Sunday, November 27, 2016

Smart Flight: Pune to Bengaluru by GoAir 242

I was terribly confused and disordered as I sat down to book tickets for my trip to Mumbai. I was to spend two days in Mumbai, catching up with old friends. I was confused between flying back straight from Mumbai or add up Pune to the trip. I had to catch up with some friends at Pune as well. My decision became clearer after checking fares on some OTAs. Fares out of Pune was much cheaper than similar timed flights from Mumbai - and the difference was quite substantial as well. I opted for an evening flight out of Pune, and finally decided to fly Smart on Go Air 242. 

November 20, 2016:
I reached Pune station by around 1330hrs by bus from Navi Mumbai (read about that here). After a get-together with friends, I took a Uber to the airport reaching there well before the scheduled departure time of my flight. The airport wasn't very crowded, and I managed to get an empty seat near the food court. I remained outside till it was 1620hrs. I entered the terminal building by about 1622hrs - three minutes to go for counter opening time. This was my first visit to this particular terminal, which handles Go Air and AirAsia. The terminal was quite small - and had hardly any pre-security waiting facility. Baggage screening wasn't open yet and had to wait for a while - there were hardly 10 seats to wait. I got my bag scanned by 1641hrs and joined the check-in queue - there were hardly anyone for check-in. I got my boarding pass by 1643hrs. I hadn't web checked in - I requested for a window seat, and the check-in agent allotted me #7A, a premium seat in the forward section.
The boarding pass..
By now, I received a message, that read: Dear Smart Flyer! GoAir would like to inform you that your flight G8-242 on 20Nov'16 from PNQ to BLR has been rescheduled to depart PNQ at 19:15 hrs and arrive BLR at 20:40 hrs. Oh! A 50 minute delay already! 

I was too tired and badly wanted to rest. Security check was just waking up from a slumber - I was the second person to pass through security check, and I got to the security hold by 1645hrs. I had to kill no less than two hours now. The apron was active - not very busy though. I remained glued to FR24 for most of the time. I dozed off for some time - was really exhaused by the journey, the heat and the lack of sleep. Thankfully, the terminal I was seated at was quite vacant - there were just two flights scheduled from the terminal then. One was mine, and another by AirAsia, to Bangalore. 

Date of Journey: November 20, 2016
Airline: Go Air
Flight No: G8-242 || Seat: 7A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-214 (WL) || Regn: VT-GOM
Sector: PNQ-BLR
STD: 1835hrs (Rescheduled to 1915), ATD: 1919hrs
STA: 2000hrs (Rescheduled to 2040), ATA: 2043hrs

The terminal had two contact gates and two remote gates - although called "remote" gates, there was no bus boarding. The aircraft, VT-GOM, to work my flight arrived at 1850hrs from Bengaluru. Golf Oscar Mike, an Airbus A320-214(WL) with cn:5552 was delivered to Go Air in April 2014. Boarding was called at 1856hrs - and by now a very long line had already formed. I ran into another known person while waiting there - who was flying to Bengaluru on AirAsia. I joined the boarding queue towards its tail end. I got inside the aircraft by 1908hrs. Boarding was a little slow, and was completed by 1912hrs. Welcome announcements were made and the cabin was being prepared for departure. Doors were armed by 1919hrs and we were pushed back at 1920hrs. 

In the deck were Capt Riyaz Bohariwala (who made the welcome announcement himself) and first officer Labh Pandey. Taxi commenced at 1924, and it was a long taxi to the holding point of Runway 28. We reached there by 1930hrs. We had hold for a minute for an Airbus A320 of Vistara to land. We entered the active runway a few seconds past 1931hrs and finally took off at 1933hrs. I was very tired and wanted to doze off for a while. I had prebooked a meal, and decided to hold on till the meal was served. The seatbelt sign was switched off by 1938hrs. Trolleys were out soon after the seatbelt sign was turned off. The service was quite friendly and swift - the FAs encouraged passengers to buy something on board. I got my meal soon after the service had booked - I had pre-booked a Veg Sub and a beverage. The FA handed out a packet of Lays along with the prebooked meal as well. 
The meal.. 
The sub, Angara Paneer in Corn meal sub, was quite tasty. The sub was a little dry, but the filling was wholesome. It had plenty of paneer - enough for every bite! I loved every bit of the sub. I finished it quick, and decided to doze for a while. Thankfully, there was a cabin clearance shortly afterwards - I locked the tray-table and dozed off for a while. The seatbelt sign was turned on again at 2018hrs - I was half asleep as the landing announcements were made. I slept for some more time, and woke up just as the aircraft was on its short finals. We finally touched down at 2040hrs on Runway 09. We docked at bay #13 by 2043hrs. I remained seated while the others battled out to get out of the aircraft first. I got off the aircraft by 2048hrs. I received by bag by 2056hrs, rushed out to get a cab and head home. 

