off roll - we were finally airborne at 2206hrs. I was flying out of Mumbai in the dark for the first time - the beautiful city looked resplendent with the lights thrown all around, and the Queen's Necklace taking the cake. We did a sharp left bank, and flew parallel to the city - but the clouds obscured my view for most of the time. The seatbelt signs were turned off at 2211hrs - the cabin lights remained dim, though. Buy-on-board service started soon afterwards. I received my Combo Meal box very soon. The box is served along with a small packet of air.. err! Lays Chips. I was too eager to open the box - inside the box was a Sandwich, a 200ml serving of fruit juice and a piece of marble cake. I asked for a serving of water as well - I feel that should be made without being asked for.
Taking off from Mumbai.. thats the city below...
The Combo meal... and the packet of air.. sorry.. Lays chips!
Inside the box..
I was too hungry since I hadn't taken my Dinner. The sandwich was very soft, and contained a paneer filling. The sauce was perfect on spices and flavour, while the paneer was shredded into small pieces and was very soft. The juice - an brand called "Rush" owned by Coffee Day - was great as well. The Marble cake deserves special mention - it was soft and moist. The sweetness was perfect as well. The Meal combo was quite unlike the bigger "go" sister. I finished my dinner quite quickly - I was sleepy and tired after the long day. I tried remaining awake by reading the Go Air Magazine - there were some good writeups. I couldn't continue for long - and hence decided to doze off for sometime. My co-passenger was busy snoring and did not quite let me sleep.
Tracking my flight on FR24..
I fell asleep sometime in between - and woke up just when the landing announcements came. It was 2304hrs now. The attendant came around and cleared the trash, and checked if the cabin was ready for landing. I dozed off again - this was a very shallow nap. We were already on the finals to land at Bengaluru by now. We touched down at 2330hrs on Rwy27 in Bengaluru. We parked at a remote bay at around 2336hrs. I was quite surprised to see us at a remote bay, since I've mostly seen Go Air only at the jetways. I remained seated till all the people battled their way out of the aircraft - I was out at 2342hrs. I got into the last bus to the terminal, which got me to the terminal by 2353hrs. Interestingly, there was on Air Costa E170 at the jetway - it just came in from Vijayawada. I am sure that was a badly delayed flight - since once of their aircrafts was parked in Bengaluru from the previous day. Baggage was being delivered on Belt #6. Belt 5 & 6 are located inside a glass enclosure - which could be converted to an international section when required. Interestingly, all the 6 bays in Domestic was busy at this time - the baggage area was packed to the core now. People jostled around as usual - and like everytime, my baggage came quickly! I was out of the airport with a minute to spare for midnight.
The parking stands at Bengaluru are dominated by.. you know who... 
Thats VT-WAM after ferrying me to Bengaluru...
Epilogue: This was my second flight with Go Air. The service is no-nonsense - has far fewer announcements compared to the other "Go" Sister. The cabin lights were dimmed and was in perfect situation for people to sleep a bit. The interiors were clean. The seat pocket at my seat was damaged, and was dangling badly. The maintenance wasn't perfect - speaking in strict sense. The service was good - there was only one round of service though. The crew were no-where to be seen after serving order. They came around again only when the landing announcements were made. This smaller "Go" Sister has been quite sluggish in expanding - being stagnant doesn't help a lot. I hope they expand soon. Hope to be served by Go Air again!

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (used on-line check in, and got my boarding pass at the check-in counter)
Cleanliness: 4/5 (the interiors were clean - but maintenance needs to buckle up)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Took off late, landed on time)
Crew: 4/5 (Service could've been better)
Catering: 5/5 (Food was really good)
Overall: 4.5/5 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Flying the new feeling: Vistara to Bom-Bay!

Bombay is always a special place for me. I spent the best decade of my life in the amazing city of Bombay, and its younger cousin sister, Navi Mumbai. The progress from teens to adulthood happened here. I got my driving license in this city, entered into my profession in this city, and what not. There are always fond memories of this marvellous city - despite being hectic and busy, I love this city to no limits. I have not been to Mumbai after 2009 - the last visit in 2009, was too short to be called a "visit" as well. I was waiting for an opportunity to visit Mumbai - and the opportunity came on Facebook one fine evening. A college reunion - our batch was to meet again after 8 long years! No better opportunity that this to head to Mumbai! The first date was a bit of an issue for me - luck favoured me, and the date changed later! I wanted to spend a day for myself in Mumbai, revisit some nostalgia as well.

With this requirement, I looked at various options to head to Mumbai. It so turned that flights were not too expensive compared to buses. I glanced through various options, based on pricing and timings. I had the option of flying out on Friday evening, or on Saturday morning. Friday evening flights were priced out, while Saturday morning flights - a little later morning ones - were well within my range. It finally boiled down to a tie between India's largest airline (in terms of passengers carried) and India's newest Full-Service carrier. The former was cheaper - but consider the added convenience fee, and cost of buying anything on-board, selecting the latter made sense. And it also made sense to select the latter, because I can "fly the new feeling". So Vistara it was!

