Sunday, February 15, 2015

JetKonnect... er! Jet Airways B737: Chennai to Bengaluru

After pocketing a cheap ticket from Hyderabad to Chennai on Indigo, I was on the lookout for fares for Chennai to Bengaluru. I briefly romanced the idea of taking a bus, but then decided to fly. The cheapest rates were being offered by Air India and Jet Airways - AI was ruled out since it was too early. So the choice was Jet - there were two flights at "late morning" - I did not want to take an early flight, since I wanted to sleep a bit. Among the two late morning flights, one was an ATR and the other a Boeing 737-700 - both sold at the same price. It was a no-brainer decision to opt for the B737 - its been long years since I flew in a B737-700.

January 26, 2015:
Being Republic Day, I anticipated tighter security, and hence I started off earlier. I was at the airport by around 0650hrs. This was my first visit to Chennai airport (discounting my inbound flight the previous night) - the airport had the typical Airport Authority of India design - full of glass and ACPs. The characteristic rounded box shape. The Arrivals and Departures are vertically seperated - a long flyover takes passengers to the upper level for departures, while the lower level is used for Arrivals. Its actually three levels - and not two. The mid level is where the jetways are connected to - but has only a common area for the incoming passengers, who'd take an escalator to reach the arrivals hall on the ground floor.
That is Gate 1 of Domestic Departures
The other side of Domestic Departures.. There is one more gate up ahead.
The domestic and international terminals are in different buildings, on the same side of the apron. The check-in counters for JetAirways was near Gate 1, and boards on the kerbside did segregate entry gates. The security check at the entrance was smooth - the guard quickly verified my ticket and let me in. I was quite shocked that a Metro-City Airport like Chennai did not have in-line baggage scanning - there were check-in baggage scanners near the check-in counters - I got my check-in bag scanned and then proceeded for check-in. The queue for check-in was not so long - joined the line, which was moving fairly fast. When my turn came, the baggage tag printer got jammed - the agent tried her best to set it alright - but it didn't budge. She then headed to the supervisor counter and got a reprint. I got my boarding pass at 0705hrs, and then headed towards Security check. My boarding pass said "Jet Konnect" - all for Jet's "One Brand" thingy. The flight number said S2-4607 MKT 9W 7008. This confirmed that this schedule is operated on JetLite's AOP, and not mainline Jet Airways. For some reason, a CISF Guard at the entrance of Security check verified boarding passes and only passengers of certain airlines were let in - is there another security check area?
Check-in counters for Jet Airways
Security check was done by 0712hrs and I was in to the security hold. My flight was from Gate-2 - being my first time to Chennai, I took my time looking at what all Chennai offered. Eating options were really limited - just a few stalls selling sandwiches and such stuff and a few stalls selling Maggi! There were "food courts" at either ends of the terminal building, but my ankle sprain did not let me walk that far. I was quite hungry, and picked up a sandwich from a stall there. The Sandwich was from Cafe Coffee Day - but the shop did not have any Coffee Day boards. After a quick visit to the washroom, I sat down to track my aircraft on FR24. I understood that VT-SJA was coming in to take me to Bangalore - the aircraft was already close to Chennai by then. In the meantime, Air India announced a delay for their flight to Mumbai and requested their passengers to head to the food court for breakfast. SpiceJet announced a delay for their Bengaluru flight - due to bad weather in Bengaluru. But then, Jet Airways was perfectly on time from Bengaluru! However, a few messages on WhatsApp did confirm that the Weather in Bengaluru was bad - visibility was below minima.
Thats my boarding pass - still saying JetKonnect, with two flight numbers..
The security hold
Date of Journey: January 26, 2015
Flight No: 9W7008 / S24607 || Seat: 17A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-700 || Regn: VT-SJA
Sector: MAA-BLR
STD: 0820hrs, ATD: 0812hrs
STA: 0915hrs, ATA: 0905hrs

