Today we were traveling from Delhi to Dallas/Ft. Worth via Newark on Continental.
Flight Info: Continental Airlines, Flight 83
New Delhi Indira Gandhi Int’l (DEL) to Newark Liberty (EWR)
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Scheduled Departure Time: 22:50 PM
Actual Departure Time: 23:06 PM
Scheduled Arrival Time: 04:25 AM
Actual Arrival Time: 04:11 AM
Flying time: approximately 14 hours and 35 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 777-224(ER)
Registration: N77019 (Larry Kellner)
Delivered: March 7, 2007
Photo © Tobias Albrecht
Photo © Simon Wong
Photo © Siegi N
Photo © Yunjin Lee - Korea Aero Photos
This was my 7th time to fly out of Delhi on an intercontinental flight. Previously, I have flown mostly Lufthansa via Frankfurt to DFW, thereby departing at peak hour (i.e. midnight or shortly afterward, when the majority the Europe-bound flights leave). Since we were traveling on the nonstop flight to the States on this occasion, we would be leaving at an earlier time – allowing us to clear all formalities whilst dealing with a significantly lower volume of traffic passing through the airport. However, I will readily admit that during previous journeys, I quite always enjoyed the “energy,” of the terminal atmosphere during rush hours when it felt like ten flights were leaving all at once from Delhi to locations worldwide.
Arrival at IGI
We were dropped off outside T2 around 8:30 PM. As usual, the exterior of T2 was teeming with too many cars and abounding with various odors as millions of people, relatives, drivers and the like were present to drop off departing passengers. This is something commonplace to frequent travelers to India – and in a peculiar way, almost a comforting and nostalgic sight to the eye. It serves a dual purpose: it reinforces the value of kinship because everybody from the family will come to the airport see you off, and also it serves as a reminder about how seriously overpopulated and chaotic the country is.
Incredible India, indeed – it is a mob scene, full of honking cars, traffic jams, children running amuck, families wheeling overstuffed suitcases, loiterers, occasional vagrants, and three to four uniformed guards who walk around attempting to establish some order in midst of the anarchy. Such a sight is a very real representation of what will greet you the second you step out of the terminal upon arrival in India, as well as be the very last sight that bids you farewell upon your departure on your way out - a natural means of due diligence for every visitor to India, both new and returning.
Check-In and Interior Views
The interior of the check-in area of Delhi airport has improved significantly over the past few years. In order to control the volume of people inside the terminal, now only ticketed passengers are allowed to enter even the baggage-check area of the building. Hopefully, that will change with the new T3, in order to allow the public (i.e. aviation nuts like ourselves) inside the non-sterile area to scope it out.
I always like the “classic” flight information display marquee that contains departure and arrival data in the retro, spin-roll motion encased in a glass frame. You’ll probably never find it in the US, but I did manage to see one in Frankfurt airport and again here at Delhi, as seen in this photo. Based on the data shown according to the marquee, the lineup this evening would kick off with a few flights to the Middle East, with Continental’s departure to Newark next, followed by a series of flights to Southeast Asia, then the American nonstop flight to Chicago, and finally the European “bank” to the big league hub airports like CDG, AMS, FRA, LHR, ZRH, etc.
What I particularly found interesting was that the Uzbekistan Airways flight to Tashkent was open to Security and Check-in long before its scheduled departure time – in fact, with a lot more allocated time to clear formalities than the rest of the airlines. Do any readers know the reason for this? Security perhaps?
Continental’s check-in area was located towards the far right hand side of the terminal marked “H.” The check-in staff was, well, not quite the brightest. Continental offers online check-in and quick bag drop for a reason – to expedite the process. We had done just that, but the ground agents walking around on foot kept redirecting us towards the normal check-in line, despite the fact that there was a clearly marked, “web check-in” line designated for savvier travelers like ourselves.
After several explanations, including showing our official, printed passes, we managed to convince them that we knew what we were doing. They still felt the need to recite the rules that we had already agreed to on the computer hours before. Moreover, we continued to stand in “quick bag drop” line, which ended up taking longer than the normal check-in. The lady stationed at the counter was about as sharp as a butter knife and in our case, took about 10 minutes to take care of the three of us.
Not good – this only added to my beliefs that outsourcing in India still has a pretty high failure rate despite common notion.
