Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kozhikode to Thrissur on board a KURTC Low Floor Volvo

I didn't really think a lot when I booked tickets on the KURTC Low Floor bus. I was in Kozhikode for a function, and had to return to my home town in the afternoon. I directly headed to the Kerala Urban Transport Corporation (KURTC) website to look for services after noon. There was only one - a bus leaving Kozhikode at 1510hrs towards Nedumbassery airport. I was quite shocked when I opened the seat layout for this bus - the only left side window seat left was on the last row. A whole lot of seats on the right side were empty - but then, the sun would be on the right. With no choices left, I book the last row window seat on the left side. I got my mobile ticket (SMS) immediately.

March 20, 2016:
It was terribly hot. I was sweating as if I was standing in a rain. I had already downed a couple of fruit juices, and one round of the famous Aval Paal - an innovative milk based recipe with banana, poha(rice flakes), sugar and roasted skinless peanuts - which is a speciality of Kozhikode. Its a cooler and a filler at the same time. They used very crisp poha (rice flakes), which made it a crisp eat - it was topped with ice cream, generous amounts of tutti-fruity as well.
Yummy Aval Paal from Kozhikode..
I walked into the new KSRTC Ghost complex, oh! sorry.. bus station, at Kozhikode around 2pm. It was very hot outside, and I couldn't imagine spending time outside in the hot sun. The new bus station complex is a very awkward design, with the bus bays being fully covered. This meant that the bus station was very dark all the time. The waiting area had a very low roof, increasing the intensity of the heat. I had a horrid time waiting for the bus, and at one point of time desperately wanted the bus to come in.
JN327, being brought to Kozhikode bus station. 
My bus, JN327, came in sometime around 1445hrs from their depot in Pavangad. There was another Volvo already at the platform (this one was to Palakkad) - so my bus parked at the next platform. I waited outside my bus till the driver switched on the ac. The bus seemed to be fully reserved going by the number of passengers who got in. I was right - all the 37 seats were sold already. A few passengers would board on the way though. The AC was switched on about 10 minutes before departure. I got into the bus at this point, and occupied my seat at the last row. The AC was in full force, and cold air blowing on to my face was a real blessing.

The bus started from Kozhikode at 1514hrs - some 4 minutes late (due to some confusion related to the boarding point of some passenger). As expected, the driver took the Mavoor road flyover, and headed straight towards Tondayad bypass, and entered the new bypass road. With no saleable seats left, it made no sense for the bus to go through the city all over again and waste time. Driving was very stable - he maintained speeds in the range of 60kmph (the bus is locked at 60kmph) all the time. I left my phone to charge - yes, the charging points were switched on, and dozed off for sometime. We had a long non-stop run - over an hour, till we reached Changuvetty, where some passengers got inside. Interstingly, a lot of unreserved passengers also turned up, and they were ready to travel standing. We left Changuvetty at 1622hrs.

Another feature I noticed was that passengers had reserved their tickets well in advance - sometimes even a month in advance! We had another stop at Puthanathani (1632hrs). The driving was very good - no hard braking, or rash overtakes. I thought the bus would skip Kuttipuram, since we were already full - but that wasn't the case. The bus went to the bus station (1659hrs), and there were people waiting for it there! More passengers joined - the gangway was packed now. We left Kuttipuram at 1702hrs. The AC was running at full blast all the time, and it was really cold inside the bus. Some passengers asked the conductor if they would stop for a tea break - he said no.

The bus pulled into the parking yard outside KSRTC Regional Workshop Edappal (Kandanakam) sometime around 1708hrs. The conductor announced that people who wanted to use the washroom could use this break, and walked away to the station master's office. People used this opportunity really well. The bus started from here again at 1712hrs. I slept for some time after Edappal. The leg room was really good. The seat, itself, was very ergonomically designed as well. Traffic got thick after Perumbilavu, and the speed lock at 60kmph did not help matters either. The driver struggled a bit to overtake other vehicles though. The road got a little wider after Kunnamkulam. There were no stops anywhere - and being Sunday, traffic was on the lighter side as well. The bus pulled into the KSRTC bus station at Thrissur by 1823hrs - late by about 3 minutes!

The ride was very comfortable and not every expensive (Rs. 243 including reservation charges and other levies - its only Rs. 210 if you buy the ticket on board, but no guarantees of getting a seat). The bus was on time. The speed limit of 60kmph is a bit worrisome - the driver has absolutely no slack, and any traffic blocks were cause major delays. KURTC has been doing exceptionally well with their Nedumbassery Airport (Cochin International Airport) services from Malabar - almost all the buses run to capacity, and is sold out days in advance. These buses are surely raking in the moolah for KURTC. It is, however, worth a debate if its really a good idea running these low floor buses on long routes - KSRTC could've actually purchased regular Volvo B7Rs or atleast 9100s to operate these routes - that would mean more seating capacity, and even better luggage space for passengers - afterall, these buses serve passengers travelling to the middle east, who arrive and depart with large quantity of baggage.

