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US,Aug'14-1: As far as She-Ca(n)-Go: Chicago!

Posted: Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:08 pm
by sumantra
US,Aug'14-1: As far as She-Ca(n)-Go: Chicago! ... 14853.html

The weird title is a poor attempt at a phonetic play on the alphabets in
the name of the city, and the fact that circa August 2014 (when
the trip took place), Air India's longest flight was the Chicago one.
Currently, Air India holds the record for the longest flight of all, the
round-the-world San Francisco one. Yes, all counted from the
airline's prime hub, Delhi.

98.0 Two Forum Grouses now Become History

Two of the biggest grouses people (on have
had about me, are now gone. The year is 2014, and the month is August.
1. I became am the proud owner of a Sony HX300 camera. My 2013
San Diego trip was the first TR which had pictures taken with it.
2. I am a not-so-proud owner of The Wife's old Sony Experia Tipo smartphone.
She is disgusted with my antics with the phone, and has said that
only smart people should use smart phones, and insists that I
should revert back to my old Nokia 2700 Classic. I cannot manage
to pick up a call quickly, and am barely able to type on the
smart-screen, with my grubby fingers, or a stylus, for that matter.

This trip would mark my debut with both the camera, as well as the
smart phone being with me. For a reader who may have missed out
on my 5-part report on my 2013 San Diego trip via Chicago, here are the links:
73. US,Nov'13-1: Tailwinds to the Windy City! ... 14179.html
74. US,Nov'13-2: Winds/Sands of Time..Windy City-Sandy Ego! ... 14198.html
75. US,Nov'13-3: Midway, from Midway, to USS Midway ... 14215.html
76. US,Nov'13-4: San Diego-Midway, Chicago ... 14233.html
77. US,Nov'13-5: Haring back, Return from O'Hare ... 14255.html

98.1 Introduction

Planning for an official conference trip to Chicago was a
no-brainer, as far as the carrier went.
It would be Air India by default, and I would be on Air India's
longest flight out of Delhi, the direct Delhi-Chicago flight.
I was looking forward to it.
I was short on funds however, and when the trip was decided, I
was worried whether I would be able to manage a reasonably-priced ticket.
There was another problem.
The Air India AI 127/126 DEL-ORD/ORD-DEL combination was a cash
cow for the airline, one flight which has minted money for the
airline (in addition to the AI 191/144 BOM-EWR/EWR-BOM pair).
The flight often goes full in both directions, and on top of it,
it fills up quite quickly.

I was short on funds, and I had applied for funding from
four...yes, four sources within my organisation.
I had hoped for at least one of them to come in, a kitty which
would at least enable me to cover the costs of the air fare.
I applied quickly.
Government organisations are notorious for their delays.
And semi-Government organisations? The less said, the better.
As I waited for at least this part of the permission to come in,
I observed the price go up from Rs.95k for a return trip, to
Rs.99k, to Rs.105k, and finally, to Rs.111k.
I was aghast.
I had sounded out one of our official travel agents about it.
I got my permission: at least, for the air ticket.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw a Rs.105k fare one day.

When I went to the official travel agent, he made some quick calculations,
and told me that the Economy booking class Q-U
combination for my set of dates would cost me Rs.114k.
I was aghast.
This was clearly well over my budget, and I told him that if he
could not give me a ticket at the price on the Internet, I would
buy it myself on my credit card.
I was being a bit pompous, since my lowly job status ensured that
my credit rating would never be that high, and that there was no
way I could buy the ticket on my card, since I would not be able
to pay my dues in time, to have my credit rating enough to buy the ticket.
Some one had cancelled a few tickets, hence the price
had taken a brief dip. I was resigned to booking it from my bank account.
I had never done the same before, and was a bit
apprehensive about this, as well. As I walked towards my office,
a brainwave struck me. I had never tried the other official
travel agent before, either. Why not give this a try today?
Ah, but the person's office was usually locked.
I was in luck that day.
He did not have even an Internet connection, but he would get it
booked from his main office. I kept my fingers crossed.
By the afternoon however, I had the required ticket in my mailbox.
This official travel agent gave me the same ticket in
the same booking classes, for the same price.
Well, almost.
It would cost me some Rs.700 extra, which I did not mind.

