Friday, October 14, 2016

iFly 103: Pune to Bengaluru

I didn't have too many requirements. I had to attend the conference, make a quick visit to Shirdi, and fly back home at convenience. I selected the day for my Shirdi visit based on flight availability, and of course, the budget. After a lot of deliberations, considerations and contemplations, I finalised the visit to Shirdi on a Monday. Flights for Monday evening were fairly cheap, and Indigo's new series of late night flights were adding to the convenience. I booked the first of the two late night departure from Pune - this gave me ample time to travel from Shirdi and connect to my flight.

October 03, 2016:
It was 1952hrs when I got off the Volvo from Shirdi. The bus driver dropped me a little after Viman Nagar (GMaps says the place is called Shastri nagar chowk). It was a confusing signal - I failed to spot a pedestian crossing and ended up jaywalking across in typical Indian style. Just as I began my attempt to cross, the airport bus went past the other side of the road. I wanted to try them - but the next bus was only after an hour! I tried hunting for autos, but no empty autos turned up. I tried the app based taxis, but none were available - can't blame, it was a Monday evening! I slowly walked in the direction of the airport - while refreshing the apps and checking for cabs. A little in to the walk, and empty auto turned up, who dropped me at the airport by about 2005hrs.

The entry to the terminal was quite free - just a minor delay due to someone not having his identity card in original. I headed to the baggage scanners - but they asked me to wait for a while since the check-in for my flight wasn't open yet. I utilized this opportunity to rearrange my bags a bit, so that the check-in bag was a little lighter. I got my bag scanned by 2020hrs and walked towards Check-in. I met someone known at the airport and spent some time chatting. Check-in was quite deserted then. I checked in by 2034hrs and headed to security check. My phone was running low on battery, and I rather focused on getting to a charging point as quick as possible - and quite amusingly. security check was quick, and I got into the security hold by 2038hrs.
The boarding card..
We were boarding from the gate on the lower floor itself, and this saved passengers from the trouble of having to go up, and then walk down in case of non-jetway boarding. I was successful in finding a seat near a working power plug - so the next few minutes were spent charging the phone. In the meantime, I tuned in to FR24 to find where the inbound bird was - she was on her way from Bengaluru already then. I was quite hungry already and wanted to have something for my dinner - I had pre-ordered a meal on the flight and thought of taking something light. Pune is quite a dumb airport when it comes to eateries or shopping. And, like every AAI run airport, stuff are terribly overpriced as well. I had to take something, and just headed to the upper level to have something light. When I was having my snack, the IndiGirl started announcing the arrival of the aircraft from Bengaluru (2138hrs), and added that the same aircraft would operate back as 6E103 to Bengaluru - needless to say, a loonngg queue had already formed!
VT-INZ as she came down to PNQ for me..
Date of Journey: September 30, 2016
Flight No: 6E103 || Seat: 21A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-232 || Regn: VT-INZ
Sector: PNQ-BLR
STD: 2215hrs, ATD: 2210hrs
STA: 2340hrs, ATA: 2338hrs

The first boarding call was made at 2143hrs - a long queue snaked around the seating area already. I did not bother joining the queue until the line became short. I remained seated until about 2150hrs - I joined the tail end of the line as the length shortened. The agent at the gate kept requesting passengers to display their baggage tags to the security personnel - but Indian habits die hard, and nobody really bothered and the queue moved really slow. The apron was really busy at this time - no less than 4 aircrafts jostled for space, and two more were inbound! I got into the aircraft by 2155hrs - to a warm welcome by Nichole, who was at the aft entry. I was on board a 7.4 year old Airbus A320 delivered mint-fresh to IndiGo in 2009, and registered VT-INZ. She was still fresh inside - amazing maintenance, I must admit. Getting to my seat was easy, since my co-passengers were yet to be seated. Boarding was completed by 2201hrs - the pre-departure paper works took some more time. The doors were armed at 2210hrs and we were pushed back at 2211hrs.

