Wednesday, December 24, 2014

COK to BLR back on I5's all new "RED"

After confirming my ticket for the onward journey, it was time to hunt for return tickets. I travelling just before Christmas, and hence fares were rising quite fast. I opted for a Sunday night flight from Kochi - and my options were Jet Airways, Indigo and Air Asia - and Air Asia was the cheapest among the lot. This particular flight sells quite slow - probably because of its unearthly arrival time at Bengaluru. Without thinking further, I booked my seat on this flight and chose a window seat (as usual) on the port side. With the SpiceJet turmoil leaving me confused, I quickly checked the refund policy of the Air Asia ticket I held. Thankfully, the ticket was not promotional and was refundable, although I'd get very little after the deductions.  But then, SpiceJet came out of their mess partially and gave me the confidence that my trip was on. Once it was confirmed that the trip was on, I added a meal to my ticket - I was sure I'd be hungry on that flight.

December 21, 2014:
Like before every trip, I was glued to FR24 right from morning. I noticed that AirAsia's newest bird (VT-RED) - not technically new, but around a year old craft handed down by the parent company - AirAsia Malaysia, had flown the previous night. The same bird came in to Kochi that morning as well. I was now busy working the sectors the bird worked, and was fairly sure that she'd be flying me that night. I was quite excited to be flying I5's latest aircraft (I also finish flying all the three aircrafts of I5 with this). I had received a message the previous night that my flight was rescheduled, and would leave 20 minutes earlier at 2250hrs instead of 2310hrs as on my ticket. However an email from AirAsia claimed my departure was rescheduled from 2225hrs to 2250hrs!
Cochin International Airport - Domestic Departures
I left home sometime around 1845hrs, after an early dinner. The airport is about 35kms from home, and I did not want to hire a cab. I had to change 3 different buses to get to the airport, and hence had to leave early. It was probably my lucky day - I got connections very quickly, and I reached the airport by around 2050hrs - a good 2 hours before my flight. The security personnel at the entrance to the terminal checked my ticket and the departure time twice before letting me in - he did not ask anything though. The terminal was fairly crowded - quite unusual for that time. I had check-in baggage this time, and hence headed straight to the baggage scan area. Check-in counters were deserted - There were three counters, and all of them were empty. I headed to the first counter - Ms. Aleesha welcomed me with a warm smile and checked me in - due to some error with the printer, the luggage tags did not print. She got a reprint quickly and handed over tags for the hand baggage, and my boarding pass.
The boarding pass..
Security check was deserted as usual - all this left me wondering where did all the crowd in the terminal go. I was the sole person to pass through security - and my bag was double scanned here to. This time, the mobile phone inside my bag was the problem for them. I finally entered the Security Hold by around 2110hrs. The security hold was full though - most seats were taken, while the seats closer to the apron were empty. I grabbed a seat with a nice view of the apron, and switched on my laptop to tune in to FR24. I was quite shocked to find the incoming aircraft hadn't taken off from Bengaluru yet! In the meantime, VT-IFC of Indigo was getting set to depart to Chennai, and boarding had commenced for VT-SUK of SpiceJet (Q400) heading to Hyderabad. The airport was quite busy at this hour. Some time after SUK left for Hyderabad, an Etihad A321 (A6-AEC) headed out to the runway. Just then, Jet Airways' VT-JCN came in from Bengaluru. In the meantime, FR24 showed that VT-RED was on its way from Bengaluru to Kochi as I5-1129. This confirmed that we wouldn't be able to depart on time.
VT-AYA getting ready for her next sector - COK-SHJ
This was followed by three back-to-back arrivals on the international side - VT-SCH (Air India's A319) came in from Mumbai, followed by Air India Express' B738 VT-AYA from Dubai and Air India's A321 VT-PPV from Delhi. After a short gap, Silk Air's B738 9V-MGE came in from Singapore. Finally, at 2239hrs, VT-RED landed at Kochi. By the time the aircraft came in to the apron, the first call for boarding was already made. Ms Aleesha was the gate agent as well. Another boarding call was made at 2248hrs, when the actual boarding process started. Initially they called for passengers seated in the first five and last five rows of the aircraft - but like in every Indian airport, hardly anyone bothered about the announcement, and chaos began. In the meantime, 9M-AHV of Air Asia came in from Kuala Lumpur.
Heading to VT-RED.. 
Date of Journey: December 19, 2014
Flight No: I5-1130 || Seat: 09A
Aircraft type: Airbus 320-200 || Regn: VT-RED
STD: 2310hrs, ATD: 2308hrs
STA: 0010hrs, ATA: 0001hrs

