Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Maharaja A319, Pune to Bangalore via Hyderabad

It was an interesting experience searching for tickets for my return journey from Pune. The conference I was attending was getting over on Sunday in the afternoon, and my presentation was scheduled for Sunday morning. Since I decided to go for the conference quite late, my options were quite limited. While browsing on different ticketing websites, I came across a low fare ticket on Air India - the good ol' Maharaja of Indian skies. I quickly cross checked the rates on the Air India website, and confirmed the rates did exist. I hadn't flown on Air India for quite some time, and I haven't flown an Airbus A319 as well. Booking on this flight was a no-brainer decision. The departure time from Pune (1535hrs) was a bit of worry though - the program ends only at 1330hrs. I decided to book the ticket after I checked the distance between the conference venue and the airport.

November 30, 2014:
While at the conference venue, I booked for a cab pick-up at 1300hrs. With the airport just around 20kms away, and being a Sunday afternoon, I was sure I'd be able to reach there with enough time to spare. My presentation finished later than expected, and I had to really rush with my lunch. Just as I finished my lunch (sharp at 1300hrs), the cab driver calls up and drops a bomb - that he would not be able to turn up at the appointed time. The conference venue was on the outskirts of the city, and transportation options from there were really really limited. I was a bit worried, and skipped a few heartbeats, no doubt. I called up the call-centre of the cab operator - but they were helpless as well - unsatisfactory responses, and an indifferent attitude. It was then a mad hunt for cabs - and finally a local cab operator - TCabs - agreed to send a cab and promised that the car would drop me at the airport before 1415hrs. The cab turned up at 1330hrs, and the driver confirmed my flight timings before he hit the road. A good driver, who really understood my emergency, and he drove very smart, speeding up whenever situation permitted. He dropped me at the Airport at 1407hrs - with enough time to go for check-in limits. The driver refused any tips and collected just the meter fare. TCabs would certainly be my operator of choice when I go to Pune again.

Pune Airport is a very small airport - seriously too small for a city like Pune. The departure area was chocked - I realised later that there were no less than 4 departures at that time! There was a long queue at the entrance to the terminal area - the CISF guards at the entry were going about checking each ticket at a very leisurely pace. Once inside the terminal, there was another round of CISF checking, where tickets and IDs were verified again. The guard here directed me to the Air India check-in counter, which was among the counters closer to security check. My check-in baggage was scanned and a sticker put on my bag certifying it was checked. There was absolutely no-one at the check-in counter, and I got my boarding pass by 1415hrs. Security check was a bit messy - long disorderly queues - with people jumping lines at their will. Thankfully, I passed checking by 1425hrs and headed towards the security hold in the first floor of the terminal. While I walked out of security check, an Indigo A320 (VT-IFE to Ahmedabad) took off. No gate number was mentioned on the boarding pass - so just followed the crowd.

Date of Journey: November 30, 2014
Flight No: AI-518 || Seat: 18A
Aircraft type: Airbus 319 || Regn: VT-SCP
Sector: PNQ-HYD
STD: 1520hrs, ATD: 1525hrs
STA: 1625hrs, ATA: 1625hrs

