Sunday, April 05, 2015

On the Jet ATR72 again, BLR to COK.

I was confused - where to go or not! I generally head home every third saturday - but I hadn't decided for March. I hadn't gone home in February as well (due to a self-imposed ban on travels). A low priced ticket offer on another airline made me book a ticket for the return journey. I kept browsing websites for tickets to head home. It so happened that I noticed a promotional fare ticket on a third-party ticketing website - and the same fare did not exist on the website of the airline. Without wasting time, I booked a ticket on the ticketing website - This is one website that has given me good rates very often. After getting the PNR, I headed off to the Jet Airways website and confirmed the booking. It was then the long days of wait before I'd fly an ATR again. For some reason, I love the ATRs - they are slow, noisy and make a hell lot of vibrations, but I still love them. No middle seats is an added advantage.

A day before my journey. I tried checking in for my flight through the Jet Airways Mobile App - the internet connection was damn slow. But later, as the connection picked speed, things went ahead smooth. The app is easy to use and asks you only the FFP number (or the PNR Number) along with the city of origin - it retrieves the booking and confirms the details before going ahead. Once you confirm that you aren't carrying any prohibited items, it lets you select your seat. It took me sometime for me to decide which seat I wanted. Finally I selected a seat on the right side (still wondering why I did that). As usual, I saved the mBoarding pass on the phone, and decided to either get a boarding pass at the check-in counter or from a check-in kiosk.

March 20, 2015:
It was 2.30pm, and I was still in office! The airport is around 45-50 minutes from office (advantage of having the office on the northern part of the city). I left office a while before 3pm - thankfully got a bus very quickly as well. I was at the airport by 1530hrs. Had a quick snack from Chai Point - their yummy homemade Banana Cake (it reminds me of the cakes my mom used to bake at home) and a Mango Milkshake. It was then time to get inside the terminal - a girl was blocking the queue, which she took her sweet time to search for her identity - I had to be a true Indian here - cut across. She protested, and I asked her to step aside and not block the queue. I headed straight to the Jet Airways Check in counters.
The boarding pass...
Since it was a festive weekend, I was expecting huge queues - but except the Indigo counters, most other counters were deserted. I got my boarding pass in no time (I had checked in online earlier) and headed towards Security Check. I was quite shocked when I saw the security check - it was empty. There was hardly any queue around! Security check was done in no time, and I was in the security hold by 1606hrs. Since I had adequate time to go for the departure, I decided to do some spotting near Gate #1. At Gate #1 was Go Air's VT-WAH heading to Goa, while Air Asia's VT-RED just came in from Chandigarh and was being prepared to head to Jaipur. A few minutes later, two Jet Airways ATR72s landed - one was VT-JCU and the other was VT-JDC. Sometime around 1630hrs, I headed to my gate - Gate #5, on the lower level. Boarding was yet to commence. Sometime around 1635hrs, the agent at the gate called out for passengers to Kochi, flying 9W2655.

Date of Journey: March 20, 2015
Flight No: 9W2655 || Seat: 14F
Aircraft type: ATR 72-212 || Regn: VT-JCU
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 1710hrs, ATD: 1701hrs
STA: 1835hrs, ATA: 1813hrs

Unlike in Kochi, there was no zone-wise boarding. Two passengers who needed assistance were prioritized, followed by others. I took out the first bus to the aircraft. Boarding started only a while after the first bus reached there. In the mean time, Go Air's VT-GOJ headed out to Delhi. I was inside the aircraft by 1647hrs. Boarding was swift and we were all done by 1655hrs. The welcome announcements started soon - at the deck were Capt Joshua Fernandez and Capt Suresh, while in the cabin were Swastika and Sapna. The safety demo also followed. The door was armed at 1700hrs, and we were pushed back at 1701hrs. There were two empty seats (appears to be no-shows). While we were waiting to start taxi, an Indigo A320 headed towards the runway, and we followed her. Our taxi started at 1703hrs. It was a long taxi, and we held short of the runway at 1708hrs. A minute later we were holding on the active runway. We were finally airborne at 1710hrs from Runway 09.
My plane! VT-JCU boarding...
Lining up for take up - thats an Indigo A320 ahead of us (VT-IET)
Taking off.. thats the Bangalore Airport terminal.. 
We took off towards the East, then did a couple of right banks and we were finally headed South-West. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 1717hrs. An announcement was made to this affect, and the on-board service commenced. Service was fairly quick - and I got my snack box soon. The box contained a Veg Roll, a Chocochip Muffin, the Imli candy (Tamarind Candy) along with a bottle of water. The roll was cold - and a bit rubbery. The filling was nothing great to speak about. Clearing the thrash took quite some time. The seatbelt sign came back on, followed by an announcement that we were preparing to land - at 1759hrs. The thrash was not yet cleared - the attendant came around asking people to close the tray tables and thats when she noted thrash was not cleared. Trash was then quickly cleared.
Thats the snack box, with the water bottle
Somewhere above TN - that water body seen below is Bhavani Sagar Dam
Inside VT-JCU
On the finals.. 
The flight was very eventless - I chose the wrong seat, and I was straight in the line of Sun this time, and had to keep the window shades closed for most of the time. I spent almost the entire time reading JetWings - the onboard magazine. I could open the window shades only as we turned around to align to the landing path - of course, I had to open the window shades as the aircraft prepared to land. We finally touched down at 1811hrs on Rwy27. Interestingly, soon after landing, a flurry of announcements followed, including one about us arriving well before time. We finally parked at 1813hrs - on the Apron was a SpiceJet B738 on the domestic side and a couple of Jet Airways B738s on the international side. I decided to be seated till most of the crowd got off the aircraft - I was out of the aircraft at 1822hrs, and took the second bus to the terminal. I was finally out of the airport at 1827hrs - a full 8 minutes before the scheduled arrival time!
Thats VT-SZI which gave us company on the apron. The ATC tower can be seen in the background
I was a bit disappointed this time - the food wasn't great, and the service was a bit mechanical. The attendant seemed to frown on guests who hadn't closed the tray tables - which was because they still had trash out there. The aircraft was clean - as usual, and we were perfectly on time at both the ends.

