Saturday, January 21, 2017

The 'regional maharaja': Kochi to Bengaluru on the AI's ATR 72-600

This was a journey I planned at a very short notice. I hadn't booked any ticket, since I had no plan of going home that weekend, in fact, had no plan to go home anytime that month at all. Since I started looking for tickets quite late, most of the buses were sold out, and those that had tickets were priced quite high. Flights were not an option either. I was somehow not convinced about paying astronomical rates for a bus, and changed my plans to return on Monday. Out of curiosity, I casually checked if redemption tickets were available on Air India. Bingo! One last seat was available, and I grabbed it quickly.

Why did I look at Air India? Air India flies once daily from Bengaluru to Kochi and back, 6 times a week. The aircraft actually flies Bengaluru-Kochi-Agatti. This sector was flown using an ATR 42-320 earlier, and I had two flights on them earlier. Sometime in mid-December, the ATR42 was replaced with the new ATR 72-600. ATR76s are rare in India, and I did not want to miss an opportunity to fly them. To add to that, this would be my first time flying Air India from Kochi to Bengaluru as well.

January 16, 2017:
I left home after a heavy breakfast, walked down to the nearest bus stop, and took a bus towards the airport. Since there are no direct bus, I need to change 3 buses to get to the airport. For the last stretch, I briefly considered taking a cab, but the fare estimates were quite high for the short distance. A little after I began my wait, a bus to the airport arrived, and I took it to reach the airport. I was at the airport by 1200hrs. The entrance to the terminal was a little crowded - that was because there was a single cop checking tickets. Baggage scan was not yet switched on, and a there was a very short line there. The machine came live only at 1208hrs, and I got my bag scanned by 1209hrs.

Check-in was deserted, and I was done by 1211hrs. Web Check-in is not permitted for flights on Air India Regional, but I had pre-selected seat #2D during booking. I headed straight to security check, which seemed quite crowded. No less than three Indigo flights and two SpiceJet flights were to depart in the next hour or so. People thronged the first screening machine, and caused a long queue. I skipped the queue, and went to the machine inside, which was also working. Frisking booths were also crowded. I was done by 1217, and headed to the security hold, which was terribly crowded. But, my favorite seats near Gate #4 were empty, and I got my favorite seat, which has a power plug as well. I had some official work to do, and got busy with my work.

The incoming aircraft (coming in from Agati) was still outside FR24's coverage. The apron was quite busy - both international and domestic departures happened one after the other. I was quite preoccupied with work, and did not really notice the time. I picked up a sandwich from the nearby stall sometime around 1300hrs since I didn't want to have a heavy lunch. The incoming aircraft was yet to arrive, and we were sure to be delayed. The aircraft appeared on FR24 a little past 1310hrs - and it was still about 30 minutes away from Kochi. While I had no hopes of an on-time departure, I was a little worried if we'd be stuck in Kochi due to the runway closure, which starts at 1400hrs, and goes on till 1500hrs.

Date of Journey: January 16, 2017
Airline: Air India Regional
Flight No: 9I 506 (AI 9506) || Seat: 2D
Aircraft type: ATR 72-600 || MSN: 1246 || Regn: VT-AIU
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 1340hrs, ATD: 1412hrs
STA: 1505hrs, ATA: 1521hrs

The incoming aircraft touched down at 1346hrs. It was Air India Regional's ATR72-600, VT-AIU, cn:1246, delivered in May 2015 taking me back to Bengaluru. The first boarding call was made even before the passengers from the incoming sector got off the aircraft. A long line formed in no time, and I got into the tarmac coach by 1350hrs. They got the bus, a fairly new Tata Marcopolo Low floor AC coach, was dispatched as soon as the bus was half full. We got to the aircraft by 1354hrs, but we weren't allowed to get off the bus, since the aircraft was still being cleaned. There were a couple of passengers who came in from Agatti and continued to Bengaluru - they were waiting outside the aircraft was cleaning happened inside. The baggage handlers were busy re-arranging baggage that came in from Agatti - new baggage tags were being added on them as well.
My first flight with an ATR 72-600..
..was on VT-AIU
Boarding my first ATR 72-600, VT-AIU
Boarding finally commenced at 1403hrs, and I was inside in another minute. From the way they hurried with sending towards the aircraft, I guess this was done to escape the runway closure. Boarding was completed by 1410hrs, and doors were armed by 1412hrs. In command was Captain Dinesh singh - who spoke in a very Hindi accented english - in fact, this was perhaps the first time I heard the captain of an Air India flight addressing passengers - he came on the PA system a little after reaching cruising altitude, and apologized for the delay and thanked passengers for choosing to fly Air India. In the cabin were Ms. Vandana (the purser) and Ms. Darshna.

