Sunday, February 05, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 04, 2017

NinerWhiskey: Raipur to Mumbai via Bhopal, and on to BLR - Part 1

After bagging a cheap fare flight from Bengaluru to Raipur, I got busy hunting for return option. As usual, I hooked on to my usual OTAs - I found a great fare on Cleartrip (my favorite among the lot). The cheapest option for that day was on Jet Airways, with a flight change at Mumbai. The second cheaper option was IndiGo, the timings of which weren't comfortable for me. I decided to check if these fares existed on the Jet Airways website as well. The website had some interesting stuff for me!

The fare did exist, and it had some fun hidden as well - the routing had a total of two stops in between. First leg on 9W2121, from Raipur to Mumbai via Bhopal, and the second leg on 9W7145 (S24381) from Mumbai to Bengaluru. The #avgeek in me did not want to miss an option to experience three flights in one! I made the booking through the Jet Airways mobile application, which gave some sweet discounts as well. My final itinerary looked like this:

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

The flights in my itinerary was re-scheduled no less than 4 times during the last one month before the flight. Three of the changes happened to S24381 (I'll write about that later), and one change happened to my Raipur-Mumbai booking. One day prior to my flight, I got a mail from Jet Airways, reading this:
Please note regarding Schedule / Route change :
Flight No Date Sector DEP ARR
2121 28JAN RPRBOM 1955 2255

Your reservation has been updated accordingly .The revised timings are as below:
Flight Nbr Date From/To Status Dep Arr
While I was generally unhappy about the delay, I was secretly happy about the delay, since my wait at Mumbai would be somewhat shortened (not much, just a few minutes). Twenty four hours before my departure from Raipur, I try doing a web check-in. The mobile app is quite slow, it kept swirling for a long before each page. It let me select seats for the two flights and gave a confirmation that I had been checked in. Later, in the page where it asked for my email id (I wonder why should they ask that, since my app is anyway linked to an email id, so is my Frequent flyer membership, and the booking database would surely have all my contact details), there was a message that boarding passes for "one or more" sectors in my booking cannot be issued, and I must contact their airport counter. Never mind. I would anyway go to the check-in counter to drop my bags, and I prefer the airline issued boarding passes, than taking a printout myself!

January 28, 2017: 
The convention was over by afternoon, and I got some time to rest at my hotel room. I needed to rest since I'd hardly sleep that night, and I hadn't slept properly the previous nights as well. But, then, I was excited, like everytime before a flight, and I couldn't sleep. Another delegate at the convention was also taking the same flight and we had decided to share a cab, although I secretly wished to take a bus. But, I did not feel it would be a great idea to take a bus with baggage, especially during evening hours. We finally opted to hire a cab, and I booked one through the Ola app. First, there was very poor availability, and, second, the driver refused to come down for an Ola booking. He wanted a private booking, and asked a fare slightly more than what was estimated by Ola. I wanted a cab, and accepted.