Check-in: 5/5 (used Online check-in - it was all fine and smooth)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 4/5 (Very Mechanical service)
On-Board Service: 4/5 (Jet needs to change their menu)
Overall: 4.5/5 (Good flight at a nice price)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

24 hours on road: KSRTC Lovers journey through Kannur and Wayanad!

"You don't have any other work??"

This is a question any bus lover would've got atleast from one person. This is precisely the question I receive everytime I announce my plan of a busfans trip at home. This trip was no different.

A member of our core team of bus nuts was getting relocated to the Middle east - the Gelf of the Malayalees! We all wanted to make one quick trip with our beloved friend. A lot of options were drawn - we wanted it to be a ghat route, where KSRTC has operations. We had two options - one in the South and another in the North. For some reason, everybody unanimously decided to go north.

The route:
We decided to travel Kannur-Mananthavady-Mysore. There are two main routes from Kannur to Mananthavady - one via Palchuram and the other via Nedumpoil. While we haven't be on either of the routes, we decided to go with the former - the one via Palchuram. There are two routes for Mananthavady-Mysore as well - one via Kutta-Gonikoppa and the other via Bavali. The former is the route frequented by night buses, while the latter is open only between 6AM and 6PM. So it was the latter, obviously. The final plan was: Kannur-Palchuram-Mananthavady-Bavali-Mysore, from where the team then disperses. Since all this requires only a day, we decided to keep it on a Sunday.

The trip was fixed for February 01, 2015. I was being joined by Aneesh from Bengaluru, while the rest of the team will reach Kannur directly (primarily from Trivandrum).

January 31, 2015:
I was quite eager - this was my first long bus ride of the year. We were taking the 2115hrs Bengaluru-Kannur Super Deluxe of Kerala State RTC. I had been following up the reservation statistics of this bus since the day the trip was planned - the bus was empty all through, and we decided not to take a reservation. Both of us were at Satellite Bus Station on Mysore Road, Bengaluru by around 1930hrs - for another reason. After a quick dinner, we were all set to ride the Kannur Deluxe. RSC689 of Kannur was doing the honours - the first impression about the bus was great. Not a single dent or scratch on the body - the bus was decked up tastefully with LEDs, and some multi-colour ribbons. The conductor stood outside the bus - as if acting in an award movie, he wasn't uttering a single word or calling out for passengers.
RSC689 of Kannur preparing to start from Satellite BS, Bangalore.
We got into the bus, and took two window seats on the right side of the bus. The bus started exactly at 2115hrs from Satellite BS - with a total of about 10 passengers on board. There was a small block inside the bus station - we exited the bus station around 2119hrs. Traffic kept our progress slow - road cleared up after Kengeri. The driver was really quick - he kept good speed on the Mysore road. I was expecting a dinner break at Channapatna - but we rolled past Channapatna. By now I was getting sleepy, and dozed off. I woke up as the bus was leaving Mysore Bus station (around 0003hrs) - I tried hard to decipher the route we took, but sleep overpowered me, and I fell asleep again.

February 01, 2015 - Around 0100hrs:
I vaguely remember the conductor announcing a dinner break - I was too sleepy to get off the bus, and I just continued sleeping. Sometime around 0130hrs, Aneesh wakes me up and breaks a news to me - we have a puncture! I was still sleepy - it took me sometime to decipher what was happening - the crew was doing something at the back (the rear left, inner tyre had a puncture). They were unable to remove the tyre or get the spare tyre from its place. They were attempting to get a spare tyre from another bus of Kannur depot (a Super Express, which departed Bengaluru after us). But the bus was on the other side of the road, and they were lazy to get it here. In the meantime, another bus of Kannur depot came - this was a Super Fast (also from Bengaluru). So the crew sent off the Express and decided to get a spare tyre from the Super Fast - as soon as they said this, the Super Express just sped off. They came to the super fast, and found that the super fast did not have a spare tyre!! I now understood that we were stuck in the middle of no where!

The driver of that Super Fast thought real quick - he called up the Super Express crew and asked them to stop wherever they were - he said he'll drop us there. Finally at 0142hrs, we set off in the Super Fast (RSE626) in hunt of the Super Express. This bus was full, and we had to travel standing. Finally, at 0200hrs, we reach the Super Express. We finally got on to RAK724 - this bus had a few empty seats here and there - I took one near the rear door, while Aneesh took one on the last row. The express guy started immediately. This was a five year old bus, still being flogged on an interstate route. I struggled hard to catch up some sleep - the driver was absolutely rough on speed breakers and wouldn't let me sleep. I remember seeing Virajpet (around 0330). I had wanted to be in Kannur by 0530 - now I saw all the plans going down the drain. I was too tired, and fell asleep after Virajpet. I woke up every time the bus stopped to drop passengers - the stiff back rest was taking a toll on me, for sure. Our team-mates from Trivandrum were at Thalassery - and they decided to wait for us there. They joined our bus at Thalassery (sometime around 0535hrs). It was an eventless journey then on till Kannur - we were dropped at Kannur Old Bus Stand at around 0600hrs - leaving us with exactly an hour to go for next bus.

