Hi there, welcome aboard my first Trip Report on here, onboard what is still India's national carrier - Air India. This TR
covers two sectors, both in Y, on the MAA
sectors on IC
flights, as was the case during the merger of the two airlines in the 2007-2010 period. This flight itself was taken during the end of 2010 and posted shortly after on Airliners-India
. Now that I'm plugging it in here though, I've added a lot of details that clarify certain situations and opinions three years in hindsight whilst pasting and skimming through it over here over the past twenty minutes prior to publication - all to give it more of a current 'then and now' appeal, if you like.
Have a fun read, then.
The time for the annual winter vacation was approaching and 2010 was no different, though that year around we were firm on keeping it to a destination within Indian shores. Sikkim and Rajasthan were thrown about as options but we eventually zeroed in on Goa - a tiny state and famous beach destination bordering the Arabian Sea, and tucked in the midst of two of the larger states in the country - Maharashtra (Capital Mumbai) and Karnataka (Capital Bangalore).
At the time, IC
were winding down their two and three stop hoppers but three flights between MAA
and KWI were still survivors of the trend. Two of them were one stop operations, MAA
-KWI and MAA
-KWI and one of them, a ridiculous two stop piloting a MAA
-KWI milk run, the MAA
segment of which I'll cover in a subsequent report.
During the second week of December then, I went ahead and booked myself on the GOI
flight, incidentally the only direct run between MAA
- so I reckon you can refer to it as a Hobson's choice. Ticketing was done by the super un-efficient NACIL website (well, that was what the merged entity was called back then) which stalled and crashed to it's heart's content during the booking process but eventually I stuck around and pulled through, purchasing each ticket for a moderately high price of Rs. 17561/- return. For some NACILed up reason though, the website was unable to dispatch the ticket to my inbox which meant that I had to print it from the annoying flash page itself, which took an entire hour as I had to log in, click on 'Successful Bookings' and pray that the server at the other end could understand the request without stuttering and hence, backing out of the process. At the end of it all, I managed to snag myself on the fast filling A320 for the outbound sector dated on the 22nd and the inbound on the 26th.
Scheduled time of departure for this flight was a reasonable 1540, so we were at the check-in desks by 1400. MAA
is increasingly an irritating airport to use (not that it's become anything fancy since). With all the construction, renovation and AAI style "modernization" going on, the place resembled an un-navigable labyrinth of sorts, a far cry from an international airport it was initially built to be. "Chennai Airport is being modernized. We apologize for the inconvenience."
said the numerous boards leading up to the entrance. The AAI had clubbed together both the international and domestic departures onto one small corridor, ditto with the arrivals. Which meant that there appeared to be a ton of folks at any given time at the mouths of the respective 'tunnels', what with the entourages that some like to head off to the airport with. The CISF guards likely felt the strain of the operation as well, and waved off select passengers after a cursory glance at their passports - women with little babies, and the like.
Thankfully, the terminal wasn't as crowded inside. MAA
, like most other Indian airports toward the South experience their peak international capacity during the morning hours, thanks to the hordes of Gulf departures to DXB
, MCT, BAH
and KWI. But like all Indian airports, there is almost always
777 to DXB
operating at anytime of the day. When I entered the terminal, check-in desks were thus open for one such Emirates run, my IC
flight to GOI
and KWI, Silkair to SIN
to MCT, 9W
to CMB and an IX
(leaving within an hour of each other! - such was the noodle of the airline before all of the merged components began to pull together over the past couple of years or so).
I made my way to one of the empty AI
desks towards the right of the terminal. AI
has cleverly clubbed all it's AI
flights to one side of the check-in zone, meaning that NACIL personnel don't have to shuttle across the hall for whatever reason, but it would help for them to offer the passenger the choice of checking in at any desk, instead of separating them as per destination, like Goa, Kuwait and Singapore for example.
A view of the SG
check-in desks. SG
has installed 3 mobile check-in desks before security for themselves. This probably enables them for a speedy check-in for it's 100 odd daily pax to CMB. Or is it a sign that they are going to further expand their international operations out of MAA
? Time will tell. (As of 2013, nope. They have commenced SHJ
, MCT, RUH
, but none from MAA
Sign above my check-in desk.
Below the sign you can make out the nameplates over the office doors of UL
The neighbouring desk was for the AI
flight to SIN
, but that had just opened and passengers were yet to line up.
The male check-in desk was efficient, quick and gave me my boarding card, assigning a window seat as per request and gave out the usual form for domestic passengers travelling on international AI
flights - which would help bypass immigration, for starters.
Artwork behind the boarding card. Spices or brick powder, take your pick.
We skipped through the side of immigration and were stopped by the customs guy in front of the escalator leading to the departure gates. The guy clad in the white uniform seemed genial enough, grinned and told us that the form was a "privilege" as he was waving us through.
Customs Agent: It is a privilege sir! If you are going to an international destination then they will scan your luggage thoroughly as per local customs laws. But domestically whatever you declare here, we will accept it!