The cab driver turned up in 10 minutes. The maniac at the wheels drove fast, overtook zig-zag and honked as if he was playing a keyboard. The car was in fairly good shape and rode fairly well. He had some near misses on the way, and was engage on the phone for most of the time as he neared Raipur. It took a lot of time for me to understand the geography of the place. He dropped us at the airport by around 1812hrs. The airport looked amazing - too good for a city like Raipur. The terminal was well lit and decorated. Although the design was the typical oval shaped, ACP & Glass structure, the lighting and the ambiance gave a special feel to the airport. I took some time to enjoy the airport before entering the terminal a few minutes later.
That is Swami Vivekanand International Airport, Raipur
Landscaping at Raipur Airport
Security personnel at each point were a little too strict - they checked tickets meticulously before letting passengers into the terminal. There was another checkpoint just before baggage scan. Baggage scan was done by 1818hrs and I headed to the check-in counters. Check-in counters are an eye-sore at most AAI airports - they are located in congested places, with terrible looking desks and displays. The staff at the counter were very helpful - I was allowed to use the business class check-in counters and the entire process was fuss free. They confirmed if I wanted to check-in my baggage through to Bengaluru, or if I wanted my bags at Mumbai - I checked it in through to Bengaluru. I was unable to do an online check-in for my Mumbai-Bengaluru sector, but was allowed to select a seat. The counter staff issued boarding passes for both the sectors, and my seat selection was retained as well. I got my boarding passes by 1820hrs.
Check-in counters of Jet Airways..
The next stop was Security check. My bag was pulled up for rescreening since it had "too many electronic gadgets" - basically my mobile phones and chargers. While I appreciate their concern of "too many electronic gadgets", the phones were inside the bag only because I was insisted to put them inside! I was done with security check by 1828hrs and moved to the Security Hold Area. I was quite hungry, and hoped to have some food from the Lounge offered as part of my Ola Select membership. I couldn't find any lounges in the airport and walked throughout the airport in the hope of finding the lounge mentioned on the Ola website. I finally zero in on an outlet that bore the same name as the lounge mentioned on the website - a quick enquiry at the counter confirmed that I was actually at the correct lounge. The access procedure took a lot of time. I had the option of choosing any item on the menu.
Thats the security check area..
Inside Raipur airport..
I picked up a Paneer Hotdog and a cup of Cappuccino. The hotdog was served hot. Although it was called a hot dog, it was a normal sandwich with a Paneer filling and some vegetables. The Cappuccino was the typical Cafe Coffee Day stuff. The lounge had minimal seating facilities, which were full. After finishing the snack, I headed out in search of a charging point to charge my phones - but surprisingly, there were none! I found just one charging port, which did not have the option to use my own charger. In the meantime, I logged on to Flightradar24 to track the aircraft, which was by now flying in from Mumbai to Raipur. It was VT-JGW, a Boeing 737-85R (WL) delivered to Jet Airways in June 2007, for me that day. There was a line-up of departures, mainly of IndiGo. IndiGo staffers were walking around the airport calling out for passengers flying out by IndiGo flights leaving then.
Thats the Zesto Lounge!
The Paneer Hotdog and Cappuccino that I picked up..
Date of Journey: January 28, 2017
Airline: Jet Airways
Flight No: 9W2121 || Seat: 17A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-85R (WL) || MSN: 34804 / 2297 || Regn: VT-JGW
Sector: RPR-BHO
STD: 2020hrs, ATD: 2038hrs
STA: 2125hrs, ATA: 2147hrs

Golf Whiskey touched down at 1954hrs. The first boarding call was made at 2008hrs, and strict zone-wise boarding was enforced. Along with the boarding call, an announcement was made that the aircraft had JetScreen, Jet Airway's onboard WiFi based entertainment system, and that passengers should download the AirTime app before passengers boarded the aircraft. I just did that and remained seated till the tail end of the boarding queue was seen. The aircraft flies a triangular route - Mumbai-Raipur-Bhopal-Mumbai, with the flight number 9W2121 throughout. It appeared that the number of passengers boarding from Raipur wasn't high, but the aircraft was more or less full. I got into the aircraft by 2018hrs - since most passengers had already settled, boarding didn't take a lot of time. The first thing that stuck me as I sat down was - its damn tight! Hardly any leg room, and I felt claustrophobic sitting there. The seats had individual PTVs, which just showed a "Thanks for Flying Jet Airways" message. A Boarding Completed announcement was made at 2022hrs. The doors weren't closed and armed until 2038hrs due to some pending paper works. In command of this flight was Captain Janak Dev and First Officer Varun Kumar. Cabin crew were led by Jitendra Kumar. Mr Sandup and Ms Hoeineichong were taking care of the zone I was seated in.
Strict zone-wise boarding.. 
We were pushed back at 2039hrs. The captain came on the PA a little after we were pushed back and informed that we'd have a slight delay in commencing taxi due to congestion on the apron, and added that the taxi would take about 10 minutes! Soon after this, the safety demonstration was performed. We commenced taxi at 2043hrs, and taxied through the runway to the 24 end. We reached the 24 end of the runway by 2047hrs, and turned around on the turnpad to line up for take-off. We were airborne by 2049hrs. We took off to the South west before turning around North west and setting course to Bhopal. The seatbelt sign was turned off by 2053hrs, and the onboard service started right after. Along with the seatbelt switched off announcement, they also announced that JetScreen was enabled, and passengers could watch their favorite shows or movies using the AirTime app. A small information card about using the JetScreen was kept in the seat pocket as well.
My boarding cards, JetWings and the JetScreen manual..
JetScreen.. some screenshots..
No trolleys were used for the service, instead the Flight Attendants brought plastic crates filled with sandwiches. There were no options - Just the Veg sandwich was available, while another FA brought a crate with water bottles. The sandwiches were handed out quickly - no trays were used, just the sandwich and a bottle of water handed out to passengers à la LCC style. It was a routine coleslaw sandwich, typical of Jet Airways! I finished the sandwich in no time, and opted to watch a movie on JetScreen. I opted a Bollywood remake of a famous Malayalam movie - for the simple reason that I needn't mind about continuity or missing watching the entire movie. The movie kept me engaged for the rest of the flight. The crew were very proactive in helping passengers - calls were responded in no time. The seatbelt sign was back on at 2125hrs. We touched down on Runway 30 of Bhopal's Raja Bhog International Airport at 2139hrs. We docked at a contact stand by 2147hrs. Disembarking completed by 2152hrs.
Snack served in the Raipur-Bhopal sector..
An army of housekeeping professional and security staff barged in. While two personnel checked boarding cards, two more security staff went about identifying hand baggage. Housekeeping personnel were quick in clearing the aircraft. Seat belts were kept in the characteristic "X" pattern, and they went about ensuring all seat pockets had safety cards and magazines. The security personnel were a little confused as they went about checking - they lacked co-ordination and ended up duplicating each other's work. I was so tired sitting there at those tight seats that I got up and had a walk till the aft galley, which was being prepared for the service in the next sector.

