Vivekman2006 From India, joined May 2006, 547 posts, RR: 3 Posted (8 years 10 months 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 21164 times:
Airline: Air India (AI)
Flight: AI 144
Aircraft: Boeing 747-300 Combi
Registration: VT-EPX “Narasimha Varman”
Scheduled Departure: 0100 Actual Departure: 0235
Scheduled Arrival: 0205 Actual Arrival: 0340
It had been raining non-stop in Mumbai for the past few weeks. This meant absolutely no chance of spotting or venturing out of town for a quick trip. I was getting restless by the day and decided to plan a weekend trip to Ahmedabad and back. The idea was to take the late night AI 144 to AMD. This was an incoming flight from Newark & Paris and the AI website showed that it would be operated by a 777. I jumped up at the prospect of my first flight on an Air India 777 and booked my tickets in J class.
The scheduled departure was at 0100 and I reached the airport early at 2200. The exclusive check-in counter for Executive & First Class passengers was empty when I reached there. I asked the person at the counter to give me a window seat. I was shocked to see my boarding pass as the seat allotted to me was 58A!! Now, a J class seat would definitely not be in row 58 on a 777, so I asked the guy about the aircraft type. He consulted his terminal and told me that it was a Boeing 747-300 Combi!!!
With a mixed feeling of despair (at the lost opportunity to fly AI’s leased 777) and delight (at the opportunity to fly the 747-300 Combi – a long cherished dream), I proceeded to the Maharajah Lounge. I called up Karan and told him about this latest development and for a moment, both of us were unsure of the exact aircraft type I would be flying, knowing AI’s uncanny habit of changing equipment at the last moment. I thought about what lay ahead of me – I would be flying one of only two 747-300 Combis with Air India and that too on the Upper Deck, and any feelings I had for the Triple Seven were banished forever
Anyway, the lounge was sparsely occupied at the time and the imminent departures were Thai Airways to BKK & Malaysian to KL. I could see the Thai A330-300 parked at an aerobrdige just out of my camera’s reach. At 2230, MH 194 arrived from KUL and the aircraft doing duty was surprisingly an A330-200 with the registration 9M-MKX.
I asked the waiter to get me savouries and some juice and settled down on a couch overlooking the aprons outside. The departures screen showed me that the next few hours would be really busy as there were a series of Air India departures from Terminal 2C. My flight AI 144 was shown to be on time which meant that I could catch a few hours of sleep at AMD After having my fill, I decided to while away the time by surfing the Internet. The Internet terminals are located at one corner of the lounge along with the music terminals and were empty at that time. As I was browsing through my email, I heard an aircraft arriving at the gate outside. It was an Air India A310-300, “Vaigai”
The action was hotting up now as an SQ 777-300 arrived at 2330 followed by the departure of the Thai A330 at 2345. The MH A330 too departed at 2350, close on the heels of the Thai aircraft. At around 0000, the call for security check was announced and I proceeded towards the lower level of the terminal housing the duty-free shops. The shops had hardly anything interesting apart from the regulation liquor and some Indian made handicrafts. I hope the new airport management does some serious brainstorming about these at the time of remodelling of the terminal. Anyway, I proceeded towards the security check and it was a breeze inspite of the new security rules in place; maybe because I was travelling on a domestic leg. Our flight was to depart from Gate 12, while another Air India flight to Bangalore was about to leave from Gate 19. I sat there in the departure hold wondering which aircraft fate had in store for me. The last time I flew AI 144, I had got a 747-400. I hoped it wasn’t an A310 as Karan had got this aircraft on his last trip to AMD. The boarding call came at 0045 and I proceeded towards the aircraft, as excited as a kid about to take his first flight. It was then that I finally saw her!! Dressed in Air India colors and looking absolutely stunning in the light drizzle was “Narasimha Varman”, an Air India 747-300 Combi with the registration VT-EPX.
The next few minutes before boarding the aircraft seemed endless and after getting my boarding pass stamped yet again, I finally entered the belly of the giant. A pretty air-hostess ushered me towards the Upper Deck and I entered one of the most revered zones for an aviation enthusiast. A senior flight purser welcomed me on board and showed me my seat. I asked him if I could switch to another seat at the rear of the cabin and he gladly asked me to choose any one I liked. I chose a window seat in the second last row of the cabin. Out came my camera and I went on a clicking spree.
