Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Quick hop to Chitradurga: KSRTC Airavat B7R

Note: This is NOT a recent trip!

Another trip to Chitradurga hung over my head. My previous travel there was very tiresome. Chitradurga is only around 4 hours by road from Bangalore - a shade over 200kms. But this make it a cumbersome experience if you are looking to reach there early in the morning. The last time, I had to leave at a very unearthly hour to make it there on time. This time, though, I had to be there only by around 11am - and as if it was godsend, there existed a KSRTC Airavat bus scheduled perfectly at that time. Without a second thought, I booked tickets for myself, and two of my colleagues, who were also headed to Chitradurga.

February 09, 2016:
Like every time, I found it really difficult to get off the bed, and ended up being slightly late. And, the app cab I had booked did not turn up on time, delaying me further. It was past 0625hrs by the time the cab wheeled out of my neighborhood. Soon after the car got moving, I got the SMS from KSRTC with the bus and crew details as well! I had reserved for a bus that departs from Bangalore at 0655hrs. I asked the driver to hurry a bit, but the traffic (at that hour, surprisingly or shockingly!) did not let him do that. However, he managed to cover the 15.02kms distance in a shade over 23 minutes, and I go to Kempegowda Bus Station aka Majestic by 0650hrs. By now, the conductor of my bus called up to enquire about my whereabouts - I told him I was walking towards the bus, and he, certainly, was near the bus looking out for me. A run down Volvo B7R of Davanagere depot, KA-01-F-9090, was doing the honours. I got into the bus exactly a 0655hrs - and met a lot of familar faces inside (all of them headed to the same event as I was).
The bus - KA-01-F-9090 of Davanagere depot.
The bus was more or less full already. The bus works a Bangalore-Davanagere schedule, and is the first premium departure to Davanagere of the day. The bus seemed to have worked an overnight schedule the previous night - but was cleared of all the thrash before the trip began. The only tell-tale signs of the previous trip was the presence of a huge number of used blankets, all piled up at the last row. This was removed, and shifted to the boot just before departure. Our departure was delayed since another reserved passenger hadn't turned up. We finally pulled out at 0701hrs. The conductor kept calling out for more passengers till the time the bus entered the main road. The bus was more or less full already, though.

We picked up more reserved passengers at Navarang (0713) and Yeshwantpur (Govardhan Theatre, 0722). My colleagues were joining at Jalahalli Cross. I had dozed off in between, and woke up only as the bus was leaving Jalahalli cross signal. I was a bit confused where they were - the bus ran almost half a kilometre forward and stopped outside a KSRTC Travel house. They were no where to be seen - the conductor called them on their phone and informed them about where the bus was. It took them sometime to reach the bus, since they were waiting at the BMTC bus station, which is located before the traffic signal. We finally got moving at 0737hrs. I continued my sleep for some more time. I woke up just when the bus was pulling in for breakfast at Hotel Kamat, at Dabbaspet (0814hrs).

Althought Kamat is a well equipped break point (not very "well" equipped), it is very pricey for the purpose. The prices burn down a big hole into one's pocket. We had our breakfast here. The crew were really quick with their food. We got moving again at 0837hrs. I continued my sleep for some more time. They did not play any music or movies (thumbs up for that). The driver maintained steady speeds in the range of 85~90kmph, and drove really well. The bus was full, and does not enter towns on the way. We finally pulled into Chitradurga KSRTC bus station at 1040hrs - almost 15 minutes before scheduled time.

The bus had clocked over 10 lakh kms, and did really show its age. The bus looked battered and bruised outside - the interiors were in above average condition. The interiors were also tired and showed its age really well. The engine sounded quite strained as well. The crew were really good - they handled late passengers quite well (including yours truly) - no shouting at them, and talking very peacefully to each one of them. The driver was very stable as well. Overall, a good experience, and value for the money I paid.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: No
Entertainment: Available - Not used

Ratings:
Maintenance: 3/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 4.5/5 [Value for money, for the distance]

Will I take this service again? Its a great option. You really don't have too many options on the route. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The app cab! A taxi war in Bangalore!