Booking on the Vistara website was really easy - the booking went through without a glitch, and a very odd looking "e-ticket" message landed in my mailbox. The website did not let me select a seat for some reason. I decided to do an online check-in to get the seat of my choice. The website took me through a long process, with a series of questions, to check-in online. It asked me if I packed my bag myself, and if the bag was in my custody all the time, or if I am carrying somebody's baggage, etc I finished checking in, and got seat #17A - missed getting Seq #1, had to settle with Seq #2. It was then the countdown to the flight...

July 18, 2015:
It was a rather early start to my day - I got up just past 5am, and rushed through with my morning chores. I was all set to leave home by 6.15am. I booked an Uber, which dropped in by 6.30am.  The cab dropped me at Shantinagar bus station by 6.55am - I had a particular bus in mind, and decided to wait for that. It never turned up (it actually left long before I reached there) - and hence got into a Vayu Vajra sometime around 0720 - Vayu Vajras are a bit heavy on the pocket. The bus left me at the airport just past 0800. I had over two hours to go for my flight, and hence spent some time clicking around the terminal. As the clock ticked past 0810, I decided to get into the terminal, check-in my baggage and then roam around freely. The CISF guard at the gate had a smile on seeing my 10 year old photograph on the PAN card, and let me in to the terminal.
The FIDS - showing my flight..
The Vistara Check-in counters
The boarding pass...
I had to figure out where the Vistara counters were - Vistara counters are located right next to the Air India counters, at #75-#78. The counters are manned by AI-SATS employees, in the typical AI-SATS Orange uniforms. A lady at the entry to the check-in queue, welcomed me with a Namaste, Welcome to Vistara address, and led me to the economy check-in queue. I got my boarding pass by 0818 and headed towards security check. I had lots of time to kill, and hence headed to MTC Express for a light breakfast, after security. I figured out this time that it would be better to head to MTC than MTC Express - the former has better choices than the latter. I'd surely try MTC next time. Oh, by the way, MTC is the good old Malgudi Tiffin Centre, who in search of youthfulness renamed themselves. People don't really understand the value of a name like Malgudi - and then try to project themselves as young with gory abbreviations. Whatever... I'd have surely preferred retaining the old world charm, Malgudi, than sounding like Chennai's Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC).
The rebranded Malgudi Expres.. now "MTC Express"
After my breakfast, I headed towards the waiting area near Gate #1 - where one can have a great view of the apron, and the aircrafts clearing the runway and entering the apron. Just as I reached there, I saw Air India's Dreamliner (VT-ANI) exiting the runway - my first sight of a dreamliner in full view. On all the previous occasions, I could catch only glimpses of the dreamliner. When I saw the dreamliner, I remembered that my aircraft should also be around. I quickly hooked on to FR24, and understood that my aircraft (VT-TTF) was on the finals. A minute later, I saw her exiting the runway (0909). And guess what, Air Asia's JRD Tata commemorative jet, VT-JRT, was right behind. That was surely my day! I headed to my gate, since I wanted to know the loads on the inbound. I was quite thrilled to see VT-ANI docked at the next gate as well. The loads in the inbound for my flight seemed good - the aircraft works DEL-BLR-BOM-BLR-DEL - a very relaxed and lazy rotation.
That is VT-TTF (cn:6388, delivered to Vistara in December 2014) taxiing in...
At the gate.. deboarding from the inbound in progress
Date of Journey: July 18, 2015
Flight No: UK-875 || Seat: 17A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-200 || Regn: VT-TTF
Sector: BLR-BOM
STD: 1010hrs, ATD: 0958hrs
STA: 1150hrs, ATA: 1149hrs

