Sunday, March 12, 2017

Thrissur to Bengaluru in KSRTC Ambaari Sleeper

It is very rarely that I go on a travel without a return ticket. I did that with confidence since I was traveling on a weekday, that too on a Wednesday. 

March 01, 2017:
I was done with my work by around 0930hrs, and then went in for a fairly heavy breakfast. I had some more work at my hometown, and hence returning to Bengaluru before evening was out of question. I decided to take a Sleeper bus this time, and checked the usual options on RedBus. All of a sudden, I thought to try the KSRTC Ambari Sleeper. I wanted to check the bus once before I booked the ticket. I walked down to their parking in Thrissur to check the bus, and found a fairly new bus there. I booked a ticket at KSRTC's own reservation counter at Thrissur bus station, saving some money that I'd have paid as transaction charges otherwise.
The KSRTC reservation counter located in a corner of the bus station..
I checked out of my hotel sometime past 1900hrs. My bus was to depart at 2015hrs only. I headed to restaurant nearby for a quick dinner. I went to the bus station a little past 1945hrs. Thrissur is perhaps the most busiest KSRTC bus station in Kerala, and among the smallest as well. The bus station gets terribly crowded as peak hours begin. I was in the midst of busy peak hour traffic and the bus station was choc-a-block already. The bus station has very limited parking bays, and almost half of them get converted to overnight parking stands as night sets in. My bus was brought in at around 1951hrs, and the driver parked it a little away since no platforms were vacant. 
This was my bus
They parked it near the KSRTC reservation counter, instead of a platform. Soon later, I received a message containing details of my bus. A little after the message was received, the conductor arrived with the boarding chart and boarding started. The engine was left running, so was the airconditioner - I was too tired and badly wanted to rest, and boarded soon. The driver kept moving the bus around till he got access to a platform. There weren't too many passengers in board - there were around 16 bookings or so, in the bus with a capacity to carry 30 passengers. A little over half of these had boarded from Thrissur.

I had selected an upper berth towards the rear of the bus - located right over the rear axle. This was my first experience in an upper berth in a Corona Majestic - the stair to climb on to the berth was located at the wrong place and getting on to the berth felt a little difficult. The berth was sufficiently wide for my large frame, and the headroom was quite good. It didn't feel claustrophobic or congested. The engine was fairly audible at my berth - but less intrusive than what it might have been on the lower berth. The AC blower was set at a high speed - it was quite windy at the berth, with air gusting out of the air vents. There was a single air vent - kept somewhere around the middle. I personally would've preferred having two vents to ensure better distribution of cooled air. 

We started from Thrissur at 2017hrs - two minutes behind schedule, but then, that would be a record for Karnataka SRTC, who are known for delayed departures as the crew keep soliciting last moment travelers. The driver was quite fast from the word go. He kept changing lanes like a lunatic once we entered the highway. Adding to the misery was frequent diversions on the highway due to 4-laning works. I rolled side-to-side as he kept zig-zagging on the highway. With high traffic, he kept down shifting very often, and the engine screamed through the darkness. To add to my distress, I had left my bag also on the berth, reducing precious leg room, ending up in causing a restless leg. The pillow that was provided was more of a piece of hard cushion than a pillow. It was rectangular in shape with hard rounded edges with tight stitched rexin cover. I struggled to get the right posture to sleep. Tiredness got the better of me, and I dozed off a while into the violent agitations that I was experiencing. I woke up just as the bus turned off the highway, and entered a parking place - it was 2120hrs, and we were at Hotel Malabar, near Mangalam palam at Vadakkenchery. The driver switched off the engine as he got off the bus - effectively forcing passengers to get off the bus. 
The rock-hard cushion given for a pillow..
Since I had already taken my dinner, I just had a short stroll around, and explored the bus a bit. I just realised that the bus had a full sized emergency exit on the right side. The emergency exit had a proper stairway that took passengers almost to ground level, and a proper door that allowed passengers to get out without much of a struggle. The bus was quite well built - entering the bus wasn't a hassle with a fairly low first step. The interiors were fairly put together and looked good. 
During the break..
The interiors..
That is the emergency exit, located between the berths.
After wandering around aimlessly, I returned to my berth. I hunted for a place to leave my backpack safely, and realised that the best place would be beneath the lower berth. I kept the valuables with me on the berth, and left the backpack there. KSRTC stopped giving water bottles recently - although I do not drink a lot of water when traveling by bus, I feel reassured when I have that small bottle of water at my seat. I didn't want to keep my personal bottle at my berth for the fear of leaving it behind when alighting. The lack of reassurance disturbed me a bit. We started off from the hotel at 2145hrs. The driver turned saner after the break - we were on a 4 lane road as well, now. 

I tried to sleep now - but that break, and the stroll woke me up. I tuned on to some movie on my phone as a gap filler till I fell asleep again. Meanwhile, we turned off the highway again and entered Palakkad town. We reached Palakkad bus station by around 2214hrs. More passengers joined us here. All reserved passengers were now on-board. We left Palakkad by 2224hrs. I drifted between sleep and awakeness soon after we were back on the highway. We were back on a two-laned road soon after we entered Tamil Nadu. We turned towards the city instead of taking the bypass. Although the bus went to Gandhipuram, we did not stop near the bus station (2325hrs). Instead, the bus stopped at Hopes College bus stop (2334hrs) - and managed to get a couple of passengers. I was half asleep by now, and vaguely remember seeing the bus join the highway again at Neelambur. 