Autorickshaws are quite an expensive option in most parts of Bangalore. Affectionately called the three wheeled pirates, they most often try to strip you of all the cash you have in the wallet. Its not uncommon to hear them ask for three digit sums for walk-able (albeit a long walk) distances. Refusal is a part of their daily routine. Meters run faster than the auto - just like how a stopwatch runs! In certain areas, BMTC helps them a lot by not operating buses - and passengers are left to the mercy of these pirates who operate vehicles that are otherwise unfit to operate, and charge princely sums.

Sometime in the 2008-2009 period, the first organised taxi operator appeared in Bangalore - the good ol' Meru Cabs. The green coloured taxis helped a lot of people escape from the auto pirates and made for comfortable journeys in Bangalore. But the fares were far from being called economical - they are today the most expensive cab option in Bangalore.

Fast Forward to end of 2010 - Ola Cabs was born. Ola was the first of its kind - a new group of mobility providers - Cab Aggregators were born. Ola worked as a middleman is connecting the customer to the provider. One could book cabs on the Ola website, who would direct the nearest cab to the passenger - mobile apps weren't so much in vogue those days. The fares were much lesser than Meru. While Meru cabs were owned by the operator, Ola cabs weren't. The level of service depended on the driver. About half a year later, another cab aggregator began operations - Taxiforsure. Taxiforsure offered slightly lesser rates than Ola. In the meantime, Ola hiked their rates.
A leading app cab operator!
The world leader in cab aggregation - Uber started operations in India sometime in 2013. The initial model of Uber was of providing high end premium vehicles - the likes of Mercedes Benz. Sometime later, they started offer cheaper services - they offer an array of vehicles right from TATA Indicas and Swifts all the way to Toyota Corollas and Camrys today.

The actual fare war began sometime in 2014 - when Uber's low cost services came in. Ola dropped its fares to Rs. 10 per kilometre, while Taxiforsure (TFS) remained around Rs. 12 per kilometre. The aggregator operations took a murky turn in early 2015 when Uber was banned in Delhi over a rape allegation. Crackdowns by various states followed and quite a lot of these operations were at stake. None of these operators had a taxi operator license, and they did not own any of the cabs. Cabs were owned by drivers, and these operators (Uber/Ola/TFS) acted only as a medium for passengers to get connected to the driver. The operators assumed no responsibility of safety or other aspects of the passengers. The crackdowns and bans got its first victim when TFS was acquired by Ola. By now Ola grew up as the country's largest cab aggregator - offering services in most parts of the country.

The App taxis kept lowering their fares time and again as competition strengthened. Fares dropped to Sub Rs.10 levels - all the way to Rs. 6/km.

But.. Are these taxis really cheap?

A quick look at taxi bills mailed by aggregators like Ola or Uber would be an eye opener. All the operators charge a ride time charges on every minute the cab runs. In a city like Bangalore, where walking is often faster than using a vehicle, it takes an average 3-5 minutes to travel a kilometre, the actual taxi fares work out much higher than the advertised rates. Then there is Surge Pricing. The operators claim the surge price is to help have more cabs on the road at peak hours - the same logic as auto drivers asking for over the meter fare during peak hours/late hours.

But, Surge pricing doesn't have a logic. You end up having surge prices at mid afternoons or late nights, or early mornings - anytime! And these surges do not seem to have an upper limit - 4.0x is among Uber's favorite surges. The surge isn't only applicable for the kilometre rate - but applies to the base fare and the riding charges as well! Essentially, you end up paying atleast Rs. 4 per minute of travel, a base fare of about Rs 140 and a kilometre fare of about Rs. 28/km (calculation based on advertised fares of uberGO). And, yes - the distance surcharge levied by Uber also gets surged.

Although the advertised fares are far cheaper, the customer ends up paying a lot more. Sometime back, I had hired an app cab to the airport. The operator advertised a special airport offer of Rs. 499. A very small star near the amount led me to read the terms and condition. The fare was applicable only for the first 30 kilometres - and it would cost Rs. 16/km beyond 30kms. A back of the envelope calculation made me think it was still cheaper than hiring an airport taxi. The final amount was somewhat shocking - the 46.13kms ride cost me Rs. 986 - that is almost Rs. 21.38/km - much higher than the Rs. 19.50/km charged by airport taxis! The breakup of the fare was interesting - Rs. 499 for 30 kilometres, Rs. 258.08 for the additional 16.13kms (over 30kms), Rs.99.49 for 99.49 minutes of travel time (the first 5 minutes was free), a Toll fee of Rs. 80 and Tax of Rs. 49.68! The app cabs levy a toll of Rs. 80 each way - totalling Rs. 160 per trip - the actual toll is only Rs. 120! So, where does the remaining amount go? What about the promises of cheap trips?