We had a mad hunt for a lodge for us to get fresh - we found one a bit away. It was a mad dash then for everyone to finish their morning chores and get ready. We were back at the Old Bus Stand at 0700hrs exactly - and our next bus had just come in. Now, RAC700 of Kannur depot was all set to take us to Mananthavady, via Kottiyoor, Palchuram. The journey started a bit late - since some of our team-mates were late. We occupied all the front seats - the crew were friendly right from the beginning. The bus initially ran through the NH, till Chala - then turned off towards Koothuparamba. The bus was crowded for most of the time. We had a one minute halt at Koothuparamba - by now, some members shifted to the bonnet, and we all crowded the front. After Koothuparamba, we turned on to a really narrow road. It was an interesting run - a narrow road, through an area resembling central Kerala, with typical Malabar styled houses.
RAC700 of Kannur waiting for our team to get in - at Kannur Old Bus Stand
Running through a narrow roads, on our way to Mananthavady
I really do not remember the names of the places we went through - but it was an amazing ride. We landed at Peravoor on the hill highway. From here the road got a bit wider. We passed through Kottiyoor - even made a brief halt outside Kottiyoor temple. Kottiyoor is a very famous temple in northern Malabar region. Things became greener after Kottiyoor - it was a very hilly region with tea plantations around. I never knew so many tea plantations existed in Kerala. Then began Palchuram. Palchuram is a small ghat section - with 5 hairpin bends, but a very twisty route. There is a famous waterfall at Palchuram - we couldn't visit the place, though. We passed Boys town and Thalappuzha, and reached Mananthavady sometime around 1015hrs. As we were nearing Mananthavady, we had an estimate of where we could find eateries, and decided to proceed to the KSRTC depot - where, the driver said, an employees canteen would serve some breakfast. We were dropped at the depot sometime around 1020hrs.
One of the 5 hairpin bends of Palchuram
A tea-estate on the way...
Mananthavady is a small depot - its very small. Hardly does any passenger come there to board buses - everybody uses the Panchayat bus station in the town centre to board buses - these buses go there to pick-up passengers. We rushed to the canteen at the bus depot to have our breakfast - as expected, only the official item aka Malabar Parotta and another item was available. I opted for Parotta - it was soft and tasted good. After breakfast, we decided to click some pics - but the security guard expressed his displeasure and requested that we clicked from outside. In the meantime, he did not forget to canvas us for their depot's bus to Mysore (which we were anyway about to board). We had close to 30 minutes to spend before our next bus would start.
RAE594 of Mananthavady all set to take us to Mysore, via Bavali, HD Kote (Handpost)
Sometime around 1110hrs, our next bus - RAE594 of Mananthavady - pulled out from its parking place, took us in and set off towards the Panchayat bus station, where the service officially begins. The Panchayat bus station is a small area - where KSRTC and Private bus jostle for space. We too began the crowd, and found our sweet parking spot at the corner of the bus station. The moment the bus parked, people mobbed and got in - the bus surely had a lot of takers. We had a somewhat longish break there - in the meantime, a lot of KSRTC buses rolled in. ILMK's Wayanad member Aju Varghese also gate crashed into our party - he did not travel with us though.  The bus started perfectly on time, at 1130hrs. The bus took off towards Kattikulam. The section after Kattikulam is new for me - the bus takes off towards Bavali from there. The road runs through a forest - it was dry and hot. The Kerala-Karnataka border was inside the forest at a place called Bavali.
Running through the forest section past Kattikulam..
The Kerala-Karnataka Border - at Bavali
Like most borders, here too, a small narrow bridge marks the territory. After the border, the road enters in to Rajiv Gandhi National Park (more commonly known as Nagarhole National Park). The road gets narrow, but is well paved. In some places, road widening is in progress. I did not see much wildlife except for a few deers on the roadside. The bus stopped for lunch after exiting the national park, sometime around 1315hrs. The hotel was a typical road-side shack which sells things at exhorbitant rates - we decided not to have anything from there, and carry on to Mysore. We had a late breakfast anyways. We spent the time taking pics and then got back to the bus. The break was about 30 minutes long. There are only a handful of KSRTC buses this way - so not much of spottings either. It was getting hot and very tiresome - I had a short nap after we started from lunch break.
Entrance to the Rajiv Gandhi National Park..
The road between Bavali and HD Kote. It was a bit narrow, but the roads were in good shape
The road after exiting the National Park.
I remember passing through Handpost, a place near Heggadevanakote (HD Kote). The driver kept constant pace - the bus was getting old as well - it huffed and puffed as we travelled towards Mysore. We were finally dropped at Mysore bus station sometime around 1450hrs - the driver was slow in the last stretch - reportedly, that was purposeful in order to reach Mysore correctly on time. It seems they have parking issues at the bus station, and ensure that they reach just in time, so that they could head directly to the platform. We got off the bus and bid bye to the crew before heading out for lunch. After a sumptuous lunch, we were all back in the bus station - two of us were travelling back to Bengaluru while the rest of the team was heading to Sulthan Bathery.
The Airavat Club Class that we took back to Bangalore
I and Aneesh had decided that we'd take an Airavat Club Class, so that we could rest for sometime - a Kerala RTC Deluxe (Nilambur to Bangalore) came in, but we stood by our decision. Sometime later, an Airavat Club Class from Mysore Rural-2 depot rolled in, with a board reading "Mysore Bangalore Chennai" - probably a special service, since there are no scheduled services at that time. The bus was mostly full when we got in, and got seats towards the rear. We left Mysore at 1610hrs - I slept off soon after the bus left. I vaguely remember someone occupying the seat next to me (I think that was at Mandya). I woke up just as the bus was entering Bangalore city limits. Most of the bus emptied at Satellite BS, while we continued to Shantinagar. We were dropped outside Shantinagar bus station at 1949hrs.