A nice, continuous sleep later, I wake up hearing heavy honking. I struggle with my groggy eyes to understand where we were - I scramble for my spectacles. I notice a BMTC bus standing next to us - I assumed we were near Chandapura now going by the location. As we moved forward, I understood it wasn't Chandapura, but Singasandra! We were already past Electronic City, where I prefer getting off. I quickly loaded the Uber app, and tried to check if cabs were running again. I found that they were operating, and quickly booked one with a pick-up at Silk Board. I got off the berth as we passed Bommanahalli - collected my belongings, cross checked if I had left anything behind, and moved to the cabin. By now, the conductor starting calling out passengers wishing to alight at Silk Board junction. The bus rolled into silk board junction at 0546hrs, about 2 hours behind schedule, going by the advertised timing. 

Summary: The bus, KA-40-F-1208 of Bengaluru Central Division, Depot-2, had clocked a little over 1.5 lakh kms. Corona, a homegrown brand, is the only company to offer fully built sleeper buses in India. The sleeper bus is called "Majestik", and features a monocoque suspension with independent air suspension. They use aggregates from a range of suppliers. The engine is sourced from Cummins. The bus quality was good. I'd rate the sleep quality as average - due to two reasons: One, rash driving at the beginning; two, the rock hard cushion that was provided instead of a pillow. I had a very sore neck after using the cushion, A white bedsheet and a blanket was provided. Air circulation felt a little inadequate, since only one air vent was provided. The reading lamp was very helpful. Individual curtains isolated passengers from light when the cabin lights were turned on. Crew behaviour was good - they treated passengers with respect. Although driving in the first hour was terrible, the ride after that was excellent and very sleep friendly. The traveling time was on the higher side - 9h29m for a little over 470kms! That included a 25 minute dinner break - even then 9 hours is high. 

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Worked.
Entertainment: Not available

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 4.85/5 (Overall, good driving)
Crew behaviour: 5/5 (Overall - good behaviour)
Punctuality: 4/5 (Departed 'On-time', arrived 2 hours behind schedule)

Overall: 4.5/5

Pros: State bus, Driving
Cons: Longer traveling time

Will I take this service again? Its a good option if you prefer a sleeper bus. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Quickie to Thrissur: by the Garuda King Class Volvo B9R

All of a sudden rises a demand to go to Kerala, to Thrissur. The need popped up suddenly, and the journey was right in the middle of the week. I had plenty of options - all of them had lots of vacant seats and all of them had heavy discounted fares. I had to be in Thrissur very early in the morning, effectively ruling out the buses that leave Bangalore late in the night. I narrowed down my choices to early evening departures, and without much confusions, I zeroed in on Kerala SRTC's Garuda King Class to Trivandrum, that leaves Bengaluru at 5pm. I decided to book the ticket over the counter, and did the same the day prior to my journey.

February 28, 2017:
The strike by drivers of App based cabs was at its peak. No cabs were operating, and traveling to my office was a bit of a hassle. Given my experience in the morning, I did not want to risk missing my bus in the evening. My colleague was also traveling to Kerala the same day. We both left from office towards the evening. I did try searching for cabs, but there were none. We decided to take the bus - the BMTC app did not throw up any direct connection to Mysore road satellite bus station, and we had to change buses enroute. Interestingly, the conductor of the first bus claimed they'd go to satellite bus station - although the bus did not go inside the bus station, it did drop us within walking distance of the bus station.
My bus being brought to the departure area..
After a light snack and a coffee, I got set for my long journey to Thrissur. The bus that would take me there was getting ready for the ride. Kerala State RTC's RS781, KL-15-A-279, of Thiruvananthapuram depot would be my ride. In command was Mr Jerish, a person whom I knew really well. I was quite excited to see him at the wheels, and looked forward for a great ride ahead. The bus was brought to the platform (#6) a little past 1610hrs - well in advance for a 1700hrs departure. Boarding commenced past 1630hrs - only after the reservation chart was prepared. Being a working day, we had very light loads - around 12 passengers in the 49 seater bus. The crew were successful in getting about 3 walk-in passengers as well. Once all the reserved passengers were on board, the conductor signalled the driver to start. We started off at 1646hrs - 14 minutes before time.

Recent traffic changes at the bus station meant, the bus had to exit using the exit towards Mysore, travel all the way to Deepanjali nagar depot, then turn around and travel in the opposite direction towards the city. It was past 1700hrs by the time we crossed the bus station. Water bottles were kept at all seats, while blankets were kept on the overhead baggage rack. A movie was played soon after the bus started from the bus station. Interestingly, the conductor remained inside the passenger cabin, and not on the co-driver seat. Traffic was comparatively on the lighter side, and we managed to get to Shantinagar bus station by 1726hrs. Majority of the reserved passengers joined here. We started from here by 1729hrs. Lighter traffic helped us get to St. Johns, Madiwala by 1749hrs - two passengers joined here. Once past Madiwala, traffic lightened, and we took the Electronic City Flyover (Elevated Highway) to get to Electronic City. We picked up another passenger at Electronic City toll gate (1813hrs) and continued the journey.

