To Kochi - On SpiceJet, for the last time?

Searching for air-fares has been a favorite pass-time for me since some time now. The third saturday of every month is a fixed holiday for me. I was expecting the dates for an examination that I had to appear, and was scheduled for December - I wanted to get a confirmation on those dates before I booked tickets for my monthly visit to my hometown. As soon as the confirmation dropped in, I got on to hunt for tickets - that being a weekend before Christmas meant whichever mode I select, I had to book it well in advance. I searched for air fares on various travel websites, and also on airline websites. I found a cheap ticket on SpiceJet - finally booked a ticket after applying a coupon on a travel website.

As the journey came closer and closer, news about SpiceJet being in a financial mess surfaced giving me mini heart-attacks very often. Things seemed all okay as the flight I was booked on seemed flying regularly. This particular rotation wasn't cancelled or rescheduled as part of the restructuring as well - while a whole lot of flights got culled. As the day of my journey came closer, operations of SpiceJet got murkier. I kept tracking my flight (and the entire rotation) on a daily basis on FR24. One fine morning, I noticed that the aircraft working my rotation did not take off - almost all of SpiceJets operations were down that day. By afternoon, most of SpiceJet's schedules were cancelled, and various medias started reporting about SpiceJet - scenes of angry customers quarrelling with operations people, and stories of miseries caused to passengers due to cancellations hogged the limelight. By evening a couple of aircrafts were up in the sky giving me some relief. The scene was poorer the next day - all flight cancelled until late in the eveing. I had almost given up my trip - alternative options were expensive. Flight operations were back to normal a day before my journey - giving me a lot of relief. It was a whiff of cold air.

December 19, 2014:
As has been my routine in the past many days, the first thing I did even before getting off my bed was checking FR24 for the status of SG131 (which is the rotation the aircraft would work first in the day, before reaching Bangalore in the evening). I got off to a shock - SG131 hadn't taken off from Delhi yet - almost an hour after its scheduled departure. I kept checking the status time and again - the SpiceJet website had put up a "reschedule" for the flight, while other airlines tweeted about visibility in Delhi being below minima. I was a bit relieved that the delay could be due to fog and nothing else. I checked the remaining rotations this aircraft works over the day, and found that many have beenrescheduled. Sometime around 0930, I received a message stating that my departure too has been rescheduled, to 1800hrs from the scheduled 1655hrs. I was relieved, and allayed fears that my journey could be cancelled. Sometime around 1400hrs, I got another message saying my flight is further rescheduled to 1830hrs. I was a bit worried about my onward travel from Kochi now.

I left office as usual at around 1600hrs in the office..er, College Bus. I was dropped at Hebbal about 15 minutes later, at 1615hrs. In about 5 minutes of reaching Hebbal, I got a Vayu Vajra - on KIA-09 from Majestic. The conductor gave out a bunch of tickets for Rs. 180 (the fare from Hebbal). I reached Airport sometime around 1700hrs. I was very hungry, and thought of stopping at Subway or Maiyyas - but then decided to check-in first and have something from an eatery inside.
The SpiceJet check-in counters - not much crowd, but entirely disoriented.
The boarding pass - a memento from the trip..
The check-in counters were messy - no queues, just people mobbing the counters. There were none to guide people to empty counters either. It took about 15 minutes to check-in - a gentleman who was connecting in from an international fight had excess baggage, and he had no indian currency to pay for his baggage. He held up the queue for sometime as he discussed with the check-in agent about paying through his card. My check-in was quick - no baggage (just a backpack) - the boarding pass had the 1655hrs departure printed on - he just struck it with a pen and wrote 1830 below. I rushed to security check - which is always messy. My bag gets scanned twice every time - when I take my camera out and keep on the tray, the security guy at the scanning machine always objects - only to be asked by the guy scanning the bags to take it out. I passed security check this time too with 'double scanning'. I was very hungry and headed to Malgudi straightaway. There was a very long queue there (longer than the queue at Security Check, or the longest queue I've stood for a check-in).
..way to Gates 3-6 (on the lower level, bus gates)
Date of Journey: December 19, 2014
Flight No: SG-246 || Seat: 12F
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-800 || Regn: VT-SGV
STD: 1655hrs, ATD: 1834hrs
STA: 1805hrs, ATA: 1934hrs