Check-in: 5/5 (Great check-in experience)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 3.5/5 (Delayed)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 4.75/5 (Good food)
Overall: 4/5 (I really enjoyed this one)
Flight tracking from FR24
Another no-nonsense flight with Go Air. This was my second flight on VT-GOM, and my fourth flight with Go Air. The flight was delayed - the rescheduling, although intimated, was informed quite late. It was perhaps a last minute technical issue that forced them to reschedule the flight. The crew were great. The aircraft was clean and the food was great. I was too tired and felt sick - and I couldn't enjoy the trip a lot. Overall, a good experience. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Shivneri: Navi Mumbai to Pune!

Hours after landing in Mumbai, I was standing outside a dilapidated office that had rusting mesh seperating the outside world with itself. That was an MSRTC Reservation counter at Vashi Bus Station, in Navi Mumbai. The MSRTC officer sitting at the counter was quite baffled when I went and asked for a ticket to Pune. He looked quite confused - and mumbled something that I couldn't understand. There was one more guy sitting inside the counter - he quickly said, we haven't been able to sell a single ticket today. The internet was down. Let's see if it works for you. My heart sank. The heart beats became faster and louder. The guy at the counter played around on his system - finally the login page opened, and he entered the required details. He gave an ear-to-ear smile and said "Sir, you are very lucky!"

He gave out a Reservation Request form and a pen to fill it. I wrote down my details and returned it. The system acted up, and he had to re-log in to the system. I was still quite confused and worried - will I make it? Sometime later, the guy was successful, and he managed to reach the seat selection section. I asked for a window seat - and he booked one. He repeated the details to me - "November 20, Sunday. Shivneri. Morning 10am from Dadar, going to Pune, via Aundh. Vashi pickup. Seat number 16". That was correct. "Rupees 396". I pulled out a now-demonetised Rs. 500 currency note. He asked, "change nahi hai kya" (Don't you have change?). I said no - I had all of Rs. 200 with me. With the demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes, majority of the Indians were left with hardly any cash in their pockets, back then. He searched his cash stack - and then accepted the note I gave, and returned change. He also handed out my ticket.
The ticket
November 20, 2016:
I was too lazy to get off the bed - I hadn't slept properly the last night. Some food item I had taken the previous night had upset my stomach. I took a very light breakfast from a restaurant nearby and headed out towards the nearest autorickshaw stand. An autorickshaw from there dropped me at CBD Belapur highway bus stop. I was to board my bus to Pune from Vashi - and since the pick-up point was Vashi Highway bus stop, I decided to take an MSRTC bus from Belapur to Vashi, which would drop me at Vashi Highway bus stop. No MSRTC buses towards Vashi turned up for quite a while - it left me a little scared and worried. I checked my back-up points - the app based taxis. Availability was a little poor - but wasn't bad. An MSRTC bus turned up sometime around 0955. The ride to Vashi, through the highway generally doesn't take more than 15 minutes - and MSRTC drivers are known to be fast as well. This driver was no different, and he dropped me at Vashi highway by around 1010hrs. The pick-up time of my Shivneri bus was 1027hrs - I still had ample time to go.

I headed to the controller's office and enquired about my bus - he looked at the ticket and said, "Bus tho ab dadar se nikla hoga" (The bus would've started from Dadar now). Thankfully, MSRTC had set up a shelter and arranged some benches for waiting passengers. There was a steady stream of departures all the time - and there seemed to be a lot of travellers as well. The first Shivneri bus to turn up after I reached there happened to be mine - the bus arrived at 1028hrs - a minute behind the advertised time! That was good - but all that due to the fact that it was a Sunday morning! The controller signalled me to get in - one more Shivneri arrived at the same time - and he had crossed checked before calling me. The driver cross-checked my seat time, and made an indication on his reservation chart before letting me in.
The bus: MH-06-S-9369, captured the previous evening
My bus, MH-06-S-9369, of Pune Shivajinagar depot started off from Vashi at 1030hrs. The was had just over 50% occupancy - appeared normal for a Sunday since no effort was made to fill those empty seats. The driver was fast from the word go. Another passenger was occupying my seat - who did not really take it kind when I indicated that he was occupying my seat - he mumbled something and left out some grunts as he changed his seat. I settled at my seat and remained glue to the world outside. First impressions weren't good - the interiors were quite dirty and dusty. Seat back magazine holders were damaged. The curtains were good - they had used a thicker handloom variety instead of the thin ones that come from Volvo. Oh yeah - I was on board a Volvo B7R.

