My shortest flight ever: Kochi to Kozhikode on Air India Express

I wanted to try Air India Express since a long time. Air India Express is a low-cost sister airline of the Maharaja, Air India. Air India Express was born in 2005 as a result of an increasing demand to provide low cost air transport to the wide Indian diaspora residing in the gulf countries and the south-east asian countries. Air India Express operates on the low-cost model, flying point-to-point without any hubs. The airline is based in Kochi, and has a maintenance base in Trivandrum. Air India Express (IX) operates flights to almost all Gulf countries from different bases in Kerala.

Cutting the story short, I badly wanted to try this airline since a very very long time. Air India Express has a few domestic hops - either as a part of an international flight, or a maintenance rotation. IX has domestic hops to Kozhikode, Trivandrum and Mumbai from Kochi [Mumbai ceased to exist from Summer '16]. The Kochi-Trivandrum flight flies only once per week, while the flight to Kozhikode is daily. I had some work in Kozhikode (Calicut) and I found it as an opportunity to take this flight out of Kochi. The booking was done through the Air India Express website - the fare was in the lowest fare bracket at the time of booking. IX does not provide seat selection for domestic legs, and the website does not have an option to web check-in either.

March 20, 2016:
I had left home a little later than planned.  I just about got into the bus I had planned to get. The bus dropped me at the highway (Paravoor Kavala, on the National Highway-544) just in time to get a connecting bus to the airport. I reached the airport sometime around 0825hrs. This was the first time I was entering the International Terminal - the terminal area was crowded. There were more people to send off passengers than actual flyers - they thronged every possible inch of the entrance. Getting to the check-in counters was a bit tricky - except a board at the entrance with the counter numbers, there were absolutely no indications at the counter about it being used by Air India Express. The counters were manned by Air India personnel - Check in was fairly quick. I requested for a window seat on the right side, and I was given #9F. I had my boarding pass, hand-baggage tag and the customs declaration form in my hand by 0832hrs.
International Departures - at Cochin
Check-in area. The IX counters were to my back.
The boarding pass... the large "D" on the left identifies me as a Domestic passenger.
I walked through the channel earmarked for domestic passengers - the customary check of the boarding pass by immigration and customs personnel happened, and I landed at the fairly empty security check area soon. I was out of security by 0838hrs. All the gates were on the upper floor - in reality, only 4 gates were on the first floor, and 2 gates were on the ground floor. But the security hold is entirely on the first floor. The security hold looked a few generations ahead of the domestic terminal - a lot of shopping arenas, a nice good restaurant and the duty free outlet. There were plenty of cafes selling snacks near all the gates. The airport was at its busiest at this point of time - both the domestic and international terminals had a steady stream of arrivals and departures. I just wandered around the terminal enjoying its beauty - and just being happy that this terminal would soon be handed over for domestic operations!
The FIDS. The last one is my flight.
Shopping to the left, Gates to the right..
Cochin Duty Free
Date of Journey: March 20, 2016
Flight No: IX473 || Seat: 9F
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-800 (WL) || Regn: VT-AYD
Sector: COK-CCJ
STD: 1005hrs, ATD: 0955hrs
STA: 1050hrs, ATA: 1045hrs

Boarding was announced at 0922hrs. The entire area around the gate (#6), a bus gate, was terribly crowded. I couldn't understand if the crowd was for my flight, or passengers for some other flight just crowding around. I was right - the crowd was for a later Air-India Flight that would also board from the same gate. So, I just walked through the crowd and headed straight to the gate - the gate agents checked my boarding pass and asked me to wait. By now they had started calling for passengers travelling on the Air India flight to Dubai, which also was boarding from the same gate. Confusion prevailed at every step, since passengers for both the flights were let through the same gate at the same time. At the ground, there was even more confusion - ground staff had a hell of a time seperating passengers for both the flights. At one point I was told to stand in the same queue as that of the Dubai flight - I was allowed to form a new queue only when I protested.