Traffic was even lighter after we passed Electronic city - quite unusual for the time of the day. Barring the slow moving traffic around traffic signals, we had a largely free run. We got to Attibele toll gate by 1828hrs - which, also, was free flowing. Traffic came to a standstill once past the RTO check-post at Zuzuwadi. There was some police checking, which blocked the entire road. Despite the traffic, we managed to pass Hosur (bus station) by 1844hrs. It was getting dark, and traffic on the highway was slowly building up. As it got dark, I spent my time watching the movie - a fairly recent flick. We pulled into Hotel Saravana Bhavan Classic, at Kurubarappalli a little before Krishnagiri toll gate, at 1917hrs. I felt this was a little early for a dinner break - they could probably shift the stop to the next Saravana Bhavan, located near Dharmapuri.
During dinner break..
I rushed into the hotel and had a very quick dinner. I returned to the bus, and decided to click a few pictures of my bus. In the meantime, a Karnataka SRTC Airavat Club Class, headed to Chennai, had also joined us at the hotel for a break. We left the hotel after break by 1941hrs. As the first movie got over, I hoped to sleep for a while, and readied my seat. The conductor had other plans - the second movie started! I slept on and off for a while. We passed Salem bypass by 2137hrs. The driver maintained steady pace on the highway. The engine sounded relaxed and hardly any sound came into the cabin as the bus settled on the highway. The driver was soft as he changed lanes - used horn only when needed and did not brake very hard. We had a brief halt a little past Kumarapalayam toll gate at 2228hrs - a leak break. I had a nice sleep after this break - by now, the movie finished as well.

I vague remember seeing the bus passing Coimbatore town - there were some passengers bound to Coimbatore in the bus. I slept for most of the part. I woke up hearing commotion of people walking through the aisle - we were stationary at Palakkad bus station. A lot of passengers had boarded here - I believe there were a few reserved passengers as well. The bus started from Palakkad at 0103hrs. I slept even before the bus entered the highway from the town. Another round of nice sleep, and I woke up just as the bus took a turn at East Fort, Thrissur. We pulled into Thrissur bus station at 0222hrs - 09 hours and 36 minutes after we started from Satellite bus station, covering a distance of 485.7kms (based on the odometer readings, I had recorded).

Closing remarks: The bus had over 6.45 lakh kilometres on the odo as we started from Bengaluru. The exterior appearance was quite good, but the overall maintenance didn't seem great. There was a continuous rattle from the rear suspension, while the engine sounded calm and relaxed. The interiors were clean and spotless. I personally hate the rexine seat covers, and the seat felt very hard. The driver put up a good show with a bus locked at 80kmph - we left Electronic city at 1813hrs, and still got to Thrissur by 0222hrs - that is 8 hours and 09 minutes, including a 20 minute dinner break, about 3 minutes at Kumarapalayam toll gate, and about 5 minutes at Palakkad, where the bus was refueled as well. That is a great running time, considering the speed lock and the time of journey. The conductor was a mixed bag - although he had placed water bottles in all seat backs, blankets weren't distributed. He preferred sitting inside the passenger cabin and watching the movie, instead of accompanying the driver during the night drive, which would've been ideal considering safety of passengers. A mixed bag this time, again.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Worked.
Entertainment: Available - Movies played.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.5/5 (rattles from rear suspension)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5 (Great driving)
Crew behaviour: 4.95/5 (Overall - good behaviour)
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Departed Early, arrived 52 minutes behind schedule)

Overall: 4.75/5

Pros: State bus, Cheap, Driving
Cons: Nothing

Will I take this service again? Its a good option, but the timings aren't suitable for my general purpose. This was an exception. Recommended for people okay with odd arrival times.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Fly Cookies: iFly 521 from Kochi to Bengaluru

Again that normal Tuesday towards the end of November 2016, sitting bored in office, and excited after getting a low fare ticket to go home in mid February 2017. I had to search for a ticket to return. Almost every airline in India were running sales, and I headed straight to the Indigo site to bag a low fare ticket on their new red-eye flight. I selected a seat, did not add a meal and confirmed the booking. A little later, my ticket along with the boarding pass popped up in my mailbox - IndiGo's Integrated Travel Document. I was shocked seeing my boarding sequence number - it read Seq/001 - I was the first passenger to check-in - a whole three months in advance!

February 19, 2017:
I left home some time around 2100hrs, after a heavy home cooked dinner. The taxi driver dropped me at the airport a little past 2200hrs. I had some work at the AirAsia sales office, which kept me engaged for some time. There was negligible crowd at the entry points. I had no bags to check-in and directly walked towards the check-in counters. A brief re-think, and I turned to the check-in kiosk instead. New self check-in kiosks were installed at Cochin airport a few months back, and I wanted to try them once. The kiosk offered self check-in for four airlines - Jet Airways, Air India, IndiGo and Go Air. I clicked on IndiGo - it asked me to key in my PNR. It did not accept the bar-code that was displayed on the IndiGo App. After entering the PNR, it asked if I wanted to change my seat, and then let me print the boarding pass. The machine responded quite slowly. I received a print out of the online check-in boarding card on a thermal paper with the Cochin airport logo by 2211hrs.
The self check-in kiosks..
The screen displays my boarding pass before printing..
The boarding pass is printed..
IndiGo check-in counters at Kochi. SpiceJet counters nearby have closed for the day.
I headed straight to security check-in, which was quite deserted. Only one scanning machine, and one frisking booth each for men and women was open. I remembered that I hadn't taken a baggage tag only after I reached the scanning machine. Luckily an old baggage tag of Indigo was lying in my bag - used that and saved myself from the hassle of going back to the counters to get one. I was done with security check by 2215hrs and headed to the security check. I headed to my favorite seat near Gate #4, left my phone to charge, and logged in to FlightRadar24 to track the incoming aircraft. The domestic section had one Air Asia heading to Bangalore, and right next to it was another AirAsia, heading to Kuala Lumpur! Then came some Air India Expresses in quick succession, and an Air India B777 from Saudi. I continuously tracked the informing aircraft. VT-IFC was coming in for me. VT-IFC (MSN: 5291) was delivered to Indigo in October 2012.