Trip in a nutshell:
Bangalore to Hunsur (Scheduled to Kannur): KL-15-A-201 (RSC689) of Kannur depot
Hunsur to a few kms away: KL-15-A-214 (RSE626) of Kannur Depot
From there to Kannur: KL-15-7877 (RAK724) of Kannur Depot
Kannur to Mananthavady: KL-15-7861 (RAC700) of Kannur Depot
Mananthavady to Mysore: KL-15-7741 (RAE594) of Mananthavady Depot
Mysore to Bangalore: KA-01-F-9203 of Mysore Rural-2 Depot

Sunday, February 15, 2015

JetKonnect... er! Jet Airways B737: Chennai to Bengaluru

After pocketing a cheap ticket from Hyderabad to Chennai on Indigo, I was on the lookout for fares for Chennai to Bengaluru. I briefly romanced the idea of taking a bus, but then decided to fly. The cheapest rates were being offered by Air India and Jet Airways - AI was ruled out since it was too early. So the choice was Jet - there were two flights at "late morning" - I did not want to take an early flight, since I wanted to sleep a bit. Among the two late morning flights, one was an ATR and the other a Boeing 737-700 - both sold at the same price. It was a no-brainer decision to opt for the B737 - its been long years since I flew in a B737-700.

January 26, 2015:
Being Republic Day, I anticipated tighter security, and hence I started off earlier. I was at the airport by around 0650hrs. This was my first visit to Chennai airport (discounting my inbound flight the previous night) - the airport had the typical Airport Authority of India design - full of glass and ACPs. The characteristic rounded box shape. The Arrivals and Departures are vertically seperated - a long flyover takes passengers to the upper level for departures, while the lower level is used for Arrivals. Its actually three levels - and not two. The mid level is where the jetways are connected to - but has only a common area for the incoming passengers, who'd take an escalator to reach the arrivals hall on the ground floor.
That is Gate 1 of Domestic Departures
The other side of Domestic Departures.. There is one more gate up ahead.
The domestic and international terminals are in different buildings, on the same side of the apron. The check-in counters for JetAirways was near Gate 1, and boards on the kerbside did segregate entry gates. The security check at the entrance was smooth - the guard quickly verified my ticket and let me in. I was quite shocked that a Metro-City Airport like Chennai did not have in-line baggage scanning - there were check-in baggage scanners near the check-in counters - I got my check-in bag scanned and then proceeded for check-in. The queue for check-in was not so long - joined the line, which was moving fairly fast. When my turn came, the baggage tag printer got jammed - the agent tried her best to set it alright - but it didn't budge. She then headed to the supervisor counter and got a reprint. I got my boarding pass at 0705hrs, and then headed towards Security check. My boarding pass said "Jet Konnect" - all for Jet's "One Brand" thingy. The flight number said S2-4607 MKT 9W 7008. This confirmed that this schedule is operated on JetLite's AOP, and not mainline Jet Airways. For some reason, a CISF Guard at the entrance of Security check verified boarding passes and only passengers of certain airlines were let in - is there another security check area?
Check-in counters for Jet Airways
Security check was done by 0712hrs and I was in to the security hold. My flight was from Gate-2 - being my first time to Chennai, I took my time looking at what all Chennai offered. Eating options were really limited - just a few stalls selling sandwiches and such stuff and a few stalls selling Maggi! There were "food courts" at either ends of the terminal building, but my ankle sprain did not let me walk that far. I was quite hungry, and picked up a sandwich from a stall there. The Sandwich was from Cafe Coffee Day - but the shop did not have any Coffee Day boards. After a quick visit to the washroom, I sat down to track my aircraft on FR24. I understood that VT-SJA was coming in to take me to Bangalore - the aircraft was already close to Chennai by then. In the meantime, Air India announced a delay for their flight to Mumbai and requested their passengers to head to the food court for breakfast. SpiceJet announced a delay for their Bengaluru flight - due to bad weather in Bengaluru. But then, Jet Airways was perfectly on time from Bengaluru! However, a few messages on WhatsApp did confirm that the Weather in Bengaluru was bad - visibility was below minima.
Thats my boarding pass - still saying JetKonnect, with two flight numbers..
The security hold
Date of Journey: January 26, 2015
Flight No: 9W7008 / S24607 || Seat: 17A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-700 || Regn: VT-SJA
Sector: MAA-BLR
STD: 0820hrs, ATD: 0812hrs
STA: 0915hrs, ATA: 0905hrs