The terminal area was quite crowded - I got a seat closer to the air-side and sat down watching some action. I switched on my laptop and remained glued to FR24 tracking the whereabouts of my aircraft. The aircraft (VT-SCP) works Goa-Pune-Hyderabad-Bangalore, and it was flying over Satara at that point of time - The aircraft was expected to land in Pune in another 25 minutes. A Jet Airways aircraft (VT-JFJ) was also approaching Pune. In the meantime, a Jet Airway ATR72 to Indore was boarding (could not note the regn). A private jet, Bombardier Global 5000, marked "Bajaj" (VT-KJB) was pushed out at this time - it remained on the apron for quite sometime, while another private aircraft, a Beechcraft B200, (VT-LKK) headed to the runway for takeoff.  The Beechcraft was made to hold for a while, to let VT-JFJ of Jet Airways working 9W-2847 to land. The Beechcraft took off soon after. The Bajaj owned Bombardier was made to hold for my aircraft - VT-SCP to land (1453hrs). Soon after SCP landed, VT-KJB was cleared for take off.
VT-SCP - my aircraft - landing at PNQ
It was not until 1511hrs that boarding was called - the boarding gate was at the other end of the terminal, the opposite end of where I was seated. In the meantime, a long queue had already formed. We were boarding from Gate #2 (a Jetway gate). It was a long walk from the waiting area to the aircraft - I was among the last passengers to walk in. Boarding passes were checked again before we were permitted into the aircraft - Air India security personnel were performing the checks. Boarding finished by 1523hrs, and the aircraft was pushed back at 1525hrs. A quick welcome briefing was done by the chief of cabin crew - who introduced herself was Ms Menon. The deck crew was headed by Captain Chandrashekhar (who flew me through to Bangalore). Security demonstration was played on the IFE screens - a slow and  relaxed presentation, which actually let passengers understand the instructions quite clearly. We began our taxi at 1529 and was held short of the runway at about 1531hrs. A SpiceJet B738 (VT-SPF) landed - came in from Kochi? We finally moved over to the active runway (Rwy10) at 1534, and  took off at 1536hrs.
A SpiceJet (VT-SPF) coming in to PNQ
In-Flight service in the first leg.
In-flight from PNQ to HYD
The IFE had a couple of movies and a live map - I did not ask for the headphones and preferred looking out and reading the in-flight magazine - Shubh Yatra instead. In-flight service soon after the seatbelt sign was switched off. They served a couple of cookies, and a hot beverage. The jugs used to serve Tea/Coffee still had the "Indian Airlines" embossed markings. I opted for coffee. This sector was largely uneventful. Landing was announced at 1609hrs. The purser was making all the announcements - she was talking a bit too fast to be comprehended. We touched down at 1621hrs on Rwy09. As we landed, an Air India A319 was ready to take off. We parked at a Jetway stand at the terminal, at 1625hrs. The purser announced that we were expected to be on the ground for 35 minutes and that all passengers continuing to Bangalore are to remain seated.
Inside VT-SCP
Approaching HYD
Landing at HYD
Soon after the aircraft was parked, a ladder was connected to the rear exit, and housekeeping staff were all set to barge in. The aircraft almost emptied out at Hyderabad - about 20-odd passengers remained in the aircraft. As soon as the passengers alighting in Hyderabad cleared out, the housekeeping staff came in and began their work. An Air India security personnel came around for identification of hand baggage, while housekeeping staff came around collecting bottles and leftover items left in seat pockets. Sometime later, an AirIndia staff came and verified boarding passes. A new set of cabin crew joined us here. In both the legs, there were two each of male and female cabin crew.
Soon after parking at HYD
The interiors were quite good
Indigo VT-IAS being pushed off for a departure to VTZ (?)
The apron was packed with Indigo aircrafts. Infact, we had one on each side of our aircraft - VT-IAS was on the port side. I couldn't notice the regn of the aircraft on the starboard side. There were two SpiceJet Q400s at the remote stands as well.
The Apron at HYD - it was all-in-all LCCs at that time
Sector: HYD-PNQ
STD: 1705hrs, ATD: 1658hrs
STA: 1810hrs, ATA: 1803hrs

The first passenger boarding from Hyderabad came in at 1643hrs. Boarding was completed at 1654hrs - we were full again. The new cabin crew now welcomed all the passengers - Captain Chandrashekhar was continuing on to Bangalore. We were pushed off at 1658hrs. The safety demonstration video was being played out in during this time. We taxied out at 1702hrs. As we started taxiing, Indigo's VT-IEG came in. We headed towards Rwy09, and took off at 1705hrs. While taking off, I spotted an ATR72 painted in Air Pegasus livery and an Air Asia A320 parked at the MRO Hanger. We took off towards the east and turned around to align to our South Western direction. 
Taxiing off for take-off from HYD
Soon after take-off from HYD
Soon after the seatbelt sign was switched off, in-flight service started off. I was a bit hungry now, and wanted something good to eat. The trolley came close - my tray was handed over. Sigh! It was cookies again! This time, the cookies were packed better though, and there were two pieces each of sweet and salted cookies. I opted for coffee again - and the coffee tasted better this time (could be because I was too hungry as well). For some reason, the cabin crew on this leg were mechanically serving the passengers - they just hurried through the service. Soon after the service was over, the aircraft ran into somewhat turbulent weather - the seatbelt signs came on, and an announcement was made about the turbulent weather as well. There was fairly thick cloud cover, and it was a marvellous experience flying between clouds in the backdrop of a setting sun. My co-passenger was perhaps flying for the first time - she was quite curious about the scene outside, and requested me to get a couple of pictures on her phone. 
In-flight service in the second sector
The moving map on the IFE - but where is the destination, Bengaluru?
Flying between the clouds..
Landing was announced at 1744hrs - the seatbelt sign was already on. We flew past Bangalore airport, headed towards the west. We flew for quite some time before we turned back to align to the landing path. While we were yet to turn around, I saw another aircraft far away on its finals approaching Bangalore. We turned around, letting me have a better view of the setting sun, and aligned to land at Bangalore. We finally touched down on Rwy09 at 1800hrs. Soon after we cleared the active runway, the purser came on the PA system, and announced our arrival - she thanked all passengers for flying "Air India, a member of Star Alliance". Announcements on this sector were more comprehensible compared to the earlier sector. It appeared that we landed at a non-peak hour at Bangalore - most of the jetways were vacant - we finally parked at Stand #20 at 1803hrs - it took sometime for the jetway to be attached. But the impatient Indians we are, people had already formed a long queue to get off the aircraft. I waited till the crowd subsided a bit, and I walked out of the aircraft at 1810hrs - the cabin crew gave a nice smile and the traditional Namaskaar to each passenger getting off the craft. It took some time for the baggage to arrive, and I was finally out of the airport at 1819hrs.
Overflying Bengaluru Airport...
Turning around as we approach Bengaluru...
Welcome back to Bengaluru, says this Indigo A320
Stats:
Total time: 2h38m
PNQ-HYD: 1h00m | HYD-BLR: 1h05m
Time spent at HYD: 33m