We had another pick-up at Nerul (1035hrs). We took the flyover at Konkan Bhavan aka CBD Belapur, made a brief stop at Kharghar (1044hrs) and then hit the expressway. This was the portion I was eager about - I wanted to ride on the expressway in a Shivneri. The driver was very stable - no frequent lane changes, and absolutely no races. He remained in the middle lane for most of the time, and my phone consistently recorded speeds of 85kmph all the time. There was a traffic slowdown just before Lonavla - narrow road under one of the bridges was the reason. Traffic on the expressway seemed to be on the higher side, perhaps due to the freeze on toll collection on highways. The bus exited the expressway near Lonavla and pulled into a small food joint - at 1145hrs. The place had only MSRTC buses - all the types, including one of those rare Ashwamedhas (Volvo Multi-axle bus).
The bus @ Lonavla
I just roamed around for sometime - purchased some chikkis (jaggery based sweets usually made with peanuts or similar dry-fruits), used the washroom and clicked pictures. My bus started off exactly at 1200hrs - a 15 minute break, exactly. I decided to use the wifi based entertainment system that was available in the bus - I selected a bollywood movie. However, for some reason, the system didn't work flawlessly like it did last time - the movie got stuck multiple times, the entire system shut down once. The first stop to drop passengers was at Bhumkar Chowk - at 1236hrs. The bus kept stopping everynow and then to drop passengers after that - Wakad Chowk (1236hrs), Sanghvi Phata (1252hrs), Breman Chowk (1255hrs), University (1305hrs) and finally, Shivajinagar (1310hrs). By now the bus was more-or-less empty - hardly 5-6 passengers left now. The bus finally pulled into Pune Station bus station at 1323hrs - 2 hours and 53 minutes after I started from Vashi.

Remarks: The bus, MH-06-S-9369, of Pune, Shivajinagar depot had clocked about 3.02 lakh kms. The bus appeared mechanically in good shape - no rattles were heard from the bus, except those from passenger baggage. The interiors were dirty - dusty, and probably not cleaned for some time. The magazine holders behind seats were broken. The exteriors were dirty as well. Driving was amazing - not a single rash move. Perfect stability on the highway. Overall, a great trip - a re-run of my first Shivneri trip, probably.

Blanket: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Did not check if it worked.
Entertainment: Available - WiFi based.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 3/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Pros: Reliable, Punctual, Lots of options, Frequent services
Cons: Fares are high, poor cleanliness

Will I take this service again? They are the best option if you wish to travel from Mumbai to Pune. They may be a little expensive compared to private operators, but they are punctual and worth the money.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Maharaja to Mumbai! AI604 BLR to BOM

It was time to plan another trip to Mumbai - been planning a trip since a very long time. A friends get together and a whole lot of busfanning was on the cards. I was a bit choosy when I went about searching for flights. I was confused about the day of my flight as well - I wanted to be in Mumbai on Saturday, after a bit of searching around, I decided to fly on Friday, instead. I wanted to try my luck flying the new Airbus 320neo - but then the choices were very confusing. A lot of research went into identifying rotations that regularly got the Neo. Pricing sent my choices into a complete tizzy. I found a better price on Air India - just a hundred rupees or so more than Indigo, which had the new Neos on the sector. After some thinking around, I decided to dive in, and book the Air India. This would also happen to be my longest flight on the A321, plus a flight on the Maharaja!

November 18, 2016:
I got up much after I had originally planned to, and ended up being a little late to get ready. As I got ready, I fired up a couple of cab-hailing apps and took stock of the situation. I confirmed the booking with Uber and left home. The cabbie arrived as I reached the gate of my apartment. The driver was a bit sleepy - he seemed to have been sleeping when he got my booking. He started off from my place around 0610hrs - he was slow at the beginning, then picked up pace, but not fast or rash. Roads were quite deserted - traffic builds up past 8am in Bengaluru, and its hell right after that time. The Uber app acted up enroute and resulted in a short delay since the driver stopped, had to sign out of the app, sign in again and so on. I was dropped at the airport by about 0712hrs.