Sometime around 0836, VT-SJA came in and docked at the gate. Deplaning was very quick - from what I could see, the incoming flight was full. The aircraft works a BLR-MAA-BLR-DEL-IXJ-DEL-BLR-MAA-BLR rotation - and two aircrafts have been doing this rotation - VT-SIZ and VT-SJA. I got the latter today. VT-SJA is a Boeing 737-700 (without winglets), delivered originally to Air Sahara in May 2005. The aircraft was then taken over by JetLite (following the buy out of Air Sahara by Jet Airways). The aircraft is painted in the characteristic JetKonnect Livery (often mocked as the Harpic Blue livery). The aircraft was configured as 8 seats in Business class and 126 seats in Economy - totaling 134 seats. This would be my first B737-700 ride in almost 10 years, and I was quite excited about it. This would also have been my first in a JetAirways Boeing - but then this was a JetKonnect service. 
That is Gate #2.. before boarding call was made.
VT-SJA, which would take me to Bengaluru
The first Boarding call was made at 0745hrs - as usual, zone-wise boarding was called. The queue was already long, and hence I just joined somewhere at the back. I passed the gate at 0753hrs - one walks down from the gate to reach a lower level, and then enter the Jetway. There was the usual CISF check just before the jetway, and then one checking by the Airline staff, who also tore off the stub. I was inside the aircraft at 0800hrs - yes, that is slow - all thanks to the crowded aisle inside the aircraft which delayed boarding. I found somebody already sitting on my seat - I called a FA standing nearby, who quickly verified the boarding passes and found that the other person was sitting on the wrong seat. I quickly occupied my precious window seat. 
The long queue to get into the aircraft.
Boarding was completed by 0810, doors armed and we were all set to be pushed back. The welcome announcements followed - the announcements said "Jet Aiways" and not Jet Konnect. Safety demonstration followed. In command was Capt. Rajiv Chaudury - I couldn't get the FO's name. Pushback commenced at 0812hrs. We started taxi at 0815hrs - well before scheduled time. We had to hold for a minute before being let on to the runway - we were on Rwy07 at 0820, and were airborne at 0821hrs. We took off towards the East, banked left twice and headed to the west. The Koyambedu flyover looked great from the air - I missed seeing the bus station though. We climbed quite fast. Soon after the seatbelt sign was turned off, the on-board service comments - of course, not without the "Jet Airways is now a full service carrier" announcement. 
Taxiing out... you can see all the three main LCCs here..
Shortly after reaching cruise altitude..
They offered only a Veg option - its a very short sector, and really doesn't make sense to have variety. With a flying time of only around 30 minutes, they had to be real quick with service, and they were fast as well. The veg service had a Paneer Bread roll, a chocolate muffin, a tamarind candy and a bottle of water - of course the SkyMart brochure as well - all in a snack box. The Bread roll was really soft and the filling was good (tasted exactly like the one I had on the COK-BLR leg, but with softer paneer this time). The muffin was slightly on the dry side - not a deal breaker though. No hot beverage service was offered though. The attendants started clearing the thrash even before the entire cabin was served.
The Veg Snack served on board
The cabin shortly before the seatbelt sign came on
The seatbelt sign came back on, and landing was announced around 0845hrs - we were overflying Bangalore by now. I love seeing the airport from the air - and had purposefully booked a seat on the left side for that. While we continued heading to the west, atleast three other aircrafts were ahead of us for landing. It was fun watching aircrafts race one behind the other to the runway. Very soon, we also joined the queue, aligned to the runway and started our finals. We finally touched down at 0901hrs on Rwy09. It was then a short taxi to the apron - we taxi'd parallel to an Air Costa E-170 (VT-LNR) escorted by a "Follow Me" Vehicle, and finally docked at Stand 17, at 0905hrs. It took some for the Jetways to be fixed, and by then the aisle had people jostling for space - people hurried with opening the overhead bins and some of them kept pushing forward. I sat down watching the show till there was a gap in the queue - I got off at 0911. The bags took some time, and mine came only by 0920. I was out of the airport by 0922, and got into a bus by 0930. 
Overflying Bengaluru airport.. 
Finals.. thats Nandi Hills see far away...
This was my first flight in a Jet Airways Boeing aircraft (this was a JetKonnect flight, speaking strictly) - all my previous flights were in their ATRs. This particular aircraft was almost 10 years old (4 months shy of being a decade old) - the interiors were in great shape. The aircraft was really clean - including the windows (there surely was a bit of dust, but I'd pardon that). The flight crew were great - the service did have the warmth. The purser did get konfused when making the thanking announcement after reaching Bengaluru - the ghost of JetKonnect still flies on Jet Airways. Since they operate on two different Operator Permits, they still have problems with the "one brand" idea - but instead of confusing passengers more with the 9W flight numbers on the ticket - they'd be better off putting only the S2 flight numbers - the FIDS in the airport still displays only the S2 numbers. 

Check-in: 4.9/5 (Warm Service - a printer failure did delay my check-in)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Great service)
On-Board Service: 5/5 (Perfect service for a short flight)
Overall: 4.99/5 (A great flight for the price)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

IndiGo A320: Hyderabad to Chennai

It was quite a task searching for tickets for my return journey from Hyderabad after the Annual Pharmacists' Gathering - the Indian Pharmaceutical Congress. I had a ticket by a late night train from Hyderabad - but I wasn't very keen on making that train journey. I had the option between buses and trains, but being a long weekend, buses were quite expensive. I looked at flights, but the direct ones were selling at high fares - I wasn't very convinced about paying such amounts for an hour long flight. For a moment, I looked at fares via Chennai, and the total fare that way worked to less than half of what I'd have to pay for a direct flight! I quickly checked accomodation options in Chennai, and found one that was cheap, with free airport transfers. The booking was made separately, and finally got a HYD-MAA ticket on Indigo, and MAA-BLR on Jet Airways.