In the deck were two senior captains - Capt Thomas and Capt Vikram, while the cabin crew were Vimala (chief), Della, Sharon and Nichole. While Vimala was quite hurried and she spoke as if the time she took to make announcements were payable, the rest of the cabin crew did their job with a nice smile and did have the warmth of service. We remained put on the apron for some more time - while the safety demonstration was completed. We taxied out at 2216hrs - it was a long taxi for us, as we headed towards Runway 28. It took us 6 minutes to get to the holding point of Rwy28. We didn't have to hold - directly turned on to the active. We were airborne at 2223hrs. We took off into low flying clouds, towards the west, before turning South East. The seatbelt signs were turned off by 2226hrs. Another round of rushed commentary by Vimala followed, and the meal carts were pulled out.
Thats the stub on my boarding card, that entitles me to select one food item and a beverage of my choice.. 
I was quite confused if I should try their hot meals - ready in 8 minutes stuff, or stick to the tried and tested sub. While checking the menu, I found some new additions - including a tortilla wrap, oats products, some cookies among others. Since I wasn't confident enough to try a hot in 8 minute product, I chose the tortilla wrap. I wanted to try a particular beverage listed on the menu - but it wasn't available, and I ended up taking an Aamras. The tortilla wrap was called - Paneer Khurchan in soft spinach tortilla wrap - it had a rich paneer (cottage cheese) and onion-bell pepper filling prepared in Mayonnaise in a spinach coloured wheat based tortilla wrap. The wrap was slightly soggy - could be due to the storage conditions - but tasted really awesome. Details of the manufacturer mentioned on the label made it all clear - this was produced by Taj-SATS, which is beyond doubt, the best air kitchens in India.
The "meal" combo..
The tortilla wrap..
I enjoyed the meal - the wrap had a whole lot of paneer - atleast one for every bite. This meal was perhaps quite value for money. The Aamras was from Paper Boat - the standard stuff. Went quite well with the slightly hot wrap. I enjoyed a meal on IndiGo the first time ever. The FAs did a great job by being low on their voices as they hawked their products on board. There were absolutely no announcements during the flight (except the seatbelt sign and landing announcements). We ran into a fairly severe turbulence as we were approaching Bengaluru - the seatbelt sign came on (2319hrs) a couple of minutes after we hit the turbulence. A quick thrash clearance run was made after that, and the cabin was secured for landing. The crew to stations call came in by 2325hrs - we were still about to align to the ILS path then. We landed at 2334hrs - I really couldn't recognise the moment we touched down - it was perhaps the smoothest landing I've had ever. The reversers were deployed even as the nose was yet to touch down followed by a very soft braking. We docked at a contact stand by 2338hrs.
We parked next to this "new" bird for AirAsia - VT-PNQ at BLR ;)
The aircraft was to continue to Trivandrum. Quite unusually, only the forward exit was used. I've often seen IndiGo using both exits even when they are at contact stands - probably, because we were before time, they didn't bother about the aft exits. People mobbed the aisle as if they were running for an olympic gold - I stayed on my seat for quite some more time. I got off the aircraft only by 2349hrs - among the last to get off the aircraft. I found a few passengers remaining in the aircraft, continuing to Trivandrum. IndiGo security staff checked boarding cards of passengers deplaning there to ensure that only people ticketed to Bangalore got off here. I got my bag by 2354hrs and was out of the airport in another minute on so. It was then a long walk to the Uber Zone to get my cab to go home.

Check-in: 5/5 (Did Online Check-in. Good counter experience)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Awesome crew, by previous IndiGo experiences)
Catering: 4.85/5 (Great food, fairly good choices as well)
Overall: 4.95/5 (I really enjoyed this one)

A great flight with IndiGo this time. I really appreciate the crew on iFly 103 for their great job that day. They put out some great service - not the usual mechanical IndiGo service. They had the smile and the warmth in service. The leading lady was a bit too hurried - she rushed through announcements, service and even thrash clearance. The best landing I've ever had - all thanks to the senior crew up at the front office. Great flight :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The return from Shirdi: Kadamba Volvo!


What was that?

People staying in Bangalore would be quite aware of the word Kadamba - for a chain of hotels that operate at KSRTC/BMTC bus stations across Bangalore. For the bus enthusiasts, in the know, Kadamba is Goa's state run transport provider.

Whats that got to do with my trip?