Sector: BHO-BOM
STD: 2155hrs, ATD: 2213hrs
STA: 2320hrs, ATA: 2357hrs

Boarding for the next sector commenced at 2200hrs. Boarding for this sector was real quick. We were done by 2211hrs. The doors were armed by 2213hrs, and we were pushed back at 2216hrs. A quick safety demo was done, and we commenced taxi by 2220hrs. We entered the runway, headed to the 30 end, turned around and lined up for takeoff by 2225hrs. We were airborne by 2227hrs. The seatbelt sign was turned off by 2233hrs, and the food trolleys rolled out in no time. Since this was another short sector, I had no expectations of a dinner service. As expected, baked rolls were being served.
The seats.. taken during transit at Bhopal..
The trolley reached my seat quickly - two options were given: Veg or Chicken. The roll was served on tray, along with Jet Airways' Award Winning Dessert - the "quintessential" KitKat chocolate-covered wafer bar confection, and the hot beverage kit, consisting of dairy whitener, sugar and a stirrer. The imli candy mustn't be missed as well. Unlike my previous experiences, the roll wasn't over heated this time, and it didn't stick on to the cover. The filling was mild, and not very spice laden. Soon later, a round of beverage service was done. I opted for a coffee, which was good. I was engrossed in the movie that I was watching on JetScreen most of the time.
The meal..
The roll up close. The quintessential dessert can be seen behind...
Seatbelt sign was turned on at 2326hrs. We were already holding by now. As we prepared to land, the PTVs played a promotional video about Etihad Partners, explaining their FFPs and flying comfort. The aircraft was equipped with PTVs as well as the WiFi based Jet Screen. The hold was short, and we aligned to ILS and entered short finals in no time. I got quite nostalgic as we flew over Navi Mumbai, my home for almost 10 years. We touched down on Runway 27 at 2346hrs. Terminal 1 (A & C) appeared quite deserted - I was actually shocked by the complete absence of IndiGo aircrafts at any of the contact stands. It was a long taxi to enter the apron of the new Terminal 2. The international side was dominated by heavies - I felt quite excited spotting widebodies from Jet Airways and Air India. We made a couple of brief halts during taxi, making me think we might just dock at  remote gate, but that wasn't the case. We docked at a contact stand by 2357hrs. Disembarkation began in no time, and I was out of the aircraft by 0004hrs.