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: PNQ-HYD: 4.75/5 | HYD-BLR: 4.5/5 (service was too mechanical)
On-Board Service: 4/5 (Could've been better - they could've served something better in the second leg)
Overall: 4.85/5

Sunday, December 07, 2014

GO to Pune!

A conference in Pune. Attending conferences and making paper presentations are often a part of my profession. I sent in an entry for the paper presentation and it got approved. I was undecided whether to go or not until a few days before the conference when a senior person in my department encouraged me to attend the program. After confirming my registrations, it was time to hunt for tickets and accommodation. I booked a room using a famous travel portal (which I later cancelled and rebooked in a different hotel) and then began the hunt for the travel tickets. I hadn't still decided whether to attend the entire conference or only the main part of it - and hence I first booked my return ticket. Then the search for the outward ticket started - I had two options - Indigo and Go. Since I had never been on Go, I selected a Go Air Flight to Pune, departing at 0545hrs on November 29, 2014.

The day prior to my journey was quite busy, and I reached home quite late. Some guests at home meant I slept very late - I hit bed past 2300hrs - and I had set an alarm for 0200hrs! I had booked a cab with a pick-up time of 0300hrs. With hardly 2.5 hours of sleep, I was all set for my first flight with Go Air.

November 29, 2014:
My day started off answering a phone call from the cab driver asking for directions to reach my place. I realised that I was already running late as I disconnected the call - I had probably turned off the alarm when it rang. I was ready for the journey after rushing through the morning formalties and walked out of my home at 0300hrs - just after the cab guy informed me that he was waiting outside. A trusty Toyota Etios stood outside my apartment complex to ferry me to the Airport - close to 45 kms away. The driver confirmed my flight timings as he started off. The empty roads of Bangalore meant we had a stable cruise all the way to the airport. While the roads in the City were empty, the Airport road was exactly the opposite - recklessly driven cabs and private cars made for a turbulent ride to the Airport. But I must say - my cabbie maintained steady pace and did not try doing heroics on the road. I was dropped at the Airport at 0400hrs.

I was quite hungry and headed straight to Maiyyas outside the departure gate for a light breakfast. After breakfast, I walked into the terminal - the CISF personnel directed me to a random scanning line - where my check-in bag was scanned and my ticket details noted down. I then headed to the check-in counters. Go Air was using 6 counters for check-in, Counters #8 to 13. Only 5 of them were active, and one among them were kept for GoBusiness check-ins and for special passengers (mothers with infants, elderly, etc). Check-ins for two flight were in progress - one to Mumbai, and the second mine (to Pune, Nagpur, Kolkata). Loads seemed fairly good for both the flights. It took about 8 minutes to get my boarding pass. I expected longer queues at Security check, and rushed to the upper level for security - The queue there wasn't very long (thankfully) and I managed to complete checking by 0435hrs.

Date of Journey: November 29, 2014
Flight No: G8-283 || Seat: 21F
Aircraft type: Airbus 320-200 || Regn: VT-GOP
STD: 0545hrs, ATD: 0545hrs
STA: 0705hrs, ATA: 0704hrs

