Sunday, May 17, 2015

On Jet Airways ATR72, Unexpectedly!

This was one trip decided at the very last minute. A long holiday, all thanks to an All India Motor Transport Strike right before May Day, meant I could head home. The journey home was by road - driving down my brother's car. I hadn't booked a return ticket - I had the option of taking a day off and returning with my brother, or taking a bus/flight earlier. I had to return earlier because of certain official commitments back in Bangalore. A bus ticket for Sunday (day or night) was selling at exorbitant rates. I tried for Saturday night, and the rates were no different. Air Fares were starting at more than 7K. It was just then that I remembered I had enough JetMiles to get an Award ticket - the problem, now, was that Award tickets should be available.

The Jet Airways app does not let one book an award ticket. I tried booking through their desktop version of the website, and it worked. Award tickets were still available on most flights on Saturday, and only on the last flight of Sunday. Now, flying on Sunday was obvious - I could maximise my stay at home in this case. The booking took some time due to a very slow internet connection on my phone - I was in an interior town in Kerala at the time. The gateway timed out twice, but went through successfully on the third attempt. All I had to pay was Passenger Service Fee, CUTE Fee and Service tax - totalling Rs. 278! This was an amazing bargain, for a flight departing on a Sunday night after a long weekend.

May 03, 2015:
Its always a sad moment to leave home, irrespective of the number of days I spent home. I could afford to leave late since my bro would be dropping me at the airport. We left home around 2000hrs, and I was dropped at the airport about fifteen minutes past nine. There was absolutely no crowd at the terminal entry, or at the check-in desks. I had my boarding pass by 2120hrs, and headed towards security check. There were three flights departing in the next couple of hours, including mine. Security check was fairly crowded - all thanks to the fact that only one scanner was working, and there was just one frisking booth!
The Boarding pass.. 
The security hold - the old styled sofas take in a lot of space
Shopping options at the Domestic terminal. Thats a food court at the end.
I was in the security hold by 2130hrs - with almost an hour to go for my flight. One SpiceJet Q400 (to Hyderabad) taxi'd out as I reached the waiting area. A while later, another SpiceJet Q400 came in to the apron - this one was to Chennai. A little later AirAsia's VT-ATF came in from Bangalore. Quite unusually, boarding was called late and appeared very disciplined. There was one Air India A319 in the international side - Air India operates two domestic flights from Kochi through the international terminal - one to Mumbai and another to Delhi (the Delhi flight comes from Trivandrum). These flights are connectors to International flights from Mumbai/Delhi. AirAsia seemed to have great loads on that day. Soon after AirAsia completed boarding, the domestic terminal slowly started preparing for a long sleep. My flight at 2225hrs was the last for the day, and hence most shops prepared to close, while housekeeping staff started pre-cleaning activities. I was quite worried since the aircraft for my flight hadn't arrived till 2200hrs - this made it sure that our departure would be delayed. The aircraft for my flight finally came in at 2207hrs.
Thats my flight at the end - the last domestic departure from this terminal
Date of Journey: May 03, 2015
Flight No: 9W-2614 || Seat: 16F
Aircraft type: ATR 72-500 (212A) || Regn: VT-JCR
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 2225hrs, ATD: 2233hrs
STA: 2345hrs, ATA: 2347hrs

