A short hop on Maharaja's ATR42: BLR to COK

Air India, the national carrier of India, is always an airline of fantasy for me. Also known the Maharaja, Air India flies a puny ATR-42 to Kochi from Bengaluru (this is Air India's only ATR route in South India). The flight is operated by their subsidiary, Air India Regional, and operates only on 6 days of the week (except Sunday). The Aircraft operates Bengaluru-Kochi-Agati (Lakshadweep Islands) and back. Since they don't fly on Sundays, and their Bengaluru-Kochi flight is in the morning, I never had an opportunity to fly them. Sometime in November, Air India came up with a sale, and sold tickets at very cheap rates. I decided to grab the opportunity and booked a ticket on the morning flight for a Saturday departure in mid January - a whole 2 months in advance. This was perhaps the first booking done without the routine hunt for cheap tickets. It was a long wait for the D-Day! In the meantime, Air India received their first ATR 72-600 - I was a bit worried if they would replace the ATR-42 with the newer ATR72. Either ways, it would be a new type for me.

The day before my journey was a long tiring day - I had to travel to Mysore for an official work, and was back home quite late in the night. I had hardly 4 hours to sleep, and I remained confused about how to go to the airport the next morning. I kept shifting between taking a bus or hiring a cab through to the airport. I decided to book a cab, using an offer by a major airport taxi operator. I booked my cab and caught up with some sleep.

January 17, 2015:
The cab driver called me at 5AM sharp (right after the SMS came from the taxi operator) - but my phone acted up, and did not let me answer calls. I called him back and explained the way to reach my home - a Toyota Etios landed at my home around 0520, and we headed to the airport. The cab driver wasn't very slow - he jumped a few speed-breakers and potholes, and the car wasn't in great shape either (lots of rattles). The gps unit in the car kept shouting at the driver for going fast and kept asking him to slow down - but no response by the driver. I was dropped at the airport a while past 0600hrs. The airport was quite crowded - heavy crowd for the time. There were lots of people mobbing the entry points of the terminal building. After clicking some pics, I headed to the last entry point - since the Air India counters were towards the end. The herd mentality was quite evident here - each entry point has three doors - but all the people mobbed one door. I headed to the empty one nearby and got into the terminal. The time was just past 0625hrs - I had close to two hours to go.
Departures entry
The Departures information display
I was using Air India out of Bangalore for the first time, and hence was clueless about where their Check-in counters are. The departure display systems showed that the check-in for Air-India was at counters #79-86. These were the last check-in counters in the terminal building. The counters were absolutely empty - there was just one person ahead of me for check-in. Check-in was progressing quite slow, and it took some time for my turn. The agent at the check-in counter smiled and gave a warm good morning as I handed over my ticket for check-in. She keyed in the details (AI e-Tickets do not contain a bar-code for some reason), and asked if I wanted to change my pre-selected seats. I chose to move a row forward (don't know if that was a wrong decision) - she quickly got me my new seat number and printed out the boarding card. She clearly told the gate is at a lower level, but I had to go to the first level for security check. That was nice.
The Air India Check-in counters. #79-84. The elevators next to the counter leads to Security Check area.
My boarding pass..
I took the elevators next to the check-in counters. The elevator leaves you outside the MS Ramaiah Hospital at the airport. Then a short walk towards Security Check. Security check was crowded - really crowded. It took close to 10 minutes to only leave my bag for screening. Frisking was real quick - just a couple of minutes, because all the crowd was held up at baggage screening itself. As usual, my bag was scanned twice - this time an Umbrella being the culprit. I cleared Security, and got into the waiting area by around 0650hrs. I was quite hungry by now, and headed straight to Malgudi Express for a quick breakfast. I liked the food there last time, and tried a different dish this time. Podi Idli and a degree coffee was my breakfast for the day. Food at BIAL is never too expensive - and thats a fact I love of BIAL. There are plenty of options too. Coming to the food - soft idlis coated in podi (a coarse powder mixture of ground dry spices that typically contains dried chilis, urad (bean), chickpea, and sesame seeds) accompanied by Coconut Chutney. The coffee was good as well.
Yummy Podi Idli from Malgudi Express..
That is Malgudi Express...
Below lies Gate #19.
After my breakfast, I headed towards my gate. This the first time I was boarding from Gate #19. The terminal has departure gates on both the lower level as well as the first level. The lower level gates are typical Bus Gates, where the passengers are bus'd to the aircraft, while the gates on the upper level have Jetways aka aerobridges. The first level has gates 1-2, 7-9 and 15 (6 gates and two sub gates - we can count them as 8 gates), while the lower level has gates 3-6, 10-14, 19 and 20 (11 gates). There are three gates on the upper level exclusively for international flights as well. My boarding was from Gate #19, a lower level gate located at the eastern most end of the building. Soon after reaching the terminal, I realised this place was a brilliant place for Aviation geeks to spot some incoming aircrafts. Gate 20 was empty, while Gate 19 was more or less empty - people were just coming in. The runway was quite active with a lot of takeoffs happening - the runway was too far for me to read registrations, and it was slightly foggy as well.
That is Gate #19. Pic taken just before boarding commenced.
VT-SCR taxiing to its stand. In the background is VT-ABO, which would fly me to COK
As I settled down, I spotted an Oman Air B737 (A4O-BA) heading out of the terminal on its long journey to Muscat. In the meantime, Indigo A320 (VT-IAS) too headed out to Dubai. An unknown Indigo A320 too came in (could not notice the registration). Then came an Air India A319 (VT-SCR) from Mumbai. Unusually, a boarding announcement was made. Bangalore is otherwise a silent airport, and there are boards at many points saying there would be no announcements. I was quite suprised by the announcement - it was a proper announcement on the PA system - probably a practice in these extremely remote gates. They announced the flight as AI9505 (the boarding pass says (9I505, MKT: AI 9505). Soon after the announcement was made, queue formed. The boarding process was quite fast - we are talking of just 48 passengers anyway! A Volvo of AI-SATS was taking us to the aircraft. While sitting in the bus, Go Air's VT-GOQ came in from Mumbai, followed by Jet Airways' ATR72-500 VT-JDD (in JetKonnect livery). The bus started its long run at 0801hrs. We passed by a Jet Airways B737, Go Air's VT-GOQ, AI A319 (VT-SCR), and JetKonnect VT-SIZ as we reached the end of the terminal building. The bus then crosses the apron to reach the northern end of the apron, and then runs towards the aircraft (which was incidentally parked right opposite to the gate where we took the bus). While we were heading to the aircraft, Air India's A319 VT-SCH was pushed back, and was preparing to taxi. Soon after we reached the aircraft, SpiceJet's Q400 VT-SUD landed. We weren't permitted to get off the bus immediately on reaching the aircraft (at Stand 86) since the aircraft wasn't still ready.