Sometime around 0836, VT-SJA came in and docked at the gate. Deplaning was very quick - from what I could see, the incoming flight was full. The aircraft works a BLR-MAA-BLR-DEL-IXJ-DEL-BLR-MAA-BLR rotation - and two aircrafts have been doing this rotation - VT-SIZ and VT-SJA. I got the latter today. VT-SJA is a Boeing 737-700 (without winglets), delivered originally to Air Sahara in May 2005. The aircraft was then taken over by JetLite (following the buy out of Air Sahara by Jet Airways). The aircraft is painted in the characteristic JetKonnect Livery (often mocked as the Harpic Blue livery). The aircraft was configured as 8 seats in Business class and 126 seats in Economy - totaling 134 seats. This would be my first B737-700 ride in almost 10 years, and I was quite excited about it. This would also have been my first in a JetAirways Boeing - but then this was a JetKonnect service. 
That is Gate #2.. before boarding call was made.
VT-SJA, which would take me to Bengaluru
The first Boarding call was made at 0745hrs - as usual, zone-wise boarding was called. The queue was already long, and hence I just joined somewhere at the back. I passed the gate at 0753hrs - one walks down from the gate to reach a lower level, and then enter the Jetway. There was the usual CISF check just before the jetway, and then one checking by the Airline staff, who also tore off the stub. I was inside the aircraft at 0800hrs - yes, that is slow - all thanks to the crowded aisle inside the aircraft which delayed boarding. I found somebody already sitting on my seat - I called a FA standing nearby, who quickly verified the boarding passes and found that the other person was sitting on the wrong seat. I quickly occupied my precious window seat. 
The long queue to get into the aircraft.
Boarding was completed by 0810, doors armed and we were all set to be pushed back. The welcome announcements followed - the announcements said "Jet Aiways" and not Jet Konnect. Safety demonstration followed. In command was Capt. Rajiv Chaudury - I couldn't get the FO's name. Pushback commenced at 0812hrs. We started taxi at 0815hrs - well before scheduled time. We had to hold for a minute before being let on to the runway - we were on Rwy07 at 0820, and were airborne at 0821hrs. We took off towards the East, banked left twice and headed to the west. The Koyambedu flyover looked great from the air - I missed seeing the bus station though. We climbed quite fast. Soon after the seatbelt sign was turned off, the on-board service comments - of course, not without the "Jet Airways is now a full service carrier" announcement. 
Taxiing out... you can see all the three main LCCs here..
Shortly after reaching cruise altitude..
They offered only a Veg option - its a very short sector, and really doesn't make sense to have variety. With a flying time of only around 30 minutes, they had to be real quick with service, and they were fast as well. The veg service had a Paneer Bread roll, a chocolate muffin, a tamarind candy and a bottle of water - of course the SkyMart brochure as well - all in a snack box. The Bread roll was really soft and the filling was good (tasted exactly like the one I had on the COK-BLR leg, but with softer paneer this time). The muffin was slightly on the dry side - not a deal breaker though. No hot beverage service was offered though. The attendants started clearing the thrash even before the entire cabin was served.
The Veg Snack served on board
The cabin shortly before the seatbelt sign came on
The seatbelt sign came back on, and landing was announced around 0845hrs - we were overflying Bangalore by now. I love seeing the airport from the air - and had purposefully booked a seat on the left side for that. While we continued heading to the west, atleast three other aircrafts were ahead of us for landing. It was fun watching aircrafts race one behind the other to the runway. Very soon, we also joined the queue, aligned to the runway and started our finals. We finally touched down at 0901hrs on Rwy09. It was then a short taxi to the apron - we taxi'd parallel to an Air Costa E-170 (VT-LNR) escorted by a "Follow Me" Vehicle, and finally docked at Stand 17, at 0905hrs. It took some for the Jetways to be fixed, and by then the aisle had people jostling for space - people hurried with opening the overhead bins and some of them kept pushing forward. I sat down watching the show till there was a gap in the queue - I got off at 0911. The bags took some time, and mine came only by 0920. I was out of the airport by 0922, and got into a bus by 0930. 
Overflying Bengaluru airport.. 
Finals.. thats Nandi Hills see far away...
This was my first flight in a Jet Airways Boeing aircraft (this was a JetKonnect flight, speaking strictly) - all my previous flights were in their ATRs. This particular aircraft was almost 10 years old (4 months shy of being a decade old) - the interiors were in great shape. The aircraft was really clean - including the windows (there surely was a bit of dust, but I'd pardon that). The flight crew were great - the service did have the warmth. The purser did get konfused when making the thanking announcement after reaching Bengaluru - the ghost of JetKonnect still flies on Jet Airways. Since they operate on two different Operator Permits, they still have problems with the "one brand" idea - but instead of confusing passengers more with the 9W flight numbers on the ticket - they'd be better off putting only the S2 flight numbers - the FIDS in the airport still displays only the S2 numbers. 

