Airline: Indian (IC)
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Scheduled Departure: 0800 Actual Departure: 1055
Scheduled Arrival: 0955 Actual Arrival: 1250
I booked myself on an early morning IC
flight from BOM
on the Christmas weekend. This was the annual fog season in North India and DEL
airport had seen a string of delays and a few cancellations in the past few days. IC
is one of the domestic carriers in India that boasts of CAT-III ILS trained pilots, so I was hoping that we would get away with only a minor delay. Waking up at 0500, I switched on the TV
, and found all news channels were flashing stories of how the RVR (Runway Visibility Range) at DEL
had fallen to below 50m and that the airport was not taking in any flights! Nevertheless, I left my place at 0615 in anticipation of an on-time departure. The first inidcation of a delay came in the form of a call from the IC
office informing me of a one-hour delay in departure. As I was only 15 minutes away from the airport at that time, I thought – what the hell, it would give me some extra time to survey the happenings at the airport.
There was a decent queue at the IC
check-in counters as the airline had quite a few departures in the morning. There were two departures to DEL
, one to CCU
(which was delayed by three hours!), one to BLR
, and another one to MAA
. I was only carrying a rug-sack and therefore managed to check-in real quick. I had requested a window seat at the back and was allotted 26A.
Next up, was a long wait and a hunt to find a vacant seat at the increasingly crowded terminal. The seating area before the security check at BOM
Terminal 2A, from where IC
operate is already saturated and urgently needs expansion. I finally found a vacant seat tucked away in a corner and read the morning “Times of India” to while away the time. The news channels were still airing the DEL
fog stories when the security check for my flight was announced. I then proceeded towards the departure hold, and waited the boarding call.
The boarding call for the 0900 departure came at 0915 and I was surprised to board a bus rather than walk down the aerobridge! Anyway, as soon as I boarded the bus, I saw an Etihad A340 take-off. This was a surprise as Etihad normally brings in its A330-200 to BOM
. We began our drive towards the aircraft and as I soon found out, it turned out to be a long one. We drove all the way past Terminal 1B, round Runway 14-32, the international cargo terminal and to the International Terminal 2A. This is where our aircraft, a double bogied A 320, VT
-EPC was parked! Now, I am not sure whether this is a regular occurrence for this particular flight or it was just a one-off case due to unavailibility of parking bays at the domestic terminal. Anyway, next to us on the port side was parked an Emirates 777-200, A6-EMG, whereas to the starboard side was an IC
A300. It was also the first time I have seen an EK
772 as the DXB
route is normally served by either an A332 or a 773ER.
Another highlight was the leased Air India 767 and the all-white 747-300 for Haj flights. These were parked at the remote bays along with VT
-EPX, one of two AI
747-300 Combis and a Shanghai Airlines Cargo MD
At around 0940, the aircraft doors were closed and we were pushed back. However, after moving for around 30 metres, we stopped and were pulled back to the terminal! The captain then announced that the weather was still bad at DEL
and our pushback clearance had been cancelled! We were asked to “sit back and relax” and that we would move as soon as DEL
ATC cleared our flight plan. The EK
772 departed at 1015, followed by the Shanghai Airlines Cargo MD
However, there was absolutely no news on when we would leave. Finally, after sitting in the aircraft for an hour, the doors were closed at 1055, and we were pushed back. We slowly made our way towards Runway 27 and waited there for nearly ten minutes to allow two 9W
737s to land and a Silverback Cargo DC-8 to take-off. The DC-8 take-off was no less than experiencing a Mig-21 taking off. At 1110, we got our take-off clearance and after a longish 39 second take-off roll, we lifted off into a clear blue sky and set course for DEL
. The breakfast service began soon thereafter and I chose the non-vegetarian meal, consisting of chicken cutlets & a chicken puff along with bread, fruit plate and apple juice. This was followed by a nice, hot cup of coffee. I felt that the breakfast quantity was slightly inadequate especially by IC
The weather remained excellent throughout and I could spot the Mumbai-Delhi railway line at quite a few locations along with the major towns along the route. The flight was nearly 95% full, but I was lucky to have the entire row 26 to myself
With no entertainment available on the dated A320, I switched on my iPod and listened to some classic Cliff Richard numbers. After flying for an hour and 40 minutes, we were on the outskirts of DEL
and executed a series of right banks. We finally lined up with Runway 28 and made a nice approach. The weather outside was hazy but the dreaded fog was nowhere to be seen. We made a neat landing at 1250, and as we slowed down, I spotted a Blue Dart 757 freighter being pushed back and an Air France Cargo 744F parked at the cargo bay.