Date of Journey: February 19, 2017
Airline: IndiGo
Flight No: 6E521 || Seat: 21A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-232 || MSN: 5291 || Regn: VT-IFC
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 2350hrs, ATD: 2351hrs
STA: 0110hrs, ATA: 0047hrs

India Foxtrot Charlie touched down in Kochi airport by 2318hrs. I was terribly sleepy and tired, hence headed to the gate and queued up even before boarding was called. The agent at the gate was awaiting clearance from the ground staff to start boarding. The first boarding call was made at 2329 hours. A long queue had already formed. First priority was given to passengers requiring assistance and those with infants. The agent at the gate apologized for keeping the others waiting, and continued with boarding. A bus was used for boarding. The aircraft was actually docked right outside the gate itself - but the bus helped passengers who needed assistance. I got on to the bus by 2332hrs - the bus dropped us near the aircraft by 2336hrs! Boarding started immediately, and I was inside the aircraft by 2336hrs.
Boarding through Gate 1..
About to board by Flying Cookie: VT-IFC
The airconditioners were in full flow, and it was quite cold inside the aircraft. Boarding was quite slow and we were done by 2346hrs. Doors were armed by 2350hrs and we were pushed back by 2351hrs. In command of the flight was Capt Bhanuprakash and First Officer Raj Pardeshi. In the deck were Shruti, Anusha, Radhika and Jasmine. The crew rushed through the safety briefing. We commenced taxi at 2357hrs, and headed to taxiway C1 to reach the holding point of Runway 09 by 2359hrs - a very very short taxi. We had to hold for a while, until an unknown single aisle aircraft landed on Runway 27. We entered Runway 09 by 0002hrs, and had a rolling takeoff. We were airborne by 0003hrs. We took off to the east, rotated to set direction to North East. The seat belt sign was off by 0007hrs.
My boarding pass & Hello 6E
Announcements were made that passengers with pre-reserved meals will be served first, and no hot meals/beverages would be available. The trolleys came out soon, and they appeared quite empty. Just a couple of sandwiches strewn around. It appeared there weren't any pre-bookings. I picked up a pack of cookies and a serving of water. The FA serving my row did not have cookie tins - but she picked up from another trolley for me. IndiGo pioneered the concept of re-usuable cookie tins in India. The tin contained Chocolate-Chip cookies, manufactured by Unibic. The tin was the attaction, not the cookie, which was very easily available in supermarkets. The flight was uneventful - lights were dimmed for most of the flight. The seatbelt sign was back on by 0031hrs, followed by prepare the cabin for arrival call from the flight deck. There was no cleaning this time - the FAs came around to check if the seatbacks were upright and the tray tables were closed - they did not come around to clear the thrash. We touched down on Runway 09 at 0044hrs. We docked at a night parking stand by 0047hrs - 56 minutes from chocks off to chocks on.
The Cookie Tin..
Ground staff seemed to be quite lethargic - maybe because this was the last sector of the day for the aircraft. Disembarking took a long time, and I was out of the aircraft only by 0054hrs. There was one tarmac coach waiting, which was already full, and there were enough passengers to fill another bus. They sent out the first one, and the second one came to the bay. I remained near the front door of the bus. The first officer was also on the same bus. They did not dispatch the bus till they got clearance from the cabin crew - who were busy gathering their belongings and disembarking. Quite interestingly, they realised there was a passenger who required assistance only after they signalled the bus driver to move. They stopped the bus, scrambled off to get  wheelchair and then assisted the passenger out of the aircraft. The ride through the tarmac was slow - we had to stop by due to aircraft movements on the apron. The bus dropped us at the terminal building by 0107hrs - 13 minutes after I disembarked from the aircraft and 23 minutes after we touched down. I did not have checked in baggage, and I was out of the terminal in no time. Took a bus to the city, and then a taxi for last mile connectivity.
The overcrowded tarmac coach..
Ratings:
Check-in: Irrelevant. I was auto checked-in, then used the kiosk to get my boarding pass
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Very Clean)
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 5/5 (Good crew)
Catering: Irrelevant. I picked up a cookie tin - standard Unibic Chocolate chip cookie.
Overall: 5/5 (Good one)

Summary:
I'd remember my 11th flight with IndiGo as my Cookie flight. The first time I got the IndiGo Cookie tin, which is now of great utility in my daily office commute. The crew seemed to be quite excited about working their last sector - they seemed to be Bengaluru based. I didn't like skipping cabin thrash clearance - I am guessing this happened since this the last sector of the day. We departed perfectly on time, and landed well before time - infact, including all the goof ups on ground, I was outside the airport well before scheduled arrival time. This was another good flight with Indigo - they seem to be making me an IndiGo fan. If only they introduced a frequent flyer program as well! 

PS: I hope you'd have guessed why the report is called 'I Fly Cookies' by now. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spice'd: Bengaluru to Kochi on the SpiceJet Boeing 738...

A normal Tuesday morning in office. I was catching up with mails after a first hour class. I generally do not read mails containing offer. But one mail caught my attention - the mail read "Go Cashless", and was related to bookings using SpiceCash on SpiceJet. The offer was related to some cashbacks, free vouchers, and a free meal for SpiceClub members who book during the offer period. I had no plans of going anywhere, but felt like testing the offer. I just remembered that SpiceJet was also selling tickets at promotional fares. I quickly made up my mind, and checked tickets to go home in February. I booked a ticket at a price lower than that of a bus ticket (weekend fares).