And what about the rest?
Soon, I got permission for my conference registration fee
reimbursement as well, from another kitty.
Accommodation would be an issue with me.
The conference was being held in one of America's costliest cities,
and for something that would go out of my own pocket, I
did not fancy staying at a hotel. The cheapest hotels were well
above what I could afford, and they were located at far-flung
suburbs of the Windy City, and reaching which without a private
vehicle, that too, well in time, was not feasible at all.
A hostel was the only option.
Or a bed-and-breakfast one, but I wanted to stay somewhere around downtown,
since that was where the conference was to be held.
Hostelling International.
I had stayed here before, in 2005!
I had liked the place. It was close to everywhere I wanted to visit.
It was easily approachable using mass public transport, and that
included from the O'Hare Airport, as well.

I did not have much time on my hands.
I managed to do some quick searches on Google Maps, to find
places of interest, and how to reach them.
Either by mass public transportation, or by foot.

98.2 D-Day

I was setting out on a Sunday.
That would have meant a relaxed departure for an ordinary person.
It was not so, for me.
It was a really busy day for me, and I collapsed into a heap in
the late afternoon. The Wife bundled me to bed, and I had a
somewhat troubled sleep, as I still had work to do.
As is my wont, my TODO list keeps shrinking with me ticking off
tasks which were not absolutely essential, and which could be
completed after I came back.

The friendly cab operator was outside our house at 10pm, and I
was at the International Departures part of IGIA T-3 quickly.
All Air India counters in the International section were checking
in passengers to any international destination. The lull in the
number of passengers at that time in the check-in area, was not
indicative of the shape of things to come.

A BMW X1 sDrive20d: `This car could be yours'. Really?

IGIA T3 is always impressive for its functional design, and greenery inside.

At gate no. 1, VT-ALR `Meghalaya' was getting readied for her
trip to New York (JFK). Beside her was a British Airways B77E, at
the next gate, being prepared for a flight to London Heathrow.
Our flight would board from gate 24.
It was VT-ALU `Odisha' that day.
I immediately texted my friends to appraise them of this situation.
My friend from Bhopal Mr. J. R. R. Talking immediately
texted back, exclaiming that they had swapped planes!
This seems to be quite common when I travel: the B77W that comes
in from Hyderabad goes to JFK, and the B77W that comes in from
Mumbai, goes onward to ORD.
It would be my first trip on `Odisha'.

Now, did I hear this correctly?
I overheard the load being 03-35-303.
What! There was only one seat empty, that too, in the First class?
A few Star Gold members were a bit disappointed when they went up
to the boarding gate, and asked the gate agents if there could be
gate upgrades. Yes, it would be a full flight.
We boarded a bit late, and pushed back a bit late.
The reason for the latter was announced to be an ATC delay on
account of traffic congestion.
The push-back started at 02:15 am. While the basic announcements
were made at the start of the journey, at 03:10 am, First Officer
Vikrant Ghate came on the air, and made a flawless bi-lingual
announcement. Captain Sanjeev Sabharwal was
in command, with Captain Jagjit Singh being the other captain on board.
He and First Officer Ajay Bhatnagar would assist the captains.
Mr. Dinshaw Daruwala and Ms. Sunita Dadra were
in charge of the cabin.

We would cover the 12,615km distance in about 14 and a half hours.
In a pleasant surprise, we took off from the main runway 28:
a first for me in a long time. Behind us was the British
Airways B77E. Refreshments, Breakfast and Dinner would be served on the flight.
While the sequence of the meals was a bit strange,
I do not mind copious amounts of food in any form, especially
when it has originated according to an Air India recipe.
First Officer Ghate had announced that we were flying at 28,000 feet,
and would be able to get to Chicago at around 06:40 am Central Time.
We were cruising at 880 kmph.

VT-ALU `Odisha' showed her age a bit. Some plastic surfaces had some cracks,
though the plastic surfaces were extremely clean.
The fabric looked a bit tired and worn out. However, the IFE
units were in perfect working order: both the PTVs, and the headphones.
The power-port was also in perfect condition, and
supported my laptop throughout the long flight. All buttons on
the IFE cord-based remote were in place, and the unit was in working order.
I guess the faulty ones have been replaced.
The choice of programmes was also large, without being
overwhelmingly huge, as people often expect it to be. I tuned
into my favourite programmes, most of them based on old Hindi
film songs, and I patronised both the video and audio channels.
I also watched an episode of the Big Bang Theory, and had the
moving map on the screen for a large part of the flight, when I
was not sleeping.

A word about the cabin crew: they were pleasant,
without being unobtrusively friendly, or over-eager to help.
They were efficient in their tasks as well.
Something that I missed however, was the Star Alliance announcements,
which are now the norm in the Air India narrow-body flights.
There was the usual Star Alliance
announcement at the time of boarding, though. This was a
standardised announcement, read out by a senior staffer at the gate.

