Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Fly Cookies: iFly 521 from Kochi to Bengaluru

Again that normal Tuesday towards the end of November 2016, sitting bored in office, and excited after getting a low fare ticket to go home in mid February 2017. I had to search for a ticket to return. Almost every airline in India were running sales, and I headed straight to the Indigo site to bag a low fare ticket on their new red-eye flight. I selected a seat, did not add a meal and confirmed the booking. A little later, my ticket along with the boarding pass popped up in my mailbox - IndiGo's Integrated Travel Document. I was shocked seeing my boarding sequence number - it read Seq/001 - I was the first passenger to check-in - a whole three months in advance!

February 19, 2017:
I left home some time around 2100hrs, after a heavy home cooked dinner. The taxi driver dropped me at the airport a little past 2200hrs. I had some work at the AirAsia sales office, which kept me engaged for some time. There was negligible crowd at the entry points. I had no bags to check-in and directly walked towards the check-in counters. A brief re-think, and I turned to the check-in kiosk instead. New self check-in kiosks were installed at Cochin airport a few months back, and I wanted to try them once. The kiosk offered self check-in for four airlines - Jet Airways, Air India, IndiGo and Go Air. I clicked on IndiGo - it asked me to key in my PNR. It did not accept the bar-code that was displayed on the IndiGo App. After entering the PNR, it asked if I wanted to change my seat, and then let me print the boarding pass. The machine responded quite slowly. I received a print out of the online check-in boarding card on a thermal paper with the Cochin airport logo by 2211hrs.
The self check-in kiosks..
The screen displays my boarding pass before printing..
The boarding pass is printed..
IndiGo check-in counters at Kochi. SpiceJet counters nearby have closed for the day.
I headed straight to security check-in, which was quite deserted. Only one scanning machine, and one frisking booth each for men and women was open. I remembered that I hadn't taken a baggage tag only after I reached the scanning machine. Luckily an old baggage tag of Indigo was lying in my bag - used that and saved myself from the hassle of going back to the counters to get one. I was done with security check by 2215hrs and headed to the security check. I headed to my favorite seat near Gate #4, left my phone to charge, and logged in to FlightRadar24 to track the incoming aircraft. The domestic section had one Air Asia heading to Bangalore, and right next to it was another AirAsia, heading to Kuala Lumpur! Then came some Air India Expresses in quick succession, and an Air India B777 from Saudi. I continuously tracked the informing aircraft. VT-IFC was coming in for me. VT-IFC (MSN: 5291) was delivered to Indigo in October 2012.

Date of Journey: February 19, 2017
Airline: IndiGo
Flight No: 6E521 || Seat: 21A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-232 || MSN: 5291 || Regn: VT-IFC
Sector: COK-BLR
STD: 2350hrs, ATD: 2351hrs
STA: 0110hrs, ATA: 0047hrs