Okay.. the cab operators sneak out with a small sentence - Airport rates may vary displayed below their rate cards. I had another experience with the same cab operators discussed above, where a person from their customer support calls up about 10 minutes after the ride and informs that I was wrongly charged - I had paid around Rs. 100 less it seems! Because they had decided to have a special rate for Kochi airport with a minimum flag down distance of 20kms - and I had traveled only 13.26kms, and was liable to pay the rest. I did give a dressing down for not intimating the fares before the ride began.

App cabs are loved by passengers for the ease of booking - just fire up the app, a couple of clicks later, the cabbie calls up to confirm your location and picks you up. A quick search on cheaper cab options in Bangalore literally swept me off my foot. The humble KSTDC cabs are much cheaper if you make an advance reservation through their call centre - being an approved airport taxi operator, they pick you up right outside the airport as well! 

Friday, May 13, 2016

A happening day, ending with an unexpected journey in KPN

Note: This report is not of a recent journey - but recollection of a journey that happened over six months ago.

October 21, 2015:
It was a very happening day - a day that started very early in the morning, very tiring and taxing and ended quite late. I am not going into the details. It was sometime around 1530hrs or so [approximate], and I was standing outside the new Sankari bus station near Salem in Tamil Nadu. I had nothing but my camera bag and a bottle of water with me. A couple of buses went by without stopping, before one stopped for me. This was a bus from Erumapalayam-1 Depot of Salem Division of TNSTC-Salem - a fairly new one built on a TATA chassis.
The TNSTC bus that took me from Sankari to Salem..
There was no difficulty finding a seat - I got one on a three seater - a full three seater for me. Leg space was a premium here - can hardly sit without the knee hitting the seat ahead. The driver was quite fast (the only consolation in the otherwise boring journey) - he reduced my agony of having to sit tight. The journey lasted somewhere around 40 minutes or so. I was initially planning to take a TNSTC further to Bangalore (one of the new 3.33 Express guys) - but the seating was a definite put off, and I buried the idea in no time. I was at Salem bus station for the first time, and had a bit of confusion where to head to, in order to get to the nearest KPN office.

KPN is a leading Tamil Nadu based operator (readers of this blog would've read by earlier reviews of KPN) with their Head office at Salem. They operate a lot of services out of Salem to Bangalore (originating as well passing through). With a bit of walking around, I managed to locate their office - I actually walked a longer way. The office was already crowded - with a lot of people waiting for their buses to Bangalore, Madurai, etc. I asked the ticketing guy for a ticket to Bangalore - he asked me to wait, and added that two buses would be coming soon. He will issue the ticket only after the bus arrives, after checking availability of seats.

The first bus to arrive after I reached there was a Volvo B9R from Trichy (1640hrs). The ticketing guy went to the bus, checked the chart, and let reserved passengers first. Passengers for later buses were also given the option of taking this bus, if they wanted to leave early. He signalled me also to get in. I do not remember the ticket fare - no receipt was given, but an entry was made in the waybill (yes, KPN crew carry waybills like government buses). The bus got moving at 1645 itself - leaving me shocked. But the shocked (and joy) was shortlived, as the bus took a U turn and parked on the opposite side! The crew went around trying to get more passengers (official, of course). In the mean time, a Scania headed out towards Bangalore, and its pair went towards Madurai. I would've surely waited if I knew the Scania was behind.
KA-41-A-6999 : The bus that took me to Bangalore..
We finally started off from Salem at 1711hrs. The attendant came around and collected details of every passenger who boarded at Salem. I was too tired and badly wanted to doze off for some time. I was sitting in one of the last rows. The emergency exit door was right behind - the door didn't close fully and there was some amount of air leakage. I plugged the gap with the curtain and dozed off for sometime. The bus did not seem in great shape - it struggled at ghats and the rear suspension rattled off to glory. I slept for some time, and woke up just as the bus pulled in for a break at A2B near Thoppur toll gate (1809hrs). The Scania was already there, just to add more salt to my misery. I hadn't taken lunch that day, and grabbed something to eat - not that I was hungry, but did not want to turn into a gas cylinder.