98.3 The Refreshment

At 03:15am Indian Standard time, pleasant smells and trolley
sounds woke me up from my sleep. The refreshment was welcome in
terms of the moderate quantity, and the time at which it had been served,
given that I had not starved myself for an Air India
gastronomic experience, as has often been my wont. I had had a
full dinner at home, before coming in to the airport.

The refreshment had a fruit bowl with two slices of a very tasty
papaya of the `Disco' variety, and two slices of a musk
mellon/honey dew mellon of the sArDA variety, with a mint leaf
added on top for colour contrast, and some great taste.
It was then that I noticed the caterer's card, which said `Sky Gourmet'.
The fruits were extremely fresh.
It as a great way to start the day.
The main plate had a nice and fresh cheese-and-cabbage croissant,
which I had with the sachet of tomato sauce/ketchup.
I guess I was a bit too sleepy, as I chose the tea over my usual
choice of the preferred beverage, coffee. To my pleasant
surprise, it was a nice brand of tea, which had been lightly brewed.
The trays were cleared relatively fast.

I drifted into sleep once more, after a member of the cabin crew
asked all of us to turn down the blinds, as we could go into a
sunlit region, soon. When I woke up, my body clock was adjusted
to Indian Standard Time. It was 06:30 am by my watch.
I was hungry as well.
I decided to do a galley check.
Air India came up trumps.
There were some small bites there: sandwiches, croissants, and of course,
the Indian hot favourite: tea bags, sweeteners, powdered
milk sachets, and the works. The tea bags were Tetley, a Tata product.
I made myself a cup of hot tea, and had it with two brown bread
sandwiches, which thoughtfully had cucumber and tomato slices
inside, and nothing else. The white bread sandwiches had black
lettuce and cheese inside and were quite enticing, as were the
cheese croissants, but I decided to resist temptation, for once.
I took a picture of part of the galley with my smart-phone, which
I had kept in flight mode.

98.4 The Breakfast


It started with the same type of fruit bowl as had been served in
the refreshment. The elderly lady was apologetic about the
non-vegetarian option not being available, but soon, a colleague
brought her a box from the back. It was marked `CHML', or `child
meal', I thought. Anyway, it was nice and filling. It had a
potato patty, a large and fluffy omelette, and a chicken sausage
that had been grilled just right. The cabin crew had followed the
warming instructions to the hilt, as the resultant preparation
was extremely tasty, and went well with the sachet of tomato
sauce/ketchup. The other items on the tray included a nice and soft croissant,
which I had with a rock-hard butter chiplet,
and a little box of a mixed fruit preserve. As the regular reader
would have envisaged, I had more than a glance at the vegetarian tray as well.
It had an extra item: a kulchA, a leavened
North Indian bread. It went with a chick-pea/Bengal gram-based spicy curry,
`chhole-kulche' is what the preparation is
called in North India. On the two sides of the spicy curry, were
a vegetable cutlet, and some beaten wheat-based preparation,
pohA, which forms the standard breakfast in most of the
states of Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, as with many other Indian states.
My breakfast was a fulfilling experience as well.

This time, I opted for the coffee. I had had a round of the
galley area on my previous visit there. The tray had been
well-stocked with the favourite Indian beverage, with two small
bottles of the common multinational coffee brand (read, bland).
At least the coffee was hot and strong.

Post-breakfast, I went around the cabin to have a look.
A member of the cabin crew was taking requests for tid-bits:
prominent among the requests included the two Indian obsessions,
tea and water. I noticed that the beverage bottles had been
re-stocked. In the midst of a slightly disturbed sleep, I woke up
to a hissing sound: it was my neighbour opening a can of
Kingfisher lager, and having it with a packet of salted

A picture of the wing: always a soothing sight.

And some snow flakes on the window:

98.5 The Dinner

The dinner started with the drinks service, with White label whisky,
a red and a white wine bottle stood out from among the perennial favourites,
Orange juice, Pepsi and water. Some opted for Kingfisher lager,
such as my neighbour. I tend to avoid alcohol on long flights,
as the system is strained, I often have a headache,
and alcohol only serves to worsen it further.
Salted groundnuts/peanuts were served with the drinks.
I went in for the orange juice, as usual.

The paneer (cottage cheese) or the chicken?
I chose the non-vegetarian option, as usual.
On an extremely full flight on this route, it is often natural to
have a certain bias towards a particular set of dietary preferences.
I knew the Air India solution: those option for the
non-veg option and seated towards the end of a particular section,
would get a vegetarian box plus a small chicken curry box.
As the regular reader knows, I do not mind this extra treat in any way.

