One fine morning, I was presented with the need to travel to Bangalore urgently. It was a Saturday. I had to be in Bengaluru on Monday. Generally, getting tickets for a travel on Sunday is a 'task'. Tickets are hard to get, and whatever remains are usually priced at astronomical levels.
Come COVID. I was quite shocked as I saw the availability for various modes of travel. Trains were waitlisted - but the numbers showed a good possibility of a confirmation. Buses were more of 'walk-in'. I quickly checked flights - all of them were selling at the lowest fare bucket! This disease has been a tsunami for the travel industry - no doubt.
While searching for tickets, I spotted Go Air operating on the Kochi-Bengaluru route - I had a credit shell with Go Air (due to a flight getting cancelled due to the COVID caused nationwide lockdown). I quickly logged on to the Go Air website and successfully converted the shell into a new ticket. It was a simple, straightforward procedure. Go Air allowed free seat selection as well. I did not add any meal - this was a short flight, and I planned to have my meal at the Lounge instead. I did an online check-in a while later, and received my mobile boarding pass by email a little later.
So, I was all set for my first journey of 2021!
January 17, 2021:
I decided to leave home a little early - It was a Sunday, and I was planning to take a bus to the airport instead of hiring a taxi. The number of buses operating has been lower than usual - due to the pandemic. I had to factor in the extra waiting time due to reduced frequency of services. I left home by around 0945hrs - for a flight departing at 1450hrs! I was able to get buses quite soon though. Somewhere, about half-way through the journey, I received a call from Go Air to inform me that my flight was being rescheduled - the new departure time was 1600hrs! I was already half way through - there was no point returning home. I decided to carry on.
I took the Airport feeder bus service operated by Kochi Metro to get to the airport - and I was at the airport by around 1215hrs - I had to find a way to spend time. Although the official departure time was 1600hrs according to the airline, I was sure that this was not feasible. I had studied the rotation of the aircraft that works this flight - going by that, the aircraft flies from Kannur to Sharjah, then comes to Kochi, and then flies to Bengaluru. This particular aircraft had taken off from Kannur in the morning - but got diverted to Muscat instead of Sharjah. Now, there was a risk of the crew exceeding their Flight Duty Time Limitations (FDTL) - this could delay the flight further. I was worried that my flight could be delayed further. During the wait, the aircraft tracker website FlightRadar24 (link) showed that a different aircraft had been allotted to work my flight - this aircraft was inbound from Delhi to Bengaluru. A little later, the aircraft changed again, and this aircraft from flying from Patna to Bengaluru at that point of time - this aircraft will then fly from Bengaluru to Kochi and fly back to Bengaluru. The expected arrival time of this aircraft at Bengaluru was 1430hrs - and had to depart from Bengaluru at 1500hrs - reaching Kochi at 1600hrs. By now, Go Air had silently updated the departure time of my flight to 1630hrs. Considering the rotations of the aircraft, 1630hrs departure was feasible - provided the aircraft didn't get delayed at Bengaluru.
I remained outside the terminal until about 1300hrs - it was sultry, but it was a little airy to help matters a bit. The airport appeared quite crowded - cars kept arriving at a steady pace, and most of them seemed to have tourists returning after a weekend in Kerala, with some cars coming in to drop families returning to their workplaces. I also spotted a large number of migrant workers (or "guest" workers as the Kerala government terms it) waiting for their flights. The entrance to the terminal was segregated according to the airline - this helped reduce the crowd a little bit. I joined the queue to enter the terminal by around 1300hrs - a fairly simple contactless procedure was used - at the first level, a contactless infrared thermometer measured my body temperature, and I was allowed to head to the security screening counter.
At this place, the security officer scanned my boarding pass and took a photograph of me holding my identity proof. On entering the tunnel, I had to pass through a sanitization tunnel before reaching the check-in counter. Go Air hadn't opened check-in yet for my flight (that was their only departure at that time) - so I had to wait. There was a lot of space to wait - social distancing was enforced at this point by spacing rows apart and blocking a seat in between. The check-in counter didn't open until 1430hrs - this was a terrible thing to do.
|The waiting area near check-in counters|
First, the flight was rescheduled and that was intimated like just about 3 prior to departure. A lot of people would have already set towards the airport considering the reporting time of 2hrs. Now, by not opening the check-in, all the passengers with bags to check-in (most of the passengers had heavy baggage) were forced to wait there. There was extremely limited eating options at this point - and people who might have planned to use the lounge were stuck. The counter opened exactly at 1430hrs - I managed to check-in my bag by 1433hrs - a printed boarding pass was handed over, along with the 'safety kit'. I was quite hungry by now and badly wanted to eat something. I rushed off to security check.
|Boarding pass & Safety kit|
There is another level of identity verification here - and after this, passengers are directed to specific lines. There were 6 different security check lines - so the passengers in the queue are divided into 6 different queues. This ensured that there were no long queues for security check. Security screening officers ensured that every metallic object was put on trays and sent in to the scanner. Security was real quick. I noticed that all trays were being sanitized before being put back. Once inside the security hold, I rushed straight to the lounge for some food. Interestingly, the lounge appeared quite crowded as well.