A few days before my trip to Shirdi, a casual message on a WhatsApp group popped up with pics of a white swede with bold stickers reading Kadamba. Oh yeah! The swede I am talking about was a face-lifted Volvo B7R. Those pictures led me to search more about Kadamba's Volvo service to Shirdi. I understood they operate a Shirdi-Pune-Margao service, that departs from Shirdi around 1430hrs. They had online reservation for end-to-end passengers and for passengers ex-Pune to Goa. I was always aware of the existence of this service, but never thought I could use them to ex-Shirdi. The pics were too inviting that I decided to take a plunge.

October 03, 2016:
After a heart-filling darshan at Sai Baba's samadhi, I headed back to my hotel room to pick-up my camera. I headed straight to the MSRTC bus station to look at back-up options. I really did not fancy changing buses at Ahmednagar - but I kept that was a back-up option. I also took a note of timings of the non-stop Ordinary buses that MSRTC operates to Pune. After this, I head out in search of Kadamba's parking location. I had an idea where they park, but I couldn't find the bus there. A quick search on RedBus told me the bus was yet to arrive (based on the scheduled arrival time). As I roamed around the area, I saw a white swede approaching the parking yard at a fairly good pace - yes, that was Kadamba's swede! I had a word with their crew to confirm their pick-up timing and place.

I checked out of my room, headed to the restaurant for lunch and started my long walk to Kadamba's pick-up point, Hotel Holiday Park. On my way, I reconfirmed the availability of my Plan-B (the Pune non-stop bus). The bus was brought out of the parking lot exactly at 1400hrs. The bus, MH-07-C-9954, looked resplendent - the new face, the white colour, accentuated curves all add to the overall beauty of the beast. I am not sure if somebody noticed the irony. The bus is operated by the state transport undertaking of Goa, but bears a Maharashtra registration. The bus also operates on a Tourist permit. I was told the bus is owned by Konduskar, a prominent Maharashtra based travel operator, and operates on lease with Kadamba Transport Corporation Limited of Goa.
The bus - MH-07-C-9954, when it arrived from Goa.
I had to wait for sometime, because, curiously, the bus doesn't have an onboard conductor! The bus had two drivers, who were the staff of the operator, and one person in Kadamba uniform - who acted as the conductor, but does not sell tickets on board. The tickets are sold by the travel agent who handles the bus out of Shirdi. I waited outside the bus for sometime - seeing me stand under the sun, the crew called me in, and let me take a seat inside till the agent comes. The engine was running and the AC was left on. The agent appeared about 5 minutes before departure - he collected the money from me, He checked the other seats and finally signalled departure.

We started off from Shirdi at 1431hrs. The interior quality appeared a notch above the older variants. Unlike the B9Rs, there is no major improvement in the interiors (in appearance) - just the addition of the hazard hooter indicated this was a newer vehicle. The cabin had a lot of changes - the engine gear lever arrangement was changed, and the instrument panel was new. Roads were in terrible shape and we made quite slow progress for some time. The AC was in full flow. No movies were played - although there were stickers about a WiFi based entertainment system - but that didn't seem to work. The mobile charger points weren't switched on either. It began raining a little after we started from Shirdi. I dozed off for some time, en route. I woke up when we stopped at some place - we were at Tarakpur, and the time was 1619hrs. Less than two hours for this distance - despite bad roads.
The refreshed cabin..
The halt was just momentary - enough for the crew to check if there were any pick-ups. We passed by Maliwada Swastik Bus Station around 1629hrs. Rain had taken a break then - it just began pouring down as the bus left Ahmednagar. The driver broke loose after Ahmednagar - picked pace in no time. I was quite impressed by his driving skills - he picks pace a little slow but maintains constant speeds. Gear shifts were soft and at the right rpm bands. He wasn't in for drag races, but maintained good pace, overall. It was still raining. We pulled into to Smilestone Motel for a break, at around 1654hrs. It was still raining - pulling out the umbrella was unavoidable this time. I had a very quick break, and was back at the bus capturing the beauty of the facelift Volvo 9400.

