Friday, August 28, 2015

Red, Hot, and a little too spicy: SpiceJet from BLR to COK

It was my cousin sister's marriage. I was in the fray for tickets quite late, and that being the weekend before Kerala's festival - Onam, meant the crowd was quite heavy. The marriage was on a Sunday, and I opted to travel on Saturday evening. Among the various evening options available was SpiceJet, which resumed flying in the Bangalore-Kochi sector after six months, in July. The booking was made through my credit card issuer's website, which was running a promotion. Like everytime, I checked on the airline's website and confirmed the booking. The ticket was booked over two months in advance. This particular flight started flying on July 01, 2015 - and holds a rare distinction of never having been on time! The delays kept continuing - and always ranged between 20 minutes to as high as 90 minutes. I had no expectations of my flight being on time either. Sometime in between, the flight got rescheduled as well - and got pushed back from 1730hrs to 1820hrs.

August 22, 2015:
It was election day in Bangalore - but we were working. Roads were deserted and I could get to Hebbal very quickly from office. I got a bus soon after reaching Hebbal as well, and I reached the airport by around 1545hrs - I had over 2 hours to go for my flight. I was very hungry, and hence headed to an eatery on the kerbside. Bangalore airport has marvellous options for hungry travellers - its got a couple of fast food joints, some restaurants - including an Italian outlet, and some beverage joints. After a quick snack, washed down with some cold beverage, I decided to head into the airport. The time now was 1615hrs - just over two hours to go for my flight.
The boards at entrance.. 
I was directed to the random scanning line by the security personnel at the entrance. After scanning, I headed straight to the SpiceJet check-in counters - this place was a mess. There were none to manage the queue - people just mobbed the counters. The agents were indifferent to the crowd either - they took their sweet time to check-in passengers. I had checked-in online, but hadn't taken a print out - I got my boarding pass by 1630hrs, and reconfirmed the departure time - the agent said the flight is on time, and would be boarding from Gate #8C. Security check was deserted, but the checking was a bit slow - every other bag was being pulled up for re-scanning. I got into the security hold by 1640hrs.
The messy check-in counters of SpiceJet

My boarding pass..
Security Check...
I headed to the waiting area around Gate #1 - as usual. The apron was quite busy - lots of departure throughout the time. The stars to got my attention was VT-ABB (the 20 year old ATR42 of Air India Regional) and VT-APB (Air Pegasus' latest ATR-72 - although its their latest, the bird is almost 8 years old now). There was a steady stream of Jet Airways ATRs and SpiceJet Q400s. I kept tracking my flight on FlightRadar24 through the time. My flight (SG432) flies from Vishakhapatnam to Kochi via Bengaluru. It was VT-SGH working the flight - the bird hadn't even taken off from Vizag as the clock ticked past 1700hrs. I was sure of my flight getting late now. There were no official information from SpiceJet on this - but even as the boarding time of 1750hrs went past. The aircraft hadn't even landed. The FIDS silently updated the status to "Delayed" and the ETD was now put at 1840hrs.
The busy apron - three of my favorite aircrafts.. the ATR!
The FIDS now updated to reflect delay of my flight..
Soon later, I saw that VT-SGH was on its finals, and she touched down at 1812hrs - with just 8 minutes to go for the scheduled departure. I headed towards the gate (#8C) soon after the aircraft came - I was in for some shock - the gate area was crowded - crowded like a government bus station or a typical Mumbai suburban station. Some time later, I saw people mobbing around one place - it later turned out that Malayalam movie actor Sreenivasan was flying on the same flight and people were mobbing him for a Selfie. The incoming aircraft did not seem to be full - but it emptied out in Bangalore. Boarding was called at 1833hrs - no row-wise boarding. It was a mess - a long "Y" forked queue formed, which merges just before the gate. I remained seated till the queue became short - I finally got into the aircraft at 1844hrs - four minutes past the re-scheduled departure time.
Thats VT-SGH coming in..
VT-SGH at the gate..
Thats Gate 8C.. 
The crowd at the gate..
Date of Journey: August 22, 2015
Flight No: SG432 || Seat: 21F
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-800 || Regn: VT-SGH "Turmeric"
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 1605hrs, ATD: 1551hrs
STA: 1725hrs, ATA: 1705hrs

