AirAsia India: Bengaluru to Kochi on A320neo

A casual search on an online travel agency (OTA) portal showed up a line of flights during afternoon hours - this means a day time departure and a day time arrival - what's more encouraging for a travel freak? As is my norm, I checked aircraft details for each of these flights on FR24 - all the airbus flights mostly got Neos - but, one among them struck my attention. That was the AirAsia India flight #1983 - this rotation always got an Airbus A320-251N - the new CFM International Leap-1A powered aircraft. The market leader uses Pratt & Whitney powered A320Neos (they have switched to CFM now - but such aircrafts are far and few, for now). There was a late evening flight that used an A321-271N as well - but then that was too late for my liking. The CFM neo was a bigger draw than the 321 for sure. However, the date for my journey was not final - I had to wait until the evening before my journey to reserve the ticket - fares did go up a bit, but there was no choice! 

January 21, 2021:

The initial plan was to take the train to the airport - but the timings were terrible. Trains were too early in the morning or late in the evening. There was one train that 'kinda matched' my timing - but that train departed from Yeshwantpur, and not Bengaluru City. I was put up at my brother's place in South Bengaluru - travelling to Yeshwantpur is certainly a hassle. May be next time! 

The revised plan was to take a bus to the airport. A bus route to the airport originates a few kilometres away from my brother's place - but the BMTC mobile app did not show any active buses on that route. I did not want to risk getting stuck there - plan altered again, and I took a cab to Shantinagar bus station. Why did I choose Shantinagar over Majestic? - probably because of two reasons - one, getting to majestic is a hassle due to the traffic all around; two, buses from majestic do not take the flyover on airport road and takes slightly more time to get to the airport. 

I kept checking the BMTC app (Find on Google Play) for airport bound buses - I found one, and interestingly it originated near my brother's place! Traveling to Shantinagar was, anyways, a safer option. I checked out the waiting lounge at Shantinagar bus station - the lounge has a toilet, and some place to sit. I didn't remain inside the lounge for the fear of missing the bus (bus crew usually check inside the lounge). The bus turned up soon later - traffic was light along the way, getting me to the airport by around 1100hrs - over two hours before my flight. 

I headed straight to the terminal building - surprisingly, the entry gates weren't too crowded. The usual contactless identity verification and boarding pass scan happened. I had a bag to check-in - hence, the first thing I did was to search for the check-in/baggage drop counter. The display boards in the terminal showed an unusual counter number, starting with "W". I was flying out of Bengaluru after over 2 years - a little too out of "touch" with things there. After a little bit of looking around, I found that the "W" counters were "self baggage drop" counters located at the "West" end of the airport - not sure if the "W" indicates west, but these counters were at the western end of the terminal building. 

Baggage self-drop terminals were used by SpiceJet and AirAsia India - there were plenty of airline staff around to help, as well. As I neared one of the counters, an agent came forward enquiring if I was flying AirAsia. As I said yes, she enquired if I had checked-in online. In response, I showed her my boarding pass on the phone - she quickly took it, and generated a baggage tag from one of the self-check-in terminal. She took my bag to the weighing and scanning device - here the tag and bag is verified and accepted. Once accepted, a baggage receipt was generated. I was done with all this by 1113hrs, and headed towards security check. 

Security check was a little crowded - social distancing had gone for a toss - people love standing close to each other. Security was a little slow - there were a lot of first time fliers, and people kept being sent back to the X-ray queue again and again to leave things for scanning. This delayed the queue. It took a while before I cleared security. My next stop after security was the lounge - I was terribly hungry by now, and I had to grab a bite before I boarded my flight. The lounge was quite crowded - they were transitioning from breakfast to lunch service, and the food counters were just closing down. I managed to find a seat with a charging point, and left my phone to charge. 

Inside the lounge

Meanwhile, my flight was inbound from Guwahati - the flight is a Guwahati-Bengaluru-Cochin rotation. The clock ticked past 1200hrs - and there was no sign of lunch being served in the lounge. The aircraft from Guwahati came in a little past 1215hrs - but the lounge hadn't started their meal service yet! I found out later, that lunch service had already commenced in the other wing of the lounge - I had to rush there to grab some food. While the food, in itself, was good, the service was very lousy. By opening food service in only wing of the lounge resulted in one long queue there - far from the "premium" image the lounge portrays. It was a long queue - like what one finds in free food counters. 

The little food that I could get

I wasn't really happy with the service in the lounge - I rushed out of the lounge and headed to my gate. Boarding was from Gate #14 - a contact gate. As I got to the gate, most of the passengers were already in, and "final call" messages started flashing as I reached the counter. Safety kits were distributed at the boarding gate - the gate agent was particular that passengers wore them before entering the jetway. Passengers in middle seat got gowns in addition to the safety kit, that contained a face shield, mask and some sachets of alcohol based sanitizer.