Blanket: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, remained On throughout.
Entertainment: Audio entertainment. Classic malayalam songs played throughout.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Great service - definitely recommended!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The regional Maharaja's ATR42: Bangalore to Kochi again!

The need to travel back to Bangalore at the last moment had left me shuffled. I was fully disturbed and confused. I wanted to spend April 14, which happens to be Vishu, a day we celebrate as our New Year, with my parents at home. It was almost impossible to find tickets for Vishu eve (April 13th). I tried getting tickets to Trivandrum - which was available. I just tried my luck if redemption tickets were available on Air India - and my luck was very good! The last redemption ticket was available at the point - I grabbed it quickly. Air India was running a promotion on redemptions during weekdays, and that helped me save some miles as well.

April 14, 2016:
A day that I'd have celebrated with pomp at home - I was all alone in Bangalore. I hadn't slept at all the last two nights, and the effect of that was heavy on me. I somehow managed to get off the bed and get ready. The taxi I had booked hadn't arrived yet. The taxi came about 15minutes past the reserved time - and it turned out that it was the same driver who ferried me from the airport to my office the previous morning! He was quick, and had a very nice control of the vehicle. I got to the airport by 0642, less than hour from home. Quite incidentally, I, the same cab and the same driver was at the airport at around the same time even the previous day!

Date of Journey: April 14, 2016
Flight No: 9I505 (AI9505) || Seat: 3D
Aircraft type: ATR 42-320 || Regn: VT-ABA
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 0815hrs, ATD: 0802hrs
STA: 0935hrs, ATA: 0919hrs

I was terribly hungry, and headed to the Chai Point outlet. I got into the terminal a little later, at 0703hrs. One thing that baffled me was the crowd at the terminal entry gates. It was quite deserted when I reached the airport, but the crowd swelled heavily in the 20 minutes that I spent outside the terminal - a wrong decision from my end. The terminal was crowded - heavily crowded. I witnessed the heaviest crowd at the Air India Counters this time. The queue moved very slow. Even as the clock ticked past 0715, I was not even half the length of the queue to the counters. I had exactly an hour left for departure now. About a couple of minutes later, AI staffers started calling out for passengers to Kochi and Agatti - thats my flight. I raised my hand - he quickly checked my ticket and let me get out of the queue and move to an executive class check-in counter instead.
The crowd to get into the airport..
The crowd at the AI Counters..
My boarding pass.. Seq #24.. 
There was some problem with the terminal equipment - boarding was processed very slowly. I got my boarding pass by 0724hrs. I was left with exactly 20 minutes to go for boarding. Given the crowd at the check-in counters (not only Air India, but also other airlines), I was afraid if security would also be a mess. But, I was somehow lucky - the crowd there was less, and all the frisking queues were open. The queue moved fast. I cleared security by 0732 and headed straight to the gate. This particular flight of Air India always departs from the last gate - #20, located at the other end of the airport. It was a long walk to reach there. And, just as I reached there, boarding had already been called (0737hrs). As I neared, they were, in fact, calling out for passengers. I got into the tarmac coach by 0740hrs. The coach started moving by 0745 (the boarding time). There was just one bus load of passengers.
The boarding gate (#20).. 
The aircraft, as seen from the Tarmac coach.. 
The aircraft was parked right on the opposite side of the apron from the boarding gate. The bus ride took some time, since there were a couple of aircraft movements at the time. We got to the aircraft by 0750hrs, and I was inside the aircraft by 0752hrs. The aircraft was VT-ABA - an ATR42-320 (cn:390). The aircraft was originally delivered to Lineas Aereas Navarras in March 1995. It changed many hands before it reached Alliance Air (the predecessor of Air India Regional) in February 2003. The aircraft was a good 21 years and 1 month old as on date of my flight. Perhaps the oldest aircraft that I've traveled in. The interiors seemed to be in good shape. Leg room at my seat (#3D) was pathetic. The windows were messed up - full of scratches. The aircraft, surely, was clean. The loads seemed quite light - probably a shade over 50% mostly. A boarding completed call was made at 0758hrs, followed by the welcome announcement.
Getting on board VT-ABA..
The aircraft flies six times a week from Bangalore to Agatti (in Lakshadweep) via Kochi. The DGCA Stats show that there are very few direct passengers - but the aircraft certainly sees healthy loads between Kochi and Agatti. The cabin crew - headed by Ms Prema, did quick rounds to ensure that the cabin was prepared to take off. Flying us today was Capt Marcelo, who did make a welcome announcement before take-off, signing off with a "Sit back, relax and enjoy Air India" announcement. Doors were armed at 0801hrs and we were pushed back at 0802hrs. The aircraft shook vigorously as the PW121s came to life - the characteristic smell of burning fuel which happens in Turboprops added to the turboprop experience. We commenced taxi at 0806hrs - perhaps the shortest taxi ever. We entered the active runway (Rwy27) through taxiway "B" at 0807hrs, and made a rolling take off at 0808hrs. We were airborne in about 2 minutes (or less) from the time we commenced taxi! The aircraft climbed quite soon - I played the identification game, trying to figure out landmarks below.