I was inside a Boeing after almost 7 months. I got to my seat (#21F) in about three minutes after getting into the aircraft. Boarding was completed at 1849hrs and doors were armed at 1851hrs. We were pushed back immediately after, at 1852hrs. Soon after pushback, the welcome announcements and security demonstration began. In the deck were Capt. Gautham and Capt Siddharth, while Roopesh, Arushi, Ekta and Priyanka were in the cabin. We commenced taxi at 1856hrs. Although the seats were comfortable, the legroom was right. The only thing I liked was the larger windows. It was a fairly long taxi. We were airborne from Rwy27 at 1902hrs - a quick climb and then sharp banking to finally align on a southward path. The seatbelt went off once at 1906hrs, then came back on again. We were flying amidst lots of clouds and had a very bumpy ride.
Before push-back from BLR..
The cabin lead came on the PA and announced that they would not be conducting a BoB service due to the short flying time - all passengers who had pre-reserved their meal would receive their Sandwiches, while the other passengers could use the call button to buy anything. I had pre-reserved a "meal" - I got my Sandwich soon. It was a Tomato, Cucumber and Cheese Club Sandwich in Marble Bread (Description from the SpiceJet website). The sandwich was great - the bread was soft and the filling was good. The seatbelt sign remained on for most of the time - the ride remained bumpy as well. The First officer came on the PA sometime during the flight and informed that we'd be having a bumpy landing as well since it was cloudy and there was a bit of winds at Kochi, as well.
IFE: Spice Route Magazine..
The feedback from my last flight featured in this issue of SpiceRoute
The meal..
Landing was announced at 1930hrs - by now, the towns below were visible. It was still cloudy and we were jumping around as we slowly aligned to the landing path. I felt we were too high even when as we passed the airport perimeter. It was windy and we swayed as we descended - then a heavy thud as we touched down on Rwy 27 at 1948hrs. It was not a "touch down" - but a real thud down. That was followed by some real hard braking - not really a comfortable landing. We taxi'd very slow and reached the stand by 1952hrs - exactly one hour after push back from Bangalore. Since it was a full flight, getting off the aircraft was also messy - people crowded the aisle in no time, that I decided to remain seated for as long as possible. I was out of the aircraft at 1958hrs - as the last passenger to get out from the rear exit. As I got off, I understood that the cabin crew changes at COK, before the aircraft flies out to Mumbai. Since I did not have any check-in baggage, I literally rushed out of the airport to get a taxi before the queue sets in - I had to succumb to the taxi lobby at CIAL since it was too late, and I had to reach the marriage venue for dinner.
After getting off at COK...
Overall an eminently forgettable flight - it was delayed as usual. Messy check-in experience, and lack of information in the airport. Even messier boarding. The service as such was good - calls were quickly answered. The FAs gave the personal touch to their service - small things like helping out passengers with the reading lamp when they saw someone reading, or speaking very gently about keeping their backrests upright or closing the tray tables.

Ratings:
Check-in: 2.5/5 (Messy check-in counters)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the aircraft was in great shape - clean and well kept interiors)
Punctuality: 2/5 (Late - this flight has never been on time!)
Crew: 5/5 (Awesome service!)
Catering: 4.5/5 (Good food)
Overall: 3.5/5

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Jet Turboprop again.. Kochi to Bengaluru

While contemplating going for the conference, the first thing I did was book the return ticket. I had to return on a Sunday, and hence I had to get a ticket well in advance. I decided to fly a "day" flight - I mean one that would land in Bangalore before it was dark. I had two options - IndiGo and Jet. The latter was cheaper, plus the fun of flying my favorite aircraft, the ATR 72! I booked through the Jet Airways website itself - and the e-ticket popped up in my inbox in no time. I checked in the previous evening, and bagged Seq/1 as well!