Date of Journey: January 21, 2021
AirAsia India
Flight No: I5 1983 || Seat: 26A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-251N || MSN: 10037 || Regn: VT-ATD
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 1310hrs, ATD: 1252hrs
STA: 1405hrs, ATA: 1403hrs

I was inside the aircraft by 1239hrs, and boarding was completed by 1240hrs. I was on board VT-ATD, an Airbus A320-251N delivered to AirAsia India in October 2020 - the bird was hardly 3 months as on the date of my flight! Doors were armed by 1250hrs, and we were pushed back by 1252hrs - about 18 minutes before time. In the flight deck was Capt Shailendra and First officer Sarath. Leading the cabin crew was Chandrika. Start-up takes a while for the neos, and this was no different. We commenced taxi at 1258hrs - the taxi time to the new runway is really high, and its a really long way. We got to the holding point by 1311hrs - had to hold on for an arrival, and we finally took off from Runway 09R at 1315hrs. We took off to the east, before turning to the south-west direction to set course to Cochin. 

Soon after taking off from Bengaluru

The cabin interiors smelled very fresh and clean. Seat pockets were clean - but the window glass wasn't. Carrying some paper always helps. The aircraft had 186 seats - the seats were comfortable, but leg room was less. The seats were "chunky" compared to the slimline seats on the market leader - the slim seats liberate quite a bit of leg room. The leg room here was a okayish for short flights - it could certainly be uncomfortable on long flights, especially when the cabin in full. My flight, however, was empty - and I was the only occupant in the row. I could make myself comfortable despite the tight leg room due to the adjacent seat being empty. 

The seats are quite "chunky"

The seatbelt sign was turned off by 1320hrs. Meal carts came out soon later. I found a plenty of passengers with prebooked meals - guess this could be because the flight is a long one! I am not sure if anything was sold on board - the cart did have some ready-to-eat stuff. I got a serving of water. The seatbelt sign was back on by 1345hrs. The flight was eventless. I was hoping for an approach to Runway 09 at Kochi - but we were soon lining up to land on Runway 27 at Kochi. The ever familiar approach over the western ghats confirmed this soon later. During the short finals, we flew over the river periyar, and finally touched down on Runway 27 of Kochi International Airport at 1400hrs. We were at the stand by 1403hrs - about 2 minutes before scheduled arrival time! 

Flight attendants had announced the alighting procedure in detail soon after touch down - deboarding was supposed to happen starting with rows 1-3, and then 3 rows at a time. But, then, we Indians do not have the habit of listening to instructions. Seat belts were being removed even before the aircraft left the active runway. People were already out of their seats and busy retrieving their hand baggage from the overhead bins long before seatbelt signs were turned off. The flight attendants went around making people return to their seats. The FAs finally made people sit down, and allowed only people in specific rows to raise. I was out of the aircraft by 1409hrs.

After landing at Cochin International Airport

This was my first experience arriving in to the new terminal at Kochi - it was one long walk to the baggage reclaim. People crowded around every opportunity to crowd - like the one at the waste bin for 'biohazard' - to dispose used masks and face shields, or at the baggage reclaim. It took a while before my bags came. Kerala's health department was still enforcing registration on the government website for everybody arriving at the airport - I had registered prior to travel. That was just sheer luck - I had registered just the morning before leaving from my brother's place. People who arrived without eRegistration were sent to a registration desk to provide their details and obtain a registration. They were noting down details of the registration (they collected printouts from those who had them) - I received a message from the health department later in the evening that I had registered at the arrivals desk, as well. 

Once out of the airport, my intention was to take the airport connect bus by Kochi Metro to travel to Aluva. This was the sole bus operating to the airport - KSRTC was yet to restart their local bus services from the airport. As destiny would have it, I saw the bus sneaking out of the airport as I came out of the terminal. I headed to the metro website to find that the bus that just left was the last bus for the afternoon - the next bus was about 2 hours away! I quickly looked at other options - the charge quoted by online taxis was too high for the distance involved. I was a little desperate and evaluated various options - it was just then I noticed an empty autorickshaw returning from the international terminal - I waved, he stopped, and we rushed out. I got off the autorickshaw at Athani, on the national highway. I took a bus, changed buses, to reach my home town by around 3.30pm - and my home another 15 minutes later. 

Boarding: Cannot really comment - I was among the last to board. 
Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 (Departed and arrived before time)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: Did not use.
Overall: 5/5 (Great flight!)

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This was my 11th flight on AirAsia India - the first on their Airbus A320neo. This was my third flight on an Airbus A320neo, and the first on the CFM powered A320neo. Out of the 11 flights with AirAsia India, 7 were between Cochin and Bengaluru, and 3 from Bengaluru to Cochin! AirAsia has always been a mixed bag - they aren't the best at punctuality, in my experience. They usually serve great food - but I kept away due to the pandemic, and didn't really want to eat during the flight. The interiors were clean (except the window) and fresh - the leg room was poor. The leg room was okay for the flight of this duration - could be really tight for long flights. Overall a good flight.