Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kochi to BLR on AirAsia.. again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

COK to BLR: 9W ATR again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the 9W ATR: BLR to COK

At the height of the Diwali air war - almost every airline had dropped one way fares to a light Rs. 899. One airlines' site crashed minutes after the offer went live, and when it came back, seats were gone! I did most of my searching on a third-party ticketing website, and won a one way ticket for Rs. 899 (turned to over a thousand adding the website's processing fee as well). One website had an interesting offer for round-trip bookings using their app. I decided to play around with the app a bit, and search tickets for a trip that I was just contemplating. The app threw me a round trip ticket for Rs. 1798 - I played around a bit more, added a coupon code and the final fare (for the round trip) dropped to a jawdropping Rs. 1332! It took me some time to understand that I wasn't dreaming - in a couple of minutes I had a round-trip PNR generated on Jet Airways, for a service operated by Jet Konnect at a fare I've only heard in the Air Deccan days!

As the day of my journey closed in, I got sicker and sicker. On the day before my trip, I had a bad viral fever and a painful Pharyngitis - ended up spending almost 12 hours on the bed alternating between a state of consciousness and lack of it. Despite the fever, I remembered to check in online and opted for an mBoarding pass.

November 08, 2014:
Flight No: 9W-2731 || Aircraft: VT-JCP
STD: 1015hrs, ATD: 1003hrs
STA: 11:35hrs, ATA: 1121hrs

I woke up at an unearthly 2AM - still running fever and a bad body pain. I slept for some more time and finally got off the bed at around 0545hrs. I was still not in the best of my senses and did not really understand what to do. Finally, I decided to carry on with the trip sometime around 0630hrs. I had very little time left to get ready - the fever (rather, the hangover of it) slowed me down as I went about getting ready. I was dropped at the bus stop around 0745hrs by my brother - I had just around 2 hours left for the boarding time now. I got into the first bus that came at the stop, which dropped me at Shantinagar around 0805hrs. I hoped an Airport bus come by quickly - the timetable board claimed the next bus was only at 0840hrs. I had a few jitters and looked towards the entrance of the platform with a very hopeful face - wait! Did I see a green bus? Yes, I did! A bus to the Airport rolled in, and I took a seat - at the back. The driver was quite slow at the beginning, giving me some missed heartbeats - but picked up later and I was dropped at the airport around 0915hrs.
The kiosk issued boarding pass (It says its a reprint, although this was actually the first print)
I headed straight to the terminal - the security guard at the entrance cross verified my bookings and ticked across the details and let me in. The check-in counters were all busy and resembled a peak-day railway reservation counter. I headed straight to the self check-in kiosk to print out my boarding pass, and headed to security check. It just as I entered the queue I remembered that I hadn't taken a baggage tag - BIAL had kept plenty of them along the queue for security. I left the bag for scanning and joined a queue for frisking. I got into the security hold by around 0930hrs. Boarding for my flight was from Gate #5, which is on the lower gate. While I reached the gate, they hadn't opened boarding for my flight yet. Boarding commenced at 0940hrs - we were being bus'd to the aircraft (quite expected). The boarding queue was fairly long, and I was among the last passengers to board.
The aircraft: VT-JCP. Photo Courtesy: Sriram Hariharan @ Jetphotos.net
Two buses were used to ferry the passengers - I was in the second. There was a fairly long queue at the aircraft too - I was among the last, again. VT-JCP, an ATR 72-500 delivered to Jet Airways way back in 2008 was flying 9W-2731 to Kochi this day. As a safety precaution, only one passenger is allowed on the boarding ladder at a time - in order to ensure that, they held on to boarding passes till the earlier passenger was inside. Purser Shruti was at the door verifying each boarding pass and welcoming the passengers with a warm smile. The second flight attendant, Bhawna was inside helping out passengers with luggage. My seat was #3A, and it took me sometime to reach my seat since passengers who boarded earlier were still to settle down. My co-passenger was already at the seat. I got to my seat by around 0954hrs - it was quite stuffy inside, and the sun was on my window. Boarding finished soon after I sat, and the aircraft was pushed back at 1003hrs - a good 12 minutes before our scheduled time. Captain Jasmine and First office Sarfaraz were in command. Safety demo started soon after push back. We started taxiing towards Rwy27 at around 1006hrs.

We were were held for sometime, as a SpiceJet Dash Q400 landed followed by Air Costa's Embraer 190 (VT-LVR). We finally took off at 1013hrs. The ascend was quite steep and we reached cruising altitude soon enough. Soon after that, the seatbelt sign was switched off, and the buy-on-board service started. Since the sun was on my side, and it was quite cloudy outside, I had nothing to see outside, and the glare from the clouds made me keep the shades closed for a while. I did not feel like buying anything on board - thanks to the fever (I was again having elevated temperatures) and gastric upset due to the antibiotic I had taken that morning. All I took was a glass of water. The flight was largely eventless - except that we had cloud cover all through the flight, except for a few minutes after take off, and a few minutes before landing.