I had a word with the driver - he claims the newer variants give better mileage and the gearing was more comfortable. He expressed some apprehensions about the body quality, though. We started off from there at 1720hrs. An MSRTC Shivneri was giving us company at the motel. The driver meant business soon after he was back on the highway. Speeds in the range of 90~95kmph was maintained most of the time. The bus seemed to have regular passengers - most of the passengers in the bus knew the crew. Speaking of passengers, we had hardly over 10 passengers on board the 45 seater bus. We reached Ranjangaon by around 1800hrs. Traffic build up began from here. The progress after Ranjangaon was painful - we spent most of the time standing still in traffic.
The Kadamba, with a battered and bruised Shivneri.. 
The driver had bursts of speed everytime he had an opportunity - but the opportunities were far and few, though. I had a little bit of tension building up, since I did not end up missing my flight. I had lots of time to spare though - the flight was only at 2215hrs. I kept myself glued to GMaps to identify the location where I should be getting off the bus. I decided to get off at Viman Nagar and hire a vehicle from there to the airport. The driver ended up missing the bus stop (there was heavy traffic, and there was no way he could pull to the left for me) and dropped me a little after Viman Nagar at 1952hrs - 5 hours and 21 minutes after we started from Shirdi. Had not for the traffic after Ranjangaon, I am sure the bus would've dropped me at Viman Nagar well before 1900hrs.

The bus, MH-07-C-9954, had clocked a little over 1.79lakh kms. The bus was clean inside out (outside only when departing - its impossible to keep them clean when it rains). The interiors were fresh. The crew were quite good - the drivers were not in uniform though. The driving was very good - keeping constant pace on the highway, no overspeeding or hard braking on the way. No waste of time either - they did not hawk for passengers, nor pick-up wayside passengers. I am still baffled why they do not sell tickets on board, though - this would increase the overall revenues. I am sure a lot of Shirdi-Pune passengers would prefer this bus if they picked up passengers at the bus station and sold tickets on board.

Blanket: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not switched on.
Entertainment: None.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Cheaper than other operators, Fairly good timings
Cons: No ticket issued, no amenities 

Will I take this service again? Its a great option to return from Shirdi. Absolutely Recommended!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Shivneri Scania & my trip to Shirdi!

I had to go to Shirdi.

But I didn't have a ticket!

I briefly romanced the idea of taking a train - but then the timings wouldn't work. Then some private operators, but that didn't fit either. I fell back on MSRTC - browsed their website looking at options. Finally, I decided to keep the options open. The conference that I was attending was to go on till about 2pm. I had to factor in the traveling time from the venue, near Chinchwad, to Shivaji nagar bus station as well. With all these in mind, I decided to head to the bus station and then decide.

October 02, 2016:
It was a Sunday afternoon - but the traffic on the road was high for a weekend. There were some gridlocks along the way. My cab driver dropped me at Shivajinagar bus station by around 1540hrs. My bag was quite heavy and I was a bit confused about having a break journey or heading straight to Shirdi. Just as I entered the bus station, I saw a banner announcing a non-stop service to Shirdi. I thought of trying this - but the service was an ordinary class service. The timings they put up seemed too ambitious to be true.

I stood at the bus station fully confused about what I should do. There was one bus of Madhya Pradesh Parivahan heading to Indore, via Shirdi. I thought for a couple of minutes if I should try that. While waiting their confused about what to do, came in the Swedish Griffin! The blue coloured beast parked herself at a Platform at the corner of the bus station, with her LED boards screaming "Pune to Aurangabad". My brain went into a convulsion - the direct Shirdi bus(es) on one side and this one on the other. If I took the griffin, I'd have to change buses at Ahmednagar - not really something I'd want to do with heavy baggage. But then, I was surely inclined to try the griffin.
The bus - MH06-S-9194
Taking a decision was tough - but then, When the going gets tough, the tough get going..

I shut off my thoughts about the further journey, and just headed to the Shivneri ticket counter. Shivneri buses generally do not have conductors - one should either reserve, or buy a ticket from the ground staff. I got a ticket from the counter next to the platform - the ticket charge was Rs. 350, and it mentioned my seat number as #12. A copy of Hindusthan Times newspaper and a 300ml water bottle was handed out along with the ticket. I got into the bus and was quite excited to see I had a window seat. I had to push my bag into the overhead luggage rack. The engine was already running, and the AC was on.
The ticket issued at the counter. It has the bus number, departure time, seat number and fare.
The seating was good. The gangway was narrow, very narrow. The high window line felt a little claustrophobic - its a good place to rest your hand, though. We started at 1605 - 5 minutes behind schedule. It was a tough job to reverse out of the platform - the place was all chocked with buses all around. A couple of conductors (of other buses) helped the sole crew in this bus - with all their help, we moved out of the bay by around 1612hrs. It was 1616hrs by the time we exited the bus station. At the time of final sign off by the counter guy, we had 35 pax on board - 7 to Ahmednagar and the rest to Aurangabad. The driver meant business as he picked pace on city roads. Even though it was a Sunday, the traffic was fairly on the higher side.

