To Vizag on RedKnight 1452: Flying 'The Pioneer'

To go or not. Let me see if my paper gets selected.

The annual gathering of Pharmacists in India was happening in Visakhapatnam, the City of Destiny, a very important port city in the newly formed state of Andhra pradesh. Located along the eastern coast of the Indian Peninsula, Vizag was always a city of interest for me. This annual gathering is a place for meeting a lot of people, a great opportunity to present research papers and a large gathering of pharmacists - a place where one feels proud of the profession. The gathering is usually very crowded, and I prefer going there only if I have a research paper presentation. My paper got selected for the presentation, and I decided to make it to the event.

Next came the time to book tickets. My colleagues were flying an early morning flight - I thought of taking a little later flight, and booked on RedKnight 1450 - AirAsia India, I5, 1450. This was also an early departure, but later than my colleagues' flight. This flight had a 0615hrs departure from Bengaluru, when I booked. A few days later, I happened to check tickets for another colleague of mine, and noticed an AirAsia Flight to Vizag, departing later in the day - at 0905hrs. This one had a different flight number, and I really did not notice. A few days before my trip, I took printouts of the itinerary (as is my usual practice) - this time I noticed that my flight number had changed to I51452, and had a 0905hrs departure. My jinx with AirAsia continues! Yet another reschedule, and I haven't even been notified of this change!

I receive this message a few days before my flight, and that was the first ever communication from AirAsia India about the change - notice the wordings:
                        Reminder-Dear Guest, your flight I5-1452 (BLR-VTZ) on 15-Dec-16 departs at 9:05 AM. Check-in counters open 2hrs prior and close 45mins prior to your flight. We recommend that you report early to avoid any inconvenience. Have a pleasant flight with us - AirAsia
They sent me a reminder about my flight - but they never informed me that my flight had changed from 0615hrs to 0905hrs! Although I did not regret this change - since this flight takes me to Vizag a little later, and helps me beat my hotel's check-in time restrictions, but I was terribly upset about AirAsia not even bothering to inform about the reschedule. A couple of days before the journey, I try to do an online check-in, and end up being allotted a middle seat towards the aft section of the aircraft! I try modifying my booking or altering the seat - the mobile app doesn't let me do any of these. I finally try though the website, and I am asked to pay for a forward seat - left with no options (the seat layout hinted that we were almost full), I opt for seat #8A, and pay for the seat selection.

December 15, 2016: Around 0600hrs:
I fire up various cab booking apps. I check ride estimates of each operator, and end up flummoxed finding the cheapest fare on Meru! Meru is otherwise the most expensive option. The cab turns up a few minutes later - a sane driver, with a fairly tired looking Maruti Swift Dzire with Airport Taxi decals. He dropped me at the airport by around 0715hrs. There was a fairly big queue at the terminal entry gate - quite unusual for the time of the day, consider it was a weekday. I was inside the terminal 5 minutes later. I was quite hungry by now, and badly wanted to have something. I rushed to the check-in counters, and was done with check-in by 0735hrs.
Crowded entry to the terminal..
The AirAsia Check-in counters..
Security was a little less messy - I was done with security check by 0745hrs. I headed straight to the Above Ground Lounge for a quick breakfast. Unlike my previous experience, the Ola access worked like breeze this time, and I was inside the lounge in no time. Being quite early on a weekday, the lounge was quite deserted. I headed straight to the buffet counters, and picked samples of most items on the menu.
The Above Ground Level Lounge - used by quite some airlines..
Abundant seating..
My breakfast plate..
I relished on the fresh cut fruits, Idlis, Pongal and Vermicelli Upma (thick porridge) with Sambhar, washed down with a hot cappuccino. I remained in the lounge till Flightradar24 showed my aircraft approaching the airport. It was VT-JRT, The Pioneer - AirAsia India's Airbus A320-216 delivered originally to AirAsia in 2008 as 9M-AHI. She received the special Tribute to JRD Tata livery in Jan 2015. Juliet Romeo Tango touched down at Runway 09 at 0829hrs. I headed to the gate by now.