One of the freebies offered was cash back - which was immediately credited to my SpiceCash account. The next freebie was a free meal - for which I had to engage their customer care over a long period, and finally got my meal added to the booking. I am still behind the customer care to get the third freebie, which was a voucher for future travel. Sometime towards the end of January, I realised that my flight date coincided with Aero India show, which meant airspace closure multiple times over the day. And my flight timing coincided with the closure timing as well. Now, there is now way the flight could leave on time. I contacted customer care, who assured that the flight would fly as per schedule! I was now afraid they might cancel the flight, but hoped it only gets rescheduled.

In the meantime, I thought of adding a seat up front and opened the booking. I was quite surprised to see that the flight was upsized to a Boeing 737-800, from the rare Boeing 737-700. I was a little hopeful of being able to fly VT-SLB, one of the two 737-700s in the SpiceJet fleet - I had been on VT-SLA twice earlier, and did not want to repeat a registration. With the upscale to the 737-800, my chances of repeating a registration was less, but you never know. A few days before the flight comes the reschedule notification from SpiceJet. My flight was preponed, and would now depart over 2 hours before the original schedule. I didn't have a choice but accept the reschedule. I checked in online, two days before the flight.

February 17, 2017:
I was done with my work in office and decided to leave a little earlier than required. I fired up all the cab hailing apps, and hunted for cabs. I finally decided to Ola it to the airport. My Ola Select status gave me good discounts on Ola Prime and my booking was confirmed quickly. The driver took some shortcuts and saved a bit of time - but we got stuck in traffic near the Yelahanka Air Force base, where Aero India was held. A fairly big contingent of traffic cops were on the road, but the traffic was much higher than what the road could contain. I was finally dropped at departures by 1123hrs. The terminal entry points were quite deserted. After entering the terminal, I decided to check out the priority check-in service that was offered complimentary on my booking.
The Priority check-in queue - its blocked!
Although there was a board indicating a particular queue was meant for SpiceMax and Priority check-in passengers, but the queue was closed. I opened the line and walked in - but no "priority" was given. The check-in agent at the queue suggest I should've used the kiosk and saved time instead - and smilingly printed out a boarding pass for me. For me, nothing beats having a counter issued boarding pass. I got my boarding pass by 1130hrs and headed to security check. Security check was a mess - they had actually closed almost half the frisking booths and baggage scan lines, and there were a lot of first time fliers! Almost every other bag was pulled out for inspection, and every other flier was sent back to some or the other problem. People walked into the frisking booth holding their hand bags, or packed bags with bottles of water!

I was done with security check by 1147hrs, and rushed to the Above Ground Lounge to have my lunch. Although I had a prebooked meal mentioned on my boarding pass, I was too hungry to wait for the flight. In the past few days, this flight was mostly behind schedule as well - and, rightly, I did not want to take chances. AGL was unusually crowded. I managed to find a seat, with a charging point nearby as well! I hurried with my lunch as the clock ticked closer to 1220hrs, the scheduled boarding time. While munching my meal, I checked the status of the incoming aircraft on FR24, and realised that the bird was holding over the city since the Airspace was still closed! She landed well past 1215hrs. I did not want to take a risk, and rushed to the boarding gate (#6), which was located on the lower level.

Date of Journey: February 17, 2017
Airline: SpiceJet
Flight No: SG432 || Seat: 5A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-86J (WL) || MSN: 29641 / 1654 || Regn: VT-SGJ "Cumin"
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 1250hrs, ATD: 1257hrs
STA: 1350hrs, ATA: 1358hrs

At the gate, I ran into a known person - who happened to be traveling to Kochi for a vacation. We spent some time discussing what all he could see, and how he should go about. Boarding was called at 1231hrs. Two SpiceJet departures were boarding at the same time, and this caused a little confusion, since buses were parked one behind the other. We waited till the boarding queue shortened, and we joined the tail end. We got past the gate by 1237hrs - but there was no bus to take us to the aircraft! A bus turned up a little past 1240hrs! This time, again, two buses came, and half the passengers ran behind one, and the other half behind the second. The ground staff had a tough time directing passengers to the correct bus. The bus got moving at 1243hrs. It was a little long ride to the aircraft, which was parked at a very remote bay.
Its Cumin.. VT-SGJ for me..
We reached our bird - VT-SGJ, named "Cumin", at 1245hrs. VT-SGJ (MSN: 29641) is a twelve year old Boeing 737-800, built in 2005, for Delta Airlines, but was not taken up. She was given to Air Berlin later the same year, and later changed hands to Blue Air. The bird landed up with SpiceJet finally in December 2010. She looked clean and quite well kept. Ground staff kept calling out passengers seated in Rows 17 and later, and requested them to move to the aft entry. Boarding was very slow, and passengers were stuck on the stairs, since passengers inside seemed to take a lot of time to settle. I got into VT-SGJ by 1250hrs - the scheduled departure time! I settled on my pre-reserved seat #5A - the leg room seemed really better than those seats at the aft end. I had two windows for me - both the glasses were terribly scratched.
Getting in to VT-SGJ
Boarding was completed by 1252hrs, and the captain requested the ground staff to deplane. It took some time time for the ground staff to hand over the trim sheet and complete the remaining paper work before they deplaned. The doors were armed by 1255hrs and we were pushed back by 1257hrs. In command of our flight was Captain Mohit Kumar Nair, with First Officer Mohit Kumar! In the cabin were Varsha, Gitanjali and Harshdeep, led by Ms Sadhvi. Soon after pushback, safety demonstration was performed. The CFM56s spooled up and we commenced taxi at 1300hrs. A little into the taxiway, the captain came on the PA system and announced that we were third in sequence for take-off, and we should be airborne in another 5 minutes or so. Due to frequent airspace closures due to Aero India, the runway at Bengaluru was unusually busy - there was a steady stream of departures and arrivals.

