Spice'd: Bengaluru to Kochi on the SpiceJet Boeing 738...

A normal Tuesday morning in office. I was catching up with mails after a first hour class. I generally do not read mails containing offer. But one mail caught my attention - the mail read "Go Cashless", and was related to bookings using SpiceCash on SpiceJet. The offer was related to some cashbacks, free vouchers, and a free meal for SpiceClub members who book during the offer period. I had no plans of going anywhere, but felt like testing the offer. I just remembered that SpiceJet was also selling tickets at promotional fares. I quickly made up my mind, and checked tickets to go home in February. I booked a ticket at a price lower than that of a bus ticket (weekend fares).

One of the freebies offered was cash back - which was immediately credited to my SpiceCash account. The next freebie was a free meal - for which I had to engage their customer care over a long period, and finally got my meal added to the booking. I am still behind the customer care to get the third freebie, which was a voucher for future travel. Sometime towards the end of January, I realised that my flight date coincided with Aero India show, which meant airspace closure multiple times over the day. And my flight timing coincided with the closure timing as well. Now, there is now way the flight could leave on time. I contacted customer care, who assured that the flight would fly as per schedule! I was now afraid they might cancel the flight, but hoped it only gets rescheduled.

In the meantime, I thought of adding a seat up front and opened the booking. I was quite surprised to see that the flight was upsized to a Boeing 737-800, from the rare Boeing 737-700. I was a little hopeful of being able to fly VT-SLB, one of the two 737-700s in the SpiceJet fleet - I had been on VT-SLA twice earlier, and did not want to repeat a registration. With the upscale to the 737-800, my chances of repeating a registration was less, but you never know. A few days before the flight comes the reschedule notification from SpiceJet. My flight was preponed, and would now depart over 2 hours before the original schedule. I didn't have a choice but accept the reschedule. I checked in online, two days before the flight.

February 17, 2017:
I was done with my work in office and decided to leave a little earlier than required. I fired up all the cab hailing apps, and hunted for cabs. I finally decided to Ola it to the airport. My Ola Select status gave me good discounts on Ola Prime and my booking was confirmed quickly. The driver took some shortcuts and saved a bit of time - but we got stuck in traffic near the Yelahanka Air Force base, where Aero India was held. A fairly big contingent of traffic cops were on the road, but the traffic was much higher than what the road could contain. I was finally dropped at departures by 1123hrs. The terminal entry points were quite deserted. After entering the terminal, I decided to check out the priority check-in service that was offered complimentary on my booking.
The Priority check-in queue - its blocked!
Although there was a board indicating a particular queue was meant for SpiceMax and Priority check-in passengers, but the queue was closed. I opened the line and walked in - but no "priority" was given. The check-in agent at the queue suggest I should've used the kiosk and saved time instead - and smilingly printed out a boarding pass for me. For me, nothing beats having a counter issued boarding pass. I got my boarding pass by 1130hrs and headed to security check. Security check was a mess - they had actually closed almost half the frisking booths and baggage scan lines, and there were a lot of first time fliers! Almost every other bag was pulled out for inspection, and every other flier was sent back to some or the other problem. People walked into the frisking booth holding their hand bags, or packed bags with bottles of water!

I was done with security check by 1147hrs, and rushed to the Above Ground Lounge to have my lunch. Although I had a prebooked meal mentioned on my boarding pass, I was too hungry to wait for the flight. In the past few days, this flight was mostly behind schedule as well - and, rightly, I did not want to take chances. AGL was unusually crowded. I managed to find a seat, with a charging point nearby as well! I hurried with my lunch as the clock ticked closer to 1220hrs, the scheduled boarding time. While munching my meal, I checked the status of the incoming aircraft on FR24, and realised that the bird was holding over the city since the Airspace was still closed! She landed well past 1215hrs. I did not want to take a risk, and rushed to the boarding gate (#6), which was located on the lower level.

Date of Journey: February 17, 2017
Airline: SpiceJet
Flight No: SG432 || Seat: 5A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-86J (WL) || MSN: 29641 / 1654 || Regn: VT-SGJ "Cumin"
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 1250hrs, ATD: 1257hrs
STA: 1350hrs, ATA: 1358hrs

At the gate, I ran into a known person - who happened to be traveling to Kochi for a vacation. We spent some time discussing what all he could see, and how he should go about. Boarding was called at 1231hrs. Two SpiceJet departures were boarding at the same time, and this caused a little confusion, since buses were parked one behind the other. We waited till the boarding queue shortened, and we joined the tail end. We got past the gate by 1237hrs - but there was no bus to take us to the aircraft! A bus turned up a little past 1240hrs! This time, again, two buses came, and half the passengers ran behind one, and the other half behind the second. The ground staff had a tough time directing passengers to the correct bus. The bus got moving at 1243hrs. It was a little long ride to the aircraft, which was parked at a very remote bay.
Its Cumin.. VT-SGJ for me..
We reached our bird - VT-SGJ, named "Cumin", at 1245hrs. VT-SGJ (MSN: 29641) is a twelve year old Boeing 737-800, built in 2005, for Delta Airlines, but was not taken up. She was given to Air Berlin later the same year, and later changed hands to Blue Air. The bird landed up with SpiceJet finally in December 2010. She looked clean and quite well kept. Ground staff kept calling out passengers seated in Rows 17 and later, and requested them to move to the aft entry. Boarding was very slow, and passengers were stuck on the stairs, since passengers inside seemed to take a lot of time to settle. I got into VT-SGJ by 1250hrs - the scheduled departure time! I settled on my pre-reserved seat #5A - the leg room seemed really better than those seats at the aft end. I had two windows for me - both the glasses were terribly scratched.
Getting in to VT-SGJ
Boarding was completed by 1252hrs, and the captain requested the ground staff to deplane. It took some time time for the ground staff to hand over the trim sheet and complete the remaining paper work before they deplaned. The doors were armed by 1255hrs and we were pushed back by 1257hrs. In command of our flight was Captain Mohit Kumar Nair, with First Officer Mohit Kumar! In the cabin were Varsha, Gitanjali and Harshdeep, led by Ms Sadhvi. Soon after pushback, safety demonstration was performed. The CFM56s spooled up and we commenced taxi at 1300hrs. A little into the taxiway, the captain came on the PA system and announced that we were third in sequence for take-off, and we should be airborne in another 5 minutes or so. Due to frequent airspace closures due to Aero India, the runway at Bengaluru was unusually busy - there was a steady stream of departures and arrivals.