August 09, 2015:
I was staying at my mom's place in Alappuzha, some 100kms away from the airport. My flight was at 1605hrs, and we (Me and my parents) decided to leave home sometime around 1000hrs - a good 6 hrs before my flight. They (my parents) were going to my hometown, while I was to head straight to the airport. I wanted my parents to reach home before it was evening, and before crowd builds up. I travelled with them till Ernakulam (Vyttila, to be specific), where I got off and changed to a bus going to the airport, while my parents continued to the city and took a bus to my hometown. (I intend to write about this bus ride separately).
Cochin International Airport..
Anna Cafe.. the Food Court.
The way to reach Domestic Terminal, from International..
I reached the airport sometime around 1330hrs - I had a small get together with some friends there. The meet was very short, and we parted ways at around 1400hrs. I was already hungry by this time, and badly wanted to have my lunch. I headed straight to Anna Cafe - located between the International and Domestic Terminals. The menu did not look elaborate - and I chose to have lunch. It was a typical no-frills Kerala meal, consisting of rice, a gravy, a vegetable curry, a dry vegetable, curd, a chutney and pickle. The meal wasn't very filling, and did not cost a lot as well. At Rs. 100, it was probably the cheapest meal I've had an at airport. The restaurant seemed patronised by a lot of airport staff as well.
That is Domestic departures.. look at the crowd.
The terminal building...
The terminal, once again..
I got into the domestic terminal sometime around 1430hrs. For some reason, the terminal was heavily crowded - there was a long queue for baggage screening. Collecting the baggage after screening was also messy - lots of people crowded around the receiving area. The Check-in counters were also crowded - so crowded that the agents decided to split it by flight. A counter was dedicated to my flight (9W2661). I tried getting to that counter - but a JetKid came in between and asked me not to cut the queue - excuse me! There was nobody at the counter! So where is the queue?? She apologised when I questioned, and let me approach the counter. I checked in my bag, and got my boarding pass by 1450hrs - still an hour and 15 minutes to go for my flight. As she finished my check-in, the agent started calling out for more Bangalore passengers. With all the mess at check-in, I was sure that security check wouldn't me a cake walk.
This side of the terminal was empty..
The Jet Airways Check-in counter..
My Boarding pass..
There was a very long queue at security check - there were a few confused foreigners who had no idea of what to do. The CISF guards helped them greatly in getting through the process. With the just two scanning machines, it took a long time to finish security, and I got into security check by around 1500hrs. While going through security check, I understood that there were a lot of international connecting passengers, who were flying out from Kochi on Jet Airways - either on the Bangalore flight, or a Mumbai flight that leaves after us.  And then there was on Indigo Flight to Delhi after us as well. That was three flights departing in a 35 minute interval. The security hold was crowded - thankfully, an Indigo flight was boarding already - Hadn't that been the case, the crowd would've been much higher.
A model of the new International Terminal that is coming up at Kochi..
The FIDS. Thats my fight, second from top.
The Security hold..  This is quite crowded by Kochi's standards..
Date of Journey: August 09, 2015
Flight No: 9W-2661 || Seat: 4F
Aircraft type: ATR 72-500 || Regn: VT-JCM
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 1605hrs, ATD: 1551hrs
STA: 1725hrs, ATA: 1705hrs

I headed towards my favorite seats - near the Apron - near a defunct boarding gate. I left my phone to charge and browsed on the free WiFi for some time. A few minutes after I sat down, the aircraft for my flight came in (1518hrs). The aircraft was on the ground a good 47 minutes before its scheduled return departure - this meant we'd surely have an on-time, or a before-time departure. Boarding was called at 1532hrs - Kochi always has seat number wise boarding - passengers in rows 1-9 were called first. I was among the first to get in - I was in seat #4F. I got into the bus and sat on the airside - in the mean time, VT-JGK taxi'd in to the stand nearest to the terminal. This aircraft will fly to Mumbai afterwards. The bus got moving as soon as the seats were occupied. We were dropped near the aircraft a few minutes before 1540hrs.
Thats my aircraft.. seen from the tarmac coach..
Getting into VT-JCM..
It was VT-JCM, an ATR 72-500 delivered to Jet Airways in June 2008. This was my second flight in the same aircraft (the last being in November 2014). I got into the aircraft by 1540hrs - it was hot, really hot inside the aircraft. It took sometime before I could reach my seat - #4F. Although the aircraft was clean, the seats weren't really well maintained. The seat pockets were torn, and needed some urgent attention. I was sitting right next to the massive Hamilton 568F propellers. Like everytime, the window was awfully dirty this time as well. Boarding was completed by 1547hrs, and door was armed at 1549hrs. The flight wasn't full - there were a few empty seats around. The seat next to me - #4D was empty. We were pushed back at 1551hrs - a good 14 minutes before time.