I am not conversant with the roads of Pune - so no comments on what route he took. We passed Yerwada at 1634hrs - I am not sure if there is a pick-up point there - but he did stop near a bus stop and then picked pace. The TV wasn't switched on - so no entertainment was available on board. The power plug was switched off as well. While sitting bored, I saw a sticker on the seat next to me - about a wifi based entertainment system. I tried this out on my phone. It did not force me to install any app - just connect to their wifi network, use the system browser to open their website, and watch whatever content you feel like watching. There were lots of Marathi shows, and a few Hindi movies. I selected a movie that I hadn't seen before - It was probably the best onboard entertainment I've ever experienced.
The entertainment system..
I was hooked on to the movie that I was watching and did not really look out - it was dark already and was pouring for most of the distance as well. The driver was cautious, and kept speeds in the range of 75~80kmph all the time. The ride wasn't very comfortable - the suspension was on the tighter side, and braking was scary at times. I did not feel the effect of a retarder anytime - looked like the driver mostly used only the service brakes. Since I was in the front portion, can't really talk about noise insulation, or body roll. The engine appeared a little noisy to me. The AC was really powerful - I kept switching off the vents very often. The fittings weren't great - there was a lot of leakage in cooled air - I was getting cold air even after closing both the vents above my head.

The bus pulled in for a break at Smile Stone Motel, at Palwe, between Shirur and Ahmednagar, sometime around 1834hrs. I was quite hungry and just ran into the hotel to have some food. I was quite eager to have some  Pav Bhaji and just did that. I had my food real quick and then came back to the bus. It was drizzling then - but wanted to talk to the driver before I got in. Soon after he came, I enquired about ways to get to Shirdi - he said getting a bus from Swastik bus station (in Ahmednagar) was easy and I need not be worried about crowd since it was quite late for crowd already. I was a bit relieved on hearing this. We started from there around 1859hrs - rain thickened now. It was lashing on the bus, and I was worried seeing this.

The rain strengthened as we proceeded towards Ahmednagar. Since I was going to the place at night, I had to keep the GPS on to tell me the whereabouts. We pulled into the Swastik Bus Station, in Ahmednagar Maliwada at 1925hrs. It was still raining hard, and I was looking confused at the prospect of getting out of the bus into rain, with all the baggage. But thankfully, there was an extended shelter at the place the bus stopped - I could get into that without getting wet. I moved a little to the side, and saw a bus to Shirdi parked beside!

Remarks: The bus, MH-06-S-9491, of Shivajinagar Pune depot had clocked a little over 1.07 lakh kms on the clock. The bus was dirty on the outside - can't blame since its been raining quite heavily, and the bus had just arrived from Aurangabad amidst heavy showers. The interiors were fairly clean - there were no carpets inside - the ensured the gangway was dusty. The overall maintenance seemed very good - no scratches or dents on the body. The driver seemed well-versed with the operations of the bus - except that he did not seem to like using the Retarder. The ride was on the stiffer side, and the braking was a bit nervous. I loved every bit of the WiFi based entertainment system - I only wished the power plugs were switched on as well.

Blanket: No
Water: Yes (300ml bottle)
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not switched on.
Entertainment: WiFi based entertainment available.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Multi departures (Frequency), easy availability, good driving
Cons: Fares pretty high, braking was a bit nervous

Will I take this service again? Lovely service. Prefer them if you are headed to Aurangabad.