We started from the hotel at 1838hrs - the Scania was long gone. My bus now tried picking pace - but it was too old and rundown to pick pace. I was too tired to understand anything as well - I just slept off again. The AC wasn't cooling much - but it was comfortable enough to let me sleep. I woke up only when the attendant came around calling out passengers getting down at Bommasandra - we were in Bangalore already! We reached Bommasandra at 2043hrs. I pulled up the backrest and got set to get off at Silk Board. The bus took the elevated highway after Electronic City, and I was dropped at Silk Board at 2112hrs.

The bus, KA-41-A-6999, was about 4.5years old then, and had already clocked 10.4 Lakh kms by then. The bus was surely not in great shape - the rear suspension rattled, and the bus struggled to pick pace. Almost all the Volvos of KPN are in poor shape - they've had better days and are living a hospice life now. The service was nothing to speak about - I have no comments to make, since I hardly interacted with the crew. The bus did not waste time after it left Salem, and the driver tried his best to maintain pace. The running time turned out to a minute over 4 hours, including a 29 minute break - not really bad.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: No - I badly wanted one though
Entertainment: Available - not sure if a movie was played, but I think they did.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 2.5/5 [I am being lavish]
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 [Based on running time]

Overall: 3.5/5 [Great option if you are looking for an "AC bus"]

Will I take this service again? They are a good option if you travel to/from Salem from Bangalore - their frequency is unmatched.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The resplendent moth! Salabham Scania: Thrissur to Bangalore

I've never been so confused about deciding a bus to travel in. It was a tight competition between multiple operators. My needs were simple - a mid-afternoon departure from Thrissur, and a pre-midnight arrival at Bangalore. The options were plenty. But then, the curiosity to try a new operator weighed over other factors. After a lot of thinking around, I decided to book on the new Salabham Scania. The Salabham website had some error and the seat layout never loaded properly. I ended up booking on RedBus later.
The Salabham beauties!
One more shot of the pair..
Salabham is a famous tour operator based in Chottanikkara, near Ernakulam. These new Scanias mark their entry to the regular tour operation segment. They took delivery of two Scania Metrolink HD 14.5M coaches on April 02, 2016. These buses have a distinction of being the first in the industry to bear airbrush art graphics. The buses bear graphics of two famous art forms of Kerala - Kathakali and Mohiniyattom. The art work was done by a famous Thrissur based artist, Mr Zini Raju, who specializes in airbrush art work on vehicles. The buses look amazing with the portrayal of Kerala's own art forms. And it looks even great with the Malayalam stickering of the operator's name - I personally love that!

March 06, 2016:
I booked the ticket at around 0915 in the morning - for a bus that departs from its origin at 1200hrs. I opted for a window seat around the middle of the bus on the right side (#F1). As the time came closer, I started feeling heavy at heart - its always a depressing moment to leave home. Sometime around 1200hrs, I received a call from Salabham, informing me that my bus would be delayed by an hour, and is expected to reach Thrissur only around 1600hrs (Original time 1500hrs). I was elated for two reasons - an extra hour at home, and the fact that they called up and informed, and I did not have to wait endlessly for the bus on the roadside.

