I did a trip to Andaman Islands (India) in the low season of August. To reach Port Blair (IXZ), capital of Andaman & Nicobars, and the only airport of that chain, I used Air Deccan (DN) from Chennai.
Details about my trip to Andamans can be found here
in the India travel forum.
I managed to pick-up a cheapo fare on DN few months before the trip. DN has really wrecked the gameplans of IC
in this route. (IC
serves IXZ 7x weekly from MAA
, while 9W
serves 7x from MAA
only). In the peak season, these two carriers were slapping about Rs.9000 (USD 200) one-way, and the prices would only go up from there. So, in the past people who could afford this aerial route were Govt officials, corporate bigwigs and some desi and 'phoren' tourists. DN has turned the game on its head and in the low seasons airfares are cheaper than the Ship (3 days and two nights of sailing time from Chennai / Kolkata, costs about Rs.3000 for the bunk class). Imagine those unlucky islanders who could not afford the IC
/9W fares, and had to wait for weeks to get a ship ticket to mainland, and then drift the distance in a ship for an awfully long time... Now, suddently the mainland is just two hour away by air, and what's more, its cheaper than that ship!
Date: 22nd August 2006
Carrier: Air Deccan
Flight no: DN-709
Aircraft type: Airbus A320
ETD: 0720 hours, ETA: 0920 hours
I was doing this trip on a budget. So, I took the early morning local train to "Trisoolam" station which is in-front of MAA
airport. I went little early to airport to be able to tackle time needed for the new security requirements. Early morning is a busy time at MAA
's domestic terminal with departures lined up every 15 mins or so. The DN flights depart from "no.2 door" (Departure 2). There was already a queue at 2, so big that it took quite some time to locate its tail end. And it moved slowly. I was in the queue for about twnety minutes and it hardly moved 20 ft. I was starting to get nervous as it was already 5:50 am. Thankfully, one security personnel came announcing that "hand luggage only" passengers can bypass the queue and reach check-in area.
I showed up at the DN check-in. As expected, the queues here were also long. DN had 3 counters at that time. I had a family infront of me who were arguing with DN staff about the weight of their check-in luggage. The argument was getting hot and it showed the symptoms of becoming a fight with either side refusing to relent. Finally the family power prevailed (greatly assisted by the vocal chords of Wife and Mother-in-law).
When finally my turn came, the computer broke down
It was already 6:15 am. DN staff made some frantic calls in wireless sets, with no avail. The check-in staff from other counters came down to see and give some advice. First, they tried the well known Indian method. Keyboard was shaken violentely. Mouse was pulled hard and tapped several times. Monitor banged... nothing happend. Somebody suggested re-booting. Promptly the plug was pulled and re-inserted. It worked!!
I finally had my boarding pass at 6:30 am. I ran to join the swelling security check line. There were only two lines at that busy hour. It too was moving slowly with all the passengers of IC
, 0S etc. When I made it past the security, it was 6:55 am. The IC
were furiously boarding their Pax. There was no sign of any activity from DN though our flight was to depart at 0720 hours. I waited with other pax at the gate no.1 area for our flight announcement. I had a creeping fear that DN would cancel this flight as flying to IXZ may not be that profitable this morning with all those extra luggages unpaid for.
Suddenly our flight no. appeared on Gate no.3. I was the first to present my BP
and board the Bus. Most passengers of DN are first time fliers of great Indian middle class. Nothing wrong with that as I consider myself to be one of them. But this adds to the operational difficulties for an airline like DN since Pax often brake the rules and may not conduct themselves in the expected lines of behaviour. The boarding process was chaotic. Two staris were attached to the aircraft, but only one was manned by the staff. As soon as bus stopped, people ran and started to climb the aircraft from the unmanned rear stair. They had to be pursued from behind and deplaned to collect the ticket stub.
Our aircraft today was VT
-ADZ with "Zee TV
" stickers and a blue underbelly. DN does not pre-assign seats for their A320s. People rushed to grab the seats which they thought to be the best (All 31" pitch). This caused some commontion, with passengers stranding themselves in aisles unsure about their choice of seat. Some settled for the nearest window seats. Some wanted window and also the whole row for their family. Some tried to fit their luggages in the overflowing holding area. DN FAs looked on from the galley, probably unwilling to risk interfering. It took nearly 30 mins for all the pax to settle down. The time was 0740. Captain came on PA and apologized for the delay. FAs conducted the bilingual security briefing ritual for the amused audience. Finally, we were on our way at 0750, quite acceptable considering the DN standards. We took off towards west and made a sharp 180D turn towards the east, which gave some stunning view of MAA
The rest was unremarkable, except DN beverage service did not had any coffee or tea to buy (though it was a morning flight). As we started to cross Bay of Bengal, FO came on PA and said there was no notable landmark during the course till we reach "North Sentinal" island.
We started the decent at 0950 hours. North Sentinal came into view. Andamans look beautiful from the sky. We overflew some coral rings and southern parts of island with its thick rain forest. After some turning manuevers, we landed at Veer Savarkar airport at 1010.
The disembarkation was equally chaotic. The airport arrivals hall has a small immigration counter. Non-Indian visitors require to get an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to visit islands, which is issued on arrival. The officers were trying to locate foreigners among the crowd, and apparently the best method they have found is to catch them by their skin color. So if you happen to look like a white, you will be "caught" by the smart officers at the IXZ. If you look like a Indain, you can walk straight out of the airport with no questions asked!!! (And India cries big about illegal immigration from Neighbors).
Date: 28th August 2006
Carrier: Air Deccan
Flight no: DN-710
Aircraft type: Airbus A320
ETD: 0855 hours, ETA: 1100 hours
The return leg was unremarkable.
Few notes about the IXZ airport. The airport was cleaner than the mainland airport. The security at IXZ is probably the toughest of all airports in India. My DN eticket was required to be endorsed. That is, my Photo ID
was checked by the DN staff to ensure that I was the actual pax, by matching the name of my ID
and ticket. They made me to check-in my bag as I had shaving gel and tooth paste. At MAA
, they had let me to take my luggage to cabin and no ID
It was the usual stuff at the depature gate. A line was formed prior to the boarding by the DN staff. It randomly got split into two at the head with some pushing and shoving from behind. Both claimed they were the orginal and accused the other of lack of manners. When the bus showed up at the gate, the line had become like a hydra head with many branches constantly swaying and shifting.
The bus of IXZ was the strangest airport vehicle I have ever seen. Even my native village in rural India has better buses!
Finally, when the gate opened, the hydra became a bee hive.
The incoming aircraft was late by 25 mins. It was the same aircraft (VT-ADZ). We took off 45 mins behind schedule. There was no coffee/tea in the returning leg. We landed at MAA
around 11:50 am.
I think I will stop now. Post your comments and questions! Thanks everyone.