The Tailpiece: The ride to Shirdi from Nagar!
Ahmednagar to Shirdi for Rs. 96. 
I rushed to that bus - which was actually ahead of my bus for quite some time. It had a "Pune -> Pachora" board - I asked the driver if they go to Shirdi. I took a seat when he replied affirmative. I was seated in the rear half of the bus, beyond the rear axle. We started from Ahmednagar around 1930hrs. The bus was MH-20-BL-3376, from Pachora depot. The ordinary buses of MSRTC have a rather lavish 2+2 seating, with wide seats and good leg room. We went inside the Maliwada central bus station for the customary entry (entry on the log sheet) and headed out in no time. The driver was fast from the word go. He never bothered potholes - just went over them. It was pouring cats and dogs outside - and none of the windows would close fully. So cold air mixed with water kept lashing inside. There were hardly any stops on the way - all the small towns/villages were bypassed. The only bus station we entered was Rahuri - at 2039hrs. Just a momentary halt - giving just enough time for the conductor to run out, get the log sheet entry done and return. The high speed run continued. My GPS recorded speeds in the range of 85kmph most of the time during the run. I was dropped at Shirdi by 2135hrs. It was a 2h05m ride for just over 90kms - the ticket cost me Rs. 96. It was this 2 hours ride I enjoyed a lot - the typical MSRTC styled driving.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Konnect to Pune!

I had done this circuit last year - the Pune-Shirdi circuit. Even not being a religious person, I did feel I must go back to Shirdi once again. I had a great darshan last year - and gave me a lot of peace. Its about time, I repeated. I tried working out this trip multiple times - a lot of plans made and discarded. My turn to go back to baba came soon. I had to attend a conference in Pune - the program was over a weekend. I could make a head out to Shirdi from there as well. Since the conference was spread over the weekend - on a Saturday and a Sunday, I had the choice of visiting Shirdi either on Friday or Monday. A quick look at ticket availability made my decision making easier. I decided to do it on a Monday.

Hunting for tickets for the outbound was a bit tricky. I was inclined to take a bus at the beginning - kept looking at different options, but never made a decision. Then the search turned towards flights - OTAs gave out some awesome rates. I wasn't really sure of booking - since I wasn't really sure if I'd make it to the event. I kept procrastinating my booking - until I realised that the fares for the flight I was looking at remained stable over the two days that I took to make a decision. Being a staunch believer in omen, I felt this was an indication. The flight was 9W7051 - a Jet Airways flight, but operated by JetKonnect, aka the good ol' Air Sahara! I booked the ticketing using the Jet Airways mobile website - only to pocket a small discount that negated the convenience fee.

September 30, 2016:
Like everytime I travel, I had a sleepless night before the journey. I was drowsy through the day in my office. I was quite excited about the travel, and literally ran out of my office at the stroke of 4. I had some quick work at Shantinagar, and decided to take a cab to reach there. The cabbie dropped me at Shantinagar by around 1645 - I was done with my job and was back at the bus station by around 1710. I had spotted a KSRTC FlyBus to the airport at these times - and decided to wait for sometime to see if it operated. I left atleast three BMTC Volvos to the airport during this period. The FlyBus turned up around 1725. FlyBus is a brand of buses operated by KSRTC to Bangalore International Airport. These buses initially offered live TV, onboard pantry and restrooms - a premium offering that operated point-to-point from Bengaluru Airport to Mysore. The bus started off from Shantinagar around 1730, and the driver kept lugging (typical KSRTC style of driving) right from the beginning.
The "FlyBus" that took me to the airport
I was the sole passenger on board the bus - there were two off-duty crew as well, for some distance. The bus made it to the airport by around 1850hrs. I still had another 25 minutes to go for check-in to open. I headed to one of the many kerb side outlets to have some food - I was of the expectation that my flight being a dinner time flight, I'd get some good food. I still opted to have something semi-heavy. After the quick snack, I headed towards the terminal entry gates - which were crowded. It took about 5 minutes to get into the terminal, and it was a long walk to the Jet Airways check-in gates. Quite unusually, check-in was crowded, and the queue moved very slow. I realised later that out of the 12 counters Jet had, only 4 were opened for economy class passengers! That is not done Jet!
Slow moving, crowded, check-in @ BLR
Date of Journey: September 30, 2016
Flight No: 9W7051 (S24495) || Seat: 40A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-800 (WL) || Regn: VT-JLF
Sector: BLR-PNQ
STD: 2110hrs, ATD: 2102hrs
STA: 2235hrs, ATA: 2215hrs
The boarding pass - which still says JetKonnect
I got my boarding pass by 1926 and moved towards security check. I had web-checked in, but did not want to use the kiosk, and then queue-up for baggage drop. I opted for the routine check-in drama. Security check was an even bigger mess. It looked like the entire city was traveling out of town that weekend! The queues were long, and a lot of bags were pulled out for re-scanning, delaying the entire process. For some reason, all scanning machines weren't on either. I got past Security by 1941hrs. My flight was boarding from Gate #16, which is the last of the contact gates used for domestic operations. In fact, Gate 15 & 16 are located inside an enclosure which helps it being converted to international gates if needed. There were lots of empty seats around the gate - I found one near a set of charging points and settled down. But, Alas! The Charging points weren't working! Since I wanted to charge my phone, I pulled out my laptop and connected the phone to it - since the laptop was on and running, I had to do something - the best thing to do was type down this report! I just did that!