India Foxtrot Charlie touched down in Kochi airport by 2318hrs. I was terribly sleepy and tired, hence headed to the gate and queued up even before boarding was called. The agent at the gate was awaiting clearance from the ground staff to start boarding. The first boarding call was made at 2329 hours. A long queue had already formed. First priority was given to passengers requiring assistance and those with infants. The agent at the gate apologized for keeping the others waiting, and continued with boarding. A bus was used for boarding. The aircraft was actually docked right outside the gate itself - but the bus helped passengers who needed assistance. I got on to the bus by 2332hrs - the bus dropped us near the aircraft by 2336hrs! Boarding started immediately, and I was inside the aircraft by 2336hrs.
Boarding through Gate 1..
About to board by Flying Cookie: VT-IFC
The airconditioners were in full flow, and it was quite cold inside the aircraft. Boarding was quite slow and we were done by 2346hrs. Doors were armed by 2350hrs and we were pushed back by 2351hrs. In command of the flight was Capt Bhanuprakash and First Officer Raj Pardeshi. In the deck were Shruti, Anusha, Radhika and Jasmine. The crew rushed through the safety briefing. We commenced taxi at 2357hrs, and headed to taxiway C1 to reach the holding point of Runway 09 by 2359hrs - a very very short taxi. We had to hold for a while, until an unknown single aisle aircraft landed on Runway 27. We entered Runway 09 by 0002hrs, and had a rolling takeoff. We were airborne by 0003hrs. We took off to the east, rotated to set direction to North East. The seat belt sign was off by 0007hrs.
My boarding pass & Hello 6E
Announcements were made that passengers with pre-reserved meals will be served first, and no hot meals/beverages would be available. The trolleys came out soon, and they appeared quite empty. Just a couple of sandwiches strewn around. It appeared there weren't any pre-bookings. I picked up a pack of cookies and a serving of water. The FA serving my row did not have cookie tins - but she picked up from another trolley for me. IndiGo pioneered the concept of re-usuable cookie tins in India. The tin contained Chocolate-Chip cookies, manufactured by Unibic. The tin was the attaction, not the cookie, which was very easily available in supermarkets. The flight was uneventful - lights were dimmed for most of the flight. The seatbelt sign was back on by 0031hrs, followed by prepare the cabin for arrival call from the flight deck. There was no cleaning this time - the FAs came around to check if the seatbacks were upright and the tray tables were closed - they did not come around to clear the thrash. We touched down on Runway 09 at 0044hrs. We docked at a night parking stand by 0047hrs - 56 minutes from chocks off to chocks on.
The Cookie Tin..
Ground staff seemed to be quite lethargic - maybe because this was the last sector of the day for the aircraft. Disembarking took a long time, and I was out of the aircraft only by 0054hrs. There was one tarmac coach waiting, which was already full, and there were enough passengers to fill another bus. They sent out the first one, and the second one came to the bay. I remained near the front door of the bus. The first officer was also on the same bus. They did not dispatch the bus till they got clearance from the cabin crew - who were busy gathering their belongings and disembarking. Quite interestingly, they realised there was a passenger who required assistance only after they signalled the bus driver to move. They stopped the bus, scrambled off to get  wheelchair and then assisted the passenger out of the aircraft. The ride through the tarmac was slow - we had to stop by due to aircraft movements on the apron. The bus dropped us at the terminal building by 0107hrs - 13 minutes after I disembarked from the aircraft and 23 minutes after we touched down. I did not have checked in baggage, and I was out of the terminal in no time. Took a bus to the city, and then a taxi for last mile connectivity.
The overcrowded tarmac coach..
Check-in: Irrelevant. I was auto checked-in, then used the kiosk to get my boarding pass
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Very Clean)
Punctuality: 5/5
Crew: 5/5 (Good crew)
Catering: Irrelevant. I picked up a cookie tin - standard Unibic Chocolate chip cookie.
Overall: 5/5 (Good one)

I'd remember my 11th flight with IndiGo as my Cookie flight. The first time I got the IndiGo Cookie tin, which is now of great utility in my daily office commute. The crew seemed to be quite excited about working their last sector - they seemed to be Bengaluru based. I didn't like skipping cabin thrash clearance - I am guessing this happened since this the last sector of the day. We departed perfectly on time, and landed well before time - infact, including all the goof ups on ground, I was outside the airport well before scheduled arrival time. This was another good flight with Indigo - they seem to be making me an IndiGo fan. If only they introduced a frequent flyer program as well! 

PS: I hope you'd have guessed why the report is called 'I Fly Cookies' by now. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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.

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..
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. 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

NinerWhiskey: Raipur to Bengaluru, via Bhopal & Mumbai - Part 2

I was returning from the annual railfan's gathering at Bhilai. My booking was on Jet Airways with a Raipur-Bhopal-Mumbai-Bengaluru route, all on their Boeing 737-800 aircraft. My final itinerary looked like this:

9W2121 RPR BHO 1955 2100 Y B738
9W2121 BHO BOM 2130 2255 Y B738
S24381 BOM BLR 0200 0330 Y B738

I had written about the booking, and the background in my earlier post. The Mumbai-Bengaluru sector was on 9W7145 (originally S23381) operated by JetKonnect. This flight underwent no less than four changes in the one-and-a-half month before the flight. This flight was scheduled at 0200hrs when I booked. It got rescheduled to 0230hrs at the beginning of December, then preponed to 0215hrs, then back to 0230hrs. It got preponed to 0215hrs a couple of day before the flight again.