The seatbelt sign was turned off at 0814hrs. Unlike my previous experience, Air India Regional (what I fondly call as Regional Maharaja) now offers Light vegetarian "Snacks" on board its flights. The trolley rolled out soon, and trays were handed over to passengers. The tray contained a cheese sandwich, a piece of cake and a fruit juice. The sandwich had only cheese in it - no vegetables at all. The cake was very good. The fruit juice was a tetrapak service of Tropicana Orange (not my personal favorite). This light snack was heavier than what is passed off as a meal by the market leader! The flight was largely eventless, and I spent most of my time reading Shubh Yatra, the inflight magazine of Air India. I spent quite a lot of time understanding the routes served by Air India - especially their widebodies on domestic sectors, and sectors served by the Regional wing. They do have a lot of underutilised ATRs (the newer, ATR72-600s). We were cruising at FL180 (as I learnt from my phone).
The light vegetarian snack..
Soon after touch down at COK..
The cabin crew spent most of their time chatting, in the galley - but they responded to calls very quickly. The seatbelt sign was turned on at 0859hrs - just as we were flying over the western ghats, giving a nice view of the tourist district of Idukki. We touched down on Rwy27, at 0917hrs, and docked at Stand #7 by 0919hrs - well before the scheduled arrival time. This flight is the slowest in the sector (all thanks to the ATR42), with a flying time generally in the range of 70-80 minutes. A tarmac coach took all the passengers to the terminal, and I made my way out of the terminal by around 0925hrs, ending what I hope is the last journey for some time - need to take a break, but I doubt if that would be possible, though.
Taken while deplaning..
At Stand #7, Cochin International Airport.
Check-in: 4/5 (Was crowded and slow. But the staff experience was great)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean - but shows its age)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 4.5/5 (They were hardly in the cabin. But attended calls very quick)
Catering: 5/5 (The 'snack' was quite heavy and filling)
Overall: 4.5/5

It was a no-nonsense flight. The aircraft showed its age - it vibrated and shook badly. It was noisy as well. The interiors were clean and the crew were functional - no exemplary service from them, but they did respond to calls and did their job well. The flight was eventless, and punctual. Air India Regional seems to be expanding these days with newer turboprops joining their fleet - I really hope they find newer aircrafts to serve their ATR42 sectors. These ATRs have seen better days and they are a cause for worry with advancing age. These ATRs mainly serve remote sectors in the North East, and this single flight to the Lakshadweep. If there are airports that can't accomodate the ATR72-600, then AI-R could explore the option of converting a couple of ATR72 orders to ATR42s, probably. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Trivandrum to Bengaluru on Jet Airways B738

This was an award ticket booked less than 12 hours before the scheduled departure time. A last minute trip from Cochin to Bangalore had to be done via Trivandrum due to lack of direct tickets at affordable prices. The original routing was:
12APR AI048 COK TRV 2200 2250 Y A321
13APR 9W824 TRV BLR 0610 0715 Y B738

[Read about the COK TRV Flight here]

April 13, 2016:
The alarm shouted out aloud at 0330hrs - I had hardly slept the previous night (I had hit the bed only past midnight). I was somewhat disoriented when I woke up. As soon as I woke-up, I looked at the availability of cabs in the area, and found that they were available quite easily. I booked one as soon as I was good to go. It took sometime to check-out of the hotel. My cab came in by around 0430 - and the 6kms ride to the airport took hardly 10 minutes. I was at the crowded Terminal-2 at Trivandrum by 0440hrs - with about an hour and a half to go for departure of my flight. This flight of Jet Airways departs from the international terminal at Trivandrum (since the aircraft arrives from Muscat). I was inside the terminal in no time. The check-in counters were a bit confusing - there was a very long snaking line - and I had no clue which airline was this queue for - because there were a couple of international flights, an Air India (to Delhi) and my flight at the time.
Age old FIDS outside TRV.. 
Date of Journey: April 13, 2016
Flight No: 9W 824 || Seat: 11A
Aircraft type: Boeing B737-800 (WL) || Regn: VT-JBP
Sector: TRV-BLR
STD: 0610hrs, ATD: 0557hrs
STA: 0715hrs, ATA: 0655hrs