The terminal entry points weren't very crowded, but there were queues at all entry points. I joined the check-in queue by 0714hrs. Like my last time (in April 2016), Air India check-in counters were quite crowded this time too. The queue moved quite slowly - perhaps, since only 4 counters were open for economy class. They kept calling out passengers for flights that were closing before my flight - those were Agatti/Kochi, and Hyderabad/Pune. As my turn came, I was signalled to use the Executive class counter for check-in - a good way of crowd management, I must say. I've always felt AI-SATS ground staff are quite efficient in their job. I got my boarding card by 0725 - the agent at the counter informed me of where my boarding gate was, and which way should I head.
My boarding card - note, it reads "Executive Class", while I was actually in Economy. 
Although I had originally selected seat #5A during booking, the seat preference got reset, and I had opted for #11A during web check-in. My flight was to board from gate #16 - the last contact stand for domestic departures. Security was a mess - the queues were too long, looked confused and competed with snails in terms of speed. I finally cleared security by 0743hrs and walked into security hold. I was a bit confused if I should grab something to eat or wait for Air India's breakfast! I also wanted to try the Above Ground Lounge, but there was hardly any time. A quick look at FlightRadar24 revealed that my aircraft was already inbound.
VT-PPU arriving at the gate..
Date of Journey: November 18, 2016
Airline: Air India
Flight No: AI604 || Seat: 11A
Aircraft type: Airbus A321-211 || Regn: VT-PPU
Sector: BLR-BOM
STD: 0850hrs, ATD: 0848hrs
STA: 1030hrs, ATA: 1037hrs
Delicious food getting in..
The inbound aircraft, VT-PPU - an Airbus A321-211 delivered to Air India in November 2009, came to the gate by 0800hrs. I was feeling a bit hungry by then, and decided to grab something to have quickly, and headed to a nearby restaurant. While having my breakfast, the BLR Airport app (the airport's official app) alerted me that boarding had commenced. I quickly finished by breakfast and rushed to the gate, which was a little away from where I was. The queue at the gate wasn't very long and I joined the queue. A zone-wise boarding was implemented, and hence boarding was quite orderly. I was inside the aircraft by about 0821hrs - almost 30 minutes to go for departure. Boarding was quite slow, and was done by 0846hrs. The doors were armed by 0847hrs and we were pushed back at 0848hrs.
Gate #16 @ BLR
In the deck was Capt Prakash Kotekar, and Ms Pamela was the cabin crew incharge. The cabin crew were largely male. Safety demonstration began soon after pushback, and was quite hurried through. We started taxi at 0853hrs - we had a long taxi to the holding point of Rwy09. We had to hold on for sometime for another Air India A321 to touch down. We entered the active runway at 0901, and powered down the runway for the take-off roll. We were airborne at 0902hrs.  We climbed out fast, to the east, before setting a North-west direction. The seatbelt signs were turned off at 0907hrs - this was followed by an announcement was breakfast would be served shortly.
Holding short of Rwy09..
The meal trolleys rolled out in no time - the sight of the trolleys made me quite hungry. I had noticed that meals were loaded from Taj-SATS trucks - so delicious food on the way! The FAs seemed quite confused - they were serving in a very jumbled up way. The FA at my row gave out two options - Veg or Egg. My choice was obvious - the Veg tray was handed over. The tray had an aluminum foil container with a "VEG BRF" sticker on it, a bottle of water, a small container with tomato based chutney, a butter chiplet, a small serving of mixed fruit jam, assorted fruits, a bun, stainless steel cutlery and a cup for hot beverages that would follow. The unique imli candy was present as well. The container had a small service of Pongal and a couple of Idlis dipped in Sambhar. The Pongal, technically called Venn Pongal (or White Pongal) or Khara Pongal (salty pongal), is a preparation made of rice and green gram, and is typically served for breakfast in Tamilnadu, was quite dry and tasted bland - but the chutney was a good addition to it.
The breakfast spread!
The Idly (steamed cakes made of a fermented black lentils and rice batter) was perfectly cook, but the Sambhar (lentil based stew) had all dried up, and the re-heating on board perhaps worsened it, and all that was left was a lentil cream. But what was left, tasted really good. The fruit platter contained once slice each of Watermelon, Muskmelon and Papaya, and one grape. The bun was not very soft, not very dry. I finished my breakfast quite fast - the overall taste was great. So was the quantity. I waited for the hot beverage service - I opted for coffee, which came first as well. That was perhaps the best coffee I've had in a flight. Great meal on this flight - but give a full 5 on 5 for that.
Spending time...
In the meantime, we had already entered Maharashta, and were flying around Mahabaleshwar. A quick look my phone confirmed that we were probably lining up to land from the West - which would be a first for me, since all the landings I've had in Mumbai were approached from the east. Soon we flew past the Western coast of India, and we were heading to the Arabian sea. We flew to the sea for sometime before turning around and lining up with the ILS approach. I became excited as we approached the land - buildings became visible in the horizon long before the shore became visible - we flew past Juhu beach, then the almost defunct Juhu airport and finally touched down on Rwy09 at 1028hrs. Landing on Rwy09 meant we exited directly to the apron on T2 - this reduced the taxi time. We had to hold on for some time on the apron due to a lot of aircraft movements on the domestic side of T2. We finally docked at a contact stand by 1037hrs.
Overflying Juhu beach..
Heading to baggage reclaim @ BOM T2
I was quite excited about my second visit to Mumbai's T2, aka Terminal 2. I was out of the aircraft by 1043hrs - I was super excited about the terminal. I liked the place last time as well - but this time, it was a very very long walk to the baggage reclaim area. But the walk let me click some pics of my aircraft as well. The baggage took a lot of time to be delivered - I got my bag by around 1059hrs, and got out of the airport by 1101hrs. Being a public-transport fanatic, I walked straight to the city bus pick-up point, and took a bus to Powai, from where I changed over to another bus to head to Navi Mumbai.
Baggage reclaim..
Check-in: 5/5 (Did Online Check-in. Good counter experience)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 4.5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 5/5 (Great food)
Overall: 4.85/5 (I really enjoyed this one)
Screen-grab of the flight from FR24
The Maharaja stood to his reputation. A great flight with Air India. Clean aircraft, awesome leg room, amazing food and a great service from the crew. The chief of cabin crew appeared a little bossy with her colleagues - but she smiled while speaking to passengers and remained in the economy section for most of the time. Overall a great flight with Air India. Way to go Maharaja!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The craziness called busfanning!