The boarding queue was a bit chaotic - with two CISF personnel checking boarding passes and luggage tags adding to the chaos. The aircraft wasn't yet ready for boarding and hence we were made to wait for a few minutes in the canopy outside the terminal. Since the aircraft comes right upto the boarding gate, passengers generally walk down to the aircraft. I was finally inside VT-RED, an Airbus A320-200 initially delivered to AirAsia (Malaysia) in October 2013 as 9M-AQW, at 2257hrs. Since boarding happened from both the doors simultaneously, things were moving quite fast. Boarding was completed and doors were armed at 2305hrs - the aircraft came in at 2239hrs, and 26 minutes later, the aircraft was ready to fly back! Absolutely no cleaning or other stuff - just come in, let the passengers out, take in new passengers, do a headcount and fly back!
The rest of VT-RED. Boarding hadn't commenced yet.
In the deck were Capt. Pravin Sharma (the very same person who commanded my last flight with I5) and First Officer Aldrin. Mr. Sandeep was the purser, and Ms. Annie (and two others) assisted him in the cabin. A quick welcome announcement was made by the purser and the safety demonstration began. Just as the demo began, the aircraft was pushed back (2308hrs). While we were getting ready to taxi, the Air India A319 (VT-SCH) heading out to Mumbai taxied out to Rwy27. We started our taxi at 2313hrs - but we turned straight to Rwy09. We headed to the holding point of Rwy09 and sat there till the AI A319 took off. It was a beautiful sight seeing two aircrafts waiting at either end of the runway all set for take off. We were permitted to move out to the active runway at 2318hrs, and we were finally airborne at 2320hrs.
VT-RED in its old avatar.. as 9M-AQW (Photo courtesy: Sudpoth Sirirattanasakul @JetPhotos.net)
About to take off from Kochi.
Lights remained dimmed for most portion of the flight - I like it that way in late night flights. The buy-on-board service began soon after the seat belt signs were turned off - interestingly, they did not wheel in the cart, but the attendants came around asking everyone if they liked to buy something. My meal was brought in about 5 minutes after the B-o-B service started. I've always noticed that the pre-ordered meals are served in the rear half first and then in the front half - and the meals are actually bought from the rear galley. I had order for Vegetable Stroganoff with Parsley Rice. The meal was served really hot (piping hot) with 250ml bottled water. The meal was packed in a red coloured aluminum foil container along with red coloured plastic cutlery. The meal was tasty but the portion appeared too little.
The meal.. before opening..