I saw a couple of counters of Jet Airways flashing "9W0824 Bengaluru Web Check-in". I walked straight to one of the counters - the agent quickly checked my ticket and my Id-proof before printing out a boarding pass for me (0445hrs). I moved next to the upper level for security check. Since this was an international terminal, one has to pass Immigrations - at this point, an officer checks the boarding pass and puts a "Domestic Passenger" seal on the boarding pass. After this, there was a round of check by a CISF Officer, then by a Jet Airways agent, followed by another CISF Officer! Then came security check - there wasn't too much of crowd (thankfully) - I cleared Security by 0455hrs (two layers of verification of boarding cards here as well). I was quite intrigued by the number of checks - absolute wastage of manpower verifying the same boarding pass thrice in a span of 50 metres!
The check-in counters..
My boarding pass..
The terminal.. 
The terminal - although has been made to look quite modern by the excessive use of ACP cladding - looked quite like a warehouse to me. It felt like I was in an attic - the roof was quite low, with ugly looking lights. I was quite shocked seeing a "lounge" - which was half a level above the terminal. The lighting inside the terminal was very poor as well. There were some recliners aligned along the airside (facing the terminal itself) - most of them were already occupied as well. I occupied a seat near my gate (#4). A couple of international flights were boarding - one to Kuwait and another to Sharjah. A boarding announcement was made at 0517hrs - since I was already seated near the gate, I was among the first to line up. We were made to wait for some time till the flight crew headed towards the aircraft. This particular gate was quite intriguing - it was marked as Gate 3/4. Gate 3 was being used for an international departure.

Once past the gate, one has to walk down two floors through a series of hospital resembling ramps. At the end of the first flight of ramps was Gate #3. Gate #4 was further down at ground level. Although passengers reached the actual gate at the ground floor, the agents weren't ready yet. Sometime later, buses appeared and the agent allowed passengers to get into the bus. We were bus'd at 0523, and we got to the aircraft by 0527hrs. I was inside the aircraft by 0530hrs. The aircraft was cleaned really well after its arrival from Muscat. Oh yeah! I was on board Bravo Papa (VT-JBP), a Boeing 737-800 (Winglet) delivered to Jet Airways in December 2009. Boarding was very slow - probably because we started boarding almost an hour before departure. Another fact was that boarding happened solely through the front door, and not through the both the portside doors. Boarding was completed at 0553hrs and doors armed at 0555hrs.
Boarding about to begin..
VT-JBF to take me to Bangalore..
Right before I stepped into JBF.. 
In the deck for this flight was Capt. Ranjith Mallya and First Office Prabhujeet Singh. Rupesh was the cabin supervisor. Reena was taking care of the zone that I was seated in. I must appreciate her for the warm service and the cute smiles she had all the time. We were pushed back at 0557hrs. Taxi commenced at 0601hrs. Trivandrum doesn't have a full-length taxiway - the aircraft taxis through the active runway. We went all the way to the turn-pad at the 32 end of the runway, reaching there by around 0605hrs. We took off from Rwy32 at 0606hrs. During the takeoff roll, I had an amazing sight - a surprise visitor on the domestic apron - the Airbus A320Neo LEAP Trials aircraft! D-AVVB! We climbed up very quick - giving an amazing view of the seashore as we climbed up. The seatbelt signs were turned off at 0612hrs. The food carts began rolling in no time. The cart for my zone arrived very soon. Reena asked each passenger what menu he wanted - instead of the routine, veg or non-veg, she asked if one wanted an omlette or a masala dosa! Quite a nice touch, I must say.
Climbing out of TRV...
The breakfast..
Unpacked.. Masala Dosa and Sambhar Vada
My choice was obvious - Masala Dosa. The serving was quite hot - but not overheated like my previous Jet Airways B738 experiences. Coming the meal - there was a small masala dosa, a serving of hot sambhar vada (medu vada dipped in sambhar), a chocolate brownie for dessert, the imli candy and a bottle of water along with plastic cutlery. The dosa was dry, but the masala (the filling) was soft, well-cooked and had the right amount of spices. The vada (fritters made of black lentil) was dipped in sambhar (lentil based stew) - it was soft and perfectly cooked. The brownie was nice - except that it was served in a plastic pouch instead of a cup - it made it difficult to eat. I enjoyed the breakfast. Tables were cleared a little later. I was expecting a round of hot beverages - but that did not happen. Landing announcements started off by 0640hrs - we were already over Hosur by now. I spotted the Hosur airstrip for the first time.
Somewhere during the cruise..
We were heading towards Rwy27 - a long round around the city to align to the ILS followed. We touched down on Rwy27 of Bangalore at 0651hrs. Unlike Rwy09, 27 doesn't have a rapid exit taxiway - so the aircraft runs almost till the 09 end and then exits the runway. We docked at a jetway stand by 0655hrs - a good 20 minutes before schedule. Of course, the crew did not forget to announce that they were before time. I was really excited to be before time, since I was heading to office, and every minute that I reach early is of great help. I was out of the aircraft by 0658 - it was really noteworthy that majority of the passengers alighted at Bangalore, and a substantial portion of those passengers were connecting to international flights (mainly to Abu Dhabi). As soon as I was out of the airport, my taxi arrived, and I could conveniently reach office well on time.
After alighting at BLR..
Check-in: 5/5 (Web Checked in. Counter was Q-U-I-C-K!)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Reena deserves special applause. Great service by all the crew members)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food - was filling as well)
Overall: 5/5
Tracking from FR24..
This was a great flight. Jet Airways put up a stellar show. The cabin crew were great. The aircraft was clean, well before time and an eventless flight. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Short hop to Trivandrum, en route to Bangalore: Air India 048.