Boarding for my flight was announced from Gate #09, and boading time on my Boarding pass was 0505hrs. Gates 1 through 3 were empty - there were none to board from there. There were some passengers waiting near Gate #09 - I took a seat there and got busy browsing on FR24 to make an informed guess about my aircraft. On my way to the gate, I had seen a Go Air A320 (Later identified as VT-GOR) parked at a jetway. I got tired sitting at the gate and decided to have a stroll - just then I noticed that the aircraft for my flight had been brought to the gate - it was VT-GOP, an Airbus 320-200 delivered to Go Air in 2013. Boarding hadn't yet commenced since the Go Air Agent hadn't come yet. An agent came in sharp at 0505, but he did not start boarding. CISF personnel to came in, and the gate was unlocked and prepared for boarding. The deck and cabin crew came in, and about five minutes after they came, the first boarding call was made (the agent at the gate shouted for passengers traveling to Pune/Nagpur by G8-283). I was the second passenger to board (was infact the first in the queue, but a unruly fellow jumped the queue in truly Indian style). I was inside the aircraft at 0518.
The aircraft : VT-GOP (image courtesy: Nishant Rao @ JetPhotos.net)
This was my first experience being on the first flight of the day for an aircraft - the cabin crew were just settling, securing their baggage, et al. Just as the first passenger walked in, they just put off what they were doing and warmly welcomed passengers. The first two rows were earmarked as GoBusiness, while the remaining 28 rows were Economy. Seats had a dark grey theme. I headed straight to my seat at the back (#21F) - a seat on the right side, purposefully chosen to have a nice view of the sunrise. Recorded announcements welcoming passengers to Go Air were being played as boarding was in progress - they also made announcements asking passengers not to block the aisle so that we could finish boarding earlier. Boarding was completed at 0539hrs. Capt Anup Ghosh (Commander) came on the PA system and made a brief announcement welcoming passengers to the flight and giving out some information about the flight. He introduced the passengers to the First Office, Capt. Amrut, and also named the cabin crew - led by Fauzan, assisted by Kanchan, Tishu and Nutei. He congratulated passengers for choosing Go Air, specifically the early morning departure, and he gave out the flying details. He informed that we'd be Pune an hour and 10 minutes after push-off.
Waiting to be pushed off....
We were pushed back at 0545hrs. In the mean time, the other GO Air departure (to Mumbai) started its taxi to the runway. Another Go Air aircraft was sleeping off at a parking stand. Safety demonstration was made soon after push off. We started taxiing at 0549, and headed straight towards Rwy09. Right behind us was a Jet Airways ATR (to Kochi?). We took off at 0557hrs. For some reason, this take-off felt very special to me - this was my first with Go Air, first early morning departure. We took off straight to the east, and turned towards our north-west direction. It was still dark, but signs of the sunrise were evident. Buy-on-board service commenced soon after seat-belt signs were switched off. Majority of the announcements were pre-recorded ones. They had a lot of Britannia products on sale - since I had a light breakfast earlier, did not buy anything on board. Passengers who had a pre-booked meal got another serving free! Loads on this flight were very good - the seat next to me was empty, and there were a couple more empty seats - but the rest were occupied.
In-flight...
One more...
The captain came on the PA system once again (sometime around 0641) and announced out descent to Pune. His sounded quite enthusiastic about his job - he sounded happy as well. He gave some info about the flight - that we were cruising at FL320. This was my first flight to Pune, and I was quite engrossed in absorbing the surroundings. We flew over an assortment of fields interspersed with apartment complexes. We finally touched down on Rwy28, at 0702hrs - the IAF apron was quite busy. A smooth touchdown, followed by a quick braking. The exitway from the runway is near the apron, and hence we did not have to spend time taxiing - we parked at Gate #1 (#4 of arrivals) at 0704. The apron was quite busy at the time - we were accompanied by an Air India A320 (VT-ESF, in Star Alliance livery), an Indigo A320 (VT-INS), and SpiceJet B737 (VT-SZJ, landed right behind us). De-boarding took some time, since they had opened only the front exit (due to checking of boarding passes, since the aircraft flies to NAG and CCU afterwards). I was out of the aircraft at 0712. It took some time for the baggages to come out - and I was out of the airport by 0725hrs.
 At Pune Lohegaon Airport
Go Air is a Budget airline floated by the Wadia Group, and commenced operations in 2005. They've been a no-nonsense airline, and have been going about strengthening their operations by remaining stable and not expanding too rapidly. They operate all of 19 aircrafts, and have been around for 9 years now. I liked their service - purely no-nonsense. The crew were professional in what they did. The buy-on-board service wasn't really great - they did not bother offering items to all the passengers. But they did respond to passenger requests. The check-in experience was good - it was a bit slow though. Most of the announcements, except the flight specific ones, were pre-recorded announcements - that ensured clarity of information. The fact that the captain announced flight details himself made for an interesting flight - it gave a very personal touch.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 4.5/5 (losing points for the B-o-B service)
On-Board Service: Did not use.
Overall: 4.9/5

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kochi to BLR on AirAsia.. again!

The hunt for weekend tickets was running hot on my laptop. Almost all the flights for the date I wanted were selling at fairly high prices - but there were sufficient low cost tickets for the next day (i.e., Monday). It was then that an idea flashed - I had enough leaves left, and I could afford to take half-a-day off, fly a morning flight to Bangalore and head straight to office from the airport. I decided to do that - and started looking at the morning options. There were four flights - one each by Jet Airways, Indigo, Air Asia and SpiceJet (in the order of departure). I decided to pick the cheapest - and Air Asia it was! Things went normally after the booking, till my Sis-in-law booked on the same flight (for a different date) - she got a message saying her flight was rescheduled and would leave only an hour later - later, the flight got cancelled as well. The punctuality of this particular flight wasn't looking great whenever I checked its stats.