I was on FlightRadar24 all the days before my flight, and found that four different B738s were rotated on this rotations regularly, of which the oldies, VT-SJI and VT-SJJ were fairly regular. Originally with Air Sahara, these are perhaps among the oldest B738s flying in the country. I was looking forward for an experience on them before they go back to the lessor.

January 29, 2017:
I had landed a few minutes before midnight, and set foot into the terminal a few minutes past midnight. It was a very long walk from the contact gate where my earlier aircraft had docked. Although there were a few "transit gates" on the way, all of them were closed, and transit passengers were being redirected towards the baggage reclaim area itself. I was quite sleepy, and decided to walk instead of using the travelators. A little before I reached the baggage reclaim area, there was this signboard directing transit passengers straight to the security check area. There was a security guard at the entrance - who verified boarding cards before letting passengers in to the transit area. There were a lot of transit passengers on my earlier flight, as well.
Welcome to CSIA T2 :)
An escalator past the security guard took me two floors above to a floor that housed the international security check area. Another security guard segregated domestic and international transit passengers. Domestic passengers had to take another elevator to return one floor below to the domestic security screening area. Security check was deserted - hardly any queue there. I was done by 0018hrs and walked into the Security hold, which resembled a shopping mall than an airport terminal. I noticed that the stamp on the boarding pass mentioned January 28, while the stamp on the baggage tag read January 29! Call it confusion! There were a plethora of shopping options - quite a lot of them seemed to be shutting for the day already. The FIDS showed there were six red-eye departures before dawn. The S2 flight number was used on the FIDS, while the ticket and the boarding pass prominently used the 9W number - I felt this could be confusing for the common passenger. The FIDS informed me that my flight would be boarding from gate 46B.
The FIDS showing my flight details (left top)
Thats the shopping area in he terminal..
At Gate 46!
A travelator near Gate 46!
This was my first experience departing from Terminal 2 of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai. I was quite awestruck with the ambience of the airport - the lighting. I, personally, felt the signages were inadequate and poor. The gates didn't seem to be in linear order. I found my gate and decided to rest near the gate itself. There were lots of place with charging sockets, meant for laptops. I took two desks for myself, and left my phones to charge, and logged into FlightRadar24 to find out who would be taking me to Bangalore. I was quite excited to see VT-SJI being shown on FlightRadar24. I spent some time watching a movie on my laptop, when I spotted some JetAirways staffers calling out for Bengaluru passengers - I was a little surprised if they were planning and earlier departure - but I was informed there was a gate change!
Flightradar24 on my laptop, and my boarding cards..
Head down to reach Gate 45..
Boarding was shifted from Gate 46B to Gate 45A at 0107hrs. A couple of announcements were made as well. The departure time was silently updated from 0215hrs to 0230hrs. JetAirways agents were present at many places to direct passengers to the new gate, which was located on the ground floor. Another escalator ride later, I found myself at the ground level, in an area that housed two bus gates. Seating options were crowded - I found an empty seat towards the corner of the area, near a charging station. I had to complete charging my phone now, to last the next few hours until I reached home. Majority of the visible crowd were for a Kolkata flight that was to depart right before my flight.
Updated FIDS, and Gate #45
Just as boarding was called..
I was quite sleepy, and I was afraid if I'd fall asleep sitting there, and end up missing my flight. As the boarding for the Kolkata flight was about to complete, I decided to walk up to the gate and have a short stroll around. As I moved towards the gate, I heard the agent calling out for Bengaluru passengers (0145hrs). In fact, boarding for both the Kolkata and Bengaluru flights were happening simultaneously - the Jet Airways security personnel had a tough time managing both the departures without mixing up passengers. A quick scanning of bags and random frisking of passengers were performed by Jet security personnel. With all the confusion around, the personnel were trying to segregate the buses for both the flights.

