This is a very boring and mundane report, but I needed to do something to pass the time in the Maharaja Lounge. A client was going to be in Delhi for the day and wanted me to be there for some of his scheduled meetings. Since the advance loads were wide open, I decided to use one of my nonrev passes through my dad to hop up on Air India for the day.
3 March 2003
Mumbai Chattrapati Shivaji to Delhi Indira Gandhi International
I had the option of taking either the 345am flight or the 610am, with the earlier one being a 3-class 744. Loads looked open on both flights around 11pm, so I decided on the later operation so that I could get some extra sleep.
Awakened around 315am and checked the loads again, only to find that the Paris flight had been delayed and had rebooked a whole bunch of their Delhi connections onto the 610am flight instead. This meant that the wide open flight was now booked to 19/22 in Business Class and 210/186 in Economy Class. Every nonrev's nightmare was about to come to fruition.
I hastily awakened my dad who called ops to check who the commander for the flight was. Fortunately it was Mike Fernandes, an old friend of his, so dad decided to come down to the airport with me to ask Mike for the jumpseat if push came to shove.
We walked out the front door around 4am, but his car wouldn't start. After a few valiant efforts to get it going, I found the keys to my mom's car and we set off in that instead. There was absolutely zero traffic on the way to the airport and dad dropped me off at the Terminal II-C entrance before heading out to park.
The terminal was quiet at this early hour and I was waved through the pre-screening with only a cursory glance at my documents. I headed to the staff checkin desk and activated my listing, but was told that the position looked "bad". In addition to myself, there were 8 other nonrevs trying to get on the flight, although most of them wanted to continue through on the same flight to Hong Kong. The situation was compounded by the fact that there was a last minute addition of a 742 cockpit crew deadheading up to DEL to pick up the next day's Frankfurt flight.
Dad arrived a few minutes later, followed closely by the crew for the flight. Fortunately, today's aircraft was to be VT-EVI, the ex-Kenya Airways plane, meaning that there were 5 spare jumpseats available. I quickly got my jumpseat request approved by the captain and collected my boarding pass with the JMP endorsement.
Air India's domestic passengers from BOM are being subjected to a pilot security program where you are photographed at checkin with the image imprinted and timestamped on the boarding pass itself. This saves the hassle of checking ID's every time as you proceed through formalities. An interesting concept, and one that definitely speeds up the process.
All Air India flights operate from the International Terminal in BOM, meaning that even domestic passengers have to go through Customs and Immigration formalities at both ends. I scribbled out my "domestic customs declaration" form declaring my laptop and cellphone and proceeded to the Immigration checkpoint reserved for domestic passengers. The officer on duty there was busy watching the cricket highlights in the break room behind his desk and gestured to me to stamp my boarding pass myself. I accordingly affixed the red "IMMIGRATION CHECKED" stamp and proceeded to the Customs checkpoint. There another cricket-obsessed officer gestured for me to go the self-service route, so I stamped my declaration and dropped it into the box before heading downstairs to the gate.
Our aircraft was parked next to VT-EJJ operating to Kozhikode, and the agents there were desperately paging a trio of Hajj pilgrims in transit from Jeddah who were refusing to board until after they finished their morning namaz prayers. The poor agents were going crazy making PA announcements for (and I swear I am not making this up) "Passengers Mohammed, Mohammed and Mohammed arrived from Jeddah please proceed to gate 16 immediately".
I cleared security without any hassles and headed to the jetway where boarding was almost complete. One of the staff stopped me and told me that the flight was going with 3 seats open now, so I could take cabin seat 25B instead of the jumpseat. I thanked him and headed on board. The Inflight Supervisor was another family friend and he greeted me at the boarding door, commisserating with me about the lack of space up front.
I settled down in 25B next to a Swedish tourist and leafed through the Namaskaar magazine as the crew prepared for departure by distributing the headphones for the IFE system. There was a pre-departure drink service (yes, pre-departure drinks in economy class!) of packaged mango juice followed by the safety video as we taxied out. Air India revamped their safety videos in December and the new ones are a lot more smooth flowing. Rather than alternating each instruction in Hindi and English, it is screened in its entirety first in Hindi and then in English.