Date of Journey: January 17, 2015
Flight No: AI-9505 (9I-505) || Seat: 10D
Sector flown: Bengaluru - Kochi
Aircraft type: ATR 42-320 || Regn: VT-ABO
STD: 0815hrs, ATD: 0823hrs
STA: 0935hrs, ATA: 0951hrs

That is my VT-ABO...
One more look at VT-ABO.. lots of people were awestruck seeing this small a plane!
Boarding took some time. I was inside the aircraft by 0812. Oh! By the way, we were flying VT-ABO, one of the three active ATR 42-320s of Air India Regional. The aircraft was built in 1995, and was leased by AI-R in 2008. It worked earlier in India as VT-ADE for Air Deccan in the 2004-2007 period. At almost 20 years of age, the aircraft has surely seen better days. The aircraft looked resplendent in the flying swan livery of Air India. The interiors surely showed age - the plastics were all worn out, and the windows weren't very clean. The seats were in fairly good shape though. The overhead bins were very small - in fact, a few passengers with oversized luggage were asked to wait and their luggage were handled differently (not sure what exactly was done, since I had already got in). Boarding was completed by 0819, and the doors were armed.
One pic just before getting in..
The interiors... (taken during the flight)
Soon after the doors were armed, the safety demonstration began. The Purser (Mrs. Sharmishta) sounded very excited as she welcomed all passengers to Air India. Capt HB Singh and Capt Peter Hanks were in the deck. Push back commenced at 0823. By now the safety demo was over. The aircraft shook violently as the Pratt & Whitney 121s came to life. The interiors were all rattling as the aircraft powered up. We started taxi at 0827hrs. While we were taxiing, an Air India A319 took off. It was actually a long run from the stand to the runway - we had to actually run the entire length of the runway. We finally took off at 0834hrs. After take off, the aircraft did a couple of right banks and we took our South-Western direction. Soon after, the seatbelt signs went off, and the buy-on-board service was commenced. A bottle of water was given free to all passengers, and they had an assortment of sandwiches and packed snacks for sale. Capt Peter Hanks came on PA soon after, a made a very excited announcement that we had clear weather ahead and we should be landing on time in COK.
in flight...
The sandwich and water bottle..
The buy-on-board service was quite nice - the FA made sure she asked each passenger if they wanted to buy something - menu cards were available on request. I decided to try a Veg Sandwich - the soft sweet corn and cheese sandwich costed just Rs. 100! We were flying at FL180. It was fairly cloudy, and the western ghats looked beautiful as they were covered with clouds. There was a round of trash collection before landing was announced. Landing was announced at 0927. The aircraft headed south first, then banked right twice (completing a U-turn) and then flew North-west and finally aligned to the landing path. We finally touched down at 0948 on runway 27. The aircraft shivered and shook violently as it slowed down after touchdown, and turned to the taxiway. We finally parked at Stand 7 at 0951. Deboarding commenced in about a minute, and I was out of the aircraft at 0953. A bus took passengers to the terminal. Since I did not have any checked-in bags, I just walked out of the terminal, and got into a KSRTC Volvo waiting outside.
Banking.. as we align to the landing path..
Finals....
Landed on Rwy27...
On the ground...
The service on-board was great. Both the flight attendents were young and were very active. Passengers' calls were answered quickly and with a smile. They even ensured all passengers were welcomed with Good Morning, even as people mobbed into the aircraft, and ensured they said a Thank you and wished a good day as passengers got off the aircraft. I really liked the service. The aircraft was not in great shape - the interiors were really worn out. The aircraft rattled and made a lot of noise as it flew. The landing was smooth. One thing I did not like is that the service is a buy-on-board - despite being the most expensive option in the sector. The other FSC on the route, Jet Airways, which also flies an ATR, is often the cheapest in the sector. Almost all the passengers got off the aircraft at Kochi - I wonder what loads does the aircraft have on its Kochi-Agati sector.
The broken reading lamp...
Stenciled instructions.. resembling a government bus!

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (Absolutely no-nonsense)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean, windows were soiled though)
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Left late, arrived later)
Crew: 5/5 (Great service)
On-Board Service: 5/5 (Was inexpensive, the food was good as well)
Overall: 4.75/5

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