Thats how it was inside...
About half way to Bengaluru, the commander came on the PA and briefed passengers about the flight - he first apologised for the delay, blaming air traffic congestion at Bengaluru for the delay, then informed that we were flying at FL330, and are expected to land in Bengaluru only at 0005hrs, due to congestion there. Landing was announced at 2346hrs - soon after the seatbelt sign came on, the attendants came around to collect trash and ensure that the tray tables were closed and window shields were open. I expected some holding, but we directly aligned for landing, and finally touched down at 2358hrs on Rwy09. We headed straight to Stand 22 (a Jetway stand) and parked at 0001hrs. Even before we came to a complete standstill, the crowd to get off had formed. I got out of the aircraft at 0006hrs, and had the long walk to the baggage carousel. It took a long time for the bags to come, and I got my bag only at 0021hrs. I was out of the airport at 0023hrs. Although I got a bus immediately from the airport, it was almost 0050hrs by the time the bus left from the Airport, and I reached home at 0200hrs.
On landing in Bengaluru.. Almost all the major Domestic players can be seen in this image..
Like the previous experiences, this time too, the announcements were a bit too fast to be comprehended. I am not sure if that is the company policy for them - it is somewhat like the announcements that follow a Mutual Fund TV Commercial. The inflight service was good - no pushing around the trolleys though. The cabin lights were dim throughout - letting passengers sleep for some time. I also noticed an inflight magazine Travel 3Sixty this time - hadn't seen this last time. Although they rescheduled the departure and asked everyone to come in early, we still left only at the original scheduled time! Overall a better experience than last time, but certainly nothing extraordinary. Its worth the money one pays, but would be better if they had better timings and punctuality.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (Absolutely no-nonsense)
Cleanliness: 4.75/5 (there was no trash this time, but the seatbelts were all clumped)
Punctuality: 4.75/5 (Rescheduled, but left only at scheduled time)
Crew: 5/5 (No complaints)
On-Board Service: 5/5 (Quite sleep friendly - did not push around trolleys, but just asked the awake souls if they wanted something)
Overall: 4.75/5

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Maharaja A319, Pune to Bangalore via Hyderabad

It was an interesting experience searching for tickets for my return journey from Pune. The conference I was attending was getting over on Sunday in the afternoon, and my presentation was scheduled for Sunday morning. Since I decided to go for the conference quite late, my options were quite limited. While browsing on different ticketing websites, I came across a low fare ticket on Air India - the good ol' Maharaja of Indian skies. I quickly cross checked the rates on the Air India website, and confirmed the rates did exist. I hadn't flown on Air India for quite some time, and I haven't flown an Airbus A319 as well. Booking on this flight was a no-brainer decision. The departure time from Pune (1535hrs) was a bit of worry though - the program ends only at 1330hrs. I decided to book the ticket after I checked the distance between the conference venue and the airport.

November 30, 2014:
While at the conference venue, I booked for a cab pick-up at 1300hrs. With the airport just around 20kms away, and being a Sunday afternoon, I was sure I'd be able to reach there with enough time to spare. My presentation finished later than expected, and I had to really rush with my lunch. Just as I finished my lunch (sharp at 1300hrs), the cab driver calls up and drops a bomb - that he would not be able to turn up at the appointed time. The conference venue was on the outskirts of the city, and transportation options from there were really really limited. I was a bit worried, and skipped a few heartbeats, no doubt. I called up the call-centre of the cab operator - but they were helpless as well - unsatisfactory responses, and an indifferent attitude. It was then a mad hunt for cabs - and finally a local cab operator - TCabs - agreed to send a cab and promised that the car would drop me at the airport before 1415hrs. The cab turned up at 1330hrs, and the driver confirmed my flight timings before he hit the road. A good driver, who really understood my emergency, and he drove very smart, speeding up whenever situation permitted. He dropped me at the Airport at 1407hrs - with enough time to go for check-in limits. The driver refused any tips and collected just the meter fare. TCabs would certainly be my operator of choice when I go to Pune again.

Pune Airport is a very small airport - seriously too small for a city like Pune. The departure area was chocked - I realised later that there were no less than 4 departures at that time! There was a long queue at the entrance to the terminal area - the CISF guards at the entry were going about checking each ticket at a very leisurely pace. Once inside the terminal, there was another round of CISF checking, where tickets and IDs were verified again. The guard here directed me to the Air India check-in counter, which was among the counters closer to security check. My check-in baggage was scanned and a sticker put on my bag certifying it was checked. There was absolutely no-one at the check-in counter, and I got my boarding pass by 1415hrs. Security check was a bit messy - long disorderly queues - with people jumping lines at their will. Thankfully, I passed checking by 1425hrs and headed towards the security hold in the first floor of the terminal. While I walked out of security check, an Indigo A320 (VT-IFE to Ahmedabad) took off. No gate number was mentioned on the boarding pass - so just followed the crowd.