We held short of runway 27 as a Gulf Air A320 came in, and were then airborne just as dawn was breaking over the sleeping city with an announced flying time of 1:38. The seatbelt sign pinged off as we crossed through 10000 feet and the crew sprung up to begin the breakfast service.
There was the usual choice of Vegetarian or Non-Veg breakfast and I picked the latter. It consisted of an omelette with potato, corn and baked beans on the side, accompanied by a very tasty piece of fish. The tray settings also included a fresh fruit bowl, a croissant with butter, cheese and pickle, a plastic tub of yogurt and a small cup of orange juice. My seatmate picked the Vegetarian option that consisted of the same settings, except that the entree consisted of a potato paratha, a cauliflower paratha and what looked like Uttapam. My selection was excellent by airline standards and the speed at which my seatmate devoured his implies that he was pleased by that too.
During the meal service, the IFE consisted of the usual generic airline video magazine with the typical mix of old news, crappy tourism documentaries, bad music videos and stale sitcoms. I decided to nap for a while and dozed sporadically as the crew first came around with a tea/coffee service and then cleared the trays.
We descended into a surprisingly clear morning in Delhi and touched down three minutes behind schedule at 803am. Taxi time was short and we passed the Druk Air BAe146 waiting to leave for Paro before we pulled into gate 3 next to the SyrianAir 747 SP just about to head back to Damascus. I popped into the cockpit on the way out and thanked Mike for the smooth ride up before disembarking. The arrivals board had a very strange mix of flights scheduled. Apart from our arrival from Mumbai, there were also the twin Ariana Afghanistan flights from Kabul, the Turkmenistan Airlines flight from Ashkabad, Ethiopian from Addis Ababa and Biman from Dhaka. I cleared formalities quickly before catching a cab to the Radisson Hotel for my meetings.
3 March 2003
Delhi Indira Gandhi International to Mumbai Chattrapati Shivaji
The meetings ran pretty much all day and we were exhausted by the time 6pm rolled around. Again, I had the option of taking either a 10pm A310 or a 1250am 744 back to Mumbai. This time however, we decided to head to the Dum Pukht restaurant at the Maurya Sheraton downtown for dinner and take the later flight back. Dinner was absolutely exceptional and we grabbed a cab back to the airport just after 915pm. Traffic was light and I dropped him off at the Jet Airways terminal for his flight before continuing on to the international terminal myself.
10pm is absolutely the peak hour for Delhi airport with check-in in progress for Thai, Singapore, Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, British Airways, Aeroflot and probably some other airlines that I didn't notice. I checked in at the empty Air India desks and was cleared immediately into seat 11J in Business Class upstairs due to the extremely light load. To my disappointment, our aircraft was to be VT-EVB which was equipped with the new flat beds in F class, but still the old seats upstairs in J class. I completed my customs declaration quickly and headed to immigration where the lines were backed up about 30 deep. Using a trick I learned a few years ago, I made a beeline for the empty "crew/diplomats" line where the bored officer on duty is empowered to clear domestic passengers as well. As usual, I was waved through without a second glance and dropped my customs declaration in the box as I cleared that checkpoint as well.
My Business Class seating assignment had been accompanied by an invitation to the newly renovated Maharaja Lounge, so I headed to the upper level eager to check it out. I was not disappointed. Whereas anything would be an improvement over the previous sorry excuse of a room, this lounge is definitely a top quality place. It's not quite at the same level as the BOM Maharaja Lounge (which I rank up in my top 10 lounges worldwide together with places like the Wing, etc...), but its very comfortable, quiet and well appointed.
I found a quiet couch in the corner and quickly reviewed my notes for the day. A waiter took my drink order as I checked email and caught up on phonecalls. There was a big screen TV on at the bar showing the World Cup Cricket and I kicked back and started this trip report with one eye on that. Time passed quickly and soon enough it was 1215am and we were being paged for boarding at gate 10.