January 25, 2015:
I limped out of my hotel room in Madhapur - a mid-foot sprain had left me limping since the past three days. It was a painful walk - but the hotel was at a good place and getting an Auto was not at all difficult. I took an auto to the nearby Airport bus (Pushpak Liner) pick-up point - and I got a bus from there very soon. It was a rickety bus - it took about 45 minutes to reach the Airport. I was at the airport by 1745hrs. I wanted to explore the airport a bit, but my leg wouldn't let me do that. The entire layout appeared very confusing to me. The airport is separated into levels - the ground floor doesn't have any entry points. The First level has the Arrivals and the second level has departures. The taxi stands, and bus bays were at the lowest level - there are escalators and elevators to take one up. The first level gives an amazing view of the apron - I did want to spend some time there, but desperately wanted to sit down, thus heading to the second level.
Pushpak Airport Liners at Hyderabad International Airport
The rush to enter into the terminal building.
The Check-in counters of IndiGo
There was one long queue to get into the terminal - the area appeared very congested - there is hardly any place to stand. It took about 10 minutes to get into the terminal. The check-in desks are divided into zones, and the Indigo ones were in Zone E. There were long queues at the check-in gates. For a moment I thought I'd use a self-check-in kiosk and get a copy of my boarding pass - but even those were crowded! I joined the regular check-in queue - it was long, but was moving fairly fast. Indigo agents gave preference to passengers who had flights departing within 45 minutes - but they ensured that they kept a separate counter for them. Ms. Pavithra was manning the check-in counter - She gave a long smile, a warm good evening, and confirmed my travel information - I informed that I had received an AdvancePass but couldn't print it - she reconfirmed if I wanted a seat change and printed out the boarding pass for me. She informed the gate number and boarding time before handing over the pass to me - she even pointed out the the stub of my checked in baggage tag was stuck behind.
The security hold - or a mall?
Security check gates were right next to the check-in gates. Only one scanning machine was running, while frisking happened at two gates. Security check was quick - I was inside the security hold by 1821hrs. The waiting area resembled a shopping mall than an airport terminal - there were all kinds of outlets right from eateries to silk products to pearl products to electronics. All the gates were numbered in two digits, beginning with 2. I believe the 20s numbering is to differentiate it from the international terminal. My flight was from Gate 24 - so my first priority was locating where this gate was - seating around the gate was full, and moved forward and peacefully settled on an empty chair. I tried connecting to the Free WiFi - but like in Bengaluru, it wouldn't connect. A little later, I used the washroom - this place is a let-down to the posh and exotic looking terminal - old styled wall-tiles, lack of dry areas to keep you hand baggage. Later, I headed to the food court side - I was attracted by Idli Factory since I preferred having something light. After a light meal, I was back at Gate 24. I was tracking my aircraft, and I understood that the aircraft was nearing Hyderabad.
Gate 24 - before boarding was called
Date of Journey: January 25, 2015
Flight No: 6E-385 || Seat: 10F
Aircraft type: Airbus 320 || Regn: VT-IFR
Sector: HYD-MAA
STD: 2010hrs, ATD: 2005hrs
STA: 2120hrs, ATA: 2117hrs

Unlike Bengaluru, Hyderabad airport had an automated announcement system - prerecorded announcements were being made (Bengaluru is a Silent airport). Boarding was announced at 1940hrs - zone-wise boarding was enforced. Passengers in rows #21-30 were called first. I was in #10F and hence sat down for some more time - till the crowd thinned out. I passed the gate at 1954hrs - one first takes an escalator down to the first level, then passes a layer of checking by CISF personnel, then a long walk through the jetways ot the aircraft. There is one more layer of checking - this time by airline staff - before you can step into the aircraft. There was a traffic block inside the jetway - we moved very slow. I was inside the aircraft at  1959 - Purser Aaznia welcomed passengers with a warm smile. I was flying on VT-IFR, an Airbus 320-232 delivered to Indigo in August 2013 - just about a year and a half old. IFR ensured that my record with Sharklets and new registrations continued!
Thats my bird - VT-IFR shot from the jetway
SpiceJet VT-SPK giving us company
I got to my seat - like everytime, my co-passengers were already seated. Boarding was completed at 2003hrs, and we were all set to be pushed back. We were pushed back at 2005hrs. Right after pushback, safety demonstration began. As usual, a flurry of announcements began - first welcoming passengers to Indigo Flight 385. In command was Capt. Vijay D'Souza along with First officer Capt. Vikram Bal Singh. In the cabin were Aaznia, along with Anju, Poonam and Rohini. The safety announcements were pre-recorded. This was followed by a brief introduction to Hello 6E, Indigo's on-board catalogue. This was followed by an announcement requesting passengers to make most of the time by selecting what to buy! By 2010, we were taxiing towards the runway. There was a Spicejet B738 (VT-SPK) ahead of us. We had to hold at A8 for a couple of minutes, to allow a SpiceJet Q400 to land. We finally took off from Rwy09R at 2018hrs.