Date of Journey: November 30, 2014
Flight No: AI-518 || Seat: 18A
Aircraft type: Airbus 319 || Regn: VT-SCP
Sector: PNQ-HYD
STD: 1520hrs, ATD: 1525hrs
STA: 1625hrs, ATA: 1625hrs

The terminal area was quite crowded - I got a seat closer to the air-side and sat down watching some action. I switched on my laptop and remained glued to FR24 tracking the whereabouts of my aircraft. The aircraft (VT-SCP) works Goa-Pune-Hyderabad-Bangalore, and it was flying over Satara at that point of time - The aircraft was expected to land in Pune in another 25 minutes. A Jet Airways aircraft (VT-JFJ) was also approaching Pune. In the meantime, a Jet Airway ATR72 to Indore was boarding (could not note the regn). A private jet, Bombardier Global 5000, marked "Bajaj" (VT-KJB) was pushed out at this time - it remained on the apron for quite sometime, while another private aircraft, a Beechcraft B200, (VT-LKK) headed to the runway for takeoff.  The Beechcraft was made to hold for a while, to let VT-JFJ of Jet Airways working 9W-2847 to land. The Beechcraft took off soon after. The Bajaj owned Bombardier was made to hold for my aircraft - VT-SCP to land (1453hrs). Soon after SCP landed, VT-KJB was cleared for take off.
VT-SCP - my aircraft - landing at PNQ
The boarding pass...
It was not until 1511hrs that boarding was called - the boarding gate was at the other end of the terminal, the opposite end of where I was seated. In the meantime, a long queue had already formed. We were boarding from Gate #2 (a Jetway gate). It was a long walk from the waiting area to the aircraft - I was among the last passengers to walk in. Boarding passes were checked again before we were permitted into the aircraft - Air India security personnel were performing the checks. Boarding finished by 1523hrs, and the aircraft was pushed back at 1525hrs. A quick welcome briefing was done by the chief of cabin crew - who introduced herself was Ms Menon. The deck crew was headed by Captain Chandrashekhar (who flew me through to Bangalore). Security demonstration was played on the IFE screens - a slow and  relaxed presentation, which actually let passengers understand the instructions quite clearly. We began our taxi at 1529 and was held short of the runway at about 1531hrs. A SpiceJet B738 (VT-SPF) landed - came in from Kochi? We finally moved over to the active runway (Rwy10) at 1534, and  took off at 1536hrs.
A SpiceJet (VT-SPF) coming in to PNQ
In-Flight service in the first leg.
In-flight from PNQ to HYD
The IFE had a couple of movies and a live map - I did not ask for the headphones and preferred looking out and reading the in-flight magazine - Shubh Yatra instead. In-flight service soon after the seatbelt sign was switched off. They served a couple of cookies, and a hot beverage. The jugs used to serve Tea/Coffee still had the "Indian Airlines" embossed markings. I opted for coffee. This sector was largely uneventful. Landing was announced at 1609hrs. The purser was making all the announcements - she was talking a bit too fast to be comprehended. We touched down at 1621hrs on Rwy09. As we landed, an Air India A319 was ready to take off. We parked at a Jetway stand at the terminal, at 1625hrs. The purser announced that we were expected to be on the ground for 35 minutes and that all passengers continuing to Bangalore are to remain seated.
Inside VT-SCP
Approaching HYD
Landing at HYD
Soon after the aircraft was parked, a ladder was connected to the rear exit, and housekeeping staff were all set to barge in. The aircraft almost emptied out at Hyderabad - about 20-odd passengers remained in the aircraft. As soon as the passengers alighting in Hyderabad cleared out, the housekeeping staff came in and began their work. An Air India security personnel came around for identification of hand baggage, while housekeeping staff came around collecting bottles and leftover items left in seat pockets. Sometime later, an AirIndia staff came and verified boarding passes. A new set of cabin crew joined us here. In both the legs, there were two each of male and female cabin crew.
Soon after parking at HYD
The interiors were quite good
Indigo VT-IAS being pushed off for a departure to VTZ (?)
The apron was packed with Indigo aircrafts. Infact, we had one on each side of our aircraft - VT-IAS was on the port side. I couldn't notice the regn of the aircraft on the starboard side. There were two SpiceJet Q400s at the remote stands as well.
The Apron at HYD - it was all-in-all LCCs at that time
Sector: HYD-PNQ
STD: 1705hrs, ATD: 1658hrs
STA: 1810hrs, ATA: 1803hrs

