Part 1: SEA-LAX-SIN-BLR-HYD
Part 2 will have -SIN-LAX-SEA
Another first time trip report writer here, but it seems like I've read so many of them that I should be well qualified! My company sent me for a trip to its offices in Singapore and Hyderabad. The timeframe requested was near an event I wanted to attend in Bangalore India, and so since that is just a short hop from Hyderabad, I included that in my plans as well.
My wife was going to accompany me on this trip as well. I did some shopping around for the best flights. My company would have sent me business class, but that would have been tough for me to afford for my wife. After some shopping around, I found SQ's "executive economy" class across the Pacific, and based my trip around that major segment.
While I travel to India and Singapore about twice a year and am used to long segments - typically on NW with DC-10's and now A330's. But I was really looking forward to flying the 345, on the world's second longest commercial flight. SQ flies their 345s to either LAX or EWR. So since Los Angeles is a lot closer for me, our trip starts on that segment.
AS 524/NW 4041: SEA-LAX (11-Feb-06)
Equipment: Boeing 737-800, N549AS
Schedule Departure: 13:11
Schedule Arrival: 15:39
Seats: 19B,C (coach)
Arrived at the airport on a Saturday afternoon. Although the tickets were electronic, since our baggage was being checked through to Singapore, a manual check in was required with passports. There was virtually no line at the Alaska counter, and the agent courteously and competently handled this transaction. I've always liked Alaska and am happy that Seattle is their hub city. I booked this as a NW flight however as I am a gold elite member, and I thought this would give me a better opportunity to upgrade seats.
Crowds at the airport were light as it was Saturday mid-day. There were very few people in the security line, and it took only a few minutes to be on our way to the gate. Arrived at gate D-5 to see we were flying a 737-800, N549AS. Although the day was overcast, the clouds were high enough to permit a nice view of the Cascades foothills.
Boarding was called, and I used my NW Gold elite to board in the early group.
The flight was about 3/4 full. When the doors closed at 13:00, I pointed out to the gentleman passenger in in the window seat that the row ahead of us had only a single passenger, and perhaps he'd be more comfortable with the aisle seat (18C). He agreed, and moved, leaving an extra seat for my wife and me. The 737 had grey leather seats which were quite comfortable with adjustable headrests.
Pushback was at about 13:05, but as we taxied to the south for departure on runway 34, we were delayed for some reason (probably traffic). At 13:24 we pulled on to the runway for a smooth takeoff. We climbed smoothly north, and turned east just before the downtown area. We stayed easterly for some time, and then about the same time we reached 10K feet, we turned to the south on our course, slightly east of Issaquah. This gave the passengers on the left side of the plane a great view of the cascades.
Captain announced FL290, and an ETA of 15:49 with a smooth flight expected. And indeed the flight turned out to be quite smooth. I really like the design of the winglets on the 737 - how they are integrated into the wing shape. Snacks and beverages were served.
Sometime during the flight, the woman in front of me called the stewardess as drips were coming out of the ceiling. After checking the storage bins to verify that there was water, but unable to locate the source, the stewardess offered a technical remedy involving a stack of napkins and tape.
At 15:20, the descent was announced, and our approach path took us adjacent to the Santa Monica mountains
and the nearby populated areas. We passed downtown L.A. heading eastward, then turned towards the south, before turning west toward the airport. As I was right over the wing, I could see the flap action. The pilot deployed the spoilers to slow us a bit, but then it sounded like the gear was deployed prior to flaps (rush of wind sounding followed by clunk). I'd thought that it was usually flaps first and then gear. (Perhaps someone familiar with AS procedures could verify). Soon enough, flaps were deployed to 15 (I think - looked same as takeoff setting), then fully down soon before landing. Shortly before touchdown, I spotted one of the blimps to the south, and managed to snap a somewhat blurry picture. Smooth touchdown at 15:44.
As we had a significant layover (about 4 hours), we were not in a hurry to exit the plane. We spent some time in the Terminal 3 where we landed, which is undergoing renovation, before walking over to the Tom Bradley international terminal.
SQ 19: LAX-SIN (11-Feb-06)
Equipment: Airbus 340-500, 9V-SG?
Scheduled departure: 20:00
Scheduled arrival: 06:20
At this time, SQ doesn't give seat assignments at time of booking unless you book on their web site. As I had booked my flight through my company travel agent, this option wasn't available. However, SQ allows check in and seat assignment adjustment as early as 48 hours prior to the flight. I logged and found they had given me the window and adjacent aisle, in row 43, which was perfect. Okay perfect would probably have been exit row seats, but those had already been taken.