There were different guys handling the Dubai flight and this Air India Express departure to Kozhikode/Bahrain/Doha. There was a confusion within themselves as well. Soon, a tarmac coach appeared at the gate. The Air India Express agent said the bus is for IX473 (my flight), while the other group claimed it was for them (Air India 933 to Dubai). In the meantime, the pilots who would operate IX473 got into the bus, and called for passengers taking the same flight! Now, the agents were confused if the crew were of IX or AI (I couldn't stop laughing at this point). Later, it was clarified that the crew were indeed of IX, and a few of us travelling on the same flight were allowed to board the bus. The bus made a long run to the other end of the tarmac where the aircraft was docked - we reached there at 0932. Alpha Yankee Delta was taking me to Kozhikode today.
First look at VT-AYD.. sorry, couldn't get a full shot.
Right before getting on board..
My first ever flight on Air India Express, and I was given the newest bird in the fleet (at that time) - VT-AYD. AYD was delivered to Air India Express in December 2009 - the last aircraft to enter the Air India Express fleet. I stepped into the aircraft at 0936hrs - welcomed in by a very young and smiling flight attendant - quite a change from the looking down by AI crew. The aircraft was very empty - I came to know that the loads on this leg was a paltry 52 pax out of 186 seats!! The aircraft was fairly clean - the seats were clean and the seatbelts were arranged in the "X" pattern. The windows, however, portrayed a sad scene - it was dirty, smudged with oil and fingerprints, and had scratches all over - as if somebody had taken revenge with the window. Boarding was completed only at 0948hrs. The doors were armed at 0950hrs. There were a few VIPs sitting on the first row - the crew did keep checking-up with them very often.

Soon after the doors were armed, recorded announcements began flowing one after the other. First came the welcome announcement. Then a manual announcement about the flying crew, and information about the first sector we would fly. In the deck was Capt Navnit Singh (did not get the name of the first officer). The safety demonstration followed. IX uses drop down screens installed in the aircraft to make the demonstration. The safety videos were animated, and quite detailed. They made a lot of announcements including use of seat belts, emergency exits, oxygen masks, safety vests and even about using the toilets, the no-smoking rule, etc. The animations were very detailed - and were made in both English and Hindi.
Demonstration in progress..
Pushback finally commenced at 0955hrs. Taxi commenced at 1000hrs. It was a long taxi to the holding point of Rwy27. Once the safety demonstration was completed, the screens shut themselves - the crew did a check if all of them closed as well. We reached the holding point at 1006hrs. Two A330s had departed ahead of us - one of Emirates and other of Srilankan. We had to wait for some time in order not to run into their wake turbulence. In the meantime, a SpiceJet Q400 was allowed to land. We entered the runway at 1011hrs, and took off at 1012hrs. The aircraft climbed very soon, and took a sharp right turn to head towards Kozhikode. With a distance of hardly 74miles, there aircraft did not climb very high. The seatbelt signs were switched off at 1018hrs. The crew just drew the curtains and spent their time at the galley. They never came to the cabin throughout this flight, except to secure the cabin for landing.
Climbing out of COK.. Thats the new terminal visible.. 
Preparing to land at CCJ.. 
The dirty windows, and bright sun on my side meant I had nothing to do or see. The seatbelt signs came back on at 1022hrs - the PA system went alive with announcements that we were about to land, window shades should be open, tray tables closed, seat backs upright, electronic devices switched off, etc. The crew made a customary appearance to check if everything was alright and disappeared again. I was trying to figure out where we were. We had turned to the west, then turned back east and then turning around to align to the ILS. Kozhikode (CCJ) airport runway was partially closed for maintenance, and the touchdown point was displaced, leaving a shorter available runway. We touched down at 1042hrs on Rwy28 - and what followed was the hardest braking I've ever been through. We stopped right before the taxiway. We had a sharp turn to enter the taxiway, and had to stop short of the apron. VT-ESJ was moving through the apron at the time. Once ESJ entered the runway, we were permitted to enter the apron. We finally docked at Stand #8, at 1045hrs. It was a jetway stand, and it took a long time for the jetway to be attached. I was out of the aircraft by 1049hrs - there was a round of checks outside to ensure that only the domestic pax got off.
The cabin.. the seats were good and fairly comfortable.. 
The seats.. 
Thats Calicut / Kozhikode airport.. 
There was a huge line at Immigrations - there was two points of check here. The next delay was at Customs - the hand-baggage screening queue was loonngg. An Indigo A320 from DXB had landed just before us. The security officials at the scanning queue were letting domestic passengers out of the queue. I walked through the customs counter quickly, and was out of the airport by 1100hrs. Like the other airports in Kerala, public transportation at CCJ too was negligible. I walked out of the airport premises and then got an auto to get to the nearest bus stop, and then headed to the city, some 30 kms away.
Tracking from FR24. The cruise was at FL120. 
Ratings:
Check-in: 4.5/5 (Quick check-in, no crowd. But absolutely no signages)
Cleanliness: 4.5/5 (Aircraft was clean, but terrible windows)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Perfect!)
Crew: 2.5/5 (They were hardly around. Points only for their behaviour)
Catering: Not applicable. Not even a serving of water.
Overall: 4/5

Summary:
Express India 473 was a perfect flight for the distance involved. The aircraft was clean, and the crew behaved very well. I hoped they atleast serve some water without being asked for. It was a value for money flight.

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