We reached the holding point of Rwy 09 at 1305hrs. An IndiGo aircraft ahead of us had lined up for departure. We didn't move for some more time - letting me understand we were waiting for an arrival. Jet Airways' VT-JCV touched down at 1310hrs, and we entered the active runway a minute later and lined up for departure. A few seconds after we entered the runway, the CFM56s powered up, and we charged down the runway for take-off. We were airborne by 1312hrs - climbed to the east very quickly, and turn south west, setting off towards Kochi. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 1315hrs, and the cabin crew sprang up to action.
Soon after take off from Bengaluru..
Onboard entertainment.. 
The trolleys came out quickly and the onboard service commenced. This is a very short section, and there is hardly anytime to serve all passengers. I've generally noticed that LCCs serve passengers with prebooked meals first. However, this aircraft had three SpiceMax rows at the front, where all passengers receive a complementary meal. The cabin crew split themselves and walked around taking orders for passengers who wished to buy. I received my meal about 5 minutes after the service began. The FA confirmed my booking first, and then gave out a boxed meal - a container with the Main Course, a dessert and a pasta salad, with plastic cutlery and mouth freshener. This was accompanied by a bottle of water.
The meal..
I opened the Main course container - which had Paneer Methi Malai with Jeera Rice and Dal Makhani. The Jeera Rice had long grained basmati rice sautéed with Cumin (coincidentally the name of the aircraft, as well) - the rice was cooked to perfection, and the entire preparation was adequately moist. The Paneer methi malai had succulent pieces of Paneer (Cottage cheese) in a mildly spiced creamy gravy blended with fenugreek leaves, while the Dal Makhani  had whole black gram in a creamy gravy. I enjoyed every bit of the Main Course, which was a little overheated, and slowed down the speed of consumption. The serving was adequate in quantity, and the taste was excellent. The Pasta Salad had well cooked pieces of Penne Pasta mixed with picked tomato and bell pepper, and shredded pieces of broccoli. The dessert was a well sized serving of Chocolate chip brownie. The brownie felt a little dry, but tasted really good. I had to actually hurry with the brownie, since the seatbelt sign was back on (1337hrs), and the crew were hurrying around to secure the cabin for landing.
Unboxed - thats Jeera Rice, Paneer Methi Malai, Dal Makhani, Pasta Salad and Choco-Chip Brownie..
I looked out of the windows soon after the thrash was cleared, and my tray table was closed. I felt we weren't making the usual approach, and I really hoped and wished we landed on Rwy09 this time. Although my flights have taken off from Rwy09 multiple times, landing have always been on Rwy27. I spotted unusual places below - a highway and a railway station next to it - there is no way I could spot something like that if we approached Rwy27. My guesses turned correct as I spotted my home town below - we were making an approach to Rwy09. I was excited, and watched the approach in detail. We overflew my hometown, and some neighbouring places, soon overflew the national highway and approached the airport from the West. We touched down on Rwy09 at 1352hrs. Since Rwy09 is not regularly used for landing, there are no rapid exit taxiways, and we had to exit through C5, which is located at the 27 end of the runway. Rwy09 doesn't have an ILS landing system, and is rarely used for landing.
On the finals to Cochin..
The taxi to the apron was quite long, since C5 is the farthest taxiway from the apron. We reached our parking stand only by 1358hrs. Unlike the usual step ladder, a ramp was attached to the aircraft and disembarking commenced quickly. Since an elderly gentleman was seated at the aisle, I decided to remain seated till the crowd thinned out, giving him enough time to get up from his seat. I was out of the aircraft by 1406hrs and got into the second bus to the terminal. I was at the terminal by 1409hrs, but we left the terminal only by around 1420hrs. I didn't have any checked in person, but the accomplice I met at the airport did have. We finally got into a bus to head towards the city.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Very Clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Negligible delay)
Crew: 5/5 (Good crew)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food!)
Overall: 5/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one)
Tracking from FR24..
Summary:
I flew SpiceJet after a long time, and their Boeing 737-800 after a very long time. This was my 11th flight with SpiceJet, and 7th in their Boeing Aircraft. SpiceJet has been a hit-or-miss. While I've had not terrible experiences with them, they are far from being a "perfect" airline. They seem to be better called a Value carrier than a Low Fare carrier. Their meal options are great - filling and tasty as well. The crew were great - jovial, friendly and did their job with a smile. The aircraft was quite well kept - clean as well. Overall a good flight, except the rescheduling which did cause some inconvenience to my schedule. 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

NinerWhiskey: Raipur to Bengaluru, via Bhopal & Mumbai - Part 2

I was returning from the annual railfan's gathering at Bhilai. My booking was on Jet Airways with a Raipur-Bhopal-Mumbai-Bengaluru route, all on their Boeing 737-800 aircraft. My final itinerary looked like this:

9W2121 RPR BHO 1955 2100 Y B738
9W2121 BHO BOM 2130 2255 Y B738
S24381 BOM BLR 0200 0330 Y B738

I had written about the booking, and the background in my earlier post. The Mumbai-Bengaluru sector was on 9W7145 (originally S23381) operated by JetKonnect. This flight underwent no less than four changes in the one-and-a-half month before the flight. This flight was scheduled at 0200hrs when I booked. It got rescheduled to 0230hrs at the beginning of December, then preponed to 0215hrs, then back to 0230hrs. It got preponed to 0215hrs a couple of day before the flight again.