Date of Journey: January 29, 2017
Airline: JetKonnect / Jet Airways
Flight No: S24381 / 9W7145 || Seat: 16A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-8AS (WL) || MSN: 33555 / 1426 || Regn: VT-JLE
Sector: BOM-BLR
STD: 0215hrs, ATD: 0220hrs
STA: 0345hrs, ATA: 0345hrs

We were bus'd at 0151hrs. The bus took a long ride to head towards the aircraft. As we ran through the tarmac, I spotted VT-JGW (the aircraft that brought me in from Raipur) at the same gate where I got off, and VT-SJI parked right next to it! But wait! The driver didn't turn towards the aircraft, nor did the aircraft have any stairs or jetway attached to it! We continued further, giving a close look at an Air India B744, VT-EVA! We turned towards a B738 that was in Jet Airways colours - now JetKonnect had only two 738s in Jet Airways colours - that was VT-JLE and JLF. I had flown Lima Foxtrot earlier, and hoped it was Lima Echo instead! And, I was right! The bus dropped us near Lima Echo at 0155hrs. VT-JLE, aka Lima Echo was originally delivered to Ryanair in January 2004. She reached JetLite in December 2010, and finally transferred to JetKonnect in March 2012.
VT-JLE.. taken just before I got in through the forward entrance
Boarding had already started by the time I reached the stairs, and I was inside the aircraft by 0158hrs. The interiors appeared fresh - but had a lot of signs of poor maintenance. Broken window shades, unfastened interior panels, etc. I was stuck at a windowless window seat - I would anyways not click anything. Boarding was completed by 0211hrs, and we were ready to have a before time departure (rescheduled time). I assume the entire rescheduling and gate change exercise was done to change the equipment from the originally scheduled to VT-SJI to the current VT-JLE. Soon after the boarding was completed, welcome announcements were made. In command of the flight was Captain Pankaj Niwas and First officer Rushab Mishra. Imtiyaz was the chief of cabin crew, while Ms Pinki, Ms Aparna and Ms Saniya were in charge of the economy cabin. We had a full flight - both in economy and premiere.

The doors were armed by 0219hrs and we were pushed back at 0220hrs. We had a long wait before we commenced taxi. I was quite excited to see an Airbus 380 up close - that was an Emirati for me! Then the Lufthansa Boeing 748 next to it! We commenced taxi at 0226hrs. Terminal 2 is located quite close to the threshold of Runway 27, and that made for a short taxi. We exited on to the active runway through N1 at 0232, and had a rolling take off. This was my first time taking off without having to hold at Mumbai! We were airborne at 0233hrs, climbed west, turned south and flew parallel to the coast for a while. Mumbai looked resplendent from the sky, with lights strewn around like gems. The seatbelt sign was turned off at 0238hrs.

The meal trolleys came out of the aft galley in no time. Passengers with special orders were served first - passengers next to me had requested for a fruit plate, and they got theirs before others. I was quite excited as I saw trays being handed out. Hopes of a proper meal service brightened, and I looked forward for the trolley to reach me. There were two options - instead of asking "veg or non-veg", the FAs actually asked if one wants a Ragda Pattice or a Chicken Kathi Roll. Quite obviously, I chose the Ragda Pattice option.
The meal..
I was handed out a tray containing a plastic container with the main snack, a transparent acrylic cup, the quintessential Jet Airways' dessert, the beverage kit, plastic cutlery and the imly candy. Ragda Pattice is a very common street food snack seen in Mumbai. Ragda pattice is a dish consisting of two parts - the Ragda, which is a curry made of boiled and mashed white peas, onions and spices, and the Pattice (or Patties), which is mashed potatoes cooked like a cutlet (but without the spices). The patty is generally bland, and is to be eaten with the ragda. I quite liked the snack - the ragda was appropriately spiced with the right amount of sweet chutney and green chutney poured on. The patty was well cooked as well. I pocketed the quintessential dessert and waited for the hot beverage service. I opted for a coffee again - and got one of the best coffees I have had on an aircraft.
The worst dessert option ...
The best coffee I've had on air..
The flight was largely uneventful, and I was sleepy. The seatbelt sign was turn on again at 0325hrs. From the approach, I was quite sure we were to land on Runway 09. We touched down on Rwy09 at 0340hrs, followed by heavy braking and full application of reversers. We took the rapid exit taxiway, entered the parallel taxiway to enter the apron. We finally docked at a remote stand by 0345hrs. I got out of the aircraft by 0350 and got into the waiting tarmac coach. I was quite surprised that the driver opted to take the longest turn to get to the arrivals gate, and finally dropped us at the terminal by only 0356hrs. I was groggy and tired from the travel. I badly wanted to reach home and hit bed - I rushed to the baggage claim area.