Upstairs, the hall past security was filling fast but we found an empty section for ourselves near the duty free.
Around us, the duty free agents were busy decorating the tiny store for Christmas. The boss of the operation would often run back and examine the lights and trees from afar, critiquing the hardworking agents accordingly.
Incidentally, the blue jersey in the foreground was and is the Indian cricket team's official ODI kit - with which we picked up the most prized trophy in the sport - the 2011 50-over World Cup a few months later, on April 2, 2011.
Since I had a half-hour to kill, I bought myself a donut from Port Lounge and headed over to the glass windows near the free telephones to catch some action on the tarmac.
It's the old bird in the drabbest livery as usual, being prepped up for its flight to GOI
and KWI, and back. At the moment it is undergoing a quick maintenance check, with its engine covers and windshield being inspected. Every few minutes, the cockpit windows would be sprayed with a jet of water and wiped by a maintenance personnel. Behind the babybus is a Jade Cargo 74F and there is an IX
738 parked next to it.
-AXI was boarding to SIN
. At the far end was VT
-JGU parked at the last remote stand. And on the far left you can spot a 9W
ATR lining up on 7, with an IT
320 following close behind.
Just over five minutes later, there was a sudden flurry of activity as several things happened at once. A WY
738 did a bumpy touchdown, its IX
counterpart was pushed back for its hop to SIN
and a 9W
738 made its way from the domestic terminal. Also, both the aforementioned ATRs holding on the taxiway to 7 were cleared for departure.
A guy on my left pointed to me and asked out aloud whether the green jumbo in the distancewas a Saudi bird. I corrected him by calling it a Jade 74F freighter. Where was it from, he asked? Taiwan, I replied. He thanked me and then asked me whether it was permitted to take pictures like that. I briefly nodded without diving into the nitty-gritty of MAA
and Indian photography laws - its cans and cannots. He was nevertheless overjoyed and extracted his DSLR to take some snaps himself.
I had to bid him farewell as both his WY
and my IC
flight had announced boarding, and the aerobridge was now kissing the IC
A320's L1. But I hung around for one last shot of AXF being towed to a stand after completion of its flight from KUL
were boarding from adjacent gates, #2 and #3 respectively. And while WY
were deploying a policy of boarding through rows, few seemed to pay much heed to the intricacies of any of that. Rows 20-24 attracted several dozen pax, for instance.
The jetway for my IC
flight was in turn manned by a young AI
staffer who tore the stubs off our boarding cards and wished us a pleasant flight. I've used MAA
enough by now to notice that the aerobridge at Gate #3 was the slickest of them all. We reached the aircraft door where there was a middle-aged FA
as per the norm, nodding at the entering passengers.
I enquired about the aircraft registration as I entered the aircraft. She smiled at me, put on her spectacles and looked at the handbag kept at the rack near the door. The stickers on it said VT
-EPJ and she read it out to me. "Echo. Papa. Juliet. "
I thanked her and on her questioning look said that I was making a Trip Report for which I needed the reg. She smiled and remarked that they don't get too many enthusiasts on their international flights before directing me to the Y cabin. The J cabin was empty as usual, save for an extra (?) crew member. I made my way to row 23 and we were on our seats in good time. AI
has retrofitted this A320 with its signature red and saffron cabins too and the aircraft didn't feel 21 years old in the slightest - more like seven if you'd asked me.
-EPJ was delivered to IC
in 1989 and transferred to AI
in 2007. This would be my first ride on an IC
owned A320. Both my previous flights on such IC
aircraft were on leased metal, EVR and EVQ.
Airline: Air India
Aircraft: Airbus A320-231
First flight date: 7th June, 1989
Load in J: 0%
Load in Y: 100%
Scheduled Departure Time: 3:40 PM
Actual Departure Time: 3:50 PM
Scheduled Arrival Time: 4:55 PM
Actual Arrival Time: 4:55 PM
Flight Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Legroom was the same as on the two EV
* series 320s, though some always claim that IC
owned birds have tons of legroom, even in Y. Perhaps AI
has done the stuffing more rows act on them.
738 was perched on our left. A4O-BM.
After a lot of the passengers had settled down, the FA
I had met at the door came towards my seat and gave me a copy of the AI
in-flight magazine- Namaskaar, saying that "you enthusiasts probably collect these things"
This was in addition to the IC
in-flight magazine of course, Swagat.
then pushed back, completing its rather quick turnaround.
Leaving a 9W
738 in view, the one boarding to CMB. It was JGQ. I noticed a KU
baggage crate near it, aside from a couple of 9W
ones to the left.
came and went yet we were delayed from pushback thanks to heavy congestion. We were prepared to broadcast a touch of impatience had the delay continued since we would have to make our way to Dona Paula, which is kind of far from the airport Dabolim. We wouldn't want to do it too late into the night.
The domestic terminal. Check out the Paramount Embraer on the left.
AXF and a 9W
738, the registration of which I couldn't pick up as the stairs were in the way.