A couple of days before my journey, I got a mail from AirAsia notifying a change in my flight timings. This was followed by a series of messages, an email message and a phone call from AirAsia the day before my journey. I did not check in online, and decided to check-in at the counter instead.

Date of Journey: November 17, 2014
Flight No: I5-1124 || Seat: 9A
Aircraft type: Airbus 320-200 || Regn: VT-ATF
STD: 1110hrs, ATD: 1111hrs
STA: 1210hrs, ATA: 1207hrs

Like everytime, I felt lazy as the time to leave home came closer. I got up late, and kept loitering around till it started getting late. It was a Monday morning, the first of a Malayalam month - all these factors called for heavy crowd in buses. The journey from home to Airport ensues changing three buses (i.e., 4 buses in all). I had to travel standing for a portion of the journey, and hire an autorickshaw for the last leg of the journey. I reached the Airport at 0945hrs. The domestic terminal was quite crowded - in fact the maximum I've seen here. Two flights were checking in at that time, and a couple more scheduled a couple of hours away. The baggage scanners were busy. The SpiceJet counter was busy while the AirAsia counter was quite empty - I headed to an empty desk and a smiling lady checked me in and issued my boarding pass. She handed over a hand-baggage tag and directed me towards security check.
The Domestic Terminal at Cochin
A CISF guard was screening passengers by their boarding pass first before allowing them towards the actual security check area - probably she was prioritizing the immediate departure passengers first. Only one scanner was working and hence there was a fairly long queue to leave the bags for scanning. Frisking took some more time. I reached the security hold by 1000hrs. I took a seat closer to the gates so that I can watch some birds land at Kochi. Soon after, an Indigo A320 (VT-IFD) to Bengaluru/Kolkata was pushed off. I saw the bird taxi towards Rwy27. In the meantime, A Saudi Arabian A330 (HZ-AQF) arrived from Riyadh - she taxied in towards the International Terminal, and a while later the Indigo A320 took off. The airport was silent for sometime, until a Sri Lankan A320 (4R-ABL) came in from Colombo. Soon after, an Air India A320 (VT-ESE) was pushed off - I was seeing the ground activities during push-off so close for the first time. In the meantime, a SpiceJet B737-900ER (VT-SPU) came in from Mumbai (the same aircraft left for Goa/Bangalore right behind us). My aircraft (VT-ATF) came in at 1045hrs. Interstingly, SpiceJet had already began boarding by then. The boarding call for my flight was made at 1051hrs - a long queue had formed already by then.

I visited the washroom one and joined at the back of the queue - which was already in an inverted "Y" shape. AirAsia collects the stub of the boarding pass at the gate itself, and later do a headcount on board - the same procedure repeated here. I've noticed that all other airlines collect the stub of the boarding pass only at the entry to the aircraft. At the stairs an AirAsia agent checked seat numbers and re-directed the passengers to the appropriate door - since I was on Seat #9A, I was permitted through the front door. I got inside the aircraft at 1100hrs. Half the aircraft was still to board. Boarding finished by 1107hrs. Interestingly, SpiceJet was still boarding! Soon after boarding was completed, the headcount procedure started. Doors were closed only after the number of passengers on-board were tallied with their passenger manifest. We were pushed off at 1111hrs. Soon after pushoff, the safety demonstration began - an pre-recorded announcement was played and all the four attendants on board participated in the demo. The purser for the flight was Monica, and Captain Pravin Sharma was in command (could not get the first officer's name).
The aircraft: VT-ATF (Image courtesy: photoyogi @ JetPhotos.net)
As we were about to taxi, the SpiceJet was being prepared for push back. The ground staff gave the characteristic thunbs-up signal as the aircraft began taxiing (1116hrs). We entered the taxiway and turned towards Rwy09 for take off. In the meantime, a Jet Airways ATR 72-500 (VT-JCN, the same bird I flew in on) arrived from Bangalore and exited the runway. We took off from Rwy09 at 1121hrs. As we were climbing, I noticed the SpiceJet taxiing towards the runway. Soon after the seat-belt signs were switched off, the buy-on-board service commenced. Passengers who had pre-booked their meal was served first - I missed to book a meal, and  was feeling a bit hungry. The service was a bit slow, since everybody seemed to be buying something. I was told a sad news when the cart came close to me - no vegetarian options were available! The attendant checked with the other cart and confirmed that no veg options were available - that was really bad. An LCC not providing veg options on they b-o-b service. I picked up an Iced Tea (which was not even cool - forget being cold). We were overflying the western ghats at the time - I saw a town which I presume to be Ooty from the aircraft - there were lots of houses/building on the top of a hill.
In-flight.. somewhere over the western ghats...
The skies were largely clear - hardly any clouds anywhere (completely opposite of the scene on my inbound flight, where we experienced turbulence most of the time and flew under cloud cover). The sky was hazy though. The hills gave way to agricultural lands and villages - this signalled we had entered Karnataka. Landing was announced at 1147hrs. In the meantime, we were closing in towards Bangalore - and I was busy guessing each road I saw below. We turned left and were approaching Bangalore from the west - I was sure we'd land on Rwy09. We finally touched down on Rwy09 of Bengaluru Kempegowda International Airport at 1201hrs. It was a fairly long taxi after landing at Bengaluru. As we were taxiing towards the apron, the SpiceJet from Kochi landed as well. We finally parked at a remote stand at 1207hrs. The bus-fan in me jumped up in joy spotting the new Air India-SATS Volvos coming in to pick us up. The bus dropped me at the terminal building at 1218hrs - interestingly the bus stopped right next to VT-SPU (also from Kochi) which got an aerobridge. I did not have any check-in baggage, and got out of the terminal building by 1223hrs - and ran into a BMTC Volvo departing towards the city.