Soon after the seatbelt signs were switched off, another flurry of announcements began - starting with the Seatbelt sign has been switched off... announcements, followed by the announcement for their Buy-on-board announcement. I had pre-booked for a Veg Meal with Non-alcoholic beverage. Although it was announced that passengers who had pre-booked a meal would be served first, my meal took its time to arrive. The attendents were quite mechanical - in fact to the extent of frowning at a customer for not keeping his order ready. I preferred a Veg Sandwich with a 250ml pack of Paper Boat Aamras. I don't think this would qualify being called a "meal". The sandwich was good - soft bread with fairly good filling. Soon after the buy-on-board service was over, they began a round of clearing - of course, preceded by the announcement, Samay par rahna anivarya hai (Its important to be on time)... requesting passengers to co-operate by keeping the aircraft clean and prepared for the next sector.
The "Meal" served by IndiGo
The small-yet-significant stuff printed on the sandwich pack
The captain came on the PA in-flight and briefed passengers about the flight - we were flying at FL330 at that time, and as he was speaking, we began our descend. He explained that we took off from Rwy09R, flew East, then turned Southwards. He added that we'd be landing before time, yet again and bragged about their on-time performance and before time arrivals. The seatbelt sign came on at 2101hrs, followed by the landing announcement at 2103hrs. I was expecting us to approach Chennai from the sea side, but we banked to the right and flew towards the west before turning around and aligning to approach the airport from the West. We finally touched down on Rwy07 at 2112hrs. As we exited the runway, a Mihin Lanka aircraft took off, followed by a Jet Airways aircraft - both were narrow bodies. It was a long taxi to reach our stand (#19) - we finally docked at the stand at 2117hrs. I remained seated till most of the crowd got out - very few passengers remained in the aircraft (the aircraft continues to Pune) as I walked out (at 2123hrs) - Indigo personnel verified the boarding passengers at the exit. It was then a long walk to the baggage carousel - the arrivals was at the first level, while the baggage carousel was at the ground level. I got my bag 2131hrs, and I was out of the airport at 2132hrs. The hotel's transfer cab was waiting outside for me.
Baggage Carousel @ Chennai
There ended another no-nonsense flight with Indigo - now the largest carrier in India in-terms of passenger share. The flight was on time, clean - the service lacked warmth though. They did their job efficiently, but no smiles (except from two of the four attendants). The aircraft had the new Recaro Slimline seats - these seats appear very thin, but offer excellent comfort (personal opinion). Being thin, the seats release a lot of leg room as well. This made for a comfortable ride.

Check-in: 5/5 (Very quick, no nonsense, warm service)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 4/5 (Lacked the warmth, very mechanical)
On-Board Service: 4/5 (Its a joke to call it a 'meal')
Overall: 4.75/5 (A great flight for the price)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Air India A319 Bengaluru to Hyderabad!

The annual gathering of pharmacists was happening in Hyderabad this year. I am not a regular participant to this gathering, but decided to make it this year. A large group of my students were presenting papers at this conference, and I had a presentation too. The initial plan was to travel with my students by train to Hyderabad. As the travel date came closer, things went awry and I had to postpone my journey. An exam I had to officiate got postponed and got right into my plans. I had to let go my train ticket - and decided to look for alternatives. I preferred reaching the previous evening, so that I can be at the conference a bit fresh after catching up a bit of sleep. I got down to hunting tickets for my trip - being the beginning of a long weekend, trains were mostly sold out. The only one that had a ticket wasn't suitable for my timing.

Buses were overpriced - thanks to a long weekend. The buses would drop me quite late in the city, and I wasn't very happy at that as well. I kept an STU bus leaving early in the evening as an option, and continued hunting for options. I checked flights too, which were priced at high rates. A day before my journey, I got to hunting tickets on various ticket portals and noticed that Air India was giving great last moment fares. The same fare reflected on most sites and even on the official website - I had a discount coupon for a travel portal, and applied the portal and booked the ticket through that site. The payment went through, but no ticket! After waiting about an hour, I called up the call centre of the portal, who confirmed my details and said they'd call back - they did call back in less than 30 minutes and confirmed my booking. So, I had a confirmed ticket for an evening Air India flight to Hyderabad - my second A319 ride!

January 22, 2015:
I had to hurry a bit with the examinations and had to leave office shortly past 2pm. The clerical work associated with the examinations took quite a lot of time, and I could leave office only towards 1430hrs. There are no direct connections from our main campus to the airport - I had to change some buses to reach the airport. With time running out fast, I decided to hire a cab for a part of the journey, which dropped me at Hebbal. From there, it was a bus to the airport. I was finally at the airport shortly past 1650hrs. The entry gates at the terminal were crowded like never before - the long weekend ahead meant most of Bengaluru was heading out of town. It did not take much time though. Check-in was again a breeze (I had checked in online, but hadn't taken a printout) - the agent at the counter was well behaved - he spoke softly and had a nice smiling face. I had baggage to check in - which was handled quite well. Armed with the boarding pass, I headed the security check.
AI Check-in counters..
Queue at Security Check
I saw the worst ever queue at the security check - the place resembled a peak hour railway ticket booking counter in Mumbai! Long queues at every counter, and the airport guys had a tough time keeping the queue in bay. It took almost 20 minutes to pass security (the longest ever I've experienced) - there were lots of first time fliers this time, and the CISF cops had a tough time clearing them. I was finally in the security hold by 1725hrs. I was quite hungry by now, and wanted to have some light food. I thought of trying a new food outlet - Taste of India in the domestic terminal - but the items on offer did not look very inviting. I was back to the trusted Malgudi Express. I had lots of time to spend - my flight was still close to an hour away. As usual, I sat down checking FR24 and browsing the net. FR24 said my aircraft was VT-SCK, and it was flying close to an hour late! I was a bit upset with the delay.