I was on FlightRadar24 all the days before my flight, and found that four different B738s were rotated on this rotations regularly, of which the oldies, VT-SJI and VT-SJJ were fairly regular. Originally with Air Sahara, these are perhaps among the oldest B738s flying in the country. I was looking forward for an experience on them before they go back to the lessor.

January 29, 2017:
I had landed a few minutes before midnight, and set foot into the terminal a few minutes past midnight. It was a very long walk from the contact gate where my earlier aircraft had docked. Although there were a few "transit gates" on the way, all of them were closed, and transit passengers were being redirected towards the baggage reclaim area itself. I was quite sleepy, and decided to walk instead of using the travelators. A little before I reached the baggage reclaim area, there was this signboard directing transit passengers straight to the security check area. There was a security guard at the entrance - who verified boarding cards before letting passengers in to the transit area. There were a lot of transit passengers on my earlier flight, as well.
Welcome to CSIA T2 :)
An escalator past the security guard took me two floors above to a floor that housed the international security check area. Another security guard segregated domestic and international transit passengers. Domestic passengers had to take another elevator to return one floor below to the domestic security screening area. Security check was deserted - hardly any queue there. I was done by 0018hrs and walked into the Security hold, which resembled a shopping mall than an airport terminal. I noticed that the stamp on the boarding pass mentioned January 28, while the stamp on the baggage tag read January 29! Call it confusion! There were a plethora of shopping options - quite a lot of them seemed to be shutting for the day already. The FIDS showed there were six red-eye departures before dawn. The S2 flight number was used on the FIDS, while the ticket and the boarding pass prominently used the 9W number - I felt this could be confusing for the common passenger. The FIDS informed me that my flight would be boarding from gate 46B.
The FIDS showing my flight details (left top)
Thats the shopping area in he terminal..
At Gate 46!
A travelator near Gate 46!
This was my first experience departing from Terminal 2 of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai. I was quite awestruck with the ambience of the airport - the lighting. I, personally, felt the signages were inadequate and poor. The gates didn't seem to be in linear order. I found my gate and decided to rest near the gate itself. There were lots of place with charging sockets, meant for laptops. I took two desks for myself, and left my phones to charge, and logged into FlightRadar24 to find out who would be taking me to Bangalore. I was quite excited to see VT-SJI being shown on FlightRadar24. I spent some time watching a movie on my laptop, when I spotted some JetAirways staffers calling out for Bengaluru passengers - I was a little surprised if they were planning and earlier departure - but I was informed there was a gate change!
Flightradar24 on my laptop, and my boarding cards..
Head down to reach Gate 45..
Boarding was shifted from Gate 46B to Gate 45A at 0107hrs. A couple of announcements were made as well. The departure time was silently updated from 0215hrs to 0230hrs. JetAirways agents were present at many places to direct passengers to the new gate, which was located on the ground floor. Another escalator ride later, I found myself at the ground level, in an area that housed two bus gates. Seating options were crowded - I found an empty seat towards the corner of the area, near a charging station. I had to complete charging my phone now, to last the next few hours until I reached home. Majority of the visible crowd were for a Kolkata flight that was to depart right before my flight.
Updated FIDS, and Gate #45
Just as boarding was called..
I was quite sleepy, and I was afraid if I'd fall asleep sitting there, and end up missing my flight. As the boarding for the Kolkata flight was about to complete, I decided to walk up to the gate and have a short stroll around. As I moved towards the gate, I heard the agent calling out for Bengaluru passengers (0145hrs). In fact, boarding for both the Kolkata and Bengaluru flights were happening simultaneously - the Jet Airways security personnel had a tough time managing both the departures without mixing up passengers. A quick scanning of bags and random frisking of passengers were performed by Jet security personnel. With all the confusion around, the personnel were trying to segregate the buses for both the flights.

Date of Journey: January 29, 2017
Airline: JetKonnect / Jet Airways
Flight No: S24381 / 9W7145 || Seat: 16A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-8AS (WL) || MSN: 33555 / 1426 || Regn: VT-JLE
Sector: BOM-BLR
STD: 0215hrs, ATD: 0220hrs
STA: 0345hrs, ATA: 0345hrs