Immigration and Security Check
Immigration formalities were a breeze – we presented our visas and various documents and then proceeded to the secure area. Fortunately for us, the line was short – but my relief was short-lived upon discovering the appalling manner in which IGI conducts security screenings. Here’s how the frightening process works:
- You approach one podium-seated agent, who checks your boarding pass and passport, using the flashlight, etc, and then forwards you to a detector where you are to place your articles on a belt to pass through the screen. Fairly normal, right?
- Wrong. After depositing your belongings, you are sent to a SEPARATE line to walk through a SEPARATE detector for body screening. Not only is it a good 20 feet way from where you placed your belongings, but the two locations are hidden from sight from each other by opaque glass dividers, including a private area designated for women needing to undergo additional screening.
- So, in a nutshell, you send your stuff through one machine, walk through a separate detector that is completely disconnected from the one where you set your stuff, and if additional screening elapses, not only are your belongings sitting idle on the end of the first belt; they are completely out of your sight and you may go 5-10 minutes without seeing them.
Once you complete the body scan you can proceed to cross your fingers and shout a few Hail Mary’s that your phone/wallet/laptop/carry-on etc. hasn’t been claimed by somebody else during this inane separation tactic. In my opinion, not only does this open one up to getting their stuffed taken, but also it’s a pretty poor security standard. What if they need to conduct a bag search? How can they find the owner if they’re stuck in a separate line or being searched 30 feet away?
Aside from that fiasco, we entered into the main departure concourse at IGI, and it’s about as drab and dull as it has been for the past life it has enjoyed. The waiting areas by the jet ways provide semi-comfortable seats, but there aren’t enough for everyone to sit comfortably. The glass on the windows are not viewer/spotter-friendly and do not really allow passengers to see much outside the terminal.
Concession locations are…there, but I do not believe there are many, if any, restaurant or sit-down establishments. Most of them are express eateries, but I have made it a habit to avoid eating at any of them to prevent stomach illness before I journey 24 hours by air back to the states (I speak from experience - the Subway shop in the corner looks particularly menacing).
Duty Free shopping left much to be desired – actually, there really wasn’t ANYTHING left to shop…other than booze and cigarettes. No fragrances, jewelry, gifts, chocolates – basically, with the new terminal opening soon, most likely what was left was part of an exhaustive process to clear out the shelves, and not much remained. What was the point?
I discovered a swanky lower-level departures area for Gates 1 and 2 accessible by escalator, which featured a very inviting Kingfisher Bar that looked slow for business tonight. I assume that this part of the terminal provides bus/shuttle services to certain aircraft parked remotely on the apron, most likely servicing 9W, AI, and IT flights.
I roamed around for hardly 20 minutes before the tedious boarding process began. We were seated in row 19, so we had to wait a fair amount of time to allow the passengers seated behind us to board. After collecting our passes, we had to undergo an additional security screening in the jetway – something that I think all passengers traveling directly to the US from Asia and Europe have to undergo, right? (Correct me if I am wrong).
Again, I was disgusted with the dismal security standards at IGI. After my backpack went through the check, the agent picked it up and threw, yes, actually threw it five feet down the rack. I elected, instead of opening my mouth to shout at the ignorant jerk, to instead stand in place, not moving and starting back at him until he caught my eye, and I proceeded to shake my head at him. I spoke with my scowling face and pointed at my bag, in order to indicate – “that is not how you treat other people’s property.” He got the message, and looked scared, and then looked away to return to his job (and hopefully not with a repeat performance).
I have little to no power in situations like these, and I’ve learned that causing a scene (even despite your innocence) only flags you for trouble. So, I guess by being passive aggressive, I still could make a point.
Well, the bag had been tossed anyway because it had to be searched - I had bought two water bottles for 10 rupees (about 25 cents each) for the long flight in the sterile area – it didn’t occur to me that we would be re-screened. Oh well. Those were dumped, after I had to wait for the agent to spend five minutes pawing through the box of almonds belonging to the guy in front of me who was also being searched. Idiotic.
Finally, we boarded – and entered into an immaculately clean 777-200ER aircraft, which I would later discover was named “Larry Kellner” after deplaning in EWR. It was hardly 3 years old in age. The cabin appeared fresh and roomy, and the seat was very comfy. Pillows and blankets were already in place, and the IFE screen was all-fired up and ready for use. The first thing that I noticed upon boarding was that none of the cabin members were of Indian descent – something I found interesting. In addition, other than the safety demonstration video, which had Hindi subtitles, NONE of the announcements during the duration of the flight were made in Hindi/Punjabi, etc. The entire crew was American and English-speaking. The passenger make-up, however, was probably 80-90% South Asian, with a few foreigners, most likely American tourists and a few business travelers. I would speculate that the Indian passengers were probably a 50/50 split between Indian nationals and US citizens of Indian descent traveling for VFR purposes, based on the immigration lines at Newark.
