I was due to proceed to BOM from DEL for an urgent day meeting today 10DEC03 - a plan only finalized late last evening. My options were IC
. Seeing the B737-900 (an airplane I had never flown on before) on the DEL/BOM/DEL route with 9W
, my choice was made.
DEP 9W332 / 10DEC DEL/BOM 0650hrs aircraft B737-900 VT-JGD
As I planned to return the same evening, I decided to drive down to the airport instead of taking a cab. It was already late when I left home at 0550hrs in pitch darkness. I covered the 15km distance in exactly 11 minutes thanks to the empty roads.
A pleasant and professional 9W
check in agent checked me in at the Economy class counter at 0620hrs and allocated me seat 31F as I insisted on a window seat (it was the last one left). My return boarding card for 9W353 (also a B739) at 1700hrs was also given to me (seat 22F). Morning DEL temperature was approx. 13 degrees celsius. The pax bus deposited us at the front stairs of the B737-900/VT-JGD. My seat being 31F I was directed to the rear stairs but I insisted on boarding from the front door as I wanted to check out the interiors including J/cl.
The aircraft itself was spotlessly clean (a feature of 9W
planes) both outside and inside. J/cl has 32 seats while Y/cl has 138. J/cl with its dark blue seats was looked spacious and comfortable. Joining load in J/cl was very poor and did not have more than 8-10pax. Y/cl on the other hand was full. The only negative aspect ws the seat pitch. I am not very tall - about 5ft 7in, but even for me the leg space was extremely cramped. The minute the passenger in front leaned back the situation just got worse... you could not even open the inflight mag without the pages getting jammed on the seat in front.
Departure (off blocks) was on the dot of 0650. We took off from runway 10 in an early morning mist. Besides a host of IC
B732s and S2
737s the rarer aircraft that morning at the international terminal were a CX
A330 and a private B721 (with winglets) belonging to Vijay Mallya of the United Breweries Group. There was also a Gulfstream IV
whose origins I could not identify as we commenced our take off run.
And what a take off it was. The CFM engines at take off power in my opinion were almost as loud as the V2500s on the A320 (without the musical hum). Boy, did she climb!! The last airplanes I saw as we lifted off were 2 IAF IL76s, an AN32 and an IAF B707 (an ex AI
aircraft). Even though the load was approximately 150 pax, the 739 swiftly and silently cut through the early morning smog and in about 10 minutes we were in clear skies. I decided to skip breakfast and took a brief nap, before waking up to visually savour hilly terrain of Madhya Pradesh wreathed in clouds which seemed like large lumps of chocolate topped with vanilla.
Approach to BOM never ceases to amaze me. Especially the slums of Dharavi, believed to be the largest in Asia which come right upto the airport boundary walls. I have often thought of some madman with a manpad who could easily take a pot shot at airliners approaching VABB from these clusters and then disappear into their labyrinthine bylanes. We touched down on time at 0845hrs. Besides an AI
743 and a couple of A310s, the international terminal at BOM just had a Saudia B743 on ground at the time. A Fedex A310 was also parked at the Cargo terminal.
We deplaned and I proceeded to my meeting, looking forward to my return trip at 1700hrs.
DEP 9W353 / 10DEC BOM/DEL 1700hrs aircraft B737-900 VT-JGD
Having already checked in for my return, I reached the airport at 1615hrs. The private airlines terminal at BOM has undergone a major facelift since I last used it. The departure gate for one had a new glass facade and the interior lighting at the terminal was more mellow and soothing to the eye. I feel that the two bookstalls at this terminal have a better collection of books than either the IC
terminal or the international one. A series of decisions bordering on stupidity, from my part ensured that I not only missed breakfast but lunch as well. I was famished. Luckily (or so I thought), I met a friend of mine working with 9W
who issued me a Lounge card and I rushed there in the hope of finding something to snack on. It was just not my day, just as I grabbed a plate, a 9W
staffer came in paging for DEL pax and upon seeing my boarding card practically shooed me to the airplane. What the hell, I'd grab a bite on board.