April 12, 2016:
It was a fine evening. I was returning from the nearby city of Kochi to my hometown. Sometime on the way, a call from office lands on my phone. The ever familiar sound on the other end, asked me to report at office the very next day. The time was already around 1650hrs. I had originally planned to be at home for a long 10 days, but ended up having to return to work on the 6th day! Now this call came late in the evening, on a peak day. I poured over OTAs soon after reaching home - buses were not a possibility due to timings of buses that had free seats. With the recent cuts from Jet Airways, there were no flights either - there were two flights still open for bookings - and both selling at over 10K! I just then remembered the red-eye flight of IndiGo ex-TRV. This one had tickets that weren't too expensive - but I had another problem. There was hardly sufficient time to go home, change and head to office - and too much time if I were to head to office straight.

I looked at other options, and found that award tickets were available on Jet Airways 824 from Trivandrum to Bangalore for the next morning. This flight had perfect timings - I could head directly to office from the airport. Availability of award tickets was an icing on the cake. The next problem was to reach Trivandrum from my place - 240kms away! I looked at the possibility of taking a train - but reservations were closed, and the timings were a bit too close for comfort. I remembered the option of the late night Air India flight to Trivandrum - a quick check on their website revealed that tickets were available at the cheapest bracket!

I finally selected this routing:
AI048 COK TRV 2200 2250 Y A321
9W824 TRV BLR 0610 0715 Y B738

For some reason, I made the Air India booking on an OTA (I still wonder why did I do that), and the Jet Airways booking on the Jet Airways website (obviously). Tickets reached the mailbox in no time. I was confused what I should do at Trivandrum for the 7h40m I'd be spending in Trivandrum. I enquired if TRV Airport had a dormitory - I was told there isn't one. I decided to take a call after reaching Trivandrum. In the meantime, I headed to the Air India website to do a web-check-in. The process was quick, and I opted for #10A. It was a night flight, a very short one as well - really doesn't matter what seat I would be on.

My brother dropped me at the airport by 2103hrs - I was actually late for the 2200hrs departure, since Air India closes check-in an hour in advance for their "International" flights. Yeah! AI048 is an "international" connector, and hence arrives and departs from the International terminal. Entrance to the international terminal was crowded - chocked actually. There were some 7 departures from this terminal in the next couple of hours - and that included a Jumbo to Jeddah! With so many departures, there were a lot of people around - including a couple of big Umrah groups. The queue at the entrance was long - but it moved quick, very quick. There was another round of checks inside - I had to cut a long queue there to get inside quick.