Check-in: 5/5 (Quick)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Clean)
Punctuality: 3.5/5 (Rescheduled by 25 minutes. Landed 37 minutes after rescheduled time)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 4/5 (The food served was great! Poor Dessert, lacklustre presentation)
Overall: 3.5/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one. Loses points for terrible seating)
The route I flew - from GCMapper
FR24 track of RPR-BHO Sector
FR24 track of BHO-BOM sector..
This was my 14th flight on Jet Airways (discounting three flights operated on the JetLite AOP), and the 4th on a Jet Airways Boeing 738. Majority of my flights with Jet Airways were on their ATRs, which are aplenty down south. And, except on flight on the 9W B738, all others were disappointment in terms of catering. This flight was disappointment - terrible leg room and very claustrophobic seats. The Full Service Carrier image that Jet tries to portray doesn't really gel well with the very apparent cost cutting they do in their meal service - a small roll with a chocolate hardly makes a meal! Coming to the meal, the product served tasted good. I understand that the catering was done by Taj-SATS, the leader in the industry, beyond doubt. The crew were great - very polite and helpful. The ground staff messed up quite a lot during the transit check. Housekeeping was perfect. JetScreen is an awesome addition - but it needs to be supplemented with charging points on board. Overall, an average flight, more so due to the seating. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

iFly 466: Bengaluru to Raipur #AaboBhilai


An message on a WhatsApp group from a friend about his booking to Raipur set off the thinking process. He was flying there to attend the annual railfans gathering, the IRFCA Convention, behind hosted at Bhilai. I had been a member of IRFCA (Indian Railways Fans Club) since the early 2000s (2003, if I remember that correctly). Back in my school days, trains were an object of fantasy. I was always a bus fan, but trains were a different feeling. We rarely traveled by train those days, and my love for trains grew up as I made my longest ever train journey (then) in 1998, from Coimbatore (in Tamil Nadu) to Mumbai. Seeing my love for trains, one fine day, my brother introduced me to a website called IRFCA. He wasn't a train fan, but he came across the site searching for pictures of trains. I was an active member of IRFCA till 2009, where the changing environment around me, shifted me back to my childhood love, buses.

Back in 2009, I had been a part of the committee that organised an IRFCA Convention in Bengaluru (Bangalore, then). A few years later, I wanted to attend another convention and made an attempt to do that in 2012 - but the bereavement of a member in my family cut short the trip. Its been 8 years since I attended an IRFCA Convention, and quite impulsively, made a decision to make it to Bhilai 2017 - the 13th IRFCA Convention. The first thing I did was look for tickets. It was a new year, and I had to conserve my leaves. My priority was to travel by the fastest means - ruling out trains, effectively. I looked at flights, and bagged cheap fares for my outward and return journeys, and booked my tickets a good three months in advance. My outbound journey was by IndiGo 466, a one stop flight.

A few days before my flight, I started noticing that this particular flight was regularly irregular, and often flew as much as 120 minutes behind schedule. Then came a mailer from IndiGo, stating that my flight has been rescheduled due to flying restrictions in the national capital for Republic Day Celebrations. The flight was rescheduled from 1545 to 1600hrs. This threw in a spanner to my travel plans - but nevertheless, gave me enough time to be prepared for more delays.