Surprise surprise - the aircraft for the return leg was also VT
-JGD. The flight did not seem as full as the morning as I settled into seat 22A. I spotted IC
's last surviving A300B2 VT
-EFX along with two other A320s at the IC
terminal. It was a nostalgic moment as I recalled the innumerable flights that I had taken on the A300 - now a fast disappearing type in this part of the world. The AI
743C I spotted in the morning was still at the same stand with its main deck cargo door open. A couple of AI
A310s and an Oman Air B737 were the only other airplanes that I spotted at the international terminal. An IC
A300 with the tail logo painted over, without engines and fuselage caked in dust sat outside the IC
hangars while an AI
742 in a similar state sat outside the AI
hangars on the other side of the runway. Three B747s (I could not make out their marques) of AI
sat in the hangars, but I suspect these are B742s already retired from the fleet and awaiting disposal.
Departure was once again on time. We held short of the runway for a couple of minutes as a 9W
B738 screamed in burning rubber as she touched down. We took off westwards over the Arabian Sea. Every time I take off from BOM, I think of one event - the crash of AI
B742 Emperor Ashoka into the Arabian Sea (with a total loss of life) as she took off on New Year's day 1978. We climbed over the sea, turned landward and settled on a North North Easterly heading which would take us over Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and into DEL in 1hr 55 mins (the crew however announced 1hr 30mins). Wet towels were handed out to passengers even in Economy class and service commenced soon as we settled into cruising altitude. Choice of soft drinks were between lime and orange juice. The meal trays came along shortly. My non-veg choice had a very peculiar combination of snacks: a potato stuffed snack which seemed like a cross between a masala dosa and a bonda, three pieces of chicken tikka and two pieces of dhoklas supplemented by a vegetable bread roll. Those of you from this part of the world will agree to the weirdness of this combination... anyway I was too hungry to care then. Dessert was slices of water melon and butter scotch ice-cream which the crew distributed from a thermocol container. The meals were impeccably presented. Cloth napkins and plastic cutlery to go in line with DGCA directives. I found it paradoxical that the plates were still made of bone china.. I mean could a potential hijacker not break one and use its jagged edges like a dagger or something ??? (or is it just my imagination running wild??)
A word about the inflight service on both legs. Young, smart and well dressed cabin crew as opposed to the pot bellied uncles and aunties that we usually see on AI
. The girl making announcements on the DEL/BOM leg goofed up her punctuations and Hindi grammar (but it was okay otherwise). I also noted that on this aircraft, rows 1 - 8 (J/cl) had life jackets under the seats. All seats in Y/cl had seat cushions which could be used as flotation devices. All announcements were remarkable for the unhurried and precise manner in which they were made. Full marks for clarity and diction. The F/O (sounding more like a young kid) came on a couple of times to tell us the speed (mach 0.77) altitude, outside air temperature and the usual trivia which of course I find terribly interesting. He even came on to tell us when we were overhead Jaipur and commencing descent into DEL "landing in 20 minutes".
But that was not to be. Traffic over DEL meant that we circled somewhere far out for a good twenty minutes beyond our STA
touching down at about 1915hrs (so much for their 1hr 30min flying time announcement, bah!). As I came out of the plane, I took the chance to do a bit of a walk about near the aircraft to observe it closer. Even as I drew suspicious glances from the 9W
security staff, I noted the following:
1. All up weight of this particular aircraft was 74389kgs while empty weight was 42414kgs (any guesses why they write it on the fuselage of India registered aircraft?)
2. A tailskid of a distinct design (difficult to describe here) but quite different from those on B734s.
3. The 737NGs appear to their fuselages a wee bit higher than their classic cousins. It was distinctly visible as our 739 had parked right next to a 9W
734 making comparison easier.
I wished it was day light and I could have studied the aircraft closer a bit more. The last passenger bus arrived in the meantime to pick up the stragglers - just me and an old couple were left. I boarded the bus back to the terminal eminently satisfied at having chalked up a flight on the B737-900. That leaves me with just the -100 and the -600 left to sample in the 737 series. The former, I fear, will remain just a dream. I was grinning to myself all the way back home.
P.S. Guys this is my first trip report and I'm afraid its nowhere near most of the trip reports that I have read here - they seem more like investigative analyses and theses to me - so well researched and descriptive are they. I look forward to your feedback.
Sarfaroshi kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil mein hai, Dekhnaa hai zor kitnaa baazu-e-qaatil mein hai