As we turned off the runway, a 9W
737 took off from runway 27, which meant that both the runways were in use. So much for the fog! As we slowly made our way towards the domestic terminal, I could see almost all the domestic carriers in operation today parked at the remote bay.
We parked around 300 metres away from the Arrivals area and were taken there by an ageing bus, which looked like it belonged to the DTC!! I was astonished to see the state of the airport buses at DEL
as I expected them to be atleast on par with those at BOM
. But this was the least of surprises,as I walked into the overcrowded Arrivals area. I visited the “Temporary Toilet” erected by the new airport management and found it to be overflowing – and not just with people! And here I was, complaining about the situation at BOM
. Anyway, as I did not have any checked-in baggage, I quickly made my way out of the chaos and into the pleasant Delhi afternoon.
Punctuality: 2/5 (fog delay)
Aircraft condition: 3/5
Cabin crew: 4/5
Ground handling: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5
Airline: Air India (AI)
Aircraft: Boeing 747-300 Combi
Scheduled Departure: 1920 Actual Departure: 1915
Scheduled Arrival: 2115 Actual Arrival: 2115
My return flight to BOM
was booked on Air India as I wanted to fly on one of only two 747-300 Combis in the Air India fleet. I had flown on VT
-EPX “Narasimha Varman” once, and was hoping that the aircraft doing duty tonight would be VT
I decided to reach the airport early and select a seat in the front economy class section of the aircraft. The 743 Combis have all economy class seating on the lower deck and business class seating on the upper deck. I reached Terminal 2 of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at 1750, which meant I had an hour and a half till departure. After getting my bag screened (I now had two bags because of all the stuff I had shopped for for folks back home!) I proceeded towards the AI
check-in counter, which at that hour looked pretty deserted. I requested for an aisle seat in the front section and was allotted seat 3C
. The check-in staff told me that the flight was on schedule, which meant that I would be home before midnight! After collecting my boarding pass, I walked around the terminal, which had a decent crowd. There was an IC
departure to a Gulf destination in addition to an SQ
departure to Singapore and a couple of AI
departures to BOM
After walking around for 10-15 minutes, and browsing through the duty free shops, I decided I had enough and proceeded towards the security check. This was a breeze and I settled down on one of those nice orange and black seats in the departure hold.
There were quite a few passengers travelling to BOM
307 and in fact, the economy class was 100% full. AI
offers really competitive fares on its domestic routes, and for us, its an opportunity to fly on its variety of widebodies. Hope they don’t change their fares when their new widebodies arrive
We were assigned Gate No. 4 and as I looked out of the glass windows, I saw the aircraft that was to take me to BOM
. It was none other than VT
-EPX, the same aircraft I had flown on on my trip to AMD, a few months ago. Despite its age, the aircraft looked immaculate from the outside.
The boarding call came at 1840, and I was shown to my seat by a pretty young flight attendant. AI
have recently hired some young cabin crew lately and it’s a welcome change from the old, depressed looking crew they always sported. The front economy class section in the 743 Combi is no less than business class! Except the first row, which has 2X2 seating, rows 2-6 have 3X3 seating with increasing aisle space between the seats. The legroom also is quite generous, which makes sense as this aircraft does long international hops. The interiors and fittings however, showed their age with rattling armrests, patchwork in a couple of places and creaking storage bins.
