My boss asked me to do a quick jaunt to South Africa to settle some biz related issues. I was glad to be going back there, for such a nice country South Africa really is.
This time I wanted to make my own arrangements for tickets. Boss was in good mood and he let me have my own way I started a long penance infront of my computer, determined to get a great deal and to impress everyone including my good old travel agent, only to find out that all the good deals were already been taken When I was about to give up, I came across a truly great fare on EK from Thiruvananthapuram (TRV).
Recently EK has started to fly from TRV. They are following their usual strategy of killing of competition with high availability of lower fare buckets. Anyways, I did the booking from TRV to JNB return. Strangely, EK does not accept credit cards from their Indian site. After obtaining the PNR one needs to go to local EK office to pay and ticket the itinerary.
I went to the local EK office in BLR and got my tickets. I also got domestic ticketing done on 9W for BLR-TRV sector. I will skip the 9W part and go straight to the EK leg.
Flight: EK 521
A/C type: A330-200
Photo © Christian Hauser
TRV was very hot and humid compared to BLR. I went 2 hours before ETD to airport. TRV boasts of having ISO 9001 certificate. To its credit, I found it to be cleaner than BLR with shiny flooring and good lighting. I got my baggage X-rayed and went in search of EK desks. I was expecting a chirpy young lady with EK head-gear, but to my surprize the EK check-in desks were being manned by grumpy AAI babus. There was also an UL (Srilankan) counter opened which had longer lines. I bravely asked for an upgrade and was quickly dismissed by Babu ("Its very expensive") The EK ground staff were chit-chatting in a group without having much to do and it seemed one of them was telling the world's funniest joke in Malayalm and everyone who understood liked it and laughed loud.
I obtained my boarding pass and got my stuff checked in through to JNB. The immigration line was moving slowly. Only two desks were operating (may be one for each flight as per ISO standards at TRV). The Kerala airports cater to huge Indo-Gulf labour traffic. The officers were separating out passengers whom they thought required more quizzing. When my turn came, the officer started by asking questions in Malayalm. I didn't knew the language and I switched to Hindi. He wanted to know why I was flying from TRV to JNB when I could have flown from BLR itself! Hmm..Tough one. I gulped mumbled and blarbbed something which he didn't understood. He eventually stamped my passport and let me off.
The incoming flight had already landed. There were TVs in waiting area which were being played at high volume. Some Malayali movie was being shown. TRV doesn't have jet bridges. From the departure level of the terminal building there is a tube like jet way that one has to walk to reach the apron and then board the aircraft through stairs. Finally our flight was called. The flight was about 80% full. Soon we were pushing back and were on our way.
We were served with cold towels and candies. Some passengers were already restless and started demanding "whisky" and "Rum". One of them locked himself up in the aft toilet and wouldn't come out as we began to taxi. Finally after some considerable effort he was encouraged to come out. He failed to recognize his seat and was made to sit in the last row.
I love EK's forward and downward cameras. They give incredible view of landings and take off's (especially night landings). I also like 2-4-2 layout of 330's. But EK's seat pitch is disappointing on 332's. I had ordered a special meal and promptly got one.
The alcohol flowed freely till DXB and kept everyone happy. The whole flight was uneventful. I couldn't sleep and passed the time watching airshow and reading inflight mags. Soon, the captain announced the decent to DXB. Outside the window, it was the usual site of shining yellow sodium lights of highways and buildings scattered around the desert. We flew over Muscat and began our descent from east. We arrived on time at 20 minutes past midnight. I spotted a PK 777, CX, SQ and lots of EK tails. We didn't get a jet bridge. We descended through stairs and bussed to the famous duty free area of DXB.
Flight: EK 571
A/C type: 777-300ER
Photo © Stuart Lawson
I spent some time checking out the duty free stuff at DXB. Then I headed for "quite lounge" between gate 8 and 9. At that time (11 PM to 4 AM), the DXB was full and buzzing with connecting pax. I managed to find a place and napped for a while. (I had kept an alarm in my mobile phone for me to wake up at the boarding time). When my alarm went off, I made my way to gate 15.
The boarding area was packed with pax. It appeared flight was totally full. I got a glimpse of our bird, a shiny 77W with FIFA titles (like all other EK aircraft). The boarding itself was quite disorganized. There was no priority boarding nor the row wise boarding. Everyone pushed and elbowed each other to aircraft. Thankfully I had chosen the best economy seat on a 77W.
EK's 77W are a nice bunch with 34" seat pitch. Whats more, it also has ICE and mood lighting. The captain came on PA and announced that our flying time will be 7 hours and 40 mins to JNB. We pushed back from the gate and headed for runway. I saw a couple of A340-500's in the gates. May be they were NY or NZ bound flights.
After a powerful take off, we started to climb to our cruise altitute of 37000 feet and headed in the direction of Sana'a of Yemen. Breakfast was served at that godforsaken hour and most of the pax preferred sleeping rather than eating. Soon the cabin lights were dimmed and mood lighting of light blue was turned on.
I couldn't sleep much. Who else can, when you have ICE with you? I watched a movie and played some games.
2.5 hours from departure, we had a glorious sunrise over Mogadishu of Somalia. FA's served beverages to pax who showed some life. I emptied a can of Carlsberg and tried to catch some sleep. I woke up when we were drifting near Dar es Salaam over Tanzania. After about an hour, FA's served snacks and coffee.
Captain gave an update about the arrival. JNB had a cloud overcast and thunderstorms. We started the descent as soon as we entered SA airspace. After some bumpy ride, we landed in JNB at 10:15 AM local time. I spotted the infamous G-VBUS of Pomnath in Virgin Nigeria colors. Apparently it had landed ahead of us and was in taxi (as I could see from forward camera).
We were unlucky with Jet bridge even this time. The aircraft was parked next to a SQ 777 and we descended from stairs. It was an unusual experience to step out into winter temp of 13 C of SA coming from a summer climate.
Overall a nice experience with EK again.
PS: If pics don't show up, leave a comment; better, tell me how to make them appear. Thanks.