The tail of VT-JCR
The first boarding call was made at 2213hrs - and by then, almost all the passengers had crowded the gate (#2). As usual, Jet enforced row wise boarding - passengers seated in Rows #1-9 were called first. I decided to wait till the crowd thins out - I finally got on the last bus at 2221hrs. The bus slowly crawled through the fairly empty apron towards the aircraft. The international apron was busy with three international flights - SilkAir, Malindo and AirAsia (Malaysia) preparing to depart. I was the last passenger to board, and got in to the aircraft at 2229hrs. I was flying VT-JCR today, an ATR-72-500 (cn: 919) delivered to Jet Airways in November 2010 - a 4.5 years old bird. The flight attendants were at the door, welcoming each guest. I settled on my seat (#16F), while the attendants went about checking. Kimberly and Rashmi (P) were looking after the cabin, while Capt Suresh and Capt Easwer were at the deck. The door was armed at 2231hrs and we were pushed back at 2233hrs.
The "9" cousins - SilkAir, Malindo & AirAsia at Kochi
Safety demonstration started soon after push-back. We commenced taxi at 2237hrs, and headed towards Rwy27 for take off. Its a long taxi to Rwy27 - we reached the holding point at 2244hrs. Just as we stopped short of the runway, a SpiceJet B738 landed (coming in from Chennai, later heads to Dubai). We commenced take-off roll shortly afterwards, and we were airborne at 2245hrs. We took off towards west, then performed two beautiful turns and headed North-east towards Bengaluru. Seatbelt signs were turned off at 2256hrs. On Board service commenced soon after the seatbelt signs were turned off. Being seated at the back of the ATR has the advantage of being served soon - the trolleys come from the back. I opted for a Veg Snack (as usual) - the box contained a Paneer Sandwich, a muffin, the JetAirways signature Imli (Tamarind) Candy, SkyMart brochure served along with a bottle of Water.
The meal - Paneer Sandwich & Choco-chip muffin
The 'dessert' - Imli (Tamarind) candy
The paneer sandwich was dry - the paneer was rubbery. The muffin was hard - the top was really hard. Its time Jet Airways brings in some change in their catering - the sandwiches and the muffins are two repetitive and boring now. They could add a serving of a juice - there is no hot beverage service anyways. With flying time exceeding an hour, they could surely serve something better. The imli (tamarind) candy - a brand called Mili from a supplier called Farmers First, is a welcome addition though - brings back memories of the olden days. The on-board service was warm as usual. A second serving of water was offered when the attendant came around for clearing thrash.
On the finals - at Bengaluru city at the distance
The flight was largely uneventful, and I spent most of the time reading JetWings, the Jet Airways on-board magazine. The weather in Bangalore was poor for the two days prior to my journey - this had caused a lot of delays, and I was a bit worried if the weather would be poor on this journey as well. But that did not seem to the case - landing was announced at 2329hrs and the seat belt sign came on. It was a full moon night, and we overflew the city as we approached the airport. The city looked resplendent, and the full moon added to the beauty. The skies were clear, and all the lights added to the beauty of a scene, that I am unlikely to forget soon. We touched down at Rwy09 of Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru at 2344hrs. We entered the apron through the Rwy27 end. We parked at Stand #78, at 2347hrs. Three Jet Airways ATRs are parked at Bengaluru at night, along with one ATR each of Air India Regional and Air Pegasus. I was out of the aircraft  at 2350hrs. I got into the first bus, which dropped me at the terminal at 2356hrs. I was out of the airport a minute past midnight.
After reaching Bengaluru - VT-JCR prepares to sleep..
VT-JCR... passengers continue to alight..
It was largely an uneventful flight - I only wish Jet Airways changes their catering options. Its high time the sandwiches and the accompaniments change. Its too boring and repetitive now. Jet Airways, are you listening?

Check-in: 5/5 (used on-line check in, and got my boarding pass at the check-in counter)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (left late, reached more-or-less on time)
Crew: 5/5
Catering: 2.5/5 (the food wasn't bad, but too repetitive)
Overall: 5/5 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

AirAsia India - Kochi to Bengaluru, again!

I hadn't planned any trips for Summer. A family function at home meant I'd have to travel and decided to make it a short holiday at home. I could manage a few days at home by combining a holiday and some leaves. The function was on April 12, while April 14 was a holiday and April 15 was our New Year. Tickets for 14th night was not very costly, so were tickets for April 15th morning. I went ahead and made a booking for April 15th morning, on AirAsia flight 1124, so that I can reach office by afternoon. I had that eerie feeling when I made the booking - will AirAsia again reschedule the flight and throw a spanner into my plans? AirAsia has never been on schedule, and has rescheduled my flight every time I flew them the past three times.

That feeling did have some substance. As the date of the flight came closer, I casually checked flight schedules and the ticket rates for my day of travel - the first thing that caught my attention was that my flight was now scheduled to leave a full hour after original schedule! I was terribly upset with the reschedule - I now stand to lose an entire working day. A day later, I officially received a re-schedule intimation from AirAsia - it was not only a reschedule, but the flight number too changed, from 1124 to 1126, and the departure was pushed from 1040hrs to 1140hrs. I was undecided on the future course of action - but decided to wait and watch. In the meantime, I went about looking at the alternative options. I finally decided to call up AirAsia and find out what options I had.

One fine morning, I call up the AirAsia India Call centre. After going through an IVR, I was connected to the Customer Support Executive. The voice quality was awful, but the agent was really helpful. He heard my queries patiently, took down the Confirmation number and retrieved my booking. He offered to reschedule my booking to the previous night flight - I confirmed without a second thought. I had to hold for a couple of minutes - AirAsia has great music selection, I must say - at the end of hold, he confirmed that I had been rebooked on AirAsia 1130, departing at 2300hrs, the previous night (April 14th). No charges were levied, and the agent held on till I confirmed receiving the new itinerary in my mailbox. I rate their Call Centre a lavish 5 on 5. The entire call took under 6 minutes, and left me fully satisfied with their service.