January 26, 2017:
I did not want to take chances, since I knew the crowd at the airport, and the traffic on the road would be high, since it was an extended weekend for IT folks in town. I booked a cab for a 1230hrs pickup, and the cab turned up well before time. The ride to the airport was slow, it was traffic all the way. The driver was sane even after he entered the highway to the airport - he did not exceed the speed limit anytime, and took me to the airport by 1410hrs. I was quite surprised to see a rather deserted entrance to the terminal. I was shocked to find the IndiGo check-in counters deserted as well. I was done with check-in in less than 5 minutes since reaching the airport, and headed to the security check. Security check was deserted as well, but the security staff did their job quite slowly, and delayed the entire security check process.
The IndiGo check-in at BLR
Entry to IndiGo Check-in. 
I got my boarding pass stamped by 1429hrs. I was quite hungry and badly wanted to head to the lounge was have my food. I received an SMS from IndiGo, as seen below:
IndiGo :Dear IndiGo Customer, gate no. for your flight 6E-466 from BLR to RPR is changed to 14. Gate closes 25 mins prior to departure time. Have a pleasant flight.
So, we were moved from a Contact Stand (Gate #2) to a remote stand (Gate #14) - this gave me a doubt that we could be further delayed. There was nothing I could do, anyways, and just headed to Above Ground Lounge, I had a sumptuous meal from the lounge, and as I neared the tail end of my eating session, I noticed my phone showing an alert from Google, which read my flight was further delayed. In the meantime, I receive this, from IndiGo:
Dear MR Binai Sankar, your flt. 6E466,BLR-RPR on 26Jan is delayed. The revised departure time is 1705hrs. View flt status on your mobile at or call 01246613880
Another delay! I fired up FlightRadar24, and found that the aircraft was not even half its way to Bengaluru. I kept tracking my aircraft on FR24 to predict chances of any further delay. Since I had lots of time to go, I remained in the Lounge and caught up with some pending work I had, and composed part of this report as well. Sometime around 1600hrs, I had some snacks from the lounge and headed towards the gate. Gate 14 is located towards the farther end of the terminal building, and is located on the ground floor.
FIDS @ BLR. A Small arrow next to the gate number shows which direction is the gate situated at. 
The remote gate.. 10-14, 19 & 20
Crowd at the gate..
This was the gate..
As I reached the gate, I realised that they had silently rescheduled the flight further, and was now estimated to depart at 1730hrs. The gate area was crowded - a lot of flights seemed to be rescheduled, and almost every gate was crowded. I was constantly monitoring the movement of my aircraft on FR24, and understood that the aircraft had commenced its short finals. The aircraft I am talking about was VT-IDY - one of the six CFM56 powered A320s in an otherwise IAE dominated IndiGo fleet. IDY was first delivered to Go Air as VT-WAN in September 2010, who returned the aircraft to its lessor in August 2016. The aircraft was delivered to IndiGo in October 2016, in its present registration, VT-IDY. She touched down 1655hrs. Since some maintenance work was being done on the taxiway, the aircraft taxied through the apron towards its remote stand.
VT-IDY arriving in from DEL
Date of Journey: January 26, 2017
Airline: IndiGo
Flight No: 6E 466 || Seat: 21F
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-214 || MSN: 4438 || Regn: VT-IDY
Sector: BLR-HYD
STD: 1630hrs, ATD: 1728hrs
STA: 1735hrs, ATA: 1833hrs

The first boarding call was made right after the aircraft taxied past the gate. A long queue of restless passengers had already formed, and people seemed quite relieved to get on to the tarmac coach. I remained till only a few of us remained to board. I got past the gate by 1704. Quite surprisingly, there was really poor co-ordination among the ground staff - while the check-in gate cleared passengers, there were no coaches to take them to the aircraft! After a minute of wait, a coach turned up - the driver asked passengers for the flight number, and later asked the ground staff for bay details. We got to the aircraft by 1710hrs - but boarding hadn't commenced yet. The two buses that went before mine were still waiting. We were permitted to alight from the bus by 1713hrs. There was a long queue to board, already! I was inside the aircraft by 1718hrs.
The tarmac coach..
Boarding in progress.. 
Boarding through the aft door.. the IndiGo Ramp in full flow..
One last shot before I get in..
Boarding seemed to be happening really slow, and we completed boarding only by 1724hrs - this meant, we wouldn't be able to depart even at 1730hrs. Doors were armed by 1728hrs, and the barrage of announcements commenced. Captain Mukesh Sharan and First Officer Akarshitha Roy were in charge. Anubhuti and her team looked after the cabin. We were pushed back at 1729hrs, but had a long wait before we could commence taxi, due to other aircraft on the apron. We commenced taxi at 1734hrs, and had a long run to Taxiway A6, the holding point of Runway 09. We finally took off at 1742hrs. We took off to the east before setting course to the North East. The seat belt sign was turned off by 1753hrs. An announcement was made that they would be serving only passengers with a prebooked meal, and others could use the call button if they wished to buy something.
My boarding pass, with Hello 6E
I had prebooked a meal, and I opted to have it in the second leg - the FA handling my row, Ms Ishita, made a remark about that in her chart and she moved on. It seemed like most passengers opted to buy something on board - could be that the delay made more people hungry. Oh yes! My flight, 6E466 has a stopover at Hyderabad. The flight was largely uneventful. There was a bit of turbulence as we neared Hyderabad, and the seatbelt signs were turned on at 1813hrs. A landing call was made at 1819hrs. We touched down on Runway 09R, at 1829hrs, and taxied to a remote stand. We docked at stand #11 by 1833hrs. Deplaning started quickly, and completed by 1840hrs.
En-route Hyderabad
The IndiGo interiors. Clean, well kept and spacious
Soon as all passengers to Hyderabad got off, an army of housekeeping personnel barged in. They had a clear split in what they do - one person cleans the seat pockets, one person sets the seatbelts in order, another person clears the thrash. In the meantime, ground personnel came in with passenger manifest and cross-checked boarding passes, and confirmed that there were claimants for all the hand baggage on board. I really liked the way their housekeeping personnel went about keeping the aircraft clean - and I really appreciate IndiGo for the way they handle quick turnarounds. As we were doing this, the first bus with passengers for the next sector had already arrived. There were fairly good loads to Raipur - there were atleast about 60 passengers carrying on to Raipur.