My phone was running out of battery - so I first searched for a seat that had a charging point. I had to test about 4 different charging points to find one that worked. I left my phone to charge and picked up some food. Food was presented as a buffet - but it was difficult for one to pick-up food on themselves - had to wait till an attendant served it (the serving spoon was accessible only from "inside" the counter). I picked some Vegetable Biryani and a curry to go along - it was terrible to say the least. Despite being horribly hungry, the food didn't taste any good - the curry had an overpowering flavour of coconut milk, while the Biryani had an overpowering taste of kewra water (extract of Pandanus flower - extensively used as a flavouring agent in North Indian style cooking) - these two flavours were at two extremes, and made the food taste terrible. I generally never complaint about food - but this one was just awful. The raita that was served was sour as well. A simple kerala styled biryani would've been just great here.
|The Biryani.. The apron in the background|
I picked up another plate - and took some white rice along with dal - this was somewhat 'eatable'. I had to make do with the dessert options (a cake and some Gulab Jamun). I got some lemon juice as well, to wash down the food. The seat I had taken (rather, forced to take - so that I could charge my phone) was overseeing the tarmac. To be more specific, I was located right above a boarding gate, and had a lovely view of the airport and the runway. The touchdown point for Runway 09 was right there as well. I spent the rest of the time watching the runway and tracking the movement of the inbound aircraft to work my flight. The aircraft started off from Bengaluru past 1530hrs - confirming that a 1630hrs departure was way out of question. I picked up a black coffee soon after the aircraft was airborne from Bengaluru - I didn't find any quick snack options at the food counter, except some really sad looking sandwiches. I remained at the lounge till the aircraft came to the boarding gate - I then realised that they had changed the boarding gate as well.
Date of Journey: January 17, 2021
Airline: Go Air
Flight No: G8 922 || Seat: 24A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-271N || MSN: 9358 || Regn: VT-WJP
STD: 1450hrs (Rescheduled: 1630hrs), ATD: 1705hrs
STA: 1550hrs (Rescheduled: 1730hrs), ATA: 1816hrs
I headed to the boarding gate (#7) a little later. The crowd at the gate meant that the flight wasn't full - I later checked with the gate agent and found that there were only 66 passengers on this 186 seater aircraft that evening! A new set of crew were waiting at the gate. They were allowed to proceed to the aircraft soon after the crew of the incoming flight left the aircraft. Passenger boarding was delayed for a while more - and started at 1644hrs. I was expecting a zone-wise boarding call - but the agent made a rather blank "Passengers to Bangalore please start boarding" call! Since I was seating in the aft portion, I was waiting near the desk, and was among the first passengers to board. I could beat all the crowding at the gate by doing this.
We were made to wait in the jetway for a while - because cleaning staff were still on board the aircraft. I was inside the aircraft by around 1649hrs. Boarding took a while to complete. An official boarding completed call was made at 1658hrs. Welcome announcements followed - Capt Shireesh and First Officer Nishita were flying us to Bengaluru. Doors were armed by 1703hrs, and we were pushed back at 1705hrs. By now, runway usage had changed, and runway 27 was being used. This meant a long taxi for us. Engine startup is a long affair for the Airbus 320neo - oh wait! I didn't say that - I was on board a one year old Airbus A320neo - VT-WJP - my second flight in an A320neo.
|Waiting for pushback|
We commenced taxi around 1712 or so - on a long crawl to the runway. We got to the holding point by 1717hrs - had a short wait for an incoming Indigo A320 (from Bengaluru) to land, and then entered the active runway by 1721hrs. We were airborne by 1722hrs. We took off to the west, and then turned to the North-east and set course to Bengaluru. Seatbelt signs were off by 1726hrs, and the onboard service trolley was out soon later. Although items were available for sale - I didn't see anyone buying, though. There were some prebooked meals, which were served. I picked up a bottle of water. The rest of the flight was largely eventless - flight attendants had disappeared to the galley. They made an appearance only for a round of trash collection, and later for the pre-landing preparation.
The seatbelt sign was back on at 1745hrs. Very soon, the aircraft began landing preparations - after some turning around, the aircraft was on the landing path. We were on the short finals soon later. The aircraft landed on Runway 09R at 1804hrs. After some hard braking, we exited the runway and began the very long taxi to the apron. It was a really long taxi to the apron. I was getting a little tense, because I had reserved on a bus from the airport to my brother's place in Southern Bengaluru, leaving at 1835hrs. We reached a remote stand at 1816hrs. Deplaning to a while due to COVID-19 precautions - but our people wouldn't listen. This delayed the procedure a little bit. I was out of the aircraft by 1825hrs - I had 10 more minutes to go for my bus now!
In the meantime, I jumped into the first tarmac coach - and remained around the door itself so that I could get off first. The long ride to the terminal seemed quite painful - I jumped off the bus as soon as it stopped and the doors opened. The terminal was quite crowded - but not the usual crowd that one gets to see on Sunday evenings - still high for the present situation. I rushed to the baggage belt - to see my bag appear right as I reached there. I rushed out of the terminal - as the clock kept ticking. I was at the BMTC terminal a couple of minutes past 1835hrs - I directly headed to the help desk. The officials at the help desk were quite surprised to see a reservation ticket - they called up the conductor and reminded that he must check for reservation tickets before departure every time. The conductor arranged the driver to 'escort' me to the bus. The bus started from there around 1850hrs or so - ending a very delayed trip!Ratings:
Boarding: 3/5 (Zone-wise boarding could have reduced crowd to a large extent, and made the entire process efficient - it was chaotic inside the aircraft)
Punctuality: 4/5 (Delayed beyond rescheduled timings - there could be issues beyond the airline's control as well)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: Did not use.
Overall: 4/5 (Delayed. No complaints on the service)