The crew then served us the pre-departure drink, which consisted of “Safa” Mango juice, made in the UAE. This tasted almost like the “Frooti” brand that we get in India, and I wonder if the mangoes used in making this were imported from India! The aircraft doors were closed at 1910, and we started pushback at 1915, five minutes before time! Pretty impressive considering Air India’s punctuality record. As were being pushed back, an SQ
-SYK was waiting to dock at our gate. The other aircraft seen at the International terminal were VT
-AXH, a 737-800 from Air India Express, another 737-800 from S2
A320s and a JAL 777.
We began our long and slow taxi towards runway 28 and in the meantime an IC
A320 landed. There was no activity seen on runway 27, which meant that only one runway was in use. We lined up on the runway at 1930. The Jumbo’s four engines notched up real quick and we rocketed down the runway. Experiencing all this from the nose of the giant gives one a real kick which cannot be experienced anywhere else. We were airborne in 36 seconds and gradually climbed into the dark skies. As the lights of Delhi faded away below us, we banked left and set course for Mumbai. Once the nose landing gear is retracted, the front section is absolutely quiet with hardly any engine noise. It feels as if the aircraft is simply gliding without engine power! I think it was the quietest ride I have experienced so far, much quieter than even the upper deck.
The crew began the meal service and as this was an evening flight, we were served a full dinner. I opted for the non-vegetarian meal consisting of a mild chicken gravy, rice, potatoes, salad, curd, bread and dessert. It was a substantial meal and was quite tasty. Dinner was followed by a round of tea/coffee and the cabin lights were then dimmed to allow people to catch a nap.
I can never sleep in an aircraft and whiled away the time by browsing through AI
’s inflight magazine – “Namaskaar”. There was nothing special inside except some snippets on the new aircraft to be delivered to AI
and AIX. The weather outside was pretty calm which meant almost no turbulence throughout the flight. The route is also pretty straight and there are no course changes till the outskirts of Mumbai.
After flying for around an hour and forty minutes, we made the first of a few banks and the captain announced that we would be descending into BOM
. We lined up with runway 27 and lowered the landing gear. The noise level rose dramatically after the landing gear was lowered. We passed low over the satellite town of Navi Mumbai (New Bombay) and it was great to see the lights of the JNPT port, Palm Beach road and the Vashi railway station. I remember my days watching the Jumbos descend through the morning skies while commuting to college. We touched down real smooth on the runway, but the braking was real hard causing a mini flutter in our forward cabin. We exited the runway and began our long taxi towards the BOM
international terminal behind a UL
A320. The time was 2115, which meant we were absolutely spot on!!
Terminal 2A at BOM
looked busy with a CX
A320 and an Air Arabia A320 occupying the gates. Terminal 2C on the other hand was pretty deserted as the rush hour had not begun yet. As we were waiting to de-board the aircraft, I got a chance to glance through the log book of VT
-EPX. The various entries showed that the aircraft is pretty much restricted to the NRT
route. I walked through the long corridor of Terminal 2C, down the stairs and waited for my bag to arrive. The baggage handling at Terminal 2C at BOM
is horrendous, and last time it had taken 45 minutes for my bags to arrive! I was hoping that it would be quicker this time; however it wasn’t much of a difference. After waiting patiently for 30 minutes, I picked up my bag and walked out of the terminal.
Overall, it was a good experience on Air India this time, considering an absolutely on-time departure and arrival. I think Air India will score a lot of points if they get just this aspect right everytime. Wish them all the best!
Punctuality: 5/5 (bang on time!)
Aircraft condition: 3/5
Cabin crew: 4/5
Ground handling: 3/5
Value for money: 4/5
[Edited 2006-12-27 14:11:53]
[Edited 2006-12-27 14:15:44]