We were bus'd at 0151hrs. The bus took a long ride to head towards the aircraft. As we ran through the tarmac, I spotted VT-JGW (the aircraft that brought me in from Raipur) at the same gate where I got off, and VT-SJI parked right next to it! But wait! The driver didn't turn towards the aircraft, nor did the aircraft have any stairs or jetway attached to it! We continued further, giving a close look at an Air India B744, VT-EVA! We turned towards a B738 that was in Jet Airways colours - now JetKonnect had only two 738s in Jet Airways colours - that was VT-JLE and JLF. I had flown Lima Foxtrot earlier, and hoped it was Lima Echo instead! And, I was right! The bus dropped us near Lima Echo at 0155hrs. VT-JLE, aka Lima Echo was originally delivered to Ryanair in January 2004. She reached JetLite in December 2010, and finally transferred to JetKonnect in March 2012.
VT-JLE.. taken just before I got in through the forward entrance
Boarding had already started by the time I reached the stairs, and I was inside the aircraft by 0158hrs. The interiors appeared fresh - but had a lot of signs of poor maintenance. Broken window shades, unfastened interior panels, etc. I was stuck at a windowless window seat - I would anyways not click anything. Boarding was completed by 0211hrs, and we were ready to have a before time departure (rescheduled time). I assume the entire rescheduling and gate change exercise was done to change the equipment from the originally scheduled to VT-SJI to the current VT-JLE. Soon after the boarding was completed, welcome announcements were made. In command of the flight was Captain Pankaj Niwas and First officer Rushab Mishra. Imtiyaz was the chief of cabin crew, while Ms Pinki, Ms Aparna and Ms Saniya were in charge of the economy cabin. We had a full flight - both in economy and premiere.

The doors were armed by 0219hrs and we were pushed back at 0220hrs. We had a long wait before we commenced taxi. I was quite excited to see an Airbus 380 up close - that was an Emirati for me! Then the Lufthansa Boeing 748 next to it! We commenced taxi at 0226hrs. Terminal 2 is located quite close to the threshold of Runway 27, and that made for a short taxi. We exited on to the active runway through N1 at 0232, and had a rolling take off. This was my first time taking off without having to hold at Mumbai! We were airborne at 0233hrs, climbed west, turned south and flew parallel to the coast for a while. Mumbai looked resplendent from the sky, with lights strewn around like gems. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 0238hrs.

The meal trolleys came out of the aft galley in no time. Passengers with special orders were served first - passengers next to me had requested for a fruit plate, and they got theirs before others. I was quite excited as I saw trays being handed out. Hopes of a proper meal service brightened, and I looked forward for the trolley to reach me. There were two options - instead of asking "veg or non-veg", the FAs actually asked if one wants a Ragda Pattice or a Chicken Kathi Roll. Quite obviously, I chose the Ragda Pattice option.
The meal..
I was handed out a tray containing a plastic container with the main snack, a transparent acrylic cup, the quintessential Jet Airways' dessert, the beverage kit, plastic cutlery and the imly candy. Ragda Pattice is a very common street food snack seen in Mumbai. Ragda pattice is a dish consisting of two parts - the Ragda, which is a curry made of boiled and mashed white peas, onions and spices, and the Pattice (or Patties), which is mashed potatoes cooked like a cutlet (but without the spices). The patty is generally bland, and is to be eaten with the ragda. I quite liked the snack - the ragda was appropriately spiced with the right amount of sweet chutney and green chutney poured on. The patty was well cooked as well. I pocketed the quintessential dessert and waited for the hot beverage service. I opted for a coffee again - and got one of the best coffees I have had on an aircraft.
The worst dessert option ...
The best coffee I've had on air..
The flight was largely uneventful, and I was sleepy. The seatbelt sign was turn on again at 0325hrs. From the approach, I was quite sure we were to land on Runway 09. We touched down on Rwy09 at 0340hrs, followed by heavy braking and full application of reversers. We took the rapid exit taxiway, entered the parallel taxiway to enter the apron. We finally docked at a remote stand by 0345hrs. I got out of the aircraft by 0350 and got into the waiting tarmac coach. I was quite surprised that the driver opted to take the longest turn to get to the arrivals gate, and finally dropped us at the terminal by only 0356hrs. I was groggy and tired from the travel. I badly wanted to reach home and hit bed - I rushed to the baggage claim area.

Although a couple of bags were on the carousel, no new bags came out for quite a lot of time. A visibly anxious Jet Airways staffer walked around nervously, continuously seeking updates through the radio he was carrying. After more than 10 minutes of silence, a huge lot of bags with transfer stickers appeared. I got mine by about 0418hrs - 33 minutes after we docked at the stand! I was terribly tired, and walked out of the terminal a little semi-conscious. I decided to take a bus instead of hiring a cab - the decision turned good, since I managed to sleep for most of the time in the bus, which I might not have had it been a cab, given by phobia of the airport highway.

Ratings:
Check-in: Not Applicable
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Very Clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Late departure, perfectly on time arrival)
Crew: 5/5 (Good crew)
Catering: 4/5 (The food served was great! Bad choice for the hour, horrendous dessert)
Overall: 4/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one. Loses points for delay in baggage delivery, poor maintenance)
Tracking from FR24..
Summary:
This was my fourth flight with JetKonnect (Operating on the JetLite AOP), and third one on their B738. JetKonnect, aka JetLite, is the old AirSahara or Sahara Airlines. My first ever flight was on AirSahara, from Kochi to Mumbai - a flight that I remember very little about, except the excitement about the first flight. Although operating on two AOPs, Jet Airways had recently announced its intention to merge the two AOPs and bring all the flights under the Jet Airways banner. The aircrafts owned by JetLite were recently renamed to Jet Airways as well. The inflight experience is standardised now. The flight had great crew, who took good care of passengers, and responded quickly to calls. The food served was great in terms of quality, but I am not very sure if the choice of item was correct for a flight at that time (personal choices, you see). The meal was from Taj-SATS, and it would be irrelevant to comment on its quality. I personally hate seeing that cheap wafer covered with chocolate thingy as a dessert on a so-called full service carrier, who keeps trumpeting about their award winning culinary treats! Overall a good flight - I was sleepy for most of the time, anyway.