I was happy with my last AirAsia Flight (read here). This flight was a mixed experience - the buy-on-board service disappointed with the lack of veg options. The announcements on the flight were too fast and difficult to comprehend. The check-in process was great - so was boarding. The aircraft wasn't very clean - there were chocolate wrappers on the floor, used paper napkins in the seat pockets. I was not really happy with the re-schedule as well. I really had to hurry from the airport. The fact that they had cancelled a flight the previous Sunday (on which my sis-in-law) was to fly, without any alternatives being offered, too put me off.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 4/5 (not very clean - leftovers from the inbound flight found)
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 4.5/5 (too fast announcements - incomprehensible)
On-Board Service: 2.5/5 (No veg options  - cold beverage wasn't even cool)
Overall: 4/5 (Could get better)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

BLR to COK by 9W ATR once more....

Sometime towards the end of October. I was busy browsing travel websites in the hunt for air-tickets - Flying to Kochi from Bangalore meant a lot of time savings for me, and this was getting on me. Tickets for a Friday flight in November showed up for somewhere around 2.4K on a ticketing portal - and the portal was offering a cashback coupon for bookings using credit cards issued by an particular bank. I thought of checking out how much does the cashback work out to, and hit the book button - the website turned up the "Please wait while we reconfirm the fares and availability" message. The next page sprung up a surprise for me - the message there read, "The fare for your booking has been reduced". And, I got a ticket for Rs. 899!

Date of Journey: November 14, 2014
Flight No: 9W-2655 || Seat: 15A
Aircraft type: ATR 72-500 || Regn: VT-JCN
STD: 1710hrs, ATD: 1652hrs
STA: 1840hrs, ATA: 1811hrs

I left office a bit late - It was already 3pm by the time I reached out of office. I had to take an auto to the next bus stop and then change a bus to get an Airport bus. As my wait for a bus towards Hebbal got longer, I got a bit uneasy and worried. I was at Hebbal by around 1520hrs. It was drizzling and there was no shelter at the bus stop. An Airport bus turned up at around 1530hrs, and the bus dropped me at the Airport sometime around 1555hrs. One thing I noticed while approaching the airport was that I did not notice any takeoffs. As we neared the Airport, I noticed an AirIndia aircraft taking off from Rwy09. I was very excited by now - taking off from Rwy09 would be a first for me.

I got off the bus and rushed to the terminal - being a Friday evening, the terminal was fairly crowded. I wanted a print out of my boarding pass - so headed straight to a self check-in kiosk - but for some reason, it did not print my pass, nor did it read the code on the mBoarding pass. I headed straight to the Jet Aiways check-in counters - the regular counters had long queues, but there were two counters dedicated to passengers with hand baggage only - headed to one of them, and got a boarding pass issued. The lady at the counter informed me that boarding would be from Gate 5, and there would be no announcements/calls for boarding, while adding that the boarding time was 1625hrs. I thanked her and headed to security check. This area was even more crowded - for some reason, the Security guys at Bengaluru are quite slow and behave very awkwardly at times.