Meanwhile the two flight pursers manning the upper deck were watching me with interest and I told them that I was an aviation enthusiast. Nothing like talking someone who is interested in your trade after a long flight, and they started chatting with me right away. The senior purser told me that although the 747-300 Combi was an ageing aircraft, it was still a workhorse for the AI fleet. He told me that these aircraft were rugged and posed hardly any problems. Apparently, there were plans to phase out the two Combis but due to a shortage of aircraft; they would fly for some time to come. He also introduced me to the Flight Engineer (the 747-300 has a three man flight crew) who also regaled me with tales from the era of Super Connies & Boeing 707s. He also sighed at the fact that Air India was the first airline in the world to have an all jet fleet and how it had deteriorated today! Anyway, all of them were happy that new, more powerful aircraft were coming soon.
I suddenly realized that it was 0130 already, half an hour past our scheduled departure time. The reason for the delay was because of a late arriving flight from Frankfurt with connecting passengers. I meanwhile, kept busy with my camera. There was an Air France A340, F-GZLN parked next to us and next to it was a Lufthansa 747-400, D-ABTB. On the upper deck, we were towering above most of the aircraft around us and it felt great! At 0200, there were still no signs of moving and the crew decided to serve us snacks. The snack consisted of a chicken sandwich with salad, a hot samosa (stuffed savoury snack), fruit plate and a mango flavoured sweet dish.
The passengers from FRA finally boarded the aircraft and we were finally ready for departure. At 0230, an Air India A310, “Saraswati” parked next to us departed. We were pushed back at 0235 right behind a British Airways 747-400. Two jumbo departures in five minutes, ain’t it cool??
Anyway, we lined up on runway 27 at 0255 after the BA jet took off and after a take-off roll lasting only 35 seconds, we lifted off into the night sky. I saw a Blue Dart 737 freighter parked at its usual parking bay and could almost visualize Mel ogling away at the beautiful Jumbo taking off
The weather was quite calm and the upper deck meant that there was hardly any engine noise. It felt silky smooth and was quite a nice experience. There are no PTVs in this aircraft and one has to be content with whatever is playing on the central projection screen. I was hardly interested in watching and chatted with the flight purser instead. I browsed through a copy of “Businessworld”, which had an interesting article on the AI-IC merger. The civil aviation minister Praful Patel seems to be strongly in support of the merger. Hope it happens sooner rather than later!
The passengers coming in from FRA were served snacks while the rest of my co-travellers were fast asleep. The moon had risen in the eastern skies and the skies around us looked absolutely pretty. In another 35 minutes, the captain announced that we were approaching AMD and asked the crew to prepare for landing. My first flight on the 747 upper deck was about to get over! I hope I get to fly it some day on a long haul route. We went through the usual series of left and right banks on AMD approach and lined up with the runway. It always seems that you are flying really slow on a Jumbo and it felt all the more on the upper deck. Maybe the size of the aircraft has something to do with it. We touched down at 0340 and as we were slowing down, I saw another Blue Dart 737 freighter waiting for take-off.
It was raining heavily in AMD when we arrived and it took some time for the stairs and the shuttle buses to arrive. I exchanged pleasantries with the flight pursers and wished them luck. We were allowed to deplane first followed by the economy class passengers. As I sat in that bus, the Jumbo looked majestic in the rain and dwarfed everything around it. The blue coloured anti-glare paint just below the cockpit window gives the 747-300 Combi an extra bit of character. I finally bid farewell to the now silent giant as we drove away to the terminal.
Karan69 From India, joined Oct 2004, 2905 posts, RR: 17
Reply 2, posted (8 years 10 months 6 days 15 hours ago) and read 21075 times:
Good report mate was looking forward to reading it.
Quoting Vivekman2006 (Thread starter): I called up Karan and told him about this latest development and for a moment, both of us were unsure of the exact aircraft type I would be flying, knowing AI’s uncanny habit of changing equipment at the last moment.
Gr8Circle From Canada, joined Dec 2005, 3148 posts, RR: 4
Reply 5, posted (8 years 10 months 5 days 8 hours ago) and read 20134 times:
Nice report....but must have been an agonisingly short flight....
I've had the opportunity to fly on both the 743's in the AI fleet multiple times....real beauties....I like them more than the 744's, especially the sound of the engines during T/O and prior to landing....I will miss them....don't think I'll be visiting India before they are retired.....
Kiramakora From Argentina, joined Aug 2006, 554 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (8 years 9 months 3 weeks 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 19314 times:
Quoting Vivekman2006 (Thread starter): He also introduced me to the Flight Engineer (the 747-300 has a three man flight crew) who also regaled me with tales from the era of Super Connies & Boeing 707s. He also sighed at the fact that Air India was the first airline in the world to have an all jet fleet and how it had deteriorated today! Anyway, all of them were happy that new, more powerful aircraft were coming soon.
While every criticism leveled against AI is probably true, I also sincerely believe that AI crew is one of the most charming out there. You treat them nice, and just watch how well they treat you back.