In the deck were Capt Joshua and Capt Nikhil, while Dimpi and Sindhuja took care of us in the cabin. Soon after pushback, the security demonstration began. Around the same time, the Pratt & Whitney 127F came alive - and we were all set to taxi to the runway. We started taxi at 1554hrs - it was a very long taxi to the holding point of Rwy27. We reached there at 1559hrs. The captain came on the PA now, and informed that we are waiting for an aircraft to land, and we'd be airborne in a couple of minutes. Just as he finished saying this, an IndiGo A320 touched down, and we were cleared to enter the active runway. We were finally airborne at 1602hrs. We took off to the West, then turned around a couple of times to head North-east. It was a beautiful takeoff - I could see the airport again soon after takeoff.
Lifting off from Kochi..
Thats Kochi Airport seen again, after takeoff..
The Seatbelt sign was turned off at 1610hrs. It was a bit cloudy outside, and there wasn't much to see outside. I was busy with JetWings - I had identified a few articles to read on my inbound flight itself. Sindhuja came around with the trolley soon. A few passengers in the front row refused food - but they asked for, when they were told its free! The trolley came close - and I got my snack box with a bottle of water. Quite unusually, the FA informed what it contained - she said its a coleslaw sandwich while handing over. The snack box contained a Coleslaw sandwich, and a small pack of KitKat chocolate along with the Imli (Tamarind) candy. The sandwich was very soft and very tasty - I really liked it. The KitKat was a let down - I'd have preferred having a slice of cake or a muffin instead. All said, the snack was filling.
The Snack box - thats the Coleslaw sandwich, and KitKat chocolate.
The Imli candy..
The seatbelt signs came back, and landing was announced at 1644hrs. It was still cloudy outside, and I couldn't even guess where we were. As we came closer to Bangalore, the clouds got darker - at one point, I felt we are going to have a tough time landing. The captain came on the PA, and announced that we were fourth in the queue for landing, and we were expected to touch down just past 1700hrs. I could see it was raining a few kms away from the airport. I had the fears of having to hold or divert if it rains heavily. We finally touched down on Rwy27, exactly at 1700hrs. We taxi'd to the airport very soon, crossing VT-JCN on the way. We finally parked at 1705hrs. The FA announced that passengers continuing to Chennai, on 9W2738 were asked to remain seated in the aircraft. I was the last to alight from the aircraft - I did not see anyone remaining in the aircraft. The coach driver desperately wanted me to get on board, so that we he could head to the terminal. Although my bus was the second to leave from the aircraft, we were the first to reach the terminal - at 1715hrs.
Shortly before landing... look at the cloud cover..
VT-JCM @ Bangalore..
Our Baggage was to come on Belt #6. Belt #6 is a very unique belt - its located inside a glass partition - which means they could make it a belt for international arrivals if needed, and make it domestic when needed. It took quite a lot of time for bags to start appearing - in fact, people were getting a bit restless, and the Jet Airways baggage agent was also getting nervous - he was making a few enquiries on his radio. The first bag came out at 1725hrs - and that was mine! Quite excited, I grabbed it, and just rushed out of the airport. I got into a bus from the airport - and just seconds later started a very heavy downpour. I am sure that rain would've affected operations.