Although a couple of bags were on the carousel, no new bags came out for quite a lot of time. A visibly anxious Jet Airways staffer walked around nervously, continuously seeking updates through the radio he was carrying. After more than 10 minutes of silence, a huge lot of bags with transfer stickers appeared. I got mine by about 0418hrs - 33 minutes after we docked at the stand! I was terribly tired, and walked out of the terminal a little semi-conscious. I decided to take a bus instead of hiring a cab - the decision turned good, since I managed to sleep for most of the time in the bus, which I might not have had it been a cab, given by phobia of the airport highway.

Check-in: Not Applicable
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Very Clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Late departure, perfectly on time arrival)
Crew: 5/5 (Good crew)
Catering: 4/5 (The food served was great! Bad choice for the hour, horrendous dessert)
Overall: 4/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one. Loses points for delay in baggage delivery, poor maintenance)
Tracking from FR24..
This was my fourth flight with JetKonnect (Operating on the JetLite AOP), and third one on their B738. JetKonnect, aka JetLite, is the old AirSahara or Sahara Airlines. My first ever flight was on AirSahara, from Kochi to Mumbai - a flight that I remember very little about, except the excitement about the first flight. Although operating on two AOPs, Jet Airways had recently announced its intention to merge the two AOPs and bring all the flights under the Jet Airways banner. The aircrafts owned by JetLite were recently renamed to Jet Airways as well. The inflight experience is standardised now. The flight had great crew, who took good care of passengers, and responded quickly to calls. The food served was great in terms of quality, but I am not very sure if the choice of item was correct for a flight at that time (personal choices, you see). The meal was from Taj-SATS, and it would be irrelevant to comment on its quality. I personally hate seeing that cheap wafer covered with chocolate thingy as a dessert on a so-called full service carrier, who keeps trumpeting about their award winning culinary treats! Overall a good flight - I was sleepy for most of the time, anyway. 

Saturday, February 04, 2017

NinerWhiskey: Raipur to Mumbai via Bhopal, and on to BLR - Part 1

After bagging a cheap fare flight from Bengaluru to Raipur, I got busy hunting for return option. As usual, I hooked on to my usual OTAs - I found a great fare on Cleartrip (my favorite among the lot). The cheapest option for that day was on Jet Airways, with a flight change at Mumbai. The second cheaper option was IndiGo, the timings of which weren't comfortable for me. I decided to check if these fares existed on the Jet Airways website as well. The website had some interesting stuff for me!

The fare did exist, and it had some fun hidden as well - the routing had a total of two stops in between. First leg on 9W2121, from Raipur to Mumbai via Bhopal, and the second leg on 9W7145 (S24381) from Mumbai to Bengaluru. The #avgeek in me did not want to miss an option to experience three flights in one! I made the booking through the Jet Airways mobile application, which gave some sweet discounts as well. My final itinerary looked like this:

9W2121 RPR BHO 1955 2100 Y B738
9W2121 BHO BOM 2130 2255 Y B738
S24381 BOM BLR 0200 0330 Y B738

The flights in my itinerary was re-scheduled no less than 4 times during the last one month before the flight. Three of the changes happened to S24381 (I'll write about that later), and one change happened to my Raipur-Mumbai booking. One day prior to my flight, I got a mail from Jet Airways, reading this:
Please note regarding Schedule / Route change :
Flight No Date Sector DEP ARR
2121 28JAN RPRBOM 1955 2255