Craziness comes in different forms and in varying intensities. Busfanning is perhaps among the most severe forms of craziness. Busfanning is perhaps more intense than say Railfanning or Planespotting. To be technically speak, the last two are almost illegal owing to aged pre-independence era rules that we still follow.

Buses are the most common form of public transportation in most parts of the country. Right from my childhood, I watched them with awe and always loved traveling by them. As a kid, I've even fascinated driving those monsters. Sitting on the bonnet was always a thrilling experience as a kid - seeing the driver struggle out with the steering, slamming the gears and playing around with the accelerator.

Busfanning is all about craziness now. In the olden days, happiness was to travel in buses that one hasn't traveled in, before. I remember spotting a new Euro-2 bus during a routine working day, while in college. I traveled some distance only to travel by those new Euro-2 buses. The buses had a characteristic growling sound. Traveling long distance to unknown places just to experience the ride was the thing of those days.

Gone are the days. The fun of traveling is now replaced with the competition of clicking! Exclusive coverages, and I did it before you uploads! Gone are the days people were hooked to photo sharing websites like Picasa and FlickR to see new images from fellow busfans - its all about uploading to Facebook and counting likes now.

Let me list out some crazy things busfans do, to enjoy their hobby:

1. Wake up early in the morning, travel long and click!
Thats perhaps the craziest thing bus fans do. Wake up unearthly hours, travel distances - I mean, real distances, like over 50-60kms, head to open highways, and click! Quite often, there is no food or water. I don't think busfans would get up so early for anything else!

2. Go places!
I don't know how many people do this - but I do. Go places! See new buses, experience them. Every opportunity to travel is an opportunity to experience!

3. Wait, wait and wait!
Oh yeah! Wait for eternity to see that one bus you want to see! I know people who wait for hours only for that one bus! One often ends up spending hours under the hot sun - just for that one bus. Feels so heavenly, you see.

4. Spend Sundays on this!
Spend Sundays roaming around the city seeing all that they want!

5. Chase!
This takes the cake, perhaps. Spot the bus you want, chase it down, take pics the way you want. One often ends up traveling a whole lot of distance more than originally intended.

There are more. Spend on new photography equipment, create and run websites to show their photographs. The craziness has taken a whole new dimension now - its all about beating each other in clicking a bus first - the era of exclusives. The passion is long gone, and all that remains is the greed and bloated egos of self-superiority. How I wish busfanning remains a hobby - a hobby that got me a lot of friends. Thank you all.

I wanted to write more - but lost the steam that I had.