I spent most of the time reading JetWings - the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways. Landing was announced at 1102hrs, and the seat belt sign came on. By now we slowly cleared the cloud cover, and land below was getting visible. The lush green surroundings confirmed that we were about to land soon - and we touched down on Rwy27 at 1118hrs. We took the rapid exit taxiway, and headed to Stand 8, and finally parked at 1121hrs. Soon after we stopped, two buses rushed towards the aircraft. Since I was at the front, it took me some time to get off the aircraft - I got into the second bus, which ferried me to the arrivals terminal. This was an old BS-1 Leyland bus with fancy looking seats and a very hot sultry interiors (the AC wasn't switched on) - I was out of the airport at 1133hrs. The scheduled arrival time was 1135hrs! I took a bus from there, and two other buses later to reach home a couple of minutes past 1300hrs.

I always wanted to have a day-time flight in the ATR - and this one fulfilled that desire. The ATRs, like all the turboprops, is a noisy equipment. Many Indian's have this aversion to aircrafts with a fan - and that has a reason for sure. But I believe these aircrafts are perfect for short haul routes like BLR-COK - helps the airline save some operating cost and perhaps helps in providing better frequencies as well.

Check-in: 5/5 (Not really relevant, since I had web checked in, and used the kiosk to get a print out)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 5/5
Overall: 5/5 

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ithihasa - a laugh riot with an interesting plot

Ithihasa - the title might be a bit misleasing. Its not a period movie, nor does it talk anything about history. The movie starts off with a flash back set in the 17th century - depicting a war sequence between two kingdoms. The titles roll and the movie jumps forward to the present. They open the movie showing a police jeep arriving at a shady residential complex in Kochi. Sunil Sukhada essays the role of a police sub-inspector who gets a comical build up. Then comes the build up for the hero - lots of close shots and slow motions are thrown in to introduce the hero. The intro scene builds up the hero and throws in an anti-climax as well. Alvi (Shine Tom Chacko) is a pick-pocket and a small time thief who leads a lavish life with his side-kick and friend, Vikku (Balu Varghese).  
Theatrical poster - image from the internet.

The hero's go-getter attitude is established in the following scene as he easily escapes from a case with adequate proof. The heroine - Janaki played by Anusree - is introduced a very traditional and conservative girl, who lives with two colleagues - Sreya (Swapna Menon) and Ann (Vidya). The hero's activities are then established using a song and the story wanders around for sometime without much direction. As the story progresses without a definite direction for a while, the viewer is left wondering how they'd build up the story.

Then comes a magic ring, which both the hero and heroine wear one night. The next morning, their bodies transform, and the heroine gets a male body (that of Shine) and the hero gets a female body (that of Anusree). What follows is a laughter riot - of how the Shine (now playing Janaki) adapts to her new male body - Shine essays the feminine character with ease. Infact, the small beard on the face and the very feminine behaviour makes tickles the funny bone. On the other hand, Vikku (Balu) finds a chic sleeping next to him the next morning - Anusree, now playing Alvi. The transformation of Anusree is brilliant - from a very conservative girl to a foul mouthed goon. She fights away rowdies with ease and smoke a cig on the road much to the chagrin of others.

Alvi and Janaki see each other one fine day, and marks the interval. How they solve their transformation forms the rest of the story. While they solve the riddle, Alvi and Janaki slowly fall in love. Sunil Sukhada as Inspector Sebastian has played an impressive role - albeit small, he does the best of his role. Joy Mathew appears in a cameo role and plays an important role in solving the riddle. Needless to say, Anusree takes the cake for her role - a role she has brilliantly essayed, perhaps one of the best performances from her.

The movie is the debut of Anil Narayanan - who has done a good job. Aneesh Lee Ashok's script is good - I felt it dragging at places. The movie a bit long at close to 150 minutes - they could've made it a bit shorter and crispier. Dialogues felt a bit double-edged often - not exactly a family movie.

Verdict: Go for it! Its a different movie - not a masterpiece by any extent.

Monday, November 03, 2014

First on AirAsia! I5 Airbus320 from COK to BLR

The long diwali weekend. Most buses were already sold out - and the ones remaining had hefty fares. I turned to travel website for checking airfares. The airfares for that Sunday was quite high, but a late night flight of a famous airline on Saturday was available for cheap rates. Yes! I am talking of the world's leading Low-Cost Carrier - Air Asia! The tag line "Now Everyone Can Fly" impressed me, as I switched to the AirAsia website. Air Asia has a single website for all their operations. Tickets were available on their website for Rs.990 - the only catch being it was a late night flight. Since the next day was a Sunday, I decided to fly with Air Asia. I was quite excited in getting an airticket for just around a thousand rupees, and was infact enjoying my countdown to the journey.