Your reservation has been updated accordingly .The revised timings are as below:
Flight Nbr Date From/To Status Dep Arr
While I was generally unhappy about the delay, I was secretly happy about the delay, since my wait at Mumbai would be somewhat shortened (not much, just a few minutes). Twenty four hours before my departure from Raipur, I try doing a web check-in. The mobile app is quite slow, it kept swirling for a long before each page. It let me select seats for the two flights and gave a confirmation that I had been checked in. Later, in the page where it asked for my email id (I wonder why should they ask that, since my app is anyway linked to an email id, so is my Frequent flyer membership, and the booking database would surely have all my contact details), there was a message that boarding passes for "one or more" sectors in my booking cannot be issued, and I must contact their airport counter. Never mind. I would anyway go to the check-in counter to drop my bags, and I prefer the airline issued boarding passes, than taking a printout myself!

January 28, 2017: 
The convention was over by afternoon, and I got some time to rest at my hotel room. I needed to rest since I'd hardly sleep that night, and I hadn't slept properly the previous nights as well. But, then, I was excited, like everytime before a flight, and I couldn't sleep. Another delegate at the convention was also taking the same flight and we had decided to share a cab, although I secretly wished to take a bus. But, I did not feel it would be a great idea to take a bus with baggage, especially during evening hours. We finally opted to hire a cab, and I booked one through the Ola app. First, there was very poor availability, and, second, the driver refused to come down for an Ola booking. He wanted a private booking, and asked a fare slightly more than what was estimated by Ola. I wanted a cab, and accepted.

The cab driver turned up in 10 minutes. The maniac at the wheels drove fast, overtook zig-zag and honked as if he was playing a keyboard. The car was in fairly good shape and rode fairly well. He had some near misses on the way, and was engage on the phone for most of the time as he neared Raipur. It took a lot of time for me to understand the geography of the place. He dropped us at the airport by around 1812hrs. The airport looked amazing - too good for a city like Raipur. The terminal was well lit and decorated. Although the design was the typical oval shaped, ACP & Glass structure, the lighting and the ambiance gave a special feel to the airport. I took some time to enjoy the airport before entering the terminal a few minutes later.
That is Swami Vivekanand International Airport, Raipur
Landscaping at Raipur Airport
Security personnel at each point were a little too strict - they checked tickets meticulously before letting passengers into the terminal. There was another checkpoint just before baggage scan. Baggage scan was done by 1818hrs and I headed to the check-in counters. Check-in counters are an eye-sore at most AAI airports - they are located in congested places, with terrible looking desks and displays. The staff at the counter were very helpful - I was allowed to use the business class check-in counters and the entire process was fuss free. They confirmed if I wanted to check-in my baggage through to Bengaluru, or if I wanted my bags at Mumbai - I checked it in through to Bengaluru. I was unable to do an online check-in for my Mumbai-Bengaluru sector, but was allowed to select a seat. The counter staff issued boarding passes for both the sectors, and my seat selection was retained as well. I got my boarding passes by 1820hrs.
Check-in counters of Jet Airways..
The next stop was Security check. My bag was pulled up for rescreening since it had "too many electronic gadgets" - basically my mobile phones and chargers. While I appreciate their concern of "too many electronic gadgets", the phones were inside the bag only because I was insisted to put them inside! I was done with security check by 1828hrs and moved to the Security Hold Area. I was quite hungry, and hoped to have some food from the Lounge offered as part of my Ola Select membership. I couldn't find any lounges in the airport and walked throughout the airport in the hope of finding the lounge mentioned on the Ola website. I finally zero in on an outlet that bore the same name as the lounge mentioned on the website - a quick enquiry at the counter confirmed that I was actually at the correct lounge. The access procedure took a lot of time. I had the option of choosing any item on the menu.
Thats the security check area..
Inside Raipur airport..
I picked up a Paneer Hotdog and a cup of Cappuccino. The hotdog was served hot. Although it was called a hot dog, it was a normal sandwich with a Paneer filling and some vegetables. The Cappuccino was the typical Cafe Coffee Day stuff. The lounge had minimal seating facilities, which were full. After finishing the snack, I headed out in search of a charging point to charge my phones - but surprisingly, there were none! I found just one charging port, which did not have the option to use my own charger. In the meantime, I logged on to Flightradar24 to track the aircraft, which was by now flying in from Mumbai to Raipur. It was VT-JGW, a Boeing 737-85R (WL) delivered to Jet Airways in June 2007, for me that day. There was a line-up of departures, mainly of IndiGo. IndiGo staffers were walking around the airport calling out for passengers flying out by IndiGo flights leaving then.
Thats the Zesto Lounge!
The Paneer Hotdog and Cappuccino that I picked up..
Date of Journey: January 28, 2017
Airline: Jet Airways
Flight No: 9W2121 || Seat: 17A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-85R (WL) || MSN: 34804 / 2297 || Regn: VT-JGW
Sector: RPR-BHO
STD: 2020hrs, ATD: 2038hrs
STA: 2125hrs, ATA: 2147hrs