The check in at the international terminal was very smooth. I chided myself for spending time at terminal 3 instead of here - I was missing good picture opportunities here! I snapped a few pictures of our plane as the sun was setting, with our 345 about three gates away from the window.
My camera did its best to compensate with the fading light, but still I couldn't positively determine the registration numbers - my best guess is that this was 9V-SGE (SQ has five of the 345s, numbered 9V-SGA through 9V-SGE). Despite the light conditions, the picture is kind of cool, with the AI 744 just behind it, it really shows the impressive length of the 345.
Our rows were called for boarding, and we found our seats. The executive economy is really quite good in terms of seat room. Singapore's 340-500's have 2-3-2 seating in executive economy, with 20" wide seats and 37" of pitch. I found a place for my computer bag and duffle bag. Neither would fit below the seat in front of me however, because what I presume is part of the entertainment unit constrains the width of what will fit down there. Slimmer packs would fit better, but my computer bag has a couple of pockets on the outside, which in this case were loaded with stuff. Seats are comfortable including adjustable headrests, with some other well thought out features like a separate cupholder in the seat in front (the tray folds out of the arm).
But probably the first thing I noticed in the cabin is that it was hot! Like at least 85F/30C! As people were getting seated, the captain came on and apologized that the APU was not working properly, and that the plane was running off of ground power, which was not as effective at controlling the climate. He promised once the engines were running that it would be better.
Of course right after that, the flight attendants came through with.. You guessed it.. Hot towels! Iced towels would have been a better choice today! But of course they couldn't have known.
The captain came on again and announced the names of the pilots, mentioned our initial altitude (32000), and that the duration was projected to be 17:15. We pushed off a little behind schedule, and made our way to runway 25R, and take off thrust applied at 20:30. This thrust does not exactly set you back in your seat. But then I figured this makes sense given that we have enough fuel to fly a full plane for 18 hours. Climb out was similarly slow. I jotted down that we reached 10000 at 20:47, so the rate is something like 588 ft/min. But since the climb out of LAX was just over the ocean, probably no need to use anything but the most economical rate.
I recommend sitting on the right side of the plane for this flight, as I had a nice view of the Bay area as we flew up the California coastline.
Dinner service began about an hour after takeoff. As I'd ordered a special meal, I was served before my wife. My veg meal was good - a mushroom risotto with asparagus, a salad of sliced peppers, cheese and crackers, roll. I also saw the first real dinner knife I've seen on a plane since 9/11. The utensils included a small spoon for tea -- quite complete and thoughtful. Towards the end of the service, the hostess distributed a small container of Ben & Jerry's ice cream - a nice touch. I'd started eating before I remembered to snap a picture, so I got a (blurry) picture of my wife's meal instead…
Krisworld entertainment is absolutely fantastic. 60 movies, 120 CD's, 12 music channels, 103 TV channels, and 91 games. Pretty good for 18 hours of entertainment.
During and after dinner, I watched the movie, "Walk The Line" which I'd been meaning to see for a while. Got a few hours of sleep afterwards. Woke up while over Siberia, looking out over some beautiful ridges of snow, and part of the coast now, just over the Gulf of Shelekhova. One thing I didn't really think about before the flight is that this is a night flight all the way - you take off and land in the dark, and it's never light out. So great for sleeping, and tough for pictures! However this night had some moonlight and the features I could make out below were quite pretty.
I was able to sleep without too much difficulty, although it took a while to find the most comfortable position. The web site www.executiveeconomyclass.com explains about Singapore's executive economy cabin, and the features of the seat. The problem is that you have to get comfortable while not sliding down the seat. The fact that the seats are cloth helps, but I end up using my seat belt to sort of hold myself in place.
According to the guide we're now 9h 42m to singapore at a GS 922 km/h. We're flying at 10668m, and are running slightly ahead of schedule, estimate arrival at 5:43 am.
I checked out the passenger lounge at the rear of the plane. Various chips, rolls, fruit available. I can't say enough good things about the cabin crew. They are always pleasant and friendly, and come through the cabin every half hour or so, offering water or most recently, doughnuts (!) to the passengers who happen to be awake. One of the flight attendants makes me a fine cup of tea with milk and sugar, and I wander around some more. From previous posts, I had thought all the restrooms in the 340-500 had windows, but I learned this was only in business class. So they are pretty typically sized, but have some nice amenities (lotion, moisturizer, extra toothbrush, etc) for the passengers.