At 3:50, 10 minutes after scheduled departure time, we were cleared for departure and were pushed back from the heavily under renovation MAA
international terminal. (The terminal is now complete, and are up and running)
Behind JGQ was a leased IC
and an IT
320. Too far to make out the reg of that one. The 319 was in the interim 'Indian' livery, brought about during the mid-2000s.
As we made our way to 7, the FAs performed the safety demo. A few changes I noticed in this flight is that the purser who had given me the AI
magazine, Pramilla Lauren gave a special welcome to frequent fliers, whoever they may be and said that a newspaper rack was available at all times in the rear galley. She introduced the captain as Captain Jindal with "18 years of experience flying for Air India and Indian Airlines".
The soon to be demolished old style face of MAA
's white cement and glass terminal. Notice the lettering "Anna International Terminal". Anna is of course, the name of a well respected ex-Chief Minister of the state in question - Tamil Nadu, the name is short for K. Annadurai.
A Silkair 320, from and to SIN
The take-off run was super quiet. This bird looks old and ratty only from the outside.
Some excess capacity dumped by airlines in the distance. A couple of IT
ATRs, a 320 and another Paramount Embraer. Both of those airlines were dying then, and are dead and buried now.
The cargo terminal. A couple of Blue Darts including a 757, and the Deccan 360 A310, which is a former AI
bird. The rarely used secondary runway too.
Banking left along St. Thomas Mount, a popular spotter's hangout area.
Rising above the city.
And up through the clouds.
2 of the all female crew on-board the flight began the snack service. I think it's fair to say that a lot of pax were tourists like us and just around half of them could speak little to no English. Europe is obviously not the best place for the language.
The snack trolley thus moved a lot slower than it should have.
"The vegetarian option is a samosa and a cutlet."
"No I'm sorry, we don't serve alcohol on domestic flights. If you're flying onward to Kuwait, just hold on!"
"A samosa is like hard bread with stuffed vegetables, it's quite spicy!"
Of course, this was back when airlines in the country dished out full meals for even the shortest of flights - how times change in under three years.
I settled for the non-veg option which consisted of chicken kababs and gulab jamuns (Indian sweetmeat), and a puff.
The beverage run followed and the FAs were just as patient with the bulk of the cabin. I asked for tea, but the FA
was holding just the coffee kettle so she said that another one would be on her way to serve it to me. I got the tea and a few minutes later, the first FA
got back to me with a pleasant Did you get your tea?
Somewhere over Karnataka.
The terrain below us grew a lot......taller as we neared the Karnataka coast and the crew announced descent. The Western Ghats are what these are, a rugged mountain range that are younger and sharper than their counterparts to the East, the Eastern Ghats. Both Ghats play a critical role in influencing and delivering monsoon clouds to the country between June and September each year, and every year.
A river draining into the Arabian sea in the distance.
Pramilla Lauren came on the PA and announced clearly that GOI
was a naval military base and photography in and out of the airport was prohibited. I didn't stop clicking, just was a little discreet about it all. Here are some more photos of descent.
Lots of greenery everywhere this side of town.
Look away, that's a deforested area.
Lowering flaps, and on finals to GOI
. The Arabian Sea loomed closer with our approach into Dabolim.
Some industrial units, oil tanks and the like.
The airport was surrounded by a dense bunch of trees but they cleared as we entered the perimeter.
Over the runway.
Maybe smoother thanks to the double bogie!
, the landing saw the captain get on the PA and announce the photography rule again, but I still took my chances.
Clearing the runway. Who woulda' thunk this is December?
Lauren reminded pax to collect their belongings, including cellphones, watches and spectacles lest they forget them during deboarding. She also requested passengers not to swap seats during the 40 minute halt at GOI
as they might be reserved for passengers boarding at GOI
Passing some naval birds. Anybody know which aircraft these are? Also, what's with the things on their decks? Radar?
We reached the passenger terminal where the usual suspects were lined up, including another leased IC
...and parked at the last available stand among five. Across the tarmac I could spot some military structures.
Deboarding was quick, but the one bus that had come to the aircraft wasn't sufficient for half the 320 load of passengers, so one of the ground personnel walkie-talkied another such bus to arrive double quick. Around 90% of pax deplaned leaving just 10-15 to travel onward to KWI (though I noticed a healthy load waiting at the gate in GOI
). Pramilla Lauren asked me if I had a pleasant flight at the door. While we were waiting she said that her son had completed his CPL course in 2008 and was unable to find a job. "Please pray for him!"
she requested as the second bus arrived, and stopped behind the first; it was just a short walk to the waiting open doors.
Nose section of EPJ.
Funny that my best IC
flight had to happen at the end of the year. Second best, rather. The AI
A319 on BLR
from back in May had uncharacteristically good service too. Let's see if the return was just as good. Read on.
- formerly a Portuguese colony, was spruced up for Christmas as well. I dig that dustbin.
Now Goa is simply the best holiday destination in the country. Far from the chaotic weekdays that we get to spend in our larger cities, the tiny coastal state comes across as a bonafide breath of fresh air. Let the pictures do most of the talking.