Load factor was 90%+, although not entirely full. Leg room was pretty comfortable (for somebody around 6 feet tall). Pitch was standard 32 inches, and fortunately the IFE boxes towards the front of the seat in front of you, so you could stretch your legs out reasonably before your toes would hit them. I found this much more preferable than having them on the sides, which is far more uncomfortable.
There was a pretty big gap between the window panels and the edge of the seat cushion, which could make it difficult for sleeping – so I’d suggest bringing a larger pillow for those who like to utilize the window for sleeping. The neck pillow, by the way, is a fantastic $15 investment, which I highly recommend for those wanting to sleep on planes.
The flight attendants walked around offering complimentary newspapers for passengers, with the selection of either USA Today or the Times of India. Nice touch – something I hadn’t seen often on long-haul flights in coach post 9/11.
Pushback and Take-off
We pushed back from the jetway with a few minutes to spare, and from the window I saw the American 777-200 parked, bound for Chicago, along with an MAS A330-200 to Kuala Lumpur, Thai 777-200 to Bangkok, and a Singapore 77W to Singapore Changi.
Much to my dismay, and beyond my control, this ticket was booked on the night of the World Cup final. I knew ahead of time that we would not be able to watch the game live at all. Prior to pushback, the captain spoke and assured that they would make periodic announcements at halftime and after the final to update us on the score.
As the safety demonstration feature was shown on the individual screens, I noticed the flight attendants standing still near the LCD monitors close to the galleys – something I had never seen before, even on the likes of Lufthansa and British Airways. I found this to be very professional and reassuring – in a corny way, taking the passenger’s safety as a serious manner or something of the sort? Nice gesture – keep it up.
As we taxied towards the runway, I saw the arrivals of a KLM MD-11 from AMS, an AF A330 from CDG, and a BA 777 from LHR. I also noticed that all of the widebody flights belonging to Kingfisher, Air India, and Jet Airways were parked remotely from the terminal and accessed by stairwells on the apron – anyone know if this is normal protocol – and is linked with the lower level gates 1 and 2?
Take-off was very powerful, and as we ascended, I got to experience a nice lightening show from the thunderstorms in the clouds adjacent to our flight. Regardless, we glided along smoothly until we reached our cruising altitude. Service announcements were then made: immediately we would be receiving dinner, followed by duty free – which would be available until breakfast/brunch – which would be served an hour and a half prior to arrival at Newark. After the dinner trays were collected, “snack bags” would be distributed containing 100% vegetarian items to be consumed at the passengers’ convenience for the middle portion of the flight.
Anyways, I relaxed in my seat enjoying an episode of Two and a Half Men, and awaited the meal service. Dinner trays were distributed rather abruptly, typical U.S.-based carrier style, without really receiving much of a smile or friendly greeting like you would get on foreign carriers. Still, this wasn’t first class, and I presume the cabin attendants just wanted to harry through the process so that everybody on board to get on to other things. The trade-off was that passengers received their meals and drinks quickly so that they (and the flight attendants as well I guess) could settle down for the long, night flight. The first round of drinks was served alongside the meal – and as usual, cocktails, beer and wine were only available for purchase at $6 USD. While this might be irksome for many, I secretly was glad – some Indians have a notorious habit of taking it to the extreme with the boozing on the European airlines when complimentary liquor is available, so this helped keep things at bay.
Choices were, the usual, “Veggie or non-veggie.” My younger brother and I agreed to order one of each and trade/share if we weren’t satisfied with our selections, so I requested the Vegetarian choice.
The main course itself really was quite tasty, and consisted of a mixture of Achari Paneer (paneer is an Indian cheese with a tomato/yoghurt curry-sauce) basmati rice pilaf, and a vegetable medley with tomatoes, green peppers, onion, okra and cumin gravy.
Alongside it we received an Indian salad with tomato, cucumber, and dressing, along with a nice spicy lentil and potato salad that was quite flavorful. Additional items included a semi-soft dinner roll with butter (an awful spread - do NOT use the Annul brand), Dahi (plain yoghurt) and a macadamia-nut cookie.