Check-in: 4.9/5 (Warm Service - a printer failure did delay my check-in)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Great service)
On-Board Service: 5/5 (Perfect service for a short flight)
Overall: 4.99/5 (A great flight for the price)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

IndiGo A320: Hyderabad to Chennai

It was quite a task searching for tickets for my return journey from Hyderabad after the Annual Pharmacists' Gathering - the Indian Pharmaceutical Congress. I had a ticket by a late night train from Hyderabad - but I wasn't very keen on making that train journey. I had the option between buses and trains, but being a long weekend, buses were quite expensive. I looked at flights, but the direct ones were selling at high fares - I wasn't very convinced about paying such amounts for an hour long flight. For a moment, I looked at fares via Chennai, and the total fare that way worked to less than half of what I'd have to pay for a direct flight! I quickly checked accomodation options in Chennai, and found one that was cheap, with free airport transfers. The booking was made separately, and finally got a HYD-MAA ticket on Indigo, and MAA-BLR on Jet Airways.

January 25, 2015:
I limped out of my hotel room in Madhapur - a mid-foot sprain had left me limping since the past three days. It was a painful walk - but the hotel was at a good place and getting an Auto was not at all difficult. I took an auto to the nearby Airport bus (Pushpak Liner) pick-up point - and I got a bus from there very soon. It was a rickety bus - it took about 45 minutes to reach the Airport. I was at the airport by 1745hrs. I wanted to explore the airport a bit, but my leg wouldn't let me do that. The entire layout appeared very confusing to me. The airport is separated into levels - the ground floor doesn't have any entry points. The First level has the Arrivals and the second level has departures. The taxi stands, and bus bays were at the lowest level - there are escalators and elevators to take one up. The first level gives an amazing view of the apron - I did want to spend some time there, but desperately wanted to sit down, thus heading to the second level.
Pushpak Airport Liners at Hyderabad International Airport
The rush to enter into the terminal building.
The Check-in counters of IndiGo
There was one long queue to get into the terminal - the area appeared very congested - there is hardly any place to stand. It took about 10 minutes to get into the terminal. The check-in desks are divided into zones, and the Indigo ones were in Zone E. There were long queues at the check-in gates. For a moment I thought I'd use a self-check-in kiosk and get a copy of my boarding pass - but even those were crowded! I joined the regular check-in queue - it was long, but was moving fairly fast. Indigo agents gave preference to passengers who had flights departing within 45 minutes - but they ensured that they kept a separate counter for them. Ms. Pavithra was manning the check-in counter - She gave a long smile, a warm good evening, and confirmed my travel information - I informed that I had received an AdvancePass but couldn't print it - she reconfirmed if I wanted a seat change and printed out the boarding pass for me. She informed the gate number and boarding time before handing over the pass to me - she even pointed out the the stub of my checked in baggage tag was stuck behind.
The security hold - or a mall?
Security check gates were right next to the check-in gates. Only one scanning machine was running, while frisking happened at two gates. Security check was quick - I was inside the security hold by 1821hrs. The waiting area resembled a shopping mall than an airport terminal - there were all kinds of outlets right from eateries to silk products to pearl products to electronics. All the gates were numbered in two digits, beginning with 2. I believe the 20s numbering is to differentiate it from the international terminal. My flight was from Gate 24 - so my first priority was locating where this gate was - seating around the gate was full, and moved forward and peacefully settled on an empty chair. I tried connecting to the Free WiFi - but like in Bengaluru, it wouldn't connect. A little later, I used the washroom - this place is a let-down to the posh and exotic looking terminal - old styled wall-tiles, lack of dry areas to keep you hand baggage. Later, I headed to the food court side - I was attracted by Idli Factory since I preferred having something light. After a light meal, I was back at Gate 24. I was tracking my aircraft, and I understood that the aircraft was nearing Hyderabad.
Gate 24 - before boarding was called
Date of Journey: January 25, 2015
Flight No: 6E-385 || Seat: 10F
Aircraft type: Airbus 320 || Regn: VT-IFR
Sector: HYD-MAA
STD: 2010hrs, ATD: 2005hrs
STA: 2120hrs, ATA: 2117hrs