Flight has been smooth. A bit of turbulence over Alaska forced the seat belt sign on for a short while, but most of the flight has been generally quite easy.
Nodded off for a bit. Now the map shows us off the coast of China, about the same latitude as Shanghai. 5:20 left in the trip. We're now at 36000 feet, and a 131 km headwind has slowed our GS to 720 kph. Going up the coast of Alaska, a tailwind had increased our GS to a bit over 1000 kph. ETA now at 5:54.
Most of pax I see are now watching PTV's versus the last time I looked when most were asleep like I had just been.
With 3:19 to go to SIN, we're back up to 777 kph. It's 10:32 LA time, 2:23 SIN time, so we've been in the air for 14 hours. Passing between the Philippines & Shenzen, the headwind down to 100 kph. 2652 km to go. Currently up to 12192m. ETA back to 5:50.
My wife tells me I missed a good snack a while ago, broccoli cheese quiche. She wasn't really able to sleep much - has a hard time with anything but lie-flat types of beds. However she felt it was quite comfortable and bided her time between reading and enjoying the entertainment options. I've stepped back to the passenger lounge, and chatted for some time with another gentleman who was also stretching his legs and enjoying a cup of tea. It turns out we have similar careers. The lounge concept is quite nice - helps to break up the monotony of a long flight.
Breakfast arrives as I'm watching another movie. This time I remember to snap first and then eat!
The omelet is good and I try to convince myself that it's just morning, which is actually not so tough. Singapore is 16 hours ahead of PST, which to your body feels like 8 hours earlier. So it's as if I got some sleep and then woke up very, very early. At least this is what I tell myself.
After my movie is over, we're about ready to land in Singapore. We approach well east of the island, and circle around to land on runway 02. The plane unloads efficiently. Entering Changi airport, I'm reminded at why this airport wins awards. There is much to occupy yourself if you choose, but if you're trying to get through quickly, you can do that as well. It's my wife's first time to Singapore so we stop and check out the magnificent orchid garden and pond (currently devoid of fish) near the center of terminal 2. We make our way to baggage claim, our bags arrive shortly, and we're off to the city. I'll go into the office after a short rest at the hotel.
Overall, I would highly recommend this route across the Pacific, especially if you're flying in coach. And for whatever reason, with this night flight, I adjusted easier to the time zone difference than my previous daytime flight from SEA-NRT-SIN.
SQ 430: SIN-BLR (16-Feb-06)
Equipment: Boeing 777-300, 9V-SY?
Scheduled Departure: 20:50
Scheduled Arrival: 22:40
Seats: 50H, 50J
It's time to leave Singapore, unfortunately. For the casual traveler, this is a great city with much to recommend it. I could rest by the pool for days at our hotel, but I'll have to do that another time. We are two of two thousand US delegates attending at large peace conference in Bangalore which I'm also looking forward to. There are over a million people expected, and I've never attended an event with that sort of crowd before.
I had checked in two days earlier on Singapore's web site, and had chosen bulkhead seats for us. We arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare, but the plane was still unloading passengers. In fact it was using the in-gate security to screen the arriving passengers on the way in to the airport - something I had not seen done before. I believe the plane was arriving from somewhere in Indonesia.
We boarded the plane by row numbers, and we were in the second group to board. The plane was nearly full. We were delayed for some time at the gate, to remove the bag of a passenger who had checked in but had not boarded. Poor guy is probably asleep in one of the comfortable lounges. We push back at 21:16. The pilot announces that the time to BLR is 3h 42m, and our ETA is 22:34. We make our way to runway 02, and we take off smoothly at 21:31. I note that we hit 502 kph at just 1900 metres. So that's roughly 300 mph, but isn't that a little over 250 kts airspeed at this altitude? No matter, we're getting there faster, right?. We climb out heading NNE and then turn left so that we're NNW and then NW to intersect our flight path. A meal is served, and I occupy most of my time on this flight with a movie. I was really pleased to find that the same great Krisworld entertainment system that I enjoyed on the 345 is also on this 777. The flight continues smoothly, and we arrive approximately on time in Bangalore. To my surprise, we get one of the few jetways. It's almost always my experience in India where you go down the staircase into the awaiting bus. The bags take some time to arrive, and the car from the hotel didn't arrive, so I change some cash (at a terrible rate), book a prepaid taxi for myself, check in with the folks organizing the peace conference, and walk through all the drama that seems typical in a busy Indian airport.