Sector: HYD-RPR
STD: 1805hrs, ATD: 1859hrs
STA: 1905hrs, ATA: 2015hrs

Boarding for the Hyderabad-Raipur sector commenced at 1846hrs. Boarding was quick this time, and we were done by 1855hrs. Doors were armed by 1859hrs and we were pushed back at 1906hrs. There was a delay in push-back due to congestion in the apron, as informed by the captain. While Captain Mukesh Sharan continued to be in command, First Officer Alex George had now taken over. The cabin crew hadn't changed. We commenced taxi at 1911hrs. We entered Runway 09R at 1917 via A8, and we had a rolling take off. We were airborne by 1918hrs. The climb out was very quick, and seatbelt sign was turned off by 1922hrs. This time, again, it was announced that only passengers with prebooked meals would be served. Ms Ishita remembered my request, and she came down to my seat as soon as service began and took my order.
The stub on the boarding pass, and my options!
The IndiGo Tiffin menu seems to be becoming smaller and smaller every month - my favorite item, the Sub was gone, and there were just options - the mundane Tomato Cucumber Cheese and Lettuce Sandwich and a Paneer Khurchan in Whole Wheat Tortilla Wrap. I opted for the latter. Ishita literally surprised (or shocked) me when she asked what would be my alternative choice if the wrap wasn't available on board - come on! There are just two choices! I opted for a Paper Boat Anar drink to go along my roll. I did get the roll, and not the dreaded sandwich.
The meal..
The roll was cold - infact, the FA mentioned that it was cold, and not hot, as she served it. The roll was made of a whole wheat tortilla, with a filling rich in Paneer (Cottage cheese). I really liked the roll - the quantity of Paneer was the real highlight. The Paneer was soft and properly cooked, while the filling in itself was neutral on spices, and the flavour was neutral. The roll had impressed me last time as well. This time the roll was prepared by LSG SkyChefs at their Bengaluru kitchen. The drink, Paper Boat's Anar (Pomegranate) juice, was good as well.
The roll..
Weather appeared to have worsened - the seatbelt sign was back between 1926hrs and 1930hrs, and then again at 1946hrs. The second time, the turbulence was quite bad, and the captain asked cabin crew to be seated. A quite cabin clearance was done, and the cabin was prepared for landing as well. We touched down at Runway 24 of Raipur's Swami Vivekananda International Airport at 2010hrs. Reversers were in full application, along with heavy braking. The sole runway (06-24) doesn't have taxiways, and we carried on with the turnpad at the 06 end of the runway, and backtracked to the apron. We reached a stand by 2015hrs. Its a small airport, with two jetways - we did not use a jetway, though. Deplaning commenced quickly, and I was out of the aircraft by 2019hrs. It took a long time to get my checked-in bag. I got my bag only at 2034hrs. The airport had poor public transport options, and I had no option but to hire an expensive taxi - thankfully, there were two more people traveling to the same convention, and we shared the expense.