Date of Journey: April 12, 2016
Flight No: AI 48 || Seat: 10A
Aircraft type: Airbus A321-211 || Regn: VT-PPN
Sector: COK-TRV
STD: 2200hrs, ATD: 2221hrs
STA: 2250hrs, ATA: 2310hrs
The boarding pass..
The check-in area.. it was really crowded..
I rushed to the Air India counter - which was, luckily, empty. My boarding pass came quick (2110hrs). I quickly checked if I needed to have a declaration form - they confirmed that I need not. I walked through the Green channel - the Immigration officials just verified that I had a boarding pass with a large "D" on it (meaning, I was flying Domestic). Security check was full of confusions - a large Umrah group had already reached there, and the queue was already super long. Maybe I was lucky, just as I was near, an additional scanning machine was switched on, and a couple of frisking lines added. I cleared security by 2117hrs and headed up to the security hold. The terminal looked amazing at night - but was too crowded now.
The gates... 
Gate #4 awaiting arrival of the aircraft..
My flight was to board from Gate #4, and I headed straight to the seating area of this gate. The terminal was really busy - a steady stream of arrivals and departures all the time. I loved watching a beautiful B744 of Saudia taxiing to the gate. The aircraft flying AI048 (this one is a Delhi-Kochi-Trivandrum flight) landed at 2140hrs, and docked at gate #4. The aircraft was Papa November (VT-PPN), an A321-211 delivered to Air India in June 2009. This was also my first flight in an A321. Deplaning commenced quite late - there seemed to be a lot of pax alighting at Kochi. The first pre-boarding call was made at 2143hrs. They all call passengers traveling on a particular flight to the seating area during this call - they scan the boarding cards at the terminal equipment, and keep the passengers in a small hold. I've seen this process only at this airport (I mean the international terminal of COK, alone).
VT-PPN docking at the gate..
Actual boarding commenced only at 2158hrs - with just two minutes to go for scheduled departure time. I was inside the aircraft by 2200hrs - two attendants gave a smiling welcome at the door. The aircraft seemed quite empty - there was only one passenger in Executive class, while there seemed to be less than a 100 pax in Economy class. The cabin was quite hot as well. It seemed like the air-conditioning wasn't working as well. Sometime later, and external unit was attached - some cooling started after that. People were trickling in one by one. Boarding was finally completed at 2215hrs. The Crew to arm all doors and cross check call came by 2218hrs. We were pushed back at 2221hrs. The cabin got hot as the external air-conditioner was disconnected.
Inside the aircraft. The PTVs showed only a live map through the flight.
The welcome announcements started flowing. In the deck was Capt R Bhandary, and the cabin crew in-charge was Amit. The cabin got cool soon after the engine spooled up. We commenced taxi at 2226hrs and headed towards Rwy27. It started raining as we entered the taxiway. The long taxi was quite slow, however. We passed the runway holding point C5 at 2233hrs, and turned directly on to the active runway. We were finally airborne at 2235hrs. We climbed to the west before turning south, towards Trivandrum. This was my first flight to the south. It rained quite heavy as we climbed. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 2239hrs. The crew disappeared to the galley as soon as the seatbelt signs were switched off - they returned only when the seatbelt sign was switched on again.
Soon after take-off..
We were cruising at FL190. There was nothing special or noteworthy through the flight. The seatbelt sign was turned on at 2253hrs, followed by the landing calls from the deck. We were now passing over Trivandrum city, towards the south. We then flew over the seas to turn around and align to ILS. We finally touched down on Rwy32 at 2304hrs, and exited via D to reach the stand (#25) at 2308hrs. The engine remained on for quite some time - the captain came on the PA system and informed that the delay to switch off engine was due to some technical delay related to ground equipment. The engine was finally switched off at 2310hrs. Deplaning commenced at 2313hrs. I was out of the aircraft by 2315hrs. The immigration and customs staff were present - but did not check any passengers, since this was the only arrival at that time. I was out of the airport by 2320hrs. Flagged down an auto to get to the city centre and checked into a hotel room.
A fairly empty terminal building...
Trivandrum International Terminal.. aka Terminal-2
Check-in: 5/5 (Web Checked in. Counter was Q-U-I-C-K!)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Slightly delayed at both ends)
Crew: 1/5 (They were hardly around! 1 for the smile while boarding)
Catering: Does not apply! Not even a bottle of water was served.
Overall: 4/5
The flight tracking from FR24..
This was a quick (49 minute) flight inside the state of Kerala, on the national carrier! The flight performed its basic function - took me from point A to point B. There was no element of service involved - just the safety demo, and ensuring that the cabin was ready for landing. It was a really short flight, but they could've at least served water. Overall an incident free flight. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Red. Hot. Spicy. Hop from Bangalore to Kochi: Part 2 [Chennai to Kochi on SG3263]

March 07, 2016:

The elevator travelled two floors very quick, and dropped me on the second floor, which is the departures hall. [Read Part-1 here] I landed right next to the SpiceJet counters. I did not have to go to the SpiceJet counter again - just walked past and headed to another round of security check. I cleared security by 0901hrs and just kept wandering around the terminal for sometime. For some reason, there seemed to be a lot of delays - the gates resembled a government bus station. All seats were filled, and a lot of people were squatting on the floor. I just walked around for some more time, and then decided to head to my gate - #G14 on the ground floor. While walking towards the gate, a flashing word on the FIDS attracted my attention - that was the word "Delayed". And, the flight was mine! It showed that my flight (SG3263) was rescheduled to 1040hrs - a 40 minute delay.
The domestic departure at Chennai..
FIDS near the escalator that would take me to my gate - #G14
The boarding pass..
I had a lot of time to spend now! I found out an empty seat a little away from the gate and settled down. For some reason, neither the airport WiFi, nor my mobile data connection worked at the place. A lot of flights were getting rescheduled - Madurai, Tuticorin, Hyderabad, etc. With nothing to do, I tried editing some pics on my laptop to pass time. I ended up even having some snacks from an outlet nearby - eating is a great way to spend time, you see! Sometime later, the flight was further rescheduled to depart at 1100hrs - "technical reasons" were cited for the delay. Passengers seemed to get restless quickly.