There was an Indian `green' salad. It had slices of tomatoes,
orange carrots, and a very crunchy and fresh cucumber with the skins on,
served with a flavourful slice of lime.
As is my wont, I sprinkled the lime on top of the salad, with my
nose in close proximity, for my hunger to heighten.
It did.
The long bread served with the meal was quite nice, in spite of
the long time spent in the cold, on the plane.
The butter chiplet was ice-cold, just the way I prefer it to be.
The main box had some medium-sized aromatic bAsmatI rice,
served with half a cashew kernel, and three long and thin
raisins, which had been gently tossed about in a bit of oil.
The dry curry to the right, had carrots and peas, tossed around
in a bit of oil, with cumin, and some shredded onions.
This was a bit un-imaginative on the part of Sky Gourmet,
since they had carrots in the salad as well. The preparation was
very tasty, however. To the left was the paneer malAI curry,
with the soft cottage cheese cubes cooked lovingly in a
sinful cream-based gravy, which had thickened during the time of cooking.
This was superb! I kept a bit of rice apart, for the chicken curry.
The latter was a bit oily, and a bit disappointing,
though the chicken pieces were soft, and the gravy was light,
with a hint of cream in it.
The dessert was a signature Air India dessert, a fusion piece.
It had a lovely gulAb jAmun, a sweet ball of milk and dough,
whose outer covering had been fried to get it dark brown.
This had been set in a bed of some marginally sweet custard,
which had been embellished with chopped dry fruits: almonds, to be precise.
It was heavenly!
I was feeling quite full and satisfied, as the hot and strong coffee came in.
Yes, it was the expected brand, but it was
palatable for its temperature, and the strength.

The trays were cleared away quickly, and customs declaration
cards were soon handed out. It was 04:30 pm IST, and 06:00 am
Central Time, by now. There were about 40 minutes to go, as we
approached Grand Rapids, en route to Chicago. The very senior Mr.
Dinshaw Daruwala was seen wiping the carpet with a napkin as we
approached Chicago: he was just overseeing the state of the cabin.
At 4:50 pm IST, there was another flawless bi-lingual announcement
from the flight deck.

The colours in the dark sky were a delight to see.

We were getting closer to our destination.

And closer, still.

ORD, here we are!

The Captain landed us like a feather on Chicago's runway 28C-10C
(do I remember this correctly?), coming in over the huge Lake Michigan.

There were some interesting sights on the tarmac, in the early morning light.

A United Express E-145:

For a change, the Immigration did not take much time.
The baggage took some time to come out, on belts 8 and 9.
The customs check did not take much time, either.
Soon, I was out of the air-side area.
I called up home, giving them news about my safe arrival.
I used the inter-terminal transfer train, and got to Terminal 1.
From Terminal 1, I followed the signs to the CTA Blue line station,
which conveniently links the O'Hare airport to the rest of the city.
What as not convenient was the $5 ticket,
on automatic machines which did not give change.
There are some things which money cannot buy.
For everything else, there is...a credit card.
Well, Visa for me.
My first Visa card did not work.
I tried another card.
After some ado, this worked, and I was on a Blue line train to the city.
I got down at La Salle, and walked up to Hostelling International,
24 Congress Parkway, Chicago.
Much to my delight, the lady at the check-in desk honoured my
Youth hostel of India membership, and said that I could check in
at any time after 3pm, but she would put forth a request for a
lower-level bunk bed. I could keep my luggage in a locker in the
baggage room, as well. That was a delight.
What would I do now?
Please hold on for the report on Part 2 of this trip,
99. US,Aug'14-2: Winds of Change in the Windy City?
Links to my 98 trip reports:

Re: US,Aug'14-1: As far as She-Ca(n)-Go: Chicago!

Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2017 8:08 pm
by caleb1
Your descriptions of food have convinced me to go to my favorite Indian restaurant for dinner tonight. Darn it! I wasn't even hungry until I read this fantastic report.

Re: US,Aug'14-1: As far as She-Ca(n)-Go: Chicago!

Posted: Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:43 am
by sumantra
caleb1 wrote:
Your descriptions of food have convinced me to go to my favorite Indian restaurant for dinner tonight. Darn it! I wasn't even hungry until I read this...
He he, thank you, I guess now I will have one more weapon in my armoury, to fight off The Wife's suggestion, that I live to eat, and not vice versa. Seriously, Air India has been extremely good with regard to its food offerings even in its darkest days. Air India's regional option on long- and medium-haul routes is also quite good, as I have patronised this quite often. Thank you very much for the read, caleb1!
Cheers, Sumantra.