October 25, 2014:
The journey was shaky as the day began - certain other domestic reasons were compelling me to put off the trip and travel by road instead. Sometime around evening, my journey back to Bangalore got finalised, and I was flying indeed. I left home after my dinner, sometime around 9pm. My brother left me at Cochin Airport at around 2150hrs. The agents at the check-in counter smiled and spoke very courteously to each passenger. This was the last domestic flight out of Cochin for the day, and hence the domestic terminal was slowly getting ready to sleep. The agent at the counter handed me my boarding pass and the hand-baggage tag and directed me towards security check.

Security check was crowded on the day - quite unusual from my previous trips. Quite unusually, checking was progressing slow as well - trays for Laptops were in short supply, and a guard there was passing on trays as they exited scanning. There was some altercation at the security check area on some restricted items being present in the hand-baggage. I headed to the waiting area soon after security check. An Air India flight was preparing to depart as I walked in to the waiting area. The waiting area was fairly filled - there were two flights to Bangalore at that time - a re-scheduled JetKonnect and my AirAsia (I5-1130). Sometime around 2210hrs, a 9W agent announced that their aircraft had arrived (in the meantime, I noticed a JetKonnect ATR72 taxiing to the apron) - and added that the same aircraft will return to Bangalore shortly. They turned around the ATR in about 15 minutes and the flight was pushed back around 2225hrs.

Sometime around 2229hrs, I noticed an AirAsia aircraft arriving at the gate - that was indeed my flight! The International terminal was very busy all the time - there was an Air India Express, then a Silk Air, and another Air-Asia ready for departure. Boarding was called at 2233hrs. By the time they finished announcing, a long queue had already formed - I too joined the queue. Boarding was quite slow - since AirAsia had put another layer of security check just before boarding. They checked bags and put an additional seal on the boarding pass as well as the baggage tag on the hand baggage. They gave the passengers two options for boarding - one, a bus to ferry them from the terminal building to the aircraft, and, Second, walk down to the aircraft. Kochi is a small airport, and Airbuses generally park at one of the two bays right outside the domestic boarding. I chose to walk down to the aircraft. The agent at the aircraft re-checked my baggage tag and the boarding pass before permitting boarding. I was flying on VT-ATB, an AirBus A320-200.
The aircraft - VT-ATB. Photo Courtesy: Vedant Agarwal @ JetPhotos.net
A hostess stood at the aircraft door welcoming all the guests with a smile. I was in the initial lot to board, and hence the aircraft was still quite empty. My seat was #15A - right behind the emergency exit row. The seat covers were black in colour, with "Air Asia" engraved on the headrest covers. The large legroom seats had red headrest covers while the others had black. I settled in my seat and did a "leg rest check" - it was tighter than the one in Indigo, but far more comfortable than the one in SpiceJet. Boarding took some time due to the second security check. Boarding completed at 2255hrs. The loads didn't look great to me - in the row that I was seated on, there were just three passengers! The row ahead had 4! Soon after boarding was completed, the captain (Capt. Vijay Jose) came on line and welcomed all the passengers to AirAsia. He announced that our departure would take a few more minutes due to "congestion" at Cochin Airport (We were right in the middle of an international departure lot). He gave out details of the flying time and expected arrival time in Bengaluru.

We were pushed off at 2301hrs. Soon after push-off, the safety demo started. The First officer was Mr. Harish Lamba. The chief attendant or purser that night was Mr. Bharat, and he was assisted by Mr. Kiran, Ms. Ankita and Mr. Avinash. The safety demo wasn't pre-recorded like on Indigo, but was an announcement by the Purser. We started taxiing at 2306 and we finally took off from Rwy09 at 2310hrs. Rwy09 is closest to the apron and hence take-offs are faster from here. The aircraft took off straight to the east, banked to the left and turned towards the North East. Soon after take-off, the buy-on-board service started. Ours being a late night flight, they quickly served passengers who had prebooked a meal - and for the others only beverages were available - I don't remember anyone around me buying anything. It was an eventless flight, with a little bit of turbulence as we neared Bangalore.

The captain came on line at 2331 and announced that our descent had commenced, and we'd be landing around 2350hrs. The seatbelt sign came on by 2335hrs. By now we were flying over the southern parts of Bengaluru city. The aircraft flew eastwards and executed a nice turnaround and aligned to land on Rwy27 in Bengaluru. While turning around, I noticed we had another aircraft ahead of us - far ahead of us actually - all I could see was the flashing lights - but I had a feeling it could be the 9W ATR which left ahead of us from Cochin. We touched down at 2350hrs, and headed towards the apron. We finally stopped at Stand 21, which is an aerobridge stand, at 2355hrs. De-boarding began at 2358hrs. The captain was at the door personally thanking each passenger - I really loved that gesture. The first thing I did on reaching the baggage area was to check which was that aircraft which landed just before us - it was indeed th 9W ATR from Cochin! I finally came out of the airport at 0007hrs, and started hunting down the cab I had booked in advance!

Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 5/5
Overall: 5/5 (I loved it!)