Date of Journey: January 22, 2015
Flight No: AI-516 || Seat: 10F
Aircraft type: Airbus 319 || Regn: VT-SCK
Sector: BLR-HYD
STD: 1850hrs, ATD: 1915hrs
STA: 1955hrs, ATA: 2019hrs

The aircraft for my flight came in at 1840hrs. The incoming flight appeared full, going by the number of passengers who walked out. Passengers deplaned very quick, and quite unusually (for AI), the aircraft was ready for the return leg very soon. Boarding was called very soon, and they called passengers by rows. Passengers seated in rows 12 to 21 were the first to be called. The agents at the gate actually enforced zone-wise boarding - they held display boards mentioning the row number while calling out passengers - they infact asked a few passengers with seats on other rows to step aside as well. Soon after most passengers for these rows had finished boarding, they opened up free-for-all boarding. I joined the queue now, and I was inside the aircraft by 1900hrs. There were 4 levels of verification before I reached the aircraft - one at the gate by AI agents, then by CISF at the gate, then another one by AI agents (the counter-foil was torn here) and finally once again by an AI Security right before the aircraft door.
My boarding pass..
Security Hold.. waiting for boarding to be called..
Boarding about to begin from Gate #7
A middle aged flight attendant stood at the door welcoming passengers with the typical Namaskaar. Two more FAs were in the aisle welcoming passengers and helping them with baggage. My seat (#10F) was right on the wing. The interiors appeared very fresh and clean. The seat pockets for my seat was torn and needed some maintenance. The IFE screens were turned off - except the "Announcement in Progress" messages, nothing was displayed on the screen. Boarding was quite slow - doors were armed by 1913hrs. The aircraft was full - 100% loads. The aircraft was pushed back at 1915hrs. Just past push back, the purser came on the PA and welcomed all passengers to "Air India's Airbus 319 on AI516 to Hyderabad", followed by the announcement that AI is now a Star Alliance Member. She identified herself as Sunila (or Sunita) and added that the flight was commandeered by Capt NK Dutta. The safety demonstration followed. It was an actual demonstration, and not a video played on the IFE.
Shortly before push back..
We commenced Taxi at 1919hrs - it was a long run towards Rwy09. While taxiing, I spotted an Indigo A320 and an Air India A320 land. We had to hold for sometime, while a Jet Airways ATR72 landed. We were finally airborne at 1930hrs. The aircraft shook violently as we took off, and there was a not of irritating clatter. The seatbelt sign was switched off at 1934hrs, and the in-flight service commenced immediately afterwards. Passengers were offered a snack, a water-bottle and a hot beverage. The snack contained a Cheese Sandwich and a piece of Chocolate cake. The snack was served in an aluminum foil container, on a tray. The snack serving was followed by a round of hot beverages - I preferred Coffee as usual. The sandwich was soft, but had absolutely no vegetable in it - just a cheese spread plus a piece of lettuce. The cake was a bit on the harder side, but tasted good.
The meal tray.. 
A while after the service was over, the FAs came around for clearing the trays. There were 5 attendants in the aircraft - an all female cabin crew. The attendant taking care of executive class (the purser) appeared quite rude - quite the typical Air India aunty style. (No offence intended). The first officer came on the PA, and gave a short description about the flight. He explained that the delay in departure was due to late arrival of the incoming aircraft, which was due to some delay in Pune. He added that we were at FL330, and had already commenced descent. Shortly after his detailing, the seatbelt sign came on, and the typical landing announcement was made (2003hrs). By now lights were visible below. After the landing announcement was made, the FAs came around to check if the cabin was prepared for landing. The guy sitting on the aisle seat of my row had his tray table open. The purser came to the seat with a rude angry face - I was really afraid if she would hit him. She made a stern request to close the tray table - did not feel that approach was right. As we closed into the airport, the aircraft performed a beautiful right banking to align to the landing path. We finally touched down on Rwy09R at 2013hrs. After exiting the runway, we had a very long taxi to the apron - an Indigo A320 and an Air Costa E-Jet were preparing to taxi out. After a longish taxi, we finally parked at Stand 59, at 2019hrs - the aircraft is parked overnight at this stand, and hence there is no jetway. Deplaning started soon later, and I got off the aircraft at 2023hrs - into a waiting tarmac bus of AI-SATS.
VT-SCK.. after deplaning. Pic taken from the tarmac bus.
This was the first time I was entering the terminal building of Hyderabad. In my past journey, I passed through the airport. The bus had a long run to the terminal building - we were dropped near an escalator, which takes passengers to the first level - the domestic arrivals. I made a quick visit to the washroom - which looked quite outdated for new airport. It took a long time for the baggage to arrive - my bags came only at 2040hrs. The baggage carousel was interesting - the luggage pops up from a lower level, and is dumped on to the conveyor belt - I felt this system could seriously damage fragile items in baggage. It was then a long walk to get out of the airport. It was a bit confusing layout - a long winding ramp to get to the the airport bus terminal. There were no officials at the bus terminal, and there was no sign of the bus I wanted. I had a very quick dinner for the food court there, and on coming back saw a bus on the route I wanted to travel on, thereby ending this part of my journey.
Waiting for my bag..
Check-in: 5/5 (Very quick, no nonsense)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean, windows were soiled though)
Punctuality: 4.25/5 (Left about 25 minutes late)
Crew: 3.5/5 (rudeness from a member, totally mixed experience)
On-Board Service: 4.5/5 (The sandwich could've been better)
Overall: 4.25/5 (A nice flight for the price)