Chennai to Bengaluru: SpiceJet Q400

I was quite confused about my journey - should I return to Kochi from Chennai, or should I head to Bengaluru - back to work. As the day for my journey came closer, it turned out that I had to head to Bengaluru for official purpose. Fare shot over the roof as the journey came closer. I had a new issue at hand - I had work in the Chennai until evening of December 2nd. Taking an evening flight out of Chennai had two 'issues' - one, the fares were too high; two, I hadn't returned to my home since over 8 months and I had no clue what would be the condition of my home - I thought it was safer to stay overnight in Chennai and then take an early morning flight to Bengaluru instead. 

I finally booked a ticket for December 03 - SpiceJet again. I got a cheaper fare on an Online Ticketing Agent website - the entire fare, including a seat and a sandwich, worked out cheaper than the base fare quoted on the airline website! For some reason, the SpiceJet website wouldn't let me do an online check-in. The customer support was of no help either - they couldn't help me with the issue, while claiming that I would receive an automatic checked-in boarding pass 12 hours before flight (I was speaking to them about 8 hours before the flight). I was put-up at a hotel near the airport - the hotel had an airport drop facility - the receptionist confirmed my intended departure time the previous night, and even offered a wake-up call. 

December 03, 2020:

I was off to an early start - I had asked for a 4.15am drop at the airport. The receptionist didn't forget his word for a wake-up call. The car was also perfectly on time. It had rained quite heavily the previous night - there were puddles of water everywhere. I was at the airport by around 0430 - about 2 hours before my flight. The entrance to the airport was a little crowded - there was a fairly long queue as well. I first headed to the SpiceJet helpdesk outside the airport - the agent tried doing an online check-in from their end, and still go an error. She advised that I must head to the check-in counter and they would assist me - I had to go there anyway to drop my baggage. 

The aircraft!

I joined the queue to enter the airport - there was a single line, which bifurcated into two lines as we came closer to the entry gate. I headed straight to the check-in counter straightaway - it seems, more people had issues with online check-in. There was a queue at the counter as well. The gate agent first said web check-in was mandatory and there would be a charge if I used the counter - I told him the problem. He requested me to try again - I did, and got the same error. He then issued a boarding pass through the counter. Baggage tag was sent as a message - as is the practice now. I was quite excited to get the boarding pass - give the way things are progressing, a physical boarding pass might be part of history in the days to come. SpiceJet encouraged digital boarding passes - saves a lot of paper and a lot of hassle as well!

I headed straight to security after this - Security check as fairly crowded. The contactless identity verification process here was taking fairly long time - there was a large number of first-time fliers, and elderly passengers - the cops had a tough time explaining different procedures to them. After ID verification, passengers were directed to different queues for security check - the cops there were directing passengers to remove all electronic objects and metal objects from baggage and keep them in trays for scanning. Security check was completely. A lot of bags were being pulled aside for manual search - and a lot of stuff were being removed from bags (prohibited items). I was done with Security by 0500hrs.

The terminal. Typical AAI style - high roof warehouse styled, with plenty of Glass and ACP all around.

 

My next stop was the Travel Club lounge. A search on Google showed up two lounges - both at extreme ends of the terminal building. I first walked towards one end of the terminal - as I neared the suspect building, I saw a notice stating that the lounge works in the building opposite gate 2. I headed to the particular place - access was easy. The guy at the entrance was quite particular about the name on the boarding pass and the name on the credit card being the same - this led to some skirmishes there. The lounge wasn't large - the seats were mostly empty though. Soon after I got a seat, an attendant turned up. A very limited menu was available - I opted for a Pongal. Tea and Coffee were available from a self-service dispenser - disposable paper cups were being used instead of proper crockery (which was used in Kochi). The paper cup was a size larger than what would fit into the dispenser. I took black coffee with minimal sugar (the way I prefer it). After finishing my breakfast, I decided to put my phone to charge and wait in the waiting area near the entrance of the lounge. For some reason, I felt the lounge was too dim-lit - not the right word, I'd say absolute lack of natural light, perhaps. I remained in the lounge until about 0550 - I didn't want to wait in a crowded boarding gate area. 

The dining area at the Lounge..

My breakfast - contents inset. 