While at it, I thought it would be wise to find which bird would take me out, and where she was - I just opened Flightradar24 and searched for my flight number - it predicted VT-JLF to be doing the honours and showed the flight was already in Bengaluru! I raised my head a little, and peeped out of the glass facade on the right - A Boeing birdie with "LF" written above the cockpit windows had just docked and the jetways were being attached! I continued working on my laptop. The first boarding call was made at 2020hrs. Jet had enforced a zonewise boarding for domestic passengers. Since I was seated in Zone-4, I had to join the boarding queue soon. I passed the boarding gate by 2023hrs and was inside the aircraft by 2024hrs. Boarding was very slow - boarding had started really early for this flight, I guess passengers were still coming in. The wait inside was quite painful - I hate waiting once I am inside (which is why I am often the last to board), and two the aroma of food being heated in the oven was too strong to bear!
Our neighbours @ BLR
We were at the last contact gate used for domestic flights - next to us were international flights - Srilankan A320 and Etihad A320 were in sight - beyond them was an Emirates B777. Our boarding completed by 2058hrs and doors were armed by 2101hrs. By now the welcome announcements were being played - Captain SS Khosa was flying us to Pune. Cabin crew were mostly males, with just one female FA. We were pushed back at 2102hrs, about 8 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Taxi started a little late, at 2107hrs. Since we were at the end of the apron, we made quick progress towards the runway - we had to hold for sometime before entering the runway. We were at the holding point on Taxiway Bravo of Runway 27 until about 2113 - a SpiceJet Q400 landed and a Vistara A320 took off in the meanwhile. We entered the active runway through Bravo and took off at 2114hrs. We climbed towards West quite fast and turned right to head north-west towards Pune. Seatbelt signs were turn off at 2119hrs. The trolleys came out fast.
The meal..
I was quite hungry by now and actually looked forward to some good food - the aroma of the food being heated acted as an appetizer and added to my hunger. The trolley came closer - "Veg or Non-veg sir" went the question to the passenger ahead of me. My heart sank as I saw the small packets containing rolls were doled out! I got my roll right after - it was over-heated just like it was the last time. The service was very slow. I was quite disappointed seeing the tray containing a small roll, a chocolate (the cheapest version of Cadbury Perk), the beverage kit, imli candy and a small serving of water. No! No Jet! This is NOT just done! Unlike the last time, the roll tasted a little better - or may be that I was drop dead hungry. It was overheated and I almost ended up scalding by upper palate. The seatbelt signs were turned back on by 2147 due to bad weather - the crew suspended service for sometime. Beverage service was suspended midway, before being resumed again. The tea that I got tasted good when I took it without the dairy whitener - and tasted quite awkward after I added the whitener. The seat belt sign kept coming on again and again - before remaining stable, on, at 2158hrs.
The roll..
The ride was quite bumpy as well - lots of turbulence en route. It seemed Pune was getting a lot of rain - the approach to Pune was amidst a lot of clouds. The crew to stations call came by 2206hrs as we were lining up to land. We touched down on Rwy28 at 2212hrs, vacated the runway and docked at a remote stand by 2215hrs. This landing was perhaps the hardest landing I've experienced in recent times - braking was real hard, hard to the extent that I almost hit on the seat ahead of mine. Then began a very long wait. The stairs for the forward exit came a couple of minutes after the engine was shut down - the one for the aft exit took much longer. Stairs for the aft exit came by around 2222hrs - the aisle was really crowded by now. I got off the aircraft by around 2226hrs - it was a very long walk to get to the terminal. It took even more time for the baggage to arrive. While I waited for my bag, my cab driver called up and confirmed that he was at the parking lot, and requested that I call him as soon as I come out of the terminal. My bag came by 2240hrs - almost half an hour after we landed! The airport was very busy - no less than 5 aircrafts were on the apron then.