April 14, 2015:
I was sad that I had to return a night earlier - but saving a leave was more important. Like everytime, I decided to leave home very early. My dad dropped me at the nearest town (Kodungallur) sometime around 7.30pm. I got buses very quickly, and I reached National Highway 47 (now 544) very soon - I had over an hour to go for the check-in deadline, and hence decided to take a chance and wait for a bus. I waited until around 2115hrs - no bus turned up. I suddenly remembered that Ola had started operations in Kochi - the Ola App came to my help, and a cab arrived in another 10 minutes. The cab took off to the airport - and I got busy talking to the driver about how his life is doing. He was happy driving for Ola, and said he gets a lot of trips. Their fares are very competitive, and has helped attract a lot of passengers. I was dropped at the airport at around 2145hrs.
Check-in counters at Kochi!
My boarding pass...
The airport appeared quite crowded - thankfully, the AirAsia check-in counters weren't crowded, and I got through by 2151hrs. Security check was very crowded, and it took some time to get through. I was in the security hold by 2200hrs - still an hour to go for my flight! A few months back, the security hold at COK was extended. There are a lot of seats now. I headed to an corner, searching for a power socket - finally found one near gate #4 (I've never seen this gate being used) and settled there. My going there did raise a few curious stares from the security staff. I plugged in my phone and connected to the Airport's WiFi system (worked for the first time, for me), and browsed the internet for some time. I kept tracking the incoming aircraft - it was VT-ATF for me.

Date of Journey: April 14, 2015
Flight No: I5-1130 || Seat: 24A
Aircraft type: A320-200 || Regn: VT-ATF
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 2300hrs, ATD: 2305hrs
STA: 2355hrs, ATA: 0006hrs

The incoming aircraft landed at 2238hrs - meaning, we could depart on time. Quite unusually, they did not call boarding as soon as the aircraft came in. The first boarding call was made only at 2246hrs. Of course, by the time the announcement was made, a long queue had formed. Boarding was through Gate 1 - I joined the queue when most of the people had boarded. There were lots of group bookings - people had 4-6 boarding passes each, and it took a bit of time with the CISF people taking their time to check each baggage and boarding pass. I boarded through the rear door, since I was seated in #24A. I usually select seats at the front, but had to choose one at the back this time. I was inside the aircraft at 2252hrs.
The FDIS at COK. Mine was the last flight of the day!
Boarding in progress from Gate #1. Thats the aircraft in the background.
Thats VT-ATF for me!
The first observation was that seats at the back was very tight - very less leg room and felt congested. Boarding was completed at 2257hrs - we had a full flight today (for the first time in my 4 flights with AirAsia). It took some time for the ground staff to get off the aircraft - doors were finally armed at 2303hrs, and we were all set to go. We were pushed back at 2305hrs - soon after pushback, safety demonstration began. In the deck were Capt Vijay Jose (my third flight with him) and Capt Manish Uppal. The cabin had 1 male and 3 female FAs. We were tata'd off at 2310hrs, and we began the long taxi towards Rwy27. In the meantime, the Capt Uppal came on PA and announced that we were delayed due to air traffic congestion, and bad weather in Bangalore. He added that we were expected to land before time, and that he would get back to us with more details once we were airborne. We reached the runway at 2315hrs, and were airborne at 2316hrs.