I got even lazier, and left home a little late. It was 1415hrs by the time I left home - it took sometime for me to get a bus, and I made it to Thrissur only 1535hrs. By now, I received no less than 5 phone calls from the Alhind office in Thrissur enquiring my whereabouts (Alhind is the operating partner of Salabham). I felt sorry for making the co-passengers wait for me. When I reached the Alhind office, the guy who was calling me was standing on the roadside waiting for me - an airconditioned taxi was waiting as well. Three other passengers were already in the car. I squeezed in, and we headed towards the actual point where the bus would arrive - Mannuthy bypass. We got to the pick-up point by around 1555hrs - the taxi guy dropped us on the road side and headed back to the city. It was hot and there was no shade around. But then, the wait did not last very long. The bus turned up 1604hrs.
My bus - KA-51-D-2225 @ CBE for fuel
The bus that would take me back to Bangalore was KA-51-D-2225 - the one with drawing of Mohiniyattom on its side. With only 36K kms on the odo, the bus felt very young and energetic. I headed straight to my seat (#F1) around the middle of the bus. The crew quickly did a headcount and verified seat numbers, and we were off at 1606hrs. Some Tamil melodies were being played at a very low volume. The driver showed sense of urgency - but he was under good control. No risks were taken and well planned overtakes were executed with ease. The cabin temperature was very comfortable - not too cold, not too warm. I tuned to some music on my phone and relaxed for most of the time. Traffic was on the higher side, and we had to move slow for most of the time.

The driver let the beast loose after Vadakkencherry. I recorded the run for quite some distance on my phone GPS - the top speed recorded was 98kmph, with the average being around the 80s. The bus took the flyover at Palakkad (1716hrs), and continued gunning down the highway. The 4 lane highway is really helping buses cut a lot of running time these days - with completion of the Mannuthy-Vadakkencherry stretch, we can expect running time to come down heavily. The speed reduced as we passed Walayar (1730hrs) - the road narrowed down, and the surface would put the moon to shame - large craters, big enough to hold a bus, kept showing up time and again. The driver kept the ride as smooth as possible - and it was really smooth inside. We lost quite some time by the time we reached Madukkarai (all thanks to the poor roads). The driver picked pace once past Madukkarai. We pulled into a fuel station just before Neelambur (1816hrs) for refueling. The unique design of Scania's fuel tanks mean it takes much longer for a refuel than a Volvo. They need to refuel both the fuel tanks seperately - unlike Volvo where you can fill all the three tanks at one go. The bus was pulled out, and then parked again to gain access to the tank on the other side - wasting a lot of time.
The art-work is just awesome!
While refueling, I spoke to the crew - who were quite excited to drive the monster. There were three drivers and an attendant on board. The bus was operated a special trip the previous night, to Trivandrum, and got delayed due to heavy rains. This was the reason for the delayed start of this trip. The bus had a full sized berth at the end for the spare driver to sleep - a really nice thing, taking into account safety of the passengers. We started after refueling at 1836hrs. We stopped again near Neelambur toll gate for pick-up (1845hrs). This stop also doubled up as a tea break for the passengers already on board. The crew had their refreshment really quick, and we started off again at 1858hrs. Once back on the 4-lane highway, the driver picked pace very fast. In the meantime, a movie was played. They kept the volume low, so that people who wanted to sleep could do so.

I remained glued to the movie for most of the time. We did not have any pick-ups on the way. We pulled in for dinner at Hotel Saravana Bhavan, past Vaigundam Toll Gate, at 2030hrs - the place was already crowded, with about three buses already taking their dinner break (including a Parveen Travels Mercedes Benz). I knew the hotel would be very crowded, and hence rushed in - thankfully our bus wasn't full, and hence the hotel still had place. I had my dinner quick and returned outside - by now two Kallada buses had also joined for dinner. It had slowly started to drizzle by now - the crew rushed back to the bus, and opened to door so that passengers could sit inside without getting wet. They had locked the bus when passengers got off for dinner. We started from this place at 2100hrs. The driver changed at this point. This guy was more aggressive - but very controlled. I was very sleepy by now, and prepared to sleep for some time.

We passed Salem at 2128hrs - it was raining really heavy here. I slept for sometime after Salem - not a continuous sleep, but intermittent bouts of sleep. I couldn't sleep well because my mind was already tuned to get off the bus around midnight. Traffic was on the higher side after Salem - lots of trucks on the road, and we lost pace everytime we reached a ghat section. The toll gates were crowded as well - Krishnagiri, particularly, was a mess. We passed Hosur at 2353hrs. Attibele toll was again a mess - it took over 5 minutes to pass this place (0006hrs). I pulled up my backrest as we passed Attibele. Electronic City toll was reached at 0018hrs - I was quite surprised to see around 5 people join the bus here. We started again at 0022hrs. I headed to the cabin as we entered BETL. I also confirmed a taxi using an app around the same time - so that I wouldn't have to wait for long after alighting from the bus. I finally alighted at Silk Board flyover, at 0030hrs.