However, I was really impressed that CO went all-out with the accompaniments. We received Achar mango-pickle (Indians and Indian-food enthusiasts know what this delicious stuff can do to enhance your meal) along with a wrapped sweet, which although I had never tried before, seemed to a Mysore pak – which is made of ghee, sugar, and chick pea flour.
We also received a nice little packet of Paan/Supari, which is a mouth-freshener that contains a mixture of Areca nut, betel, cardamom, and sugar. This can either be chewed and spat or swallowed. Finally, there was a moist towel to cleanse the hands, and a toothpick. There were metal cutlery as well.
I did manage to see what the non-vegetarian offering was, and it appeared to be a Chicken breast with some sort of sauce, mixed vegetables, mushrooms, and mashed potatoes – standard items you would receive in a main course on an Economy-class meal.
You can ordinarily rely on the first meal on an ultra-long haul flight to be relatively hard to screw up, since it is pretty fresh out of preparation. This one did the trick – it was nice, filling, and the extras were a nice bonus – Continental really did their homework on this one, and I was reasonably satisfied.
After dinner trays were collected, an announcement was made about the snack service, and soon the “bags” were distributed. In them was a squashed vegetable sandwich, which I did not even bother to try (it looked like a slice of tomato wedged in between a hot-dog bun that had sat out in the sun for hours), along with some Masala chips, a kit-kat bar, and a bottled water.
And after this service, folks, that was pretty much the last I saw of the flight attendants for the next 10 hours.
In-Flight Entertainment (IFE)
Back on the ground, while we waited for boarding to complete, I browsed the IFE system and was extremely impressed by the selections Continental offered – over 197 AVOD films – by far the most I had ever seen on an airplane. The choices are excellent as well and definitely provide something for everybody. What I really liked was that they offered film series as well – i.e. one could watch all three Bourne films, The Godfather Parts I-III, Kill Bill, all of the Harry Potter books, etc. Films were also available in a multitude of languages with subtitles or dubbed, and I also noticed a healthy selection of Bollywood/Filmi selections available as well along with some other national favorites.
The short programming options were awesome – I did not browse the entire selection, since I do not really watch TV, so I stuck with exploring whether my favorite shows like The Simpsons, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Family Guy were offered, which they were – and in some cases, with as many as up to five episodes each per sitcom! This is great – perfect if you have a short attention span with TV or if you just want to watch something light in between/before/after sleeping without getting into a heavy/lengthy film.
In addition, the music selections were extensive, and allowed one to build their own “Jukebox” playlist from a variety of genres. There were also games, but I neglected to explore them, opting instead for the other provisions.
When it comes to comparing touch screens amongst various airlines, Continental’s is the best. Until now, I had always thought that LAN had the best offering (I’ve never had the fortune of traveling on EK or SQ), but I think CO even tops LAN. Their system is extremely very user-friendly and intuitive. Unlike Air Canada’s, it takes little to no time to load, and you can always depend on the selection being available and quick to fast-forward, pause, rewind, etc. The sound quality and appearance was far superior to the likes of Lufthansa (which I flew on the outbound journey, and will elaborate in a separate TR), so that I could actually hear the dialogue, using my own headsets. Also, I didn’t need to tamper with the volume control often, something I have found commonplace on other carriers to make sure I am not too loud.
Overall, full marks to CO in this department!
Flight routing and happenings
Our flight path today seemed like it would take us north into the Indo-Pak border, where we would snake around Lahore and Islamabad and fly directly over Kabul in Afghanistan. Then we would veer northwest over Uzbekistan, crossing over the Aral Sea, then continuing northwest over Moscow and Helsinki.
About three hours into the flight, I had finished my first film and then put on my eye shades, hoping to get some rest by falling asleep by around 2 AM local Delhi time. Here, I took advantage of the IFE system and built a “jukebox” play-list with some good old Duran-Duran, Jackson-5, Michael Jackson, Dire-Straights, and soporific Enya (random, I know) and I surprised myself by basically crashing for the next 5 to 6 hours, which was splendid.
I do not think I stirred once during that period, and the jukebox kept playing on loop. Believe me, I am not one to sleep on airplanes, especially long-haul flights. So, this was great.