Take offs from Kochi are always beautiful - be it day or night. I feel special everytime I take off from Kochi - and love the way the aircrafts bank soon after take off. Seatbelt sign was switched of at 2320hrs - and we hit a pocket of turbulence at the very moment, prompting the pilot to switch on the seatbelt sign once again. The seatbelt sign was switched off again at 2324hrs. A flurry of announcements followed about on-board sales, etc. The trolleys came out, and they started serving passengers who had prebooked a meal - I too had booked one. But before they reached my seat, turbulence hit us again, and the seatbelt signs were back on. After sometime, the service restarted, but the seatbelt sign remained on for the remaining part of the journey. I had booked a Vegetable Pasta in Tomato Sauce. My meal was served hot, as usual, in the characteristic red coloured aluminum disposable container, with plastic cutlery (also in red colour).
Vegetable Pasta in Tomato Sauce!
Inside the container...
I opened the container to find Pasta Penne cooked to perfection in a slightly sweet Tomato sauce, garnished with capsicum in different colours, broccoli and some other vegetables topped with Cheese. The meal was served hot (as usual), and tasted really good. I understood that the catering is handled by Taj-SATS. I relished the meal taking my own time, enjoying every bit of it. We did keep having turbulence on-and-off - but not serious. The on-board service was wrapped up quickly and the crew came around for clearing the trash. Sometime around 2340hrs, Capt Uppal came on the PA once again, and briefed that we were cruising at FL250, and had began descend by then. He briefed passengers about bad weather in Bangalore, and associated congestion there. He said that our landing sequence wasn't yet known, but were likely to be delayed - and signed off with a promise to update us as soon as information is received.
The path we took.. from
At 2345hrs, the Capt came on the PA yet again, and announced that we were 4th in the queue to land, and were expected to land five minutes past midnight. This was followed by the routine set of pre-landing announcements by the cabin crew. Quite interestingly, soon after the normal announcements, the purser asked all cabin crew to be at "demo positions" - I was quite confused at what was going on. Once the attendants were at their "demo positions", a round of "thanks for flying AirAsia" announcements followed, with the traditional 'Namaskaar' sign off. That was a nice touch - giving a well deserved Indian touch. We finally touched down on Rwy09 of Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru at 0002hrs - 3 minutes before our estimated touch down time. It was a long taxi to our bay, and we finally parked at 0006hrs, at Stand #22. Being a Jetway stand, it took sometime for the doors to be opened. I finally got off at the aircraft at 0014hrs. Given the hurry of Indians to get off the aircraft, de-boarding was real quick. It took just around 10 minutes to empty a 180-seat A320! I was out of the airport at 0021hrs.

Except for the reschedules, and tendency to be late always, I love AirAsia. Its a perfect leisure airline - except that they might spoil your holiday plans. Their catering is something the other LCCs should follow - they serve some great food and not so heavy prices. Its an airline you can choose if you aren't bothered about being a bit late.

End Note: The flight I was originally booked in (I5-1124, then renumbered to I5-1126) was rescheduled further, to leave at 1355 instead of 1140! I thanked my stars for taking that decision to fly back the previous night - had I opted to fly as planned, I might have ended up in Bangalore only in the evening!

Check-in: 5/5 (have no complaints)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 4.8/5 (7 minutes late)
Crew: 5/5
On-Board Service: 5/5 (Awesome food!)
Overall: 5/5 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

On AirAsia India 'RED' yet again! BLR to COK on A320

With the new #AvGeek thoughts in mind, the last thing I wanted was flying the same aircraft twice. But things seems to be beyond my control as I sat down planning a vacation at home in April. Now 'Vacation' is a misnomer, since these holidays never extend 3 days at the most. This journey was initially slated to be 3 days long, but later extended to 4 days. Like everytime, I had booked my return ticket first - I was to return on a very busy day and hence booking at an affordable price was important (more on this booking later). After booking the return ticket, I got down to the task of finding an outbound ticket. A couple of days later, my brother declared that we both would be travelling together - and he wanted a night flight out of Bangalore. The options were AirAsia (Again!) and Jet Airways (on my fav ATRs!). My brother picked AirAsia - we booked on I51129, departing on a Friday night.

When booking, the flight was timed at 2140hrs from Bangalore. A few days before departure (about 10 days before), a mail from AirAsia intimated that the flight was rescheduled to 2040hrs from Bangalore. This meant a bit of discomfort for my brother, but I was excited that my waiting time after office comes down!

Friday, April 10, 2015:
I left office as usual, around 1630hrs. I had plenty of time to kill - I decided to travel around the city to kill time. Sometime during the travelling, my bro called up and we reached a common place. My bro was driving down to the airport, and was leaving his car at the long term parking there. We reached the airport sometime around 1800hrs - and we had over two long hours to kill there. First up was the food joins on the kerbside - after having a hearty eat, the next stop was the check-in counters. I usually prefer checking in at the counter than doing it online - especially when my seats are preselected. The counter had very little crowd - rather, just a couple of people ahead of us. Ours was the only departure at that time, and that would be the last domestic departure for the day as well. Check-in was done real quick - we had the boarding passes by 1900hrs. Being the start of a fairly long weekend, I had anticipated some long queues at security - but that wasn't the case. Security check was deserted - but surprisingly quite a few people were caught with liquor bottles in their hand baggage, and this slowed down the progress. Even then, we were past security by 1910hrs - we still had over an hour to go for boarding!
A beautiful sunset at BIAL...
The security hold wasn't very crowded - unusually. We were to board from Gate #6, a bus gate. Instead of heading downstairs, we decided to wait at the upper level itself. Quite surprisingly, the Airport WiFi worked for me on this day, and could spend some time catching up with messages on WhatsApp and some FB browsing as well. We did not head downstairs until 2000hrs. As expected it was very crowded downstairs, and we couldn't find any place to sit. There were two flights to Kochi at the same time - a Jet Airways and our Air Asia. Interestingly, both were boarding from adjacent gates. By the time our boarding started, Jet had completed boarding. The gate agent turned up around 2005hrs - and was waiting for the crew to get through. Once the cabin crew went in, boarding was called. At around 2011hrs, the boarding process started. I had a quick glance on the check-in terminal,and found we were have a load of 168/180 on that day. We were among the first to get into the bus. The deck crew also got into the same bus.
Boarding about to begin. Like the notice says, there are no boarding announcements!
Date of Journey: April 10, 2015
Flight No: I5-1129 || Seat: 08A
Aircraft type: A320-200 || Regn: VT-RED
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 2040hrs, ATD: 2042hrs
STA: 2140hrs, ATA: 2142hrs