The guarded wanted me to remove the umbrella from my bag and re-scan it - it ate some 5 minutes of my time. After security check, I remembered that I was running short of cash and headed to an ATM in the security hold area. I wanted to grab something to eat, but nothing at the eateries caught my attention - I decided to try out SkyCafe this time. Took the elevator down to the lower level where Gate 5 is located. There are three departure gates at the lower level - Gates 4-6. All of them use buses to ferry passengers to the aircraft. Since the time was already closer to 1625hrs, I decided to remain around the gate itself. Exactly at 1625, the agent at the gate called for passengers flying to Kochi. Since I was standing close to the counter, I decided to be the first to get on to the bus - the bus had just come - got in an picked a seat on the airside - a SpiceJet B737 and a Go Air A320 were boarding. Just as the bus was about to move, an Air India A320 came in. The bus ride was short - the aircraft was actually visible from the boarding gate. We were dropped outside the aircraft, and I was the last to get off the bus.
The aircraft: VT-JCM (Photo Courtesy: Sriram Hariharan @ JetPhotos.net)
VT-JCM, an ATR 72-500 delivered in 2008, in the Jet Airways livery, with the "Konnect" Stickering was flying me to Kochi (as 9W-2655) that day. I joined the queue and was inside the aircraft by 1635 or so. The first thing I noticed after being seated was that my window was fogged up - I hoped it would clear up after taking off. We were full today, and boarding was taking quite some time. Around 4 buses came in with passengers for our flight - the last bus had just 3 passengers, though. Boarding completed at 1642hrs. In the meantime, SpiceJet's VT-SPU was parked next to us, and was flying as SG246 to Kochi. We were pushed off at 1652 hrs. The security demo started soon after. In command was Captain Vismay and First Officer Praful, while Savitha and Mahesh were taking care of the passengers. We started taxiing at 1657, and finally took off from Rwy09 at 1703hrs. We took off towards the east, and then turned around and took the course towards Kochi. Buy-on-board service commenced soon - this time I was eager to try something.
One snap, I managed to take from the badly fogged up windows. It was cloudy through the journey.
I opted for a Malai Paneer Sandwich and some water - the Sandwich was average, and nothing great to talk about. As the service was on, the seatbelt sign came on, and an announcement was made that we were expected turbulence and all passengers were requested to be seated. It was quite cloudy outside and the aircraft shivered as we passed through them. My window was still fogged and I couldn't really enjoy the scene outside - but it was very beautiful. On the right side of the aircraft, the sun was slowly setting and the golden rays made for a beutiful scene - I really cursed myself for not selecting a seat on the right side, and for being stuck up with a fogged window. The captain came online and announced that the weather in Kochi was bad - we were expected to land amid mild showers. He announced that we should be in Kochi in another 20 minutes. As we started descending, the cloud cover slowly reduced, and Kochi Airport was visible in entirety by around 1757hrs - and landing was announced at the very moment. While we were overflying the airport, an aircraft was on its short-finals, about to land on Rwy27. After overflying the airport, we headed east once again, and turned around to line up with the approach path. We finally touched down on Rwy27 at 1808hrs.

The runway was still wet from heavy rains a few hours ago. We taxied to the apron and finally parked right next to VT-SPU (which was at BLR when we were taking off) at 1811hrs. Quite unusually, I too hurried to get off the aircraft this time. Buses were waiting outside the aircraft to ferry us to the terminal. I was out of the airport by 1820hrs. Unfortunately for me, the bus towards the city was already gone - but fortunately got an auto-rickshaw which dropped me at the highway. I was too tired to travel standing, and hence waited to get a bus which had empty seats and did the same for the next two bus changes - I was finally at home by 2030hrs.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (Not really relevant, since I had web checked in)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 5/5
Overall: 5/5

Saturday, November 15, 2014

BLR to COK: 9W ATR again!

The price at which I got the round-trip ticket continued to be the talk of the town (pun intended) as I attended a marriage in Kerala. I was back home by afternoon. Irrespective of the number of days I spend at home, I invariable have a heavy heart when the time to return comes. This time, I wasn't keeping really well, and I wasn't even able to have good food.

Date of Journey: November 09, 2014
Flight No: 9W-2614 || Aircraft: VT-JCM || Seat: 15A
STD: 2225hrs, ATD: 2207hrs
STA: 2350hrs, ATA: 2328hrs

I had a very early dinner, and walked out of home in the midst of a power failure, at around 1915hrs - it was quite dark as I walked towards the bus stop. It dawned on me that it was a Sunday only after waiting at the bus stop for close to 15 minutes to get a bus to the nearest town. I got a bus by sheer chance of luck - all thanks to two bus crew who were standing there - the guy literally stood on the road as he waved at the bus driver to stop. I reached Kodungallur sometime around 1940hrs - still about 2 hours to go for the boarding time - and the airport was around 30kms away. No bus towards the airport turned up until 2005hrs, when a bus to North Parur turned up - another round of waiting ensued at North Parur. Thankfully, roads were deserted, it being a Sunday evening. After changing three buses, and hiring a three-wheeler, I was at the airport by around 2125hrs - exactly an hour to go for my flight.