Check-in: 2.5/5 (Did Online Check-in. Terrible counter experience)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends - but poor ground handling at PNQ)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 2.5/5 (Wrong choice for a dinner flight)
Overall: 3.75/5 (Could've done much much better)
Tracking from FR24
A big let down by Jet this time. Poor check-in experience (too less counters), bad choice of food for a flight flying around dinner time, overheated food, terrible ground handling, too long wait for baggage to appear. Less said the better. Jet seems to be shooting on its own foot - while it proudly keeps saying its a Full Service airline, the service is hardly "full". A 5 rupee chocolate being passed off as a dessert is not acceptable by any stretch of imagination. They've made large scale dilutions to their frequent flyer program as well. The Konnect ghost continues to linger - the ticket reads 9W7051, while the the FIDS at the airport says its S24495. The crew were good - appreciable good service from their end. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The exam hall!

Examinations! They are a necessary evil. An examination is an important tool for a teacher to identify if his classes were useful to his/her students.

Examinations are hated the most during student life. A recent WhatsApp forward attributed examinations to a gentleman Mr Henry Mishel (Henry Fischel in some forwards) - which I am sure is wrong. Some websites claim that examinations originated sometime in the 7th century in China.

We teachers love examinations (pun, obviously, intended). I find examinations the most stressful period in my profession - I've had sleepless nights wondering how my students would perform, and been more anxious (perhaps!) that my students when their results are declared. The moment I get that bundle of paper for valuation, I make it a point to pull out two papers from the stack - the best performer and the worst performer. This generally gives me an idea of how the paper had been.

Another stressful job every teacher goes through is Invigilation - I thought this was the best thing to do when I was a student - do nothing, just keep roaming around the class, staring at times at students who try to copy, eat and drink in the class while the students sweat out. I thought otherwise as soon as I reached the other side of the coin. I always find invigilation the most stressful part of the teaching profession - three hours of solitary confinement (of course, there are the students), with nothing, I repeat - nothing, to do.

But then things are all not that scary out there! You have the free entertainment in these exam halls - amusing characters who keep us entertained throughout the duration of the examination. Lets get introduced to some of these characters -

The stargrazers!
I love 'em! They keep looking at the roof, the floor, the benches, at the invigilator, everywhere! They look to the roof in anticipation that someone would project the answers on the roof!

The sleeping beauties!
They sleep! They just sleep! They sleep as if they couldn't sleep at home. They are the most harmless creatures in an exam hall!

The peeping toms!
No.. No.. don't get them wrong! They just try to sneak out answers from answer sheets around them. Peeping is no simple task you see! They need to concentrate on the movements of the invigilator, the guys around, and at the same time, find out the answer they need!

The copy cats!
These are the creatures I hate the most! I hate dishonesty! These people just copy!

The scaremongers!
I love these people too! They scare the daylights out of their classmates! They write as if its the end of world in a while. They take additional sheets and keep fighting with their pens till the bell rings, and give us the opportunity to snatch the papers from them.

The last minuters!
These are an interesting set of characters in the classroom! They relax for most of the time in the class room. As the end of time warnings are made - generally about 15-30 minutes before the examination ends, these people come out of their slumber, and begin a war with their papers. They too scare their classmates with the hurry and pressure they put up as the clock ticks!

The late comers!
They are everywhere! They turn up late for the examination - then blame traffic (which is aplenty in Bangalore) for their delay and put up a sorry face. They grin after they become successful in conning the invigilator to find their way into the exam hall. They'd turn up late the next day as well!

The bird watchers!
They appear for examinations only to watch birds! They'd been looking out of the windows most of the time - they are a bit different from Stargrazers, though.

I am sure there are more characters in exam halls. Do comment about your experiences in exam halls, and what character where you the last time :)