The first passenger boarding from Hyderabad came in at 1643hrs. Boarding was completed at 1654hrs - we were full again. The new cabin crew now welcomed all the passengers - Captain Chandrashekhar was continuing on to Bangalore. We were pushed off at 1658hrs. The safety demonstration video was being played out in during this time. We taxied out at 1702hrs. As we started taxiing, Indigo's VT-IEG came in. We headed towards Rwy09, and took off at 1705hrs. While taking off, I spotted an ATR72 painted in Air Pegasus livery and an Air Asia A320 parked at the MRO Hanger. We took off towards the east and turned around to align to our South Western direction. 
Taxiing off for take-off from HYD
Soon after take-off from HYD
Soon after the seatbelt sign was switched off, in-flight service started off. I was a bit hungry now, and wanted something good to eat. The trolley came close - my tray was handed over. Sigh! It was cookies again! This time, the cookies were packed better though, and there were two pieces each of sweet and salted cookies. I opted for coffee again - and the coffee tasted better this time (could be because I was too hungry as well). For some reason, the cabin crew on this leg were mechanically serving the passengers - they just hurried through the service. Soon after the service was over, the aircraft ran into somewhat turbulent weather - the seatbelt signs came on, and an announcement was made about the turbulent weather as well. There was fairly thick cloud cover, and it was a marvellous experience flying between clouds in the backdrop of a setting sun. My co-passenger was perhaps flying for the first time - she was quite curious about the scene outside, and requested me to get a couple of pictures on her phone. 
In-flight service in the second sector
The moving map on the IFE - but where is the destination, Bengaluru?
Flying between the clouds..
Landing was announced at 1744hrs - the seatbelt sign was already on. We flew past Bangalore airport, headed towards the west. We flew for quite some time before we turned back to align to the landing path. While we were yet to turn around, I saw another aircraft far away on its finals approaching Bangalore. We turned around, letting me have a better view of the setting sun, and aligned to land at Bangalore. We finally touched down on Rwy09 at 1800hrs. Soon after we cleared the active runway, the purser came on the PA system, and announced our arrival - she thanked all passengers for flying "Air India, a member of Star Alliance". Announcements on this sector were more comprehensible compared to the earlier sector. It appeared that we landed at a non-peak hour at Bangalore - most of the jetways were vacant - we finally parked at Stand #20 at 1803hrs - it took sometime for the jetway to be attached. But the impatient Indians we are, people had already formed a long queue to get off the aircraft. I waited till the crowd subsided a bit, and I walked out of the aircraft at 1810hrs - the cabin crew gave a nice smile and the traditional Namaskaar to each passenger getting off the craft. It took some time for the baggage to arrive, and I was finally out of the airport at 1819hrs.
Overflying Bengaluru Airport...
Turning around as we approach Bengaluru...
Welcome back to Bengaluru, says this Indigo A320
Stats:
Total time: 2h38m
PNQ-HYD: 1h00m | HYD-BLR: 1h05m
Time spent at HYD: 33m

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: PNQ-HYD: 4.75/5 | HYD-BLR: 4.5/5 (service was too mechanical)
On-Board Service: 4/5 (Could've been better - they could've served something better in the second leg)
Overall: 4.85/5

Sunday, December 07, 2014

GO to Pune!