Date of Journey: December 03, 2020
Airline:
SpiceJet
Flight No: SG3025 || Seat: 21A
Aircraft type: Bombardier DHC-8-402Q Dash 8 || MSN: 4589 || Regn: VT-SQD 'Rye'
Sector: MAA-BLR
STD: 0640hrs, ATD: 0646hrs
STA: 0745hrs, ATA: 0745hrs

While walking back to the gate (#15), I received a call from SpiceJet enquiring my whereabouts - I was told that I was the last person to board! Boarding time was still 10 minutes away - I was already on the escalator to go down to the bus gate. I was at the gate by 0605hrs - I was indeed the last person to board. My boarding pass was quickly scanned, and ushered to the waiting tarmac coach. I was given the COVID Safety Kit while waiting in the bus (one more passenger was remaining). The bus waited for a while - perhaps until the passengers in the previous bus were onboard. I was on board the aircraft by 0612hrs - an official boarding completed announcement was made at 0614hrs. 

The bird taking me to Bengaluru was VT-SQD - a December 2018 built Bombardier Dash8 Q400 Next Generation, named "Rye". This aircraft had the new dense seating layout - with 90 seats in a 2x2 layout. The seat pitch was on the tighter side, and the seats didn't recline. Seat pockets were basic nets, with a very basic, but functional, tray table. I always find the legroom in window seats in these Bombardiers very tight - the shape of the fuselage causes a larger curve towards the bottom. The load was quite light - and I was the sole passenger in the row. Perhaps, this made it comfortable - the seating might be tight if all seats are taken. 

The seats - notice the legroom

My boarding card with the security instructions card. Boarding passes may soon become history!

Despite completing boarding early, there was no sign of departure for quite a while. A while later, an announcement was made that refueling was in progress and that all electronic devices must be turned off, and seatbelts must be unfastened. While on ground, the flight attendants brought out food trolley and served all passengers with prebooked meals. Doors were finally armed at 0645hrs, and we were immediately pushed back. We commenced taxi by 0652, headed towards Runway 07 soon later. We took off from Chennai at 0656hrs. We took off in the North-east direction, turned around and set course flying to the West. 

I relished my sandwich once the seatbelt sign was turned off. The Paneer Masala Sandwich was made using multigrain bread. The filling was good, but the bread slice felt quite dry. The flight was eventless. There was no onboard sales, due to the pandemic. Since passengers with pre-booked meals were served before takeoff itself, the flight attendants came around to clear trash and also for a round of water. We flew past Bengaluru airport, and then lined up to land on Runway 09R. We finally touched down on Runway 09R at 0736hrs. The new runway, often referred to as the New South Parallel Runway - on Runway 09R-27L, is built to the south of the existing terminal. The distance from the terminal means a long taxi after touchdown. 

The Paneer Masala Sandwich - aka the "love" triangle!


During the taxi, one can see the under-construction Terminal-2. The apron for the new terminal is also getting ready. After a very long taxi, we got to the stand by 0745hrs - a 9 minute long journey from touchdown to stand! Repeated announcements were made that passengers should deplane row-wise, and shouldn't crowd the aisle. Indians, as usual, are an impatient lot - people jump out of seats as soon as the aircraft vacates the runway - this time, people did remain seated till we reached the stand. Once the flight attendant signaled that people in the first row could deplane, the other people also sprung up from their seats - the attendants had a tough time making people remain seated.

I remained seated till the attendant signaled me to deplane - I was out of the aircraft by 0750hrs. I was quite aghast that no social distancing was maintained in the tarmac coach - a single coach was used - close to about 40 people crowded into this coach. The coach dropped me at the terminal 4 minutes later. Interestingly, my bag was already on the belt by the time I reached the baggage belt. It appeared that very few people had checked in baggage. I was out of the terminal soon later. I had prebooked a cab using Goibibo - details of the driver was shared well in advance, and I even received a call from him soon after I turned on my phone after landing. He gave me clear instructions on how to reach the pick-up point at the airport - this made my work very easy. The cab turned up soon after I reached the pick-up point.  

Ratings:
Boarding: 5/5 (I was the last to board - so this rating could be pointless!)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 (Minimal delay)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 4/5 (Good food - a little dry, though)
Overall: 5/5 (A good flight!)
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Summary:
This was the 15th flight with SpiceJet, 6th on a Dash8 turboprop, and the first on a dense configuration Q400. The dense configuration aircraft has the same interiors as a regular Q400 - just the seats have become thinner and are kept closer. The seat pitch is now lesser - this translates to lesser leg room. The seats are basic and lack recline. The seats are fine for short flights - say under an hour. Could be really tight for longer flights - and even worse if you are in a window seat with the aisle seat being occupied. The overall service was great - the attendants tried their best to enforce social distancing while deplaning - but our people just wouldn't listen. Unless people become self-disciplined and follow set guidelines, the government has very little to do! The overall experience was good - looking forward for more with SpiceJet.

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