Check-in: 5/5 (Received an Advance Pass. Counter was quick and no-nonsense)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Awesome)
Punctuality: 2.5/5 (An hour delayed beyond the rescheduled time - two hours behind original schedule)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 4.5/5 (The food served by great! There no options, though)
Overall: 4/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one)
Map generated from GCMapper
My 10th flight with Indigo. Another clean flight with great, well maintained interiors. The crew continue to be largely mechanical, especially the seniors who come in as cabin crew incharges. I continue to have a grouse on the terrible inflight catering menu - there is hardly anything to choose from. Hot meals aren't served on flights with less than an hour of flying, and one ends up having to choose between a Sandwich or a roll! If only they gave more choices. This was another good flight with IndiGo. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The 'regional maharaja': Kochi to Bengaluru on the AI's ATR 72-600

This was a journey I planned at a very short notice. I hadn't booked any ticket, since I had no plan of going home that weekend, in fact, had no plan to go home anytime that month at all. Since I started looking for tickets quite late, most of the buses were sold out, and those that had tickets were priced quite high. Flights were not an option either. I was somehow not convinced about paying astronomical rates for a bus, and changed my plans to return on Monday. Out of curiosity, I casually checked if redemption tickets were available on Air India. Bingo! One last seat was available, and I grabbed it quickly.

Why did I look at Air India? Air India flies once daily from Bengaluru to Kochi and back, 6 times a week. The aircraft actually flies Bengaluru-Kochi-Agatti. This sector was flown using an ATR 42-320 earlier, and I had two flights on them earlier. Sometime in mid-December, the ATR42 was replaced with the new ATR 72-600. ATR76s are rare in India, and I did not want to miss an opportunity to fly them. To add to that, this would be my first time flying Air India from Kochi to Bengaluru as well.

January 16, 2017:
I left home after a heavy breakfast, walked down to the nearest bus stop, and took a bus towards the airport. Since there are no direct bus, I need to change 3 buses to get to the airport. For the last stretch, I briefly considered taking a cab, but the fare estimates were quite high for the short distance. A little after I began my wait, a bus to the airport arrived, and I took it to reach the airport. I was at the airport by 1200hrs. The entrance to the terminal was a little crowded - that was because there was a single cop checking tickets. Baggage scan was not yet switched on, and a there was a very short line there. The machine came live only at 1208hrs, and I got my bag scanned by 1209hrs.

Check-in was deserted, and I was done by 1211hrs. Web Check-in is not permitted for flights on Air India Regional, but I had pre-selected seat #2D during booking. I headed straight to security check, which seemed quite crowded. No less than three Indigo flights and two SpiceJet flights were to depart in the next hour or so. People thronged the first screening machine, and caused a long queue. I skipped the queue, and went to the machine inside, which was also working. Frisking booths were also crowded. I was done by 1217, and headed to the security hold, which was terribly crowded. But, my favorite seats near Gate #4 were empty, and I got my favorite seat, which has a power plug as well. I had some official work to do, and got busy with my work.

The incoming aircraft (coming in from Agati) was still outside FR24's coverage. The apron was quite busy - both international and domestic departures happened one after the other. I was quite preoccupied with work, and did not really notice the time. I picked up a sandwich from the nearby stall sometime around 1300hrs since I didn't want to have a heavy lunch. The incoming aircraft was yet to arrive, and we were sure to be delayed. The aircraft appeared on FR24 a little past 1310hrs - and it was still about 30 minutes away from Kochi. While I had no hopes of an on-time departure, I was a little worried if we'd be stuck in Kochi due to the runway closure, which starts at 1400hrs, and goes on till 1500hrs.

Date of Journey: January 16, 2017
Airline: Air India Regional
Flight No: 9I 506 (AI 9506) || Seat: 2D
Aircraft type: ATR 72-600 || MSN: 1246 || Regn: VT-AIU
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 1340hrs, ATD: 1412hrs
STA: 1505hrs, ATA: 1521hrs