S2 310 - BLR to HYD (20-Feb-06)
Equipment: 737-400, VT-SIE
Scheduled Departure: 11:05
Scheduled Arrival: 12:05
We arrived quite late to the airport due mostly to traffic and a bit of miscommunication with our driver. A porter rushes up to help with the bags (we seem to have about 7 bags between us by this point), and for once I don't shoo him off - I'm out of time and I could use all the help I could get. He is very helpful and figures out which queue at Sahara is the one for our flight. As I'm out of small bills, I give him a 500 rupee note - a ridiculously large tip but about $12 to me that I'll write off on my expense report. He waits to see that we are properly checked in before returning to outside. The check in counter is busy. I hand my documents to the attendant. In the meantime a woman passenger approaches the counter and sort of crowds me out as she explains some urgent situation to the attendant (I don't speak the language). I just remain their patiently and don't complain - I know he has my tickets in hand, and he seems to try to help the woman while continuing to process my tickets.
It’s my first time flying with Sahara. Much of my previous flying within India has been on Jet airlines, which I've found to be a truly superior domestic airline - better than anything in the US in terms of service. But I needed a mid-day flight from HYD-BLR and S2 seemed a better option than IA.
Luck is with us today in more ways than one. The flight has been delayed and so we are not late. And as I pass through security, I notice that the agent had upgraded us! We now have seats 1A and C. I check my itineary and notice my agent had given us seats 6 B and C. So I'm not sure why, but I'm quite pleased!
Inside the departure lounge, there is little information but our plane still has status of "SEC CHECK" so it's not boarding yet. It will turn out to be more than an hour before we board. In the passenger lounge, we run into several people that we know from the conference. The Bangalore airport is pretty good - there are a couple of small shops and a snack counter in the departure area. It looks like they're working on some renovations to enlarge the area.
And the expansion is quite needed!
We continue to wait past noon, and according to the monitor, our plane still has status of "SEC CHECK" and not "BOARDING". However I notice some people at the Sahara kiosk and wander over there. It turns out that our flight is indeed boarding! Patience and keen observation are highly recommended when traveling here. So I motion to my wife to come along and we show our tickets and board the bus. I snap a few pictures of the plane as we approach. I appreciate that the right side of the plane has Hindi text and the left has English text.
I notice three or four guys sitting down next to the nose gear, with a carboned log book - perhaps a maintenance log - using the tarmac for a tabletop and flipping back and forth between pages. I surmise the reason for our delay was some mechanical issue which is later confirmed by the pilot (stated as an "operational issue").
We must be the second busload of people out to the plane as others are already on board. Two more busses bring the remaining passengers, and we remain on the tarmac for another half hour before moving. No problem, we're in first class, and we've gotten the moist towels and sweet lime juice, and have been offered a selection of magazines and local newspapers. The seats are quite nice - leather, with adjustable footrest, seat cushion length, lumbar support, and headrests as well. The seat recline also has a bit of a tilting action which would be more comfortable for sleeping (preventing the dreaded slide-down).
As we waited, the cabin was warm but bearable with the air vents flowing. We finally get underway, and taxi out for an eastward departure. BLR has added some longer jetways so the planes no longer have to make a 180 at the end of the runway.
Take off at 13:00, nearly two hours past schedule.
The takeoff is smooth and the seatbelt signs go off soon after takeoff while the plane is still at a good climb rate - also seems typical. This allows the flight attendants to start the service right away on the relatively short flight to Bangalore.
A veg snack is served (much richer definition of the term snack than you find on US airlines) . Good meal, although I was kind of expecting lunch. My experience with both Jet and Indian Airlines was that you got a full meal whenever you were anywhere near a meal time. No matter. Plenty of food for me.
Soon we're descending into Hyderabad, landing to the east. We make a 180 at the end of the runway, and head back to the nearest taxiway and on to the terminal. Once again I'm pleasantly surprised that we pull up and a jetway is there for us. The jetway leads to a corridor where we intermix with others who are walking to a gate to board one of the flights. These sort of lax controls happen sometimes. At other times, the controls seem much more thorough, getting tickets and ID checked many times.
The HYD airport is smaller and not as well maintained as BLR. However, they are building a new international airport in HYD due to be completed in 2008. Our luggage takes several minutes to arrive, but we load it on to a trolley, and head out to meet our driver.
Overall, the Sahara Airlines experience was pretty good. Not as good as my collective experiences with Jet, but perhaps a notch better than Indian airlines. I understand Sahara have been purchased by Jet Airways, so I'm wondering if they'll merge all of their operations, or simply operate as two companies with common ownership.