The bus was really well kept. The interiors were really clean, and the blankets felt very fresh. The exteriors were dirty - the bus was delayed and hence they didn't have time to wash. The drivers were really good - amazing driving, controlled aggression. The attendant seemed to be in his own world though - never bothered to pull down the rear LED panels, or adjust the volume. He hardly got up from his place to call out passengers alighting at different places. The loads were very low (hardly around 12-14 passengers). The end-to-end running time turned out to 8h24m including about 63 minutes lost in breaks. Amazing run times! Although the bus was delayed at start, I give full marks for the courtesy to call up the passengers well in advance and inform them of the delay.


Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes, 1-litre bottles
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, remained On throughout.
Entertainment: Available, a movie played.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 [Delayed, but full points for providing advance info about the delay]

Overall: 5/5 [Awesome service]

Will I take this service again? Absolutely!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

On LeCosta 666 to Coimbatore

It is only a matter of opportunity to book this one. The fact that the last minute prices were quite less was an icing on the cake. I had to make an urgent trip to Kerala for an official purpose. Since my appointment was on Monday, I decided to do the trip on Sunday instead. Buses on Saturday night were sold out (quite interestingly) and my only option was to take a flight or a bus on Sunday morning - Saturday evening flights were way beyond my budget as well. I booked a ticket to Coimbatore on LeCosta aka Air Costa for a Sunday morning. I was quite excited to be flying an Embraer again, and on the E-190 for the first time. Air Costa is the sole Embraer operator in the country. They, earlier, flew a combination of E-170s and E-190s (two each) - but they recently brought down their operations to three E-190s at the beginning of Summer 2016.

May 01, 2016:
Yet another morning flight! Unlike my previous morning flights this year, I decided not to take a cab to the airport this time. I am generally phobic to traveling in a cab to the airport during early morning hours - the airport road is a hotbed of accidents, and overworked drivers end up killing people there. Instead of hiring a cab to the airport, I took a cab to the main city bus station aka Kempegowda Bus Station, well known as Majestic Bus Station. From there, I got into an Airport Shuttle bus. This is an economical, and a much safer option, compared to hiring a taxi. The bus can get expensive if you are travelling in groups of more than two people though. I slept for most part of the bus journey. I reached the airport, groggy eyed, sometime around 0620hrs. I badly wanted a dose of caffeine, and headed straight to the Hatti Kaapi outlet for some hot coffee. The coffee was not boiling hot - just the right amount of heat, to my liking. After Coffee, I loitered around for some time, before entering the terminal.
Air Costa Check-in counters!
My flight would depart only at 0840hrs, and the check-in counter wasn't opened yet. Air Costa ground staff were busy preparing the check-in counters - Belt Stanchions were being rolled into place, the queue line was being made. Two ladies at the counter were busy checking their computers. I loitered around for sometime, and came back to the counter by around 0842. By now, a fairly long queue had already formed. It took sometime for me to reach the check-in counter. I got my boarding pass by 0647hrs. Except the counters of Silk Air and Oman Air, the other counters were mostly deserted. Security check was empty - really empty. Majority of the frisking booths were open, and there were hardly 2-3 people at each booth. I got past Security by 0653.
My boarding pass.. I lost the original one :(

Date of Journey: May 01, 2016
Flight No: LB666 || Seat: 7F
Aircraft type: Embraer ERJ190LR || Regn: VT-LPB
Sector: BLR-CJB
STD: 0840hrs, ATD: 0833hrs
STA: 0930hrs, ATA: 0921hrs