The incoming aircraft touched down at 1346hrs. It was Air India Regional's ATR72-600, VT-AIU, cn:1246, delivered in May 2015 taking me back to Bengaluru. The first boarding call was made even before the passengers from the incoming sector got off the aircraft. A long line formed in no time, and I got into the tarmac coach by 1350hrs. They got the bus, a fairly new Tata Marcopolo Low floor AC coach, was dispatched as soon as the bus was half full. We got to the aircraft by 1354hrs, but we weren't allowed to get off the bus, since the aircraft was still being cleaned. There were a couple of passengers who came in from Agatti and continued to Bengaluru - they were waiting outside the aircraft was cleaning happened inside. The baggage handlers were busy re-arranging baggage that came in from Agatti - new baggage tags were being added on them as well.
My first flight with an ATR 72-600..
..was on VT-AIU
Boarding my first ATR 72-600, VT-AIU
Boarding finally commenced at 1403hrs, and I was inside in another minute. From the way they hurried with sending towards the aircraft, I guess this was done to escape the runway closure. Boarding was completed by 1410hrs, and doors were armed by 1412hrs. In command was Captain Dinesh singh - who spoke in a very Hindi accented english - in fact, this was perhaps the first time I heard the captain of an Air India flight addressing passengers - he came on the PA system a little after reaching cruising altitude, and apologized for the delay and thanked passengers for choosing to fly Air India. In the cabin were Ms. Vandana (the purser) and Ms. Darshna.

We were pushed back at 1413hrs. The cabin crew hurried with the safety demo soon after pushback. We commenced taxi by 1415hrs. We were to take off from Runway 09, and we did not head out to the holding point - instead exited through C2 on to the active runway by 1417hrs, and did a rolling take off. We were airborne by 1418hrs. It is quite rare to have take off from Runway 09 - we took off straight to the east, then turned north east and set course to Bengaluru. The seatbelt sign remained on for unsually long time, and the flight attendant called up the deck, after which the seatbelt signs were turned off (1426hrs). The food trolley came out in no time, and service commenced immediately. Small boxes with "Air India" printed on them were handed out to all passengers.
The "snack"
The box contained a small, really small, sandwich, and a tetrapak serving of Juice. A bottle of water was handed out seperately. The sandwich, although tasty, was really small to be called even a snack. It had one slice of bread, cut into two and stuffed with one single piece of tomato and a piece of cucumber. A slice of cheese was also kept inside. The serving grace was the juice - unlike the normal mixed fruit or orange, it was Mango this time. I washed down the entire thing with water. Air India's in-flight magazine, Shubh Yathra, makes for a good read every time. It was no different this time either. I spent the rest of the time reading the magazine, and the flight was uneventful.
My boarding pass..
I felt the overally NVH quality was better on the -600 than the -500s that I've been on earlier. The interiors were quite different - the overhead baggage bins had sliding shutters, the AC vent console had a completely fresh feel to it, and interior lighting appeared to be much better. Air India had opted for Recaro slimline seats with leather upholstery - the seats were very comfortable and had lots of leg room. The seat belt sign was back on at 1511hrs. We approached over Bengaluru city, flew all the way till Yelahanka airbase, before turning left and heading towards the approach path. The works on the second runway at Bengaluru airport seemed to be progressing really fast - most of the levelling work seemed to be complete. We finally touched down on Runway 09 of Bengaluru at 1518hrs. Quite unusually, the touch down was really smooth - the smoothest I've experienced in an ATR ever. We docked at stand #25 by 1521hrs. I was among the last passengers to deplane. The crew gave a nice smile as they wished Thanks to each passenger. The tarmac coach dropped us at the terminal by 1532hrs. Quite interestingly, my baggage reached just as I reached the belt, and I got my bag by 1535hrs, and I was out of the terminal in another 2 minutes.
The Hamilton 568F propellor blades on the Pratt & Whitney PW127M engine.. somewhere in cruise..
Check-in: 5/5 (No web-check-in. Counter was quick and no-nonsense)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Awesome)
Punctuality: 4.75/5 (15 Minutes delay at arrival, 32 minutes delay at departure)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 3.5/5 (It was inadequate. But the quality was great!)
Overall: 4.85/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one)
Tracking from FR24
This was the first flight of 2017, and I was quite excited to start the year with the national carrier itself! The fact that this was my first flight in an ATR 72-600 and 15th flight in an ATR added to the excitement. This was the third flight on Air India Regional, and 10th flight in an Air India group aircraft. I really liked this flight - the crew were good, it was fairly on time and they ensured that the overall experience was great. The catering was something that let me down - I wouldn't really blame them since the entire catering is handled out of Bangalore, and this was the fourth sector served by the aircraft that day. Perhaps, they could load out of Cochin and ensure a slightly better snack is served, since the flight flies around lunch time.  I enjoyed this one, and think it was a great way to kickstart 2017.