A conference in Pune. Attending conferences and making paper presentations are often a part of my profession. I sent in an entry for the paper presentation and it got approved. I was undecided whether to go or not until a few days before the conference when a senior person in my department encouraged me to attend the program. After confirming my registrations, it was time to hunt for tickets and accommodation. I booked a room using a famous travel portal (which I later cancelled and rebooked in a different hotel) and then began the hunt for the travel tickets. I hadn't still decided whether to attend the entire conference or only the main part of it - and hence I first booked my return ticket. Then the search for the outward ticket started - I had two options - Indigo and Go. Since I had never been on Go, I selected a Go Air Flight to Pune, departing at 0545hrs on November 29, 2014.

The day prior to my journey was quite busy, and I reached home quite late. Some guests at home meant I slept very late - I hit bed past 2300hrs - and I had set an alarm for 0200hrs! I had booked a cab with a pick-up time of 0300hrs. With hardly 2.5 hours of sleep, I was all set for my first flight with Go Air.

November 29, 2014:
My day started off answering a phone call from the cab driver asking for directions to reach my place. I realised that I was already running late as I disconnected the call - I had probably turned off the alarm when it rang. I was ready for the journey after rushing through the morning formalties and walked out of my home at 0300hrs - just after the cab guy informed me that he was waiting outside. A trusty Toyota Etios stood outside my apartment complex to ferry me to the Airport - close to 45 kms away. The driver confirmed my flight timings as he started off. The empty roads of Bangalore meant we had a stable cruise all the way to the airport. While the roads in the City were empty, the Airport road was exactly the opposite - recklessly driven cabs and private cars made for a turbulent ride to the Airport. But I must say - my cabbie maintained steady pace and did not try doing heroics on the road. I was dropped at the Airport at 0400hrs.

I was quite hungry and headed straight to Maiyyas outside the departure gate for a light breakfast. After breakfast, I walked into the terminal - the CISF personnel directed me to a random scanning line - where my check-in bag was scanned and my ticket details noted down. I then headed to the check-in counters. Go Air was using 6 counters for check-in, Counters #8 to 13. Only 5 of them were active, and one among them were kept for GoBusiness check-ins and for special passengers (mothers with infants, elderly, etc). Check-ins for two flight were in progress - one to Mumbai, and the second mine (to Pune, Nagpur, Kolkata). Loads seemed fairly good for both the flights. It took about 8 minutes to get my boarding pass. I expected longer queues at Security check, and rushed to the upper level for security - The queue there wasn't very long (thankfully) and I managed to complete checking by 0435hrs.

Date of Journey: November 29, 2014
Flight No: G8-283 || Seat: 21F
Aircraft type: Airbus 320-200 || Regn: VT-GOP
STD: 0545hrs, ATD: 0545hrs
STA: 0705hrs, ATA: 0704hrs