We reached the aircraft by 2015hrs - it was VT-RED again for me! We had to wait for sometime before we were let into the aircraft. We were inside the aircraft by 2019hrs. Boarding was taking some time - the second bus turned up quite late. Then the headcount procedure took some time. Boarding was finally completed at 2031hrs. The doors weren't armed until 2040hrs - the scheduled departure time. Soon after the doors were armed, the safety demonstration began. In the deck were Capt Alireza and Capt Bhuvnesh, while the cabin had an all female crew led by Mukta. We were pushed back at 2042hrs, and taxi commenced at 2045hrs. We headed towards Rwy09 - it was one really long run. On the way, I could have a quick glance of VT-APA (Air Pegasus' ATR72). We had to hold short of the runway (2052hrs) to let a JetAirways B737 to land. We entered the active runway shortly thereafter, and were finally airborne at 2054hrs. The climb was quick and the seatbelt signs were turned off at 2059hrs.
Thats a tracking of my flight from
On-board sales started soon after. I was engrossed in reading the in-flight magazine though - there were two magazines this time. One was Travel3Sixty (their international inflight magazine) and the other was called Travel3Sixty India (an India specific inflight magazine). The former had a lot of tourist articles detailing places mostly served by the AirAsia Group, while the latter had dedicated write-ups about tourist locales around each destination served by AirAsia India. The cabin crew were great - marking their wares quite aggressively. I chose to have a serving of water. A quick round of clearing followed. Landing was announced at 2125hrs - the regular prelanding procedures followed. Cabin crew did a couple of walk around checks to confirm that the cabin was prepared for landing. This was my second night time flight to Kochi, and hence had a tough time finding which side we were approaching from. Since none of my usual landmarks came in sight, I was expecting we'd land on Rwy09 - but as we came closer to land, it was clear that we were on the normal approach to Rwy27.

We finally touched down on Rwy27 at 2139hrs, and quickly taxied to the apron. Quite unusually, the aircraft we towards a stand away from the terminal building. We parked at Stand #10 at 2142hrs. It took quite sometime for the stairs to be connected. Deplaning started only at 2146hrs - and as usual, passengers had already crowded the gangway. While I was just getting into the bus that would take us to the terminal, Jet Airways' VT-JCR was pushed off. I am not very sure which schedule was that - there is no Jet Airways ATR at that time - the one coming in from Bangalore was yet to land - so this could be a delayed flight or some kind of a charter. Just as we were dropped at the terminal, the Jet Airways ATR from Bangalore (which left 10 minutes before us) taxi'd in to the apron. Since we did not have any check-in baggage, it was just a walk through the terminal building, and we were out of the airport by 2150hrs. That was another good flight with AirAsia India.

A bit of my thoughts about AirAsia: They offer some great on-board service, but completely lose their plot due to the utter mismanagement. Flight reschedules are a daily affair - and they often wait till the last moment before they let the passengers know the rescheduling. Due to the high risk of reschedules, one cannot really count on AirAsia if they need to be on time at the destination - its a fun filled airline for the leisurely passenger. Their on-board service should be something the other LCCs should adopt, while AirAsia needs to learn a lesson or two about sticking to their advertised schedules. Dirty seat-pockets and clumped up seat-belts are generally a norm on AirAsia - but not this time. All thanks to their 4 hour ground time. With the worst aircraft utilisation among the LCCs, AirAsia surely needs to learn a lot of lessons from the home grown LCCs.

Check-in: 5/5 (have no complaints)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the interiors were clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (the first time on AirAsia for me)
Crew: 5/5
On-Board Service: 5/5 (I did not try out any item, but based on how the Cabin crew went about)
Overall: 5/5