That was a good flight - good food this time, punctual and before time at either ends. The aircraft was clean, but showed lack of seat maintenance. I can't have enough of flying ATRs.. hope to have another one soon.

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 seat pockets were torn)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time, at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Awesome service!)
Catering: 5/5 (Great food)
Overall: 4.5/5

The Jet Turboprop to Kochi!

This was not a trip planned long in advance - but sufficiently in advance to get some good rates! I was heading to Kerala for a conference. Since the conference was starting in the morning, and the venue was a bit away from the airport, I had to reach there the previous night itself. I wanted a flight that leaves late afternoon or early evening. I checked tickets on three of my regular OTAs, and zeroed in on a Jet Airways flight that left at 1545hrs - I don't remember seeing this flight earlier. However, when I got my e-Ticket, I realised that this is not a new flight, but the 1705hrs flight rescheduled to 1545hrs.

August 05, 2015:
I had to leave home quite early for the 1545hrs flight, since I had to finish off some other work on my way to the airport. I tried booking a cab with a cab aggregator, but the cab never turned up. As I was getting late, I had no option but to start off with my car from home. I left the car at the long term parking at a bus station en-route and they got a cab to reach the airport. I was dropped at the airport around 1415hrs. The airport wasn't very crowded - it was an afternoon on a middle-of-the-week working day. I headed straight to the Jet Airways check-in counter to check-in my baggage and get my boarding pass - as usual, I had checked-in the previous day through the Jet Airways App. Check-in was swift, and I was on my way to Security check in under 5 minutes of reaching the airport. I cleared security by 1424hrs. I was in the security hold a good hour before departure.
The boarding pass..
Thats the Jet Airways Check-in counter nearby..
The FIDS...
As usual, boarding would be from a bus gate - and with lots of time to spare, I headed straight to the waiting area near Gate #1. The apron was quite busy at this time - Air Pegasus to Hubballi was boarding, so was Spice Jet to Vizag. Indigos kept coming in, with one odd-man Air India breaking the monotony as well. But then, it was Airbus country, clearly! I was more interested to see the happenings in the Turboprop territory. Sometime around 1458hrs, VT-JDC of Jet Airways (ATR 72-500) arrived. I had made an informed guess that it could be VT-JDC for me - all thanks to the few ATR flights that get logged on FR24. I headed to the gate (#6), on the lower level, soon after VT-JDC came to a halt.
Thats VT-JDC coming in...
Getting on to her stand...
The ground support comes alive..
Date of Journey: August 05, 2015
Flight No: 9W-2655 || Seat: 15A
Aircraft type: ATR 72-500 || Regn: VT-JDC
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 1545hrs, ATD: 1535hrs
STA: 1700hrs, ATA: 1658hrs
Heading down to my gate...
Just before boarding started.. the bus is ready to take us to the bird!
The gate area seemed very empty - I was sure this wouldn't be a full flight. Boarding commenced just past 1513hrs. Boarding wasn't by seat number - but just a random boarding call was made. There was one family ahead of me to board - they were led by a GoAir Captain. The agent at the gate spoke briefly to him, wished him a good flight and were allowed on to the bus. We were at the aircraft by 1517hrs - it was VT-JDC indeed for my flight. This was my first flight with a JDx series flight - the aircraft was in the harpic blue JetKonnect livery still. I got into the aircraft a minute later - the interiors of JDC was different from all the Jet Airways ATRs that I have been in. This aircraft had the new Recaro Slimline seats - a lot of knee room was liberated by these thinner seats. Although they look thin, I somehow love these seats. Although the aircraft was very clean inside, my windows were horribly dirty!
All set to fly.. the luggage is all inside..
The PW127F...
The Recaro slimline seats...
A Panorama shot of Juliet Delta Charlie before boarding..
Boarding took some time to complete. The flight wasn't full - as expected, but there weren't more than a couple of empty seats. Boarding was complete at 1530hrs, and Puneeth armed the door at 1533hrs. Puneeth and Angeline were manning the cabin, while Capt Suresh along with Capt Radhika were in the deck. We were pushed back at 1535hrs. The Pratt & Whitney PW127F stirred up to life as we were pushed back - the aircraft got set for its ride to Kochi. We started taxi at 1539hrs - it was a long run to the 27 end of the runway. We reached the holding point at 1544hrs. On the way, I spotted an IndiGo A320 lifting off from the runway. We also took off right behind, from Rwy27, at 1545hrs. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 1553hrs, and the service started soon after.