Date of Journey: December 15, 2016
Airline: AirAsia India
Flight No: I5-1452 || Seat: 8A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-216 || MSN: 3448 || Regn: VT-JRT
Sector: BLR-VTZ
STD: 0905hrs, ATD: 0901hrs
STA: 1040hrs, ATA: 1032hrs

The first boarding call was made at 0843hrs - less than 14 minutes since the bird touched down at Bengaluru. Zone wise boarding was strictly implemented. Since I was in the forward section, I was in zone-3, and boarding for this zone was called last. By the time I reached the gate, the "Final Call" signs flashed, and the gate agents starting calling out for any remaining passengers.
Boarding from Gate 9.. 
I was inside the aircraft by 0855hrs. Boarding was completed by 0858hrs - we were almost full. Doors were armed by 0901hrs. The captain came on the PA system a little after the doors were armed - we were appraised of a delay in pushback due to other pushback activity behind us. Captain Jamshed Khan with First Officer Abhishek was flying us to Vizag. The captain gave out some #Avgeek information - planned flight level FL370, takeoff from Runway 09 of Bengaluru to the east, and then flying North East to Vizag, making an approach over the sea to land on Runway 28. That was a lot of technical stuff. We were finally pushed back at 0905hrs, as the cabin crew led by Ms Divya were busy doing the safety demo.
Soon after takeoff, as we rotate North-east..
We commenced Taxi at 0908hrs, and headed towards the holding point A6 of runway 09. We got there by 0916hrs, and had to hold for a while for an incoming flight. It was IndiGo's VT-IDD, coming in from Pune. We entered the active runway at 0917hrs, and held on for a minute before the takeoff roll commenced. We took off finally at 0919hrs. We climbed quite fast, and set direction towards North East before leveling off. The seatbelt sign was switched off by 0924hrs. The carts rolled out in no time, and meals for passengers with pre-reserved meals were delivered from the rear galley. My pre-reserved mean, South Indian Delight accompanied by a 200ml of Apple Juice and a bottle of water came soon after the service began.
The breakfast combo..
Breakfast combo unboxed..
The contained contained a fairly big Idli dipped in creamy Sambhar, Semolina Upma, and a Rava (Semolina) Masala Dosa. The Idli was good, but the sambhar was too creamy to be an accompaniment. The upma was awesome - well cooked, appropriately spicy, with a little overpowering flavour of turmeric. The dosa was nothing special - not a fan of dosas served in flights - the filling was bland. I did enjoy the meal - but not the best I've had on AirAsia. But special appreciation goes to TajSATS. I washed it down with the juice, and the juice with water. Cabin clearance happened a little late. I spent most of the flying time reading the Travel3Sixty magazine - which, unfortunately, was the Malaysian edition. The articles were all about destinations served out of Malaysia - but still worth spending time.
Short finals into Visakhapatnam
The seatbelt sign came back on at 1014hrs, followed by the routine cabin clearance call, and a round of clearance. We were flying over the Bay of Bengal already - the port of Visakhapatnam was visible. Marine traffic seemed to be quite high as well. We approached the shore quite fast, and touched down on Runway 28 of Visakhapatnam, at 1029hrs. Full reversers deployed, and we burnt quite a lot of rubber to come to a complete halt at the first taxiway to enter the apron. We docked at bay 03 by 1032 - an Air Costa was just being pushed back at that time. I was among the last people to get off the aircraft, by 1037hrs - the last set of passengers were made to wait in scorching sun on the apron for some time - until the tarmac coach turned up, after dropping the first lot of passengers at the terminal. Baggage took some more time to turn up - I got mine by 1046hrs, and walked out of the airport a minute later.

Ratings:
Check-in: 3/5 (The App doesn't let select a seat. Counter was fuss free)
Cleanliness: 3.5/5 (Aircraft was not cleared after the last flight. Scratched windows)
Punctuality: 5/5 (No major delay)
Crew: 4.5/5 (Good crew)
Catering: 5/5 (Good Food)
Overall: 4/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one)
Tracking from FlightRadar24..
Summary:
This was my eighth flight with AirAsia India, and second on board VT-JRT. As always, the crew were great - good service, with the warmth that is needed in the hospitality industry. The catering was good - but not the best item from AirAsia India. They, infact, took a lot of pride in introducing their Santan menu, and their wide food offering. The check-in on the mobile app was messy - no seat selection option, and automatic allotment of middle seats. The counter check-in was fuss free - was a breeze. The aircraft wasn't very clean - I am not a fan of clumped up seat belts and left over of previous sectors. The windows were bad - had plenty of scratches and scars. The maintenance isn't even a shade of the LCC market leader - who keeps their aircraft in great shape, irrespective of age. Another good flight with AirAsia India - looking out for the next with them. 

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