Boarding for my flight was announced from Gate #09, and boading time on my Boarding pass was 0505hrs. Gates 1 through 3 were empty - there were none to board from there. There were some passengers waiting near Gate #09 - I took a seat there and got busy browsing on FR24 to make an informed guess about my aircraft. On my way to the gate, I had seen a Go Air A320 (Later identified as VT-GOR) parked at a jetway. I got tired sitting at the gate and decided to have a stroll - just then I noticed that the aircraft for my flight had been brought to the gate - it was VT-GOP, an Airbus 320-200 delivered to Go Air in 2013. Boarding hadn't yet commenced since the Go Air Agent hadn't come yet. An agent came in sharp at 0505, but he did not start boarding. CISF personnel to came in, and the gate was unlocked and prepared for boarding. The deck and cabin crew came in, and about five minutes after they came, the first boarding call was made (the agent at the gate shouted for passengers traveling to Pune/Nagpur by G8-283). I was the second passenger to board (was infact the first in the queue, but a unruly fellow jumped the queue in truly Indian style). I was inside the aircraft at 0518.
The aircraft : VT-GOP (image courtesy: Nishant Rao @ JetPhotos.net)
The boarding pass..
This was my first experience being on the first flight of the day for an aircraft - the cabin crew were just settling, securing their baggage, et al. Just as the first passenger walked in, they just put off what they were doing and warmly welcomed passengers. The first two rows were earmarked as GoBusiness, while the remaining 28 rows were Economy. Seats had a dark grey theme. I headed straight to my seat at the back (#21F) - a seat on the right side, purposefully chosen to have a nice view of the sunrise. Recorded announcements welcoming passengers to Go Air were being played as boarding was in progress - they also made announcements asking passengers not to block the aisle so that we could finish boarding earlier. Boarding was completed at 0539hrs. Capt Anup Ghosh (Commander) came on the PA system and made a brief announcement welcoming passengers to the flight and giving out some information about the flight. He introduced the passengers to the First Office, Capt. Amrut, and also named the cabin crew - led by Fauzan, assisted by Kanchan, Tishu and Nutei. He congratulated passengers for choosing Go Air, specifically the early morning departure, and he gave out the flying details. He informed that we'd be Pune an hour and 10 minutes after push-off.
Waiting to be pushed off....
We were pushed back at 0545hrs. In the mean time, the other GO Air departure (to Mumbai) started its taxi to the runway. Another Go Air aircraft was sleeping off at a parking stand. Safety demonstration was made soon after push off. We started taxiing at 0549, and headed straight towards Rwy09. Right behind us was a Jet Airways ATR (to Kochi?). We took off at 0557hrs. For some reason, this take-off felt very special to me - this was my first with Go Air, first early morning departure. We took off straight to the east, and turned towards our north-west direction. It was still dark, but signs of the sunrise were evident. Buy-on-board service commenced soon after seat-belt signs were switched off. Majority of the announcements were pre-recorded ones. They had a lot of Britannia products on sale - since I had a light breakfast earlier, did not buy anything on board. Passengers who had a pre-booked meal got another serving free! Loads on this flight were very good - the seat next to me was empty, and there were a couple more empty seats - but the rest were occupied.
In-flight...
One more...
The captain came on the PA system once again (sometime around 0641) and announced out descent to Pune. His sounded quite enthusiastic about his job - he sounded happy as well. He gave some info about the flight - that we were cruising at FL320. This was my first flight to Pune, and I was quite engrossed in absorbing the surroundings. We flew over an assortment of fields interspersed with apartment complexes. We finally touched down on Rwy28, at 0702hrs - the IAF apron was quite busy. A smooth touchdown, followed by a quick braking. The exitway from the runway is near the apron, and hence we did not have to spend time taxiing - we parked at Gate #1 (#4 of arrivals) at 0704. The apron was quite busy at the time - we were accompanied by an Air India A320 (VT-ESF, in Star Alliance livery), an Indigo A320 (VT-INS), and SpiceJet B737 (VT-SZJ, landed right behind us). De-boarding took some time, since they had opened only the front exit (due to checking of boarding passes, since the aircraft flies to NAG and CCU afterwards). I was out of the aircraft at 0712. It took some time for the baggages to come out - and I was out of the airport by 0725hrs.
 At Pune Lohegaon Airport
Go Air is a Budget airline floated by the Wadia Group, and commenced operations in 2005. They've been a no-nonsense airline, and have been going about strengthening their operations by remaining stable and not expanding too rapidly. They operate all of 19 aircrafts, and have been around for 9 years now. I liked their service - purely no-nonsense. The crew were professional in what they did. The buy-on-board service wasn't really great - they did not bother offering items to all the passengers. But they did respond to passenger requests. The check-in experience was good - it was a bit slow though. Most of the announcements, except the flight specific ones, were pre-recorded announcements - that ensured clarity of information. The fact that the captain announced flight details himself made for an interesting flight - it gave a very personal touch.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 4.5/5 (losing points for the B-o-B service)
On-Board Service: Did not use.
Overall: 4.9/5