My companion for most part of the journey...
VT-JDC is not a very old bird, and was recently refurbished as well. The bird (cn: 772) was originally delivered to the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines as VT-KAO in December 2007. When the airline wound up, the aircraft was withdrawn from service (October 2012) and de-registered. The bird returned to India as VT-JDC in February 2013. The bird looked great after its recent refurbishment. In the meantime, the trolley came closer to me. The "Veg or Chicken" questions became more audible as the trolley came closer. One passenger asked "how much" - the FA went about explaining that its free, and that Jet is a Service carrier. The trolley finally reached my row - "Sir, Veg or Chicken?". Veg, of course!
The snack box, and the water bottle...
The sandwich and the choco-chip muffin..
The Imli (Tamarind) candy...
The box contained a Veg Sandwich, a muffin and the famed imli (tamarind) candy. A bottle of water was given along the snack box. The sandwich was soft, and contained a sweet corn filling. The muffin was unusually good - soft, and with chocolate chips in it. The soft imli candy was the perfect way to round up the meal. Interestingly, they ran out of chicken sandwiches - that some passengers up front did make a scene about not getting their choice. The seatbelt signs came back on, and a landing announcement was made at 1634hrs. We were flying amid a lot of clouds. In fact, soon after the landing announcement came, the captain came on the PA and briefed us about the flight. He said it would be a bumpy landing - it was cloudy, visibility was around 2500m and mild rains were expected.
Thats Kochi airport.. seen while overflying the airport..
We were descending slowly, and Kochi airport soon came to sight. We overflew the airport, and then turned east. While flying eastwards, I spotted two aircrafts on their landing finals - the first one was a Jet Airways B738, and the one behind was IndiGo A320. After flying east for a few minutes, we turned around, and lined up for landing. By now the "crew to stations" call was made, and we were on our way to touch down. We finally touched down at 1655hrs - one of the smoothest landings I've ever witnessed till date. It was hard to exactly guess the time we touched down - so soft! A very hard braking followed - a very hard braking, at it!  We exited the runway and taxied down to Stand 7, and parked there by 1658hrs. Welcome to Kochi International Airport announcements followed by the "we are early" announcement followed.
After landing in Kochi...
Quite unusually, people remained seated till the seatbelt sign actually went off. Deplaning started very soon after. Although the aircraft was actually close to the terminal building, buses were used to ferry passengers to the terminal. The terminal was quite deserted - ours was the only arrival in the domestic section at this time. It took a very very long time for baggages to appear - mine came only at 1718hrs! While waiting for my bags, I happened to strike a conversation - rather, run into - the GoAir Captain who had boarded before me at Bangalore. It is shameful, but I had overheard him talking to someone on phone, and he identified himself as Capt. Anup Ghosh. The name rang a bell in my mind - I quickly checked my log, and checked the commander who flew my two flights with Go. Yes! It was him, who flew me to Pune last year (Read here). It was a pleasure speaking to him - and I was quite honoured when he remember this post, and he happens to be a reader of this blog. Thanks a lot, captain! I am sure you are reading this too :) Finally, both of us got our baggages are the same time - after bidding him adieu, I had to rush out to get a bus for my 100kms ride ahead.

Epilogue: I was flying an ATR after three months. The new seats in the ATR was a refreshing change - I loved the experience. The service was great - calls were attended quickly. In fact, the crew walked around with water bottles before push-back, and that was a great touch. It was a nice sweet trip. Meeting Capt. Ghosh was an icing on the cake. It felt great speaking to him. A flight to remember for long.

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 (Before time, at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Awesome service!)
Catering: 4.5/5 (Great food - a lil' variety would be great)
Overall: 4.9/5