While I was busy eating an evening snack from Malgudi Tiffin Centre, I remembered that there are no departure announcements at Kempegowda International Airport (Bengaluru), and there were no departure status displays nearby too. The time, already, was 1805hrs. I hurried with the food and rushed to the lower level - my flight was scheduled to depart from Gate #3, at the lower level. The lower level was packed to capacity - finding an empty seat to sit was out of question, finding some place to stand itself was difficult. Two AirAsia flights were departing at the same time - from adjacent gates (Gate #4 & #5). One was to Jaipur and the other was, IIRC, to Chennai. Agents at the gate were calling out the destination - resembling a bus stand.
Getting on to the bus, from Gate #3.
A queue had formed for my flight too - I too joined the queue. Boarding had just commenced - a Cobus3000 was taking the passengers to the bus. It took about 5 minutes for me to get into the bus - I was in the bus by around 1815hrs. The first thing I noticed when I got in the bus was - the aircraft was no where in sight! It was a fairly long ride to the aircraft, which was parked at one of the farthest stands from the terminal (Stand #39). I got into the aircraft, VT-SGV - a Boeing 737-800 delivered to SpiceJet in 2011, by 1823hrs. Boarding was quite slow - the second bus came long after my bus reached there. While we were waiting, an Etihad Cargo aircraft came in - the Cargo terminal was right after the stand where my aircraft was parked.
Getting on to the craft..
Doors were armed at 1833hrs, and we were all set to fly out with a flight full of vacation passengers. We were flying 100% loads today. The aircraft was pushed back at 1834hrs. Since we were at a far-away stand, I couldn't spot any aircrafts heading out of Bengaluru - except the lights far away. Soon after pushback, the purser, Ms Pooja, welcomed the guests on board along with an apology for the delay. Captain Pradeep Jain and First Officer Rajesh were flying us, while Pooja along with Anshu, Radhika and Roshni were take care of the cabin. Security demonstration commenced soon after the customary welcome announcements. We started taxiing at 1838hrs. We ran through the apron, till the end, then entered the taxiway and headed to the holding point of Rwy09. We had to hold on for an Emirates B772 to land. We were cleared for take off, and we were airborne at 1844hrs. We took off towards the east and then turned to the South-West direction, heading towards Kochi. Soon after the seatbelt sign was turned off, an announcement was made that there would be no buy-on-board service "due to the short flying time of the sector". Only water was available on board, and passengers were requested to use the call button to request for water.
The Aircraft - VT-SGV, named "Nigella". (Photo Courtesy: Aero Sreenivas @ JetPhotos.net)
The captain came on the PA sometime around 1900hrs - he sounded very joyful - he apologised all passengers for the delayed departure "due to the delay in the incoming sector". He announced that we were flying at FL300 and were about to commence descend shortly. The seatbelt sign came on at 1913hrs, and the captain came on the PA once again - he announced that our arrival at Kochi would be delayed by about 10 minutes due to traffic congestion at Kochi. We had to hold over for some time - and flew over Kochi airport, then turn to the west, then did a full turnaround, headed east and finally aligned to the landing path. Cabin Crew were asked to be seated for landing at 1932hrs, and we were already on the finals for landing. We finally touched down at 1934hrs on Rwy27. We did not exit through the rapid-exit, but carried further to the next exit path - we stopped short of the taxi-way at 1935hrs. We held on for a minute, and then started moving again at 1936hrs. In the meantime, an Indigo A320 took off. We finally parked at Stand #06 at 1937hrs. In the meantime, a Go Air A320 (from Mumbai) landed and right behind a Jet Airways B737 took off. SpiceJet's Q400, VT-SUD, was parked next to us. It took some time to get off the aircraft - I was out of the aircraft at 1942hrs. All the delays meant I lost my onward connection from the airport - it was a bumpy ride home then.
After landing at COK. VT-SUD is giving us company.
One thing I liked in the flight was the way the cabin crew did their job - this is despite the turmoil that SpiceJet is in. It is often hard to smile and go about their normal job when their future is uncertain. All the crew on the flight were joyous - they ensured they welcomed each passenger with a Good Evening, expressed their sincere apologies for the delay, and also thanked each passenger while deplaning. There was a bit of delay in responding to calls though. This was one flight which gave me a lot of anxious moments before, gave a good experience while flying, and some nice memories to carry on. I was unsure if I'd be able to fly - but then I flew with a lot of good memories. I sincerely hope SpiceJet survives the turbulence it is now in - they are a good operator with lots of connections down south.

Ratings:
Check-in: 4/5 (Chaotic check-in process)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 2.5/5 (points for announcing the delays in advance, and sticking to the rescheduled time)
Crew: 4.95/5 (that minus for delays in responding to calls)
On-Board Service: 4.5/5 (there was no board service, but lose points for not responding on time)
Overall: 3.5/5

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