Golf Whiskey touched down at 1954hrs. The first boarding call was made at 2008hrs, and strict zone-wise boarding was enforced. Along with the boarding call, an announcement was made that the aircraft had JetScreen, Jet Airway's onboard WiFi based entertainment system, and that passengers should download the AirTime app before passengers boarded the aircraft. I just did that and remained seated till the tail end of the boarding queue was seen. The aircraft flies a triangular route - Mumbai-Raipur-Bhopal-Mumbai, with the flight number 9W2121 throughout. It appeared that the number of passengers boarding from Raipur wasn't high, but the aircraft was more or less full. I got into the aircraft by 2018hrs - since most passengers had already settled, boarding didn't take a lot of time. The first thing that stuck me as I sat down was - its damn tight! Hardly any leg room, and I felt claustrophobic sitting there. The seats had individual PTVs, which just showed a "Thanks for Flying Jet Airways" message. A Boarding Completed announcement was made at 2022hrs. The doors weren't closed and armed until 2038hrs due to some pending paper works. In command of this flight was Captain Janak Dev and First Officer Varun Kumar. Cabin crew were led by Jitendra Kumar. Mr Sandup and Ms Hoeineichong were taking care of the zone I was seated in.
Strict zone-wise boarding.. 
We were pushed back at 2039hrs. The captain came on the PA a little after we were pushed back and informed that we'd have a slight delay in commencing taxi due to congestion on the apron, and added that the taxi would take about 10 minutes! Soon after this, the safety demonstration was performed. We commenced taxi at 2043hrs, and taxied through the runway to the 24 end. We reached the 24 end of the runway by 2047hrs, and turned around on the turnpad to line up for take-off. We were airborne by 2049hrs. We took off to the South west before turning around North west and setting course to Bhopal. The seatbelt sign was turned off by 2053hrs, and the onboard service started right after. Along with the seatbelt switched off announcement, they also announced that JetScreen was enabled, and passengers could watch their favorite shows or movies using the AirTime app. A small information card about using the JetScreen was kept in the seat pocket as well.
My boarding cards, JetWings and the JetScreen manual..
JetScreen.. some screenshots..
No trolleys were used for the service, instead the Flight Attendants brought plastic crates filled with sandwiches. There were no options - Just the Veg sandwich was available, while another FA brought a crate with water bottles. The sandwiches were handed out quickly - no trays were used, just the sandwich and a bottle of water handed out to passengers à la LCC style. It was a routine coleslaw sandwich, typical of Jet Airways! I finished the sandwich in no time, and opted to watch a movie on JetScreen. I opted a Bollywood remake of a famous Malayalam movie - for the simple reason that I needn't mind about continuity or missing watching the entire movie. The movie kept me engaged for the rest of the flight. The crew were very proactive in helping passengers - calls were responded in no time. The seatbelt sign was back on at 2125hrs. We touched down on Runway 30 of Bhopal's Raja Bhog International Airport at 2139hrs. We docked at a contact stand by 2147hrs. Disembarking completed by 2152hrs.
Snack served in the Raipur-Bhopal sector..
An army of housekeeping professional and security staff barged in. While two personnel checked boarding cards, two more security staff went about identifying hand baggage. Housekeeping personnel were quick in clearing the aircraft. Seat belts were kept in the characteristic "X" pattern, and they went about ensuring all seat pockets had safety cards and magazines. The security personnel were a little confused as they went about checking - they lacked co-ordination and ended up duplicating each other's work. I was so tired sitting there at those tight seats that I got up and had a walk till the aft galley, which was being prepared for the service in the next sector.