Date of Journey: April 07, 2016
Flight No: SG 3263 || Seat: 19D
Aircraft type: Bombardier Dash Q-400 || Regn: VT-SUJ "Dalchini"
Sector: MAA-COK
STD: 1000hrs, ATD: 1103hrs
STA: 1120hrs, ATA: 1225hrs
Boarding commencing..
Sometime around 1025hrs, agents at the gate hang a board "Now Boarding - Kochi" and loudly call out for Kochi bound passengers. I was among the first to join the boarding queue - I was bored to the core sitting there. The first bus with passengers left the terminal a little past 1030hrs. We reached the aircraft by around 1037hrs. All the while, I had only one wish - let it be a new registration. And, my wish was granted - VT-SUJ was taking me to Kochi. Boarding commenced immediately, and I was at my seat (#19D) by 1040hrs. Boarding was completed by 1044hrs. There was some technical delay, which delayed our pushback for quite some time. The door was armed only at 1056hrs. Soon after the door was armed, the welcome announcements and safety demonstration commenced. In the deck was Capt Samanjeet Kaur (the same person who flew in on SG3302 as a passenger) and Capt Mohan Krishnan. Puneet and Priyanka took care of the cabin. We hadn't been pushed back even as the safety demo was completed.
Getting into Dalchini, VT-SUJ..
Lifting off from Chennai..
Flying over the seas.. 
We were finally pushed back at 1103hrs. The entire aircraft shivered as the PW150As came to life. We started taxi at 1106hrs. We entered the primary runway directly from the apron, and headed towards the secondary runway through a series of taxiways. We reached the holding point of Rwy12 by 1112hrs. We had to wait for an IndiGo A320 to land. We moved on to the active runway by 1114hrs. We took off from Rwy12 at 1116hrs. We climbed straight to sea, and turned around very soon. The seatbelt sign was turned off by around 1123hrs. The on board service commenced immediately. Unlike my earlier segment, no preference was given to passengers with prebooked meals - they were served only as the cart reached them. I had prebooked a Grilled Vegetable Club Sandwich in Marble Bread with Beverages. I was given a rather wide variety of options for beverages - I picked a Tropicana Apple Juice.
The meal - Sandwich and Juice
Somewhere during the flight..
My boarding passes, with the SpiceJet on board menu - Bistro
The sandwich was good - the filling was an assortment of grated vegetables in mayonnaise sauce. The bread was soft and at the right temperature. I love this sandwich compared to the routine Tomato-Cucumber salad that SpiceJet serves - its a different thing that both of them are far superior to what another low cost airline serves. The seatbelt sign was back on at 1208hrs. This was followed by a series of announcements - both from the cabin crew and the flight deck. We finally touched down on Rwy27 of Cochin airport by 1223hrs and docked at Stand #7 by 1225hrs. The same aircraft has to work an international sector (Male) from Cochin - and the aircraft was already delayed - about 10 minutes left for departure. The crew hurried a bit with deplaning - I was out of the aircraft by 1230hrs. A tarmac coach took us to the terminal - which was right opposite where the aircraft parked. I was out of the airport by 1233hrs.
Preparing to land... 
Check-in: Not Applicable
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 3.5/5 (Over an hour late at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Nothing to complaint)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food!)
Overall: 3.5/5

A back-to-back experience on the Q400, operated by the same operator. Unlike the earlier flight, this one was noisy and full of vibrations. The meal service was not on priority either. As with my earlier Q400 flights, the taxi, on this one too, was very very bouncy. The touch down in a Q400 is an experience of its own - the fun of watching the wheels come in contact with the runway and the smokes. There wasn't much to complaint about the flight as such - except the delay. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Red. Hot. Spicy. Hop from Bangalore to Kochi: Part 1 [Bangalore to Chennai on SG3301]

My usual pass time.. hunting for tickets to go home (where else!)..This time, however, the trip was absolutely not planned. I had an inclination to go home, but return tickets weren't available and I kept dilly-dallying on my decision. All it took was an email - a brochure of a seminar happening at a town near my hometown - and my teacher was organizing it! I was surely inclined to make it to the seminar, and did the required paperwork quickly. Getting tickets was the next problem. I looked at a variety of options. Since the program starts in the morning, and I had to get home, change and drive down to the venue, I had to be home really early. It dawned to be me later that I was looking for tickets for a day before Ugadi, the Karnataka New Year - and beginning of a long weekend for techie's Bangalore! I understood it would be futile to look for tickets in the evening, and began looking for tickets in the morning. I finally found the cheapest flight to be a SpiceJet one stop flight! My final itinerary look like this:

SG3302 BLR MAA 0720 0825 Y Q400
SG3263 MAA COK 1000 1120 Y Q400

This was a booking I had fancied long time ago - this booking was not made because I wanted to try this, but was forced to select this because it was the cheapest! All said, I surely was excited. Since the flight leaves early, I had to arrange a cab to get to the airport - my usual public transportation ride wouldn't work. Airport taxis are a big business in Bangalore - a plethora of options threw up on a simple google search. I evaluated all the options and decided to try KSTDC - or Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation,which is an authorised Airport Taxi operator. A cab was booked online - the confirmation call came in minutes, followed by a confirmation message. Details of the driver came in the previous night, followed by a call from the driver confirming the pick-up point and timing.
The terminal was quite empty...
March 07, 2016
I reached home from office a couple of minutes past midnight. I hardly had time to sleep - the cab would arrive at 0430hrs. I caught up with a few hours of sleep before getting ready and leaving home. The cab had over 4.6 Lakh kms on its odometer, and did not show any signs of ageing! The driver appeared a bit tired - he drove slow and I was happy he did not overspeed. I am always worried while traveling on the airport road in a cab - its a routine accident spot. The cab reached airport by around 0550hrs - a slightly longer ride for the time, but absolutely worry free.