Straight to my favorite spotting location near gate #1. Looks like a lot of people are getting aware of this location - this place was crowded today. And the apron was really busy for most part of the time. I remained at the place till the aircraft that would work my flight arrived. I was tracking this flight on FR24. Lima Papa Bravo touched down in Bangalore at 0808hrs. I headed towards the gate soon after the aircraft passed my favorite spotting location.We were boarding from Gate #9. I was particularly interested to know the inbound loads, which seemed quite healthy going by the number of people who alighted. I was slightly hungry, and since boarding was still quite some time away, I headed out to the Taste of India Express counter to pickup something light to have. While I was having a light pre-breakfast snack, the gate agents started calling out passengers for boarding. Boarding commenced at 0818hrs (10 minutes after the aircraft landed!).
VT-LPB coming in from Vijayawada..
Gate #9 before boarding was called..
Boarding LeCosta 666 to Coimbatore.. 
I boarded the aircraft at 0823hrs. VT-LPB (cn: 217), was delivered to Air Costa in March 2016. She was originally delivered to NAS Air in November 2008. The 7-odd year old bird was kept in good shape. The aircraft had 112 Economy class seats, laid out in a 2x2 layout. The seats were really comfortable - quite different from the ones on Airbuses or Boeings. The windows seemed a size larger as well. The leg room was great as well. One interesting fact was that the cabin crew incharge Mr. Vimal Raj individually welcomed each guest with a Namaste. The gesture seemed really good. Boarding was completed at 0830. The welcome announcements followed. In the deck were Capt Fernando Cano and Senior First Officer Pramod. In the cabin were Mr. Vimal Raj, Ms Monica and Ms Divya. The door was armed at 0832hrs, and we were pushed back at 0833hrs.
Soon after takeoff..
Taxi clearance took some time - there were two other aircrafts ahead of us. We commenced taxi at 0838hrs. We made it to the holding point of Rwy27 at 0843hrs. We had to wait till IndiGo's VT-IGX touched down (inbound from Lucknow). We entered the active runway at 0845, and took off at 0846hrs. We climbed straight to the West, then turned South East for some time, flew over Bangalore city before turning South West towards Coimbatore. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 0851hrs. A flurry of activity followed - a series of announcements about their buy-on-board service and their wide menu (listed in their inflight magazine). I had prebooked a Meal. Mr Vimal came in with a tray for me - while handing over, he addressed me by name, and said, Breakfast for you, sir! That was great. The tray had a bottle of water, an aluminum container with a "Veg BRF" sticker on it, and a container with a dessert.
The breakfast tray..
..and, that was my breakfast..
On unpacking the aluminum container, I found a Masala dosa, two Medu vadas (fritters made of black lentils) and a pack of sambhar. Plastic cutlery was provided. The dosa was warm, and soft. The sambhar was of Karnataka style. The vadas were soft. By the time, I was half way through my meal, the seatbelt sign was back on (0850hrs) - the captain came on the PA, and addressed the guests. I had to hurry a bit with my meal - the dessert was a Kheer (Rice Pudding). The quantity was sufficient, and it was appropriately sweet. Mr Vimal asked my feedback about the food before clearing the tray - again a nice touch. By now were were close to Coimbatore - the hilly terrain was replaced with large swathes of unused land, with patches of farm lands strewn around appeared. We touched down on Rwy23 at 0914hrs. Full reversers were applied and we braked real hard. The aircraft stopped right after the exit to the apron. We went a little ahead till a turnpad, and then backtracked. The aircraft finally parked at a jetway stand by 0917hrs. I was out of the aircraft by 0921, and out of the airport by 0924hrs - well before the scheduled arrival time!
The seats! They were really comfortable.
Reversers in action...
Thats the terminal. We passed it..
I really liked this flight. The crew were very friendly. I must really appreciate Mr Vimal Raj - he took personal care of passengers on the flight. The aircraft - Embraer ERJ-190LR, VT-LPB, is the only one of its kind in the Air Costa fleet. The other two aircrafts are ERJ-190STD. This 112 seater aircraft is powered by two General Electric CF34-10E7 Turbofan engines. The aircraft was silent compared to the other narrow body airliners. Like my previous flight, I got a windowless window seat this time as well.
The arrivals hall in Coimbatore..
Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (Did Online Check-in. Counter was quick to issue a boarding pass)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Amazing. Special claps for Mr. Vimal Raj)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food. Filling quantity as well)
Overall: 5/5

Summary:
Air Costa is often in news for frequent cancellations and their network seemed to have reduced in size, than expand. They had recently announced conversion of their permit from being a Regional operator to a Pan-India operator. I really liked the experience both the times I flew them (read my earlier experience here). I hope they come out of their unpredictability and expand across the country. And a big thanks to them for letting us have this opportunity to fly these uber rare Embraers in this country.