Security was its typically efficient self and I was switfly processed. Boarding was almost complete by now, so I headed straight to the jetway and wandered aboard VT-EVB. The crew greeted me and pointed me upstairs where I settled into seat 11J. The upper deck was about half full, but most of the passengers were seated in the rear half of the cabin. There was a lady and her 2 kids in transit from London in row 10 and another lady in row 12.
As I settled down, I realized why everyone had relocated to the rear of the cabin. The brats in row 10 were probably the worst behaved animals I had ever seen in my life. I had just sat down and was pulling out my papers when I felt something bounce off the top of my head. To my utter amazement, the kids were standing on the seats in front and pelting me with the contents of their amenity kit. I alerted the mother to this and her response was a passive "Bacche to hai, na. Main kya karu?" (translation : Oh well, kids will be kids. What can I do?). Needless to say, I was incensed. If I hadn't been nonrevving today, I would have strangled the kid myself, but my status required me to simply grin and bear it.
Things got worse when the flight attendant came around with the pre-departure drinks. She had neatly arranged a tray of orange juice and coconut water in glasses and was offering some to the mother when brat #1 decided to chime in. He picked up a glass of Orange Juice and POURED IT INTO a glass of cocunut water sitting on the tray. The FA yanked the tray away and scolded him for doing that. TO my amazement, the MOTHER took offense to this and told the FA not to talk to her kids like that because "we have paid big money for these tickets". The FA apologized diplomatically and asked the mother to keep her eyes on the kids, bending down again to offer the mom a drink. At that moment brat #2 got into the act, and slapped the tray downwards, sending all 10 glasses arranged on it flying. The bulkhead splattered with juice and the poor FA scrambled to get a towel to mop up the mess. In the meanwhile, the kids collected the crystal glasses and began throwing them at each other, cackling loudly the entire time. It was a miracle that all of them landed on the carpet and didn't break.
I guess the noise had alerted the captain who emerged from the cockpit and quickly summed up the situation. He asked the mother to join him for a second and she returned white faced and ordered the kids to not only sit down but to seatbelt up and not make another sound. To my surprise, they complied and that was the end of their little drama for a while.
The FA came around with another round of drinks in new glasses and apologized profusely to us for the problems. I smiled and told her that she handled it perfectly, as did the woman behind me. Headphones were distributed and I kicked back with some music as the bulkhead screens explained that "Your aircraft is named 'VELHAGOA'" with some nice pictures and blurbs about the history and architecture of the temple complex by the same name.
Doors closed, safety demo was screened and we taxied briskly to the runway from which we were quickly airborne about 20 minutes behind schedule. The crew came around with a snack service, but I decided to pass on it, kicked back my Business Class sleeper seat and was in dreamland within seconds. The FA woke me up on final approach when it was time to put our seats back upright as we descended into a lovely clear Mumbai night.
I've found that the Indian pilots familiar with the approach to runway 27 fly it very differently to the foreign pilots who fly here less often. Having flown into BOM on the upper deck of a Northwest 744 just a few days earlier, this was a perfect opportunity to compare the two. Sure enough, I noted that we intercepted the glidescope a lot further out and consequently had a perceptively smoother approach (although this may be due in part to the fact that our route from Delhi brought us into the pattern from the NorthEast as opposed to the Amsterdam flight which approached from the NorthWest - pun intended). We flared just beyond the threshold and turned off the active runway before the domestic terminals where Jet Airways and Indian Airlines' fleets were dormant for the night.
Terminal II-C was full of Air India planes tonight and I counted about 15 747s and A310s parked either at gates or at remote stands. We waited short of our gate as the South African Airways 747 SP (wow, 2 747 SP sightings in a single day!) pushed back for Jo'burg before pulling in right at 315am, exactly 30 minutes late. I was one of the first off the plane and made some calls as I headed down to Immigration and Customs. Both agencies saw my boarding pass with the big "D" (for Domestic) and my Indian passport and waved me through without a second glance, so I was in the car park within minutes. The drive home took about 15 minutes with no traffic and I was in bed by 345am, a scant 30 minutes after touchdown and almost exactly 24 hours after I had set out. A whirlwind day had ended.