We reached the holding point of Rwy 09 at 1305hrs. An IndiGo aircraft ahead of us had lined up for departure. We didn't move for some more time - letting me understand we were waiting for an arrival. Jet Airways' VT-JCV touched down at 1310hrs, and we entered the active runway a minute later and lined up for departure. A few seconds after we entered the runway, the CFM56s powered up, and we charged down the runway for take-off. We were airborne by 1312hrs - climbed to the east very quickly, and turn south west, setting off towards Kochi. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 1315hrs, and the cabin crew sprang up to action.
Soon after take off from Bengaluru..
Onboard entertainment.. 
The trolleys came out quickly and the onboard service commenced. This is a very short section, and there is hardly anytime to serve all passengers. I've generally noticed that LCCs serve passengers with prebooked meals first. However, this aircraft had three SpiceMax rows at the front, where all passengers receive a complementary meal. The cabin crew split themselves and walked around taking orders for passengers who wished to buy. I received my meal about 5 minutes after the service began. The FA confirmed my booking first, and then gave out a boxed meal - a container with the Main Course, a dessert and a pasta salad, with plastic cutlery and mouth freshener. This was accompanied by a bottle of water.
The meal..
I opened the Main course container - which had Paneer Methi Malai with Jeera Rice and Dal Makhani. The Jeera Rice had long grained basmati rice sautéed with Cumin (coincidentally the name of the aircraft, as well) - the rice was cooked to perfection, and the entire preparation was adequately moist. The Paneer methi malai had succulent pieces of Paneer (Cottage cheese) in a mildly spiced creamy gravy blended with fenugreek leaves, while the Dal Makhani  had whole black gram in a creamy gravy. I enjoyed every bit of the Main Course, which was a little overheated, and slowed down the speed of consumption. The serving was adequate in quantity, and the taste was excellent. The Pasta Salad had well cooked pieces of Penne Pasta mixed with picked tomato and bell pepper, and shredded pieces of broccoli. The dessert was a well sized serving of Chocolate chip brownie. The brownie felt a little dry, but tasted really good. I had to actually hurry with the brownie, since the seatbelt sign was back on (1337hrs), and the crew were hurrying around to secure the cabin for landing.
Unboxed - thats Jeera Rice, Paneer Methi Malai, Dal Makhani, Pasta Salad and Choco-Chip Brownie..
I looked out of the windows soon after the thrash was cleared, and my tray table was closed. I felt we weren't making the usual approach, and I really hoped and wished we landed on Rwy09 this time. Although my flights have taken off from Rwy09 multiple times, landing have always been on Rwy27. I spotted unusual places below - a highway and a railway station next to it - there is no way I could spot something like that if we approached Rwy27. My guesses turned correct as I spotted my home town below - we were making an approach to Rwy09. I was excited, and watched the approach in detail. We overflew my hometown, and some neighbouring places, soon overflew the national highway and approached the airport from the West. We touched down on Rwy09 at 1352hrs. Since Rwy09 is not regularly used for landing, there are no rapid exit taxiways, and we had to exit through C5, which is located at the 27 end of the runway. Rwy09 doesn't have an ILS landing system, and is rarely used for landing.
On the finals to Cochin..
The taxi to the apron was quite long, since C5 is the farthest taxiway from the apron. We reached our parking stand only by 1358hrs. Unlike the usual step ladder, a ramp was attached to the aircraft and disembarking commenced quickly. Since an elderly gentleman was seated at the aisle, I decided to remain seated till the crowd thinned out, giving him enough time to get up from his seat. I was out of the aircraft by 1406hrs and got into the second bus to the terminal. I was at the terminal by 1409hrs, but we left the terminal only by around 1420hrs. I didn't have any checked in person, but the accomplice I met at the airport did have. We finally got into a bus to head towards the city.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Very Clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Negligible delay)
Crew: 5/5 (Good crew)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food!)
Overall: 5/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one)
Tracking from FR24..
Summary:
I flew SpiceJet after a long time, and their Boeing 737-800 after a very long time. This was my 11th flight with SpiceJet, and 7th in their Boeing Aircraft. SpiceJet has been a hit-or-miss. While I've had not terrible experiences with them, they are far from being a "perfect" airline. They seem to be better called a Value carrier than a Low Fare carrier. Their meal options are great - filling and tasty as well. The crew were great - jovial, friendly and did their job with a smile. The aircraft was quite well kept - clean as well. Overall a good flight, except the rescheduling which did cause some inconvenience to my schedule. 

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