At the entrance, the CISF guard looked bemused at my e-ticket - he struggled to find out where was my flight listed - it was round trip booking, and he couldn't find where the entry was - he later let me in after I pointed out the booking details on the print out. As I entered into the terminal building, I was quite shocked to know that AirAsia was flying that night - my Sister-in-law was booking on a day time AirAsia flight, which they cancelled and simply offered a full refund without a word or thought on alternatives (that too on a Sunday!).

I rushed to the check-in counter (I had web checked in - but prefer a boarding pass than the print out) - Mr. David, the agent at the counter, smiled as he said, "So you have already checked in.. here is your boarding pass", while directing me to the security check. I walked towards the security check - but wait.. where is the security area gone? The doors were locked, and no boards existed! I looked around and spotted the "Security Check" board placed on the wall perpendicular to the old entrance - I initially thought this was a spare security checking area - but later realised that they've actually relocated the Scanning and frisking areas. There was just one CISF guy who manned the scanning equipment as well as did the frisking! It took me about 10 minutes to pass security check - and I was the lone passenger there!

As I entered the security hold, I noticed that Mr. David had already reached the gate and was preparing to let in passengers! Sometime around 2140 hrs, the aircraft flew in from Bangalore, and the characteristic announcement, "Jet Airways announces the arrival of their flight 9W-2613 from Bengaluru. The same aircraft will be operating 9W-2614 to Bengaluru. Please note that boarding will commence shortly" was made. Sometime around 2147hrs, the first boarding call was made. Jet Airways normally calls passengers by their seat numbers for boarding (atleast for their ATRs) - this time too, the passengers on Rows 1 through 7 were called - and, as expected, people seated on rows other than these rushed to the counter. I remain seated near the gate and watched all the fun unfold. Soon after the first 7 rows boarded, calls for the remaining passengers were made. I joined the queue, and passed boarding - David gave a big smile as he checked my boarding pass, and wished a great flight (thanks David for that!).
The aircraft: VT-JCM (Photo Courtesy: Siddarth Bhandary @ JetPhotos.net)
A rickety bus ferried me to VT-JCM, an ATR 72-500 delivered to Jet Airways in 2008, which would fly me to Bengaluru. Boarding was quite slow since people tend to mob the entrance, and they permit only one-at-a-time on the stairs of the ATR. I was inside the aircraft by 2158hrs, and boarding was completed by 2206hrs. Flight Attendant Dexter was at the door welcoming each passenger with a warm hello, while Purser Suman was inside helping passengers with their luggage. We were pushed off at 2207hrs - a good 18 minutes before time. Security demonstration was performed soon after push-off. We started our long taxi at 2213 hrs (we had to wait for an incoming Silk Air flight to clear the taxiway and reach the apron, before we started our move) - the taxi was quite long since we were taking off from Rwy27 that night. While we were taxiing, an Etihad A320 landed. We did no have to hold before take off - the aircraft just turned on to the runway, powered up and took off - we were airborne at 2220hrs.

Captain Vijay Dasari and First Officer Tarun were in command that night. Taking off on Rwy27 meant a sharp right turn-around soon after take off. Buy-on-board services commenced soon after the seat belt sign was switched off - being a late night flight, not many passengers opted to buy anything. I spent most of my time reading JetWings (I had infact marked a few sections to be read on my inward journey). Cabin lights were off for most of the time. I felt the seat was bit silent compared to the ones up front, but vibrations were certainly on the higher side at the back. The captain came on the PA system and spoke a few words about the flight - he informed that we were flying at 17000ft and that we would commence descent shortly. He assured a before time arrival as he signed off. Landing was announced at 2315hrs. I noticed that we were approaching Bengaluru from the west this time, unlike the normal approach from the east. Instead of flying around the south and easter parts of the city, we flew over the western and northern parts of the city and quickly aligned to land on Rwy09 (a first for me). The descent was quite steep and we finally touched down on Rwy09 at 2323hrs. Interestingly we taxied parallel to an AirAsia (Malaysia) - it was fun watching an A320 from our puny ATR. The aircraft finally parked at a night parking stand at 2328hrs. Deboarding started soon after, and I was in the bus waiting outside by 2334hrs - one big advantage of being at the rear of an ATR. I was out of the airport by 2340hrs - that was 10 minutes before our Scheduled arrival time! From the airport, I took a BMTC Volvo to JP Nagar, and then a taxi from there to home - finally reaching home sometime around 0115hrs - a door-to-door traveling time of 6 hrs.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (Not really relevant, since I had web checked in)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 5/5
Overall: 5/5