Unlike Bengaluru, Hyderabad airport had an automated announcement system - prerecorded announcements were being made (Bengaluru is a Silent airport). Boarding was announced at 1940hrs - zone-wise boarding was enforced. Passengers in rows #21-30 were called first. I was in #10F and hence sat down for some more time - till the crowd thinned out. I passed the gate at 1954hrs - one first takes an escalator down to the first level, then passes a layer of checking by CISF personnel, then a long walk through the jetways ot the aircraft. There is one more layer of checking - this time by airline staff - before you can step into the aircraft. There was a traffic block inside the jetway - we moved very slow. I was inside the aircraft at  1959 - Purser Aaznia welcomed passengers with a warm smile. I was flying on VT-IFR, an Airbus 320-232 delivered to Indigo in August 2013 - just about a year and a half old. IFR ensured that my record with Sharklets and new registrations continued!
Thats my bird - VT-IFR shot from the jetway
SpiceJet VT-SPK giving us company
I got to my seat - like everytime, my co-passengers were already seated. Boarding was completed at 2003hrs, and we were all set to be pushed back. We were pushed back at 2005hrs. Right after pushback, safety demonstration began. As usual, a flurry of announcements began - first welcoming passengers to Indigo Flight 385. In command was Capt. Vijay D'Souza along with First officer Capt. Vikram Bal Singh. In the cabin were Aaznia, along with Anju, Poonam and Rohini. The safety announcements were pre-recorded. This was followed by a brief introduction to Hello 6E, Indigo's on-board catalogue. This was followed by an announcement requesting passengers to make most of the time by selecting what to buy! By 2010, we were taxiing towards the runway. There was a Spicejet B738 (VT-SPK) ahead of us. We had to hold at A8 for a couple of minutes, to allow a SpiceJet Q400 to land. We finally took off from Rwy09R at 2018hrs.

Soon after the seatbelt signs were switched off, another flurry of announcements began - starting with the Seatbelt sign has been switched off... announcements, followed by the announcement for their Buy-on-board announcement. I had pre-booked for a Veg Meal with Non-alcoholic beverage. Although it was announced that passengers who had pre-booked a meal would be served first, my meal took its time to arrive. The attendents were quite mechanical - in fact to the extent of frowning at a customer for not keeping his order ready. I preferred a Veg Sandwich with a 250ml pack of Paper Boat Aamras. I don't think this would qualify being called a "meal". The sandwich was good - soft bread with fairly good filling. Soon after the buy-on-board service was over, they began a round of clearing - of course, preceded by the announcement, Samay par rahna anivarya hai (Its important to be on time)... requesting passengers to co-operate by keeping the aircraft clean and prepared for the next sector.
The "Meal" served by IndiGo
The small-yet-significant stuff printed on the sandwich pack
The captain came on the PA in-flight and briefed passengers about the flight - we were flying at FL330 at that time, and as he was speaking, we began our descend. He explained that we took off from Rwy09R, flew East, then turned Southwards. He added that we'd be landing before time, yet again and bragged about their on-time performance and before time arrivals. The seatbelt sign came on at 2101hrs, followed by the landing announcement at 2103hrs. I was expecting us to approach Chennai from the sea side, but we banked to the right and flew towards the west before turning around and aligning to approach the airport from the West. We finally touched down on Rwy07 at 2112hrs. As we exited the runway, a Mihin Lanka aircraft took off, followed by a Jet Airways aircraft - both were narrow bodies. It was a long taxi to reach our stand (#19) - we finally docked at the stand at 2117hrs. I remained seated till most of the crowd got out - very few passengers remained in the aircraft (the aircraft continues to Pune) as I walked out (at 2123hrs) - Indigo personnel verified the boarding passengers at the exit. It was then a long walk to the baggage carousel - the arrivals was at the first level, while the baggage carousel was at the ground level. I got my bag 2131hrs, and I was out of the airport at 2132hrs. The hotel's transfer cab was waiting outside for me.
Baggage Carousel @ Chennai
There ended another no-nonsense flight with Indigo - now the largest carrier in India in-terms of passenger share. The flight was on time, clean - the service lacked warmth though. They did their job efficiently, but no smiles (except from two of the four attendants). The aircraft had the new Recaro Slimline seats - these seats appear very thin, but offer excellent comfort (personal opinion). Being thin, the seats release a lot of leg room as well. This made for a comfortable ride.

Check-in: 5/5 (Very quick, no nonsense, warm service)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 4/5 (Lacked the warmth, very mechanical)
On-Board Service: 4/5 (Its a joke to call it a 'meal')
Overall: 4.75/5 (A great flight for the price)