Boarding was called at 0930hrs. They created seperate boarding zones by seat numbers and class. Business and Premium Economy passengers could board whenever they liked, while economy boarding was regulated by seat numbers. Initially passengers in the rear rows were called, followed by the forward rows. I passed the gate at 0939 - there were multiple layers of checking on the way to the aircraft. First by the gate agent, then by the CISF guard, then by another Vistara agent, and finally by a Vistara security guard. The boarding pass stub was detached at the third level, while the guard at the fourth level verified whether my hand baggage had a security clearance. After checking, he also wished a great journey. Christina was at the door, who welcomed all passengers with very warmly. Business was absolutely empty, premium economy was 50% full, while economy had only a couple of empty seats.
VT-ANI our neighbour at Bangalore
I took my seat by 0945, and boarding was officially completed by 0950. Ground staff of Vistara quickly performed a headcount. While premium economy passengers received their welcome drink, passengers in Economy were served water in bottles. Door was armed at 0955, and security demonstration began. Christina was the purser. At the deck were Capt Bhagchand and first officer Capt Guru Pratap. There were three other flight attendants, in addition to Christina. I got the name of two - Pushpa and Ruma. We were pushed back at 0958. As we were powering up, an Indigo A320, and Air Asia's VT-JRT went past us towards the runway. We commenced taxi at 1002 hrs - it was a fairly long taxi to Rwy27. We reached the holding point of Rwy27 at 1007hrs. While taxiing, Air Costa's E-190, Air Pegasus ATR-72 landed, while Air Asia's VT-JRT took off. After we reached the holding point, another E-190 of Air Costa landed.
VT-JRT on her take-off roll...
An Air-Costa E-190 touching down at Bangalore
Lifting off from Bangalore...
The "trumpet" interchange on airport road...
We were cleared soon after the Air Costa E-190 touched down. We finally took off at 1009hrs, from Runway #27. It was one sharp climb - we climbed soon, cutting through a fairly thick cloud cover. The seatbelt was turned off at 1012hrs. I was soon looking forward for the famed on-board service of Vistara. The first trolley headed towards Premium economy soon afterwards. Ruma came around with the trolley for economy - she explained the contents of the meal service while taking options from passengers. On offer was Paneer Roll in Veg, and Chicken Nuggets in Non-veg. I was handed over my serving of Paneer Roll along with another bottle of water. In an attempt to distinguish between premium economy and economy, Vistara brought in the concept of Box Meals (not a new concept as such). The differentiation being that premium economy passengers get their meals on a tray, while the economy passengers get them in a box. Cutting the crap short, this is what the box looked like.
The box-in-a-box meal...
Unboxing my meal...
The dessert (L) and Aloo-tikki chaat (R)
The box contained a warm Paneer Roll, an Aloo-Tikki Chat and a dry sweet made of Vermicelli and Almonds. In addition to these, a sachet of dairy whitener and a sachet of sugar, along with plastic cutlery, neatly packed in "eco-friendly" plastic packing was present. The paneer roll, a kathi roll to be technically correct, was made of wheat paratha, with soft and succulent paneer filling inside. The filling was perfectly cooked - they got the spices correct and perfectly cooked. My only grouse was that the paratha was a bit dry and hard (I guess thats due to re-heating). The Aloo-Tikki chat was good - the pattice was soft, and perfectly cooked. The chaat was prepared perfectly. The sweet was a let down - it was too dry. While the sweetness was perfect for me (I prefer less sweet foods), it would surely be a let down for sweet-lovers. As I finished my meal, the attendant came around to collect the box and gave the option of choosing a hot beverage - I took a coffee. The brew was served in a disposable paper cup - that was one severe let down. Differentiation shouldn't necessarily mean degrading a class to highlight the other!
The coffee...
The cabin as it was being prepared for landing..
The attendants gave out another serving of water when they came around to clear thrash. We hit a pocket of turbulence sometime in between, and the seatbelt signs came on at 1040hrs - it was turned off at 1047hrs. Sometime around 1110hrs, the seatbelt sign came on again, followed by the routine landing announcement. A few minutes later, the commander came on the PA and announced that we would be delayed by 10 minutes due to air traffic congestion. We began drawing patters in the sky now - a tour of Navi Mumbai and Karjat areas were given. However, most of the time, heavy cloud cover meant there was no visibility and we kept jerking around. Soon, the "crew to stations" call came and we were soon descending - Vashi came into sight, followed by the Vashi bridge. I was super excited by now, we soon descended past Ghatkopar, and flew over Dharavi as we began our final approach to Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. We finally touched down on Rwy27, at 1142hrs.
On the landing finals...
Touchdown.. full reversers applied..
We had a long taxi towards the all new Terminal-2 aka T2. We cut across the Domestic apron, then the alternate runway (14-32) and crawled towards the International apron. We finally parked at a really remote corner of Terminal-2 at 1149hrs. There were no other aircrafts in sight (except a Qatar freighter) - I believe this corner is reserved for Vistara, who happen to be the sole domestic operator to use Terminal-2. I got off the plane 1156hrs. I walked out of the aircraft into a seriously amazing terminal - a very well setup terminal. The baggage reclaim area of Terminal-2 was just amazing - the roof panels, colour combinations, carpeted floor all were like no-other in India. I must say, GVK, has done a seriously great job with re-building of T2. The baggage took quite some time to come - I got my bags by 1206hrs. It was a fairly long walk out of the terminal - the entire area is divided into a dedicated domestic zone. I walked out of the terminal to a very humid Mumbai - back to Mumbai after 6 long years!
The Economy Cabin, after all deboarded...
The baggage reclaim area...
Epilogue: Vistara is a new full-service carrier owned by a JV of TATA Sons with Singapore Airlines. I must congratulate Vistara for the good show they've been able to put up on the customer front. The flight attendants really personalised their attention - to the extent of helping a couple of old passengers walk with support or answering calls quickly. The annoying factor was the tight seat pitch - It was really tight. The boxed meal is a great concept, thinking of it from a logistics point of view - but its a messy concept from the passenger's point. The meal selection was awesome - finger licking delicious to be honest. The service was great. But then, Vistara hasn't been doing great on the occupancy side - their three class concept hasn't really succeeded. Its a good concept - but I am not sure if the present difference between fares between Economy and Premium Economy is worth the extra features. Time will tell! I reserve my conclusion till I travel with them again.
The tracking of my flight from FR24...
Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (used on-line check in, and got my boarding pass at the check-in counter)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Left early, landed before time)
Crew: 5/5 (I'd want to give them more)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome catering!)
Overall: 5/5