We were pushed back at 1413hrs. The cabin crew hurried with the safety demo soon after pushback. We commenced taxi by 1415hrs. We were to take off from Runway 09, and we did not head out to the holding point - instead exited through C2 on to the active runway by 1417hrs, and did a rolling take off. We were airborne by 1418hrs. It is quite rare to have take off from Runway 09 - we took off straight to the east, then turned north east and set course to Bengaluru. The seatbelt sign remained on for unsually long time, and the flight attendant called up the deck, after which the seatbelt signs were turned off (1426hrs). The food trolley came out in no time, and service commenced immediately. Small boxes with "Air India" printed on them were handed out to all passengers.
The "snack"
The box contained a small, really small, sandwich, and a tetrapak serving of Juice. A bottle of water was handed out seperately. The sandwich, although tasty, was really small to be called even a snack. It had one slice of bread, cut into two and stuffed with one single piece of tomato and a piece of cucumber. A slice of cheese was also kept inside. The serving grace was the juice - unlike the normal mixed fruit or orange, it was Mango this time. I washed down the entire thing with water. Air India's in-flight magazine, Shubh Yathra, makes for a good read every time. It was no different this time either. I spent the rest of the time reading the magazine, and the flight was uneventful.
My boarding pass..
I felt the overally NVH quality was better on the -600 than the -500s that I've been on earlier. The interiors were quite different - the overhead baggage bins had sliding shutters, the AC vent console had a completely fresh feel to it, and interior lighting appeared to be much better. Air India had opted for Recaro slimline seats with leather upholstery - the seats were very comfortable and had lots of leg room. The seat belt sign was back on at 1511hrs. We approached over Bengaluru city, flew all the way till Yelahanka airbase, before turning left and heading towards the approach path. The works on the second runway at Bengaluru airport seemed to be progressing really fast - most of the levelling work seemed to be complete. We finally touched down on Runway 09 of Bengaluru at 1518hrs. Quite unusually, the touch down was really smooth - the smoothest I've experienced in an ATR ever. We docked at stand #25 by 1521hrs. I was among the last passengers to deplane. The crew gave a nice smile as they wished Thanks to each passenger. The tarmac coach dropped us at the terminal by 1532hrs. Quite interestingly, my baggage reached just as I reached the belt, and I got my bag by 1535hrs, and I was out of the terminal in another 2 minutes.
The Hamilton 568F propellor blades on the Pratt & Whitney PW127M engine.. somewhere in cruise..
Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (No web-check-in. Counter was quick and no-nonsense)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Awesome)
Punctuality: 4.75/5 (15 Minutes delay at arrival, 32 minutes delay at departure)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 3.5/5 (It was inadequate. But the quality was great!)
Overall: 4.85/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one)
Tracking from FR24
Summary:
This was the first flight of 2017, and I was quite excited to start the year with the national carrier itself! The fact that this was my first flight in an ATR 72-600 and 15th flight in an ATR added to the excitement. This was the third flight on Air India Regional, and 10th flight in an Air India group aircraft. I really liked this flight - the crew were good, it was fairly on time and they ensured that the overall experience was great. The catering was something that let me down - I wouldn't really blame them since the entire catering is handled out of Bangalore, and this was the fourth sector served by the aircraft that day. Perhaps, they could load out of Cochin and ensure a slightly better snack is served, since the flight flies around lunch time.  I enjoyed this one, and think it was a great way to kickstart 2017.

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