Date of Journey: April 07, 2016
Flight No: SG 3302 || Seat: 7D
Aircraft type: Bombardier Dash Q-400 || Regn: VT-SUF "Kesar"
Sector: BLR-MAA
STD: 0720hrs, ATD: 0732hrs
STA: 0825hrs, ATA: 0842hrs

The terminal wasn't very crowded, although it was the beginning of a long weekend. The SpiceJet counters were terribly overcrowded though. Although my ticket had a Priority Check-in service listed, there was no counter for priority check-in. All passengers were asked to join the regular check-in queue. The queue moved very slowly and I finally got my boarding pass(es) by 0605hrs. I was handed over two boarding passes - one for the BLR-Chennai leg, and another for the Chennai-Kochi leg. Security check was a mess. Queues were long, disordered and slow. People jumped queues as they wished. The security staff ensured they stopped people whom they saw jumping queues. I could clear security only by 0625hrs.
Check in counters...
The Boarding pass..
Once past security, I headed to my favorite spot - the seating near Gate #1. I decided to wait till the aircraft for my flight came in from Chennai. FR24 had already updated that VT-SUF would fly me to Chennai. Sierra Uniform Foxtrot landed at 0705hrs. Soon after she landed, I headed towards my boarding gate. It was 0707, and boarding had already been called. I joined the boarding queue immediately. I got into the bus at around 0715 - I was among the last to get into that bus, and the bus got moving immediately. Along with the passengers was a lady captain (Capt Samanjeet Kaur) in uniform. She traveled in the same flight as a passenger to Chennai. We were made to wait near the aircraft for sometime, since passengers from the earlier bus were still boarding.
VT-SUF coming in to the apron.. 
Boarding in progress..
Final Call message flashing.. 
Face off with VT-SUF.. Pax from earlier bus still boarding..
Getting into VT-SUF Kesar.. 
VT-SUF, (cn: 4382) delivered to SpiceJet in October 2011, was named "Kesar". Boarding started a few minutes after we reached. I was inside the aircraft by 0725hrs. As usual, I was among the last to get on board. Boarding was completed by 0726hrs. Refueling was in progress as I took to my seat. Next to us was VT-SUK heading to Mangalore. Doors were armed at 0732hrs and we were pushed back at 0733hrs. In the deck were Capt Prabhat and Capt Rohit Singh. In the cabin were Reempi, Bipasha and Afzal (a trainee). The aircraft had a few empty seats here and there. We commenced taxi at 0737, and headed straight towards Rwy27 end. We did not have to hold, and had a rolling take off. We took off at 0742hrs.
Just before boarding.. baggage loading was already completed..
Just before pushback.. thats a sister ship around 
We climbed west before turning around and finally heading East towards Chennai. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 0747hrs. The buy-on-board serviced commenced immediately, and as promised, passengers with pre-booked meals were served first. I had ordered for a Paneer Tikka Sub in Multi Grain Bread. My meal was served quickly. The sub was delicious - had chunks of soft and succulent Paneer (cottage cheese) in every bite, and the baguette was very soft as well. I asked for a serving of water as well. Sometime around 0800hrs, the captain came on the PA and announced some details about the flight. He gave out details like our cruise altitude (FL210) and added that we would be landing on Rwy25. I was quite excited since we'd be making an approach from the seas.
The Paneer Tikka Sub.. 
The sub.. 
On the finals over Marina Beach.. 
We had already commenced descent. The seatbelt signs were back on at 0820hrs. We overflew Chennai and headed straight over the sea. While we were still flying East, I could spot a couple of aircrafts on their finals. This was the first time I was on this approach - and I surely was enjoying it. I was busy identifying landmarks as we came closed to land. We finally touched down on Rwy25 at 0838hrs. We docked at a remote stand at 0842hrs. I got off the aircraft at 0844hrs, and we were bus'd to the terminal by 0848hrs. I directly headed towards the elevator that would drop me at the departures level. It was a long walk to the elevator which was located at the other end of the terminal building. [Continued in the next part].

Check-in: 2.5/5 (Long queues, denied priority boarding)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Slightly delayed at either ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Nothing to complaint)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food!)
Overall: 3.5/5

This was my third flight in a Q400. Unlike my previous flights, I felt the cooling was really good in this one. There was a foot facing air vent which ensured that the cabin cooled really fast. The aircraft was very silent - this was the first time I flew in a row ahead of the engine. The crew were great, as usual. The meal was amazing as well. Overall a great flight.