I awoke a little after 7:30 AM local time for Delhi, with a little less than 7 hours of flight time remaining. I was happy with how quickly it seemed like the flight was progressing. By now, we were off the coast of Norway and there was a beautiful view outside the plane of the sun. It was probably around 2 or 3 AM in whichever region we were in, but being so far north in the summer season, with longer days, the sun was visible. This was quite extraordinary, as we would experience nightfall in just a few hours time.
Unfortunately, I dislike how the shape/angle of the 777 wing doesn't really allow great viewing outside of the plane.
I spent the next three hours or so rotating between dozing in and out of sleep, listening to music, or watching episodes of my favorite TV shows. At one point, I got up to stretch my legs (having an unnecessary DVT-phobia at my age). I walked to the rear of the cabin where the flight attendants had closed off the aft galleys, hidden from sight and they were chatting away loudly in a large group. Near the lavatories (which were very clean btw), an area had been set up where passengers could help themselves to water and juices at their convenience.
Around the four-hour mark, we crossed on the outer edge of Greenland and began our downward crawl into North America. Shortly after leaving the icy landmass, it became pitch-black outside and we returned to nightfall – which was quite an interesting phenomenon given the contrast we had just experienced with the sun over Scandinavia.
Four hours turned into three hours which became two, and time was dropping away quickly. The cabin lights were still dim, but most people were awake by this point, fully accustomed to it being around 11 AM Delhi time in accordance with their body clocks. I concluded another film and started a third before Customs and I-94 cards were distributed. Last calls for duty free were made before the lights slowly came on and the carts were rolled up the aisles for breakfast service.
Again, options were divided between vegetarian and non-veg meals and were distributed alongside the coffee/juices/tea service. As with dinner, everything was handed out rather quickly and brusquely, and commenced with about 90 minutes prior to arrival.
I initially ventured to test-out the non-veg option. The main course consisted of scrambled eggs, grilled mushrooms and cherry tomato, and roasted potato wedges. There was a fruit tray consisting of pineapple, papaya, honeydew melon, and watermelon, along with a croissant with jam/butter, a rather bland and dry muffin, and regular Dahi yoghurt, the same that had been served at dinner. As with the previous meal, the presentation also included Supari (mouth-freshener), toothpick/towel/real cutlery. Much appreciated.
Well, despite my bravery for the non-veg, the Eggs were just ghastly, and I knew that if I consumed them I would exhaust the air-sick bag in the seat pocket in front of me. So, I swapped with my younger brother, and instead consumed the vegetarian option.
This offering took me some time to figure out exactly what it was, but I soon determined that it was a few slices of regular parantha (whole-wheat Indian flatbread) with mattar wali tikki, (a seared potato, green pea and herb patty) and aloo rasmissa (potatoes in a yogurt tomato sauce). The food was hot and tasty – despite the initial ambiguity of what was on the tray, I still ate everything in it, and must say that it was probably far superior to the eggs. I was happy, and didn’t feel the need to supplement this with a breakfast on the ground after arrival in Newark. As I mentioned earlier, the first meal in an ULH is pretty hard to screw up, but the second one can be hit or miss – I mean, it’s been HOURS since it was cooked, so you can’t really predict how it will taste.
Once the trays were cleared, the crew began preparing the cabin for arrival into Newark. Trays were cleared quickly (as had been the case with dinner – much appreciated) and soon the lights of upstate New York appeared. I walked to the aft of the cabin to use the lavatory one more time and was pretty shocked to see how filthy it had become over the course of the flight – quite the opposite of the state it had appeared in when I had passed through at mid-point seven hours prior. There were plastic cups, crumbs, wrappers, napkins, all KINDS of garbage just strewn throughout the aisles. Now, I mean, I know that Indians tend to be fairly messy eaters, and there were a few young kids and toddlers on board, but I had never seen anything quite like this in all of my years of flying, especially since the cabin had been so immaculately clean when we had boarded.
Perhaps this is what happens on an ultra-long haul flight. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be caught in one of those nightmare situations where passengers are stranded on board a grounded plane for 3 hours +. I mean, the sight I saw pales in comparison to what some people have experienced (my condolences) but now I have a greater sense of conscience to what it must be like.
Descent into and landing in sleepy Newark was smooth and the airport was fully dark as we taxied to gate number 121 in the C Concourse. Upon disembarking and ascending the escalators to head towards passport control, I did notice the “Larry Kellner” titillation on the fuselage, and attempted to snap a better-quality photo of the a/c than what I could have meagerly accomplished back in Delhi.
confidence is silent. insecurities are loud.