Sector: BHO-BOM
STD: 2155hrs, ATD: 2213hrs
STA: 2320hrs, ATA: 2357hrs

Boarding for the next sector commenced at 2200hrs. Boarding for this sector was real quick. We were done by 2211hrs. The doors were armed by 2213hrs, and we were pushed back at 2216hrs. A quick safety demo was done, and we commenced taxi by 2220hrs. We entered the runway, headed to the 30 end, turned around and lined up for takeoff by 2225hrs. We were airborne by 2227hrs. The seatbelt sign was turned off by 2233hrs, and the food trolleys rolled out in no time. Since this was another short sector, I had no expectations of a dinner service. As expected, baked rolls were being served.
The seats.. taken during transit at Bhopal..
The trolley reached my seat quickly - two options were given: Veg or Chicken. The roll was served on tray, along with Jet Airways' Award Winning Dessert - the "quintessential" KitKat chocolate-covered wafer bar confection, and the hot beverage kit, consisting of dairy whitener, sugar and a stirrer. The imli candy mustn't be missed as well. Unlike my previous experiences, the roll wasn't over heated this time, and it didn't stick on to the cover. The filling was mild, and not very spice laden. Soon later, a round of beverage service was done. I opted for a coffee, which was good. I was engrossed in the movie that I was watching on JetScreen most of the time.
The meal..
The roll up close. The quintessential dessert can be seen behind...
Seatbelt sign was turned on at 2326hrs. We were already holding by now. As we prepared to land, the PTVs played a promotional video about Etihad Partners, explaining their FFPs and flying comfort. The aircraft was equipped with PTVs as well as the WiFi based Jet Screen. The hold was short, and we aligned to ILS and entered short finals in no time. I got quite nostalgic as we flew over Navi Mumbai, my home for almost 10 years. We touched down on Runway 27 at 2346hrs. Terminal 1 (A & C) appeared quite deserted - I was actually shocked by the complete absence of IndiGo aircrafts at any of the contact stands. It was a long taxi to enter the apron of the new Terminal 2. The international side was dominated by heavies - I felt quite excited spotting widebodies from Jet Airways and Air India. We made a couple of brief halts during taxi, making me think we might just dock at  remote gate, but that wasn't the case. We docked at a contact stand by 2357hrs. Disembarkation began in no time, and I was out of the aircraft by 0004hrs.

Check-in: 5/5 (Quick)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Clean)
Punctuality: 3.5/5 (Rescheduled by 25 minutes. Landed 37 minutes after rescheduled time)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 4/5 (The food served was great! Poor Dessert, lacklustre presentation)
Overall: 3.5/5 (Good flight - enjoyed this one. Loses points for terrible seating)
The route I flew - from GCMapper
FR24 track of RPR-BHO Sector
FR24 track of BHO-BOM sector..
This was my 14th flight on Jet Airways (discounting three flights operated on the JetLite AOP), and the 4th on a Jet Airways Boeing 738. Majority of my flights with Jet Airways were on their ATRs, which are aplenty down south. And, except on flight on the 9W B738, all others were disappointment in terms of catering. This flight was disappointment - terrible leg room and very claustrophobic seats. The Full Service Carrier image that Jet tries to portray doesn't really gel well with the very apparent cost cutting they do in their meal service - a small roll with a chocolate hardly makes a meal! Coming to the meal, the product served tasted good. I understand that the catering was done by Taj-SATS, the leader in the industry, beyond doubt. The crew were great - very polite and helpful. The ground staff messed up quite a lot during the transit check. Housekeeping was perfect. JetScreen is an awesome addition - but it needs to be supplemented with charging points on board. Overall, an average flight, more so due to the seating.