Flight Operator- Air India
Flight No- AI429/AIC429
Seat- 25 A,B,C changed subsequently to 22 D,E,F
So, as I had mentioned earlier, I had wanted to try out the A321 and hence, I had booked this flight. I had selected row 25 on the port side just for a change, as during landing on Mondays, the planes at the time of the day will come over land entirely and land on Runway 25 at Chennai. So, I thought not much to see.
But both AI(Air India) and AAI(Airports Authority of India) had some surprises. AI had downgraded the flight to A320 which meant my seat selection which would anyway be honoured would be at the very back of the cabin and AAI had made the main runway 7/25 Maintainenece to be conducted everyday. Earlier, it was only on Tuesdays and Saturdays that the secondary runway would be operational as the main runway would be taken up for maintenance from 10AM to around 5PM after UL122 takes off to Colombo at around 10:00AM using an A330, after than only A320’s and B737’s which are the most used by airlines here will operate using the runway, and rarely A321 will use the runway too. This is because the secondary runway was earlier small capable to operating only ATR’s and Q400’s and was subsequently lengthened a few years back to operate narrow body jet aircraft so that the main runway can be taken up for long overdue repair work. No other wide body aircraft is allowed to operate during this time and so the only wide body which comes during the afternoon is the afternoon Srilankan rotation of UL127/128 which now uses an A320 instead of A330.
But this expansion is not without issues. Since the expansion would require the runway to cross the river Adyar flowing parallel to the airport, a bridge was constructed over the river and runway expansion was completed. And this meant the river when it overflows can easily enter the airport, which resulted in this.https://www.flightradar24.com/blog/heav ... rite-offs/
Also, the capability of the bridge over the runway to withstand the landing forces of the planes landing from Runway 12 side was questioned as the heavy flow of water may have weakened the trusses. Eventually, after the water subsided an inspection was carried out and both runways were declared fit to be operational.
Coming back to the point, the secondary runway being in use meant that the landing will be from the sea because the winds will be from the south east based on the monsoon. I had to absolutely get the seat changed.
So, the previous evening, I did the web check in, I already knew it was the classic version and hence it is an all economy configuration, so I thought why not book at the front next to the engines, but by the time I did the check in all the seats in the front were blocked and only 22 and 18 rows were free on the starboard side. So, row 22 it was since 18 would come over the wing.
I also knew that VT-ESE would be operating my flight since the usual flight rotation is
Previous day-> Mumbai->Bangalore->Chennai->Kolkata->Chennai with an overnight halt at Chennai and then Chennai->Delhi(AIC440)->Chennai(AIC429, my flight)->Bangalore->Mumbai and very rarely does it change.
But wait, have I not heard of this aircraft before. Yes, sure enough,http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/indi ... 684425.cms
This aircraft was involved in a tyre burst incident exactly a year ago in Srinagar airport. The old AI A320’s does not have brake fans from what I read and this meant that the brakes get to cool only when they are on ground and hence, the turn around time for the flights operated by these aircraft tend to be longer, atleast 1 hour to enable the brakes to cool, lest they burst on take off on the subsequent flight. But my flight took out in half an hour after coming in.
I did not inform this to my parents lest they get worried.
So, off to the airport,
On the way to airport, AI operates from T3
The beautiful ATC tower,
Up on the ramp to departures, Jet airways and Vistara
Entering Air India area
Row E it is, common check in for all flights,
Check in staff was efficient, and on learning we were from Chennai, the check in agent started speaking to us in Tamil, though he was a North Indian, nice way of engaging customers instead to the usual serious routine. Even the check in agent for the onward flight talked freely with us, though the one on the onward flight was a AI employee but here he was a SATS employee.
The baggage weighed only 18 KG. Got the boarding pass.
Asked the agent regarding the registration of the aircraft, he told he could not find it, but he told it was an all economy configuration so no changes expected. Sometimes, the a/c going as AI143 will operate AIC429 after delay or any other mixed configuration a/c will operate which will ruin my seat selection.
Off to security, and the usual chaos, my bag went through the scanner, was promptly asked to open the bag, and take my two newly purchased water bottles and the security accompanied me upto to the waste bin and made me drop it into it. This did not happen at Chennai. Anyways, there were water bottle vending machines at every gate, which I used to purchase water, my first ever vending machine experience, was pretty straightforward and easy to use.
As I had mentioned earlier,
Wanted to go up to the food court to get breakfast as only snack service would be available.
Spotting time. VT-ESJ.
Delhi is Dreamliner country after all,
4 aircraft lined up for departure
The only south Indian food outlet available in T3. Vaango means “Please come” in Tamil.
The prices were exhobirant. My parents ate idly priced at a cool Rs.178/- for 3 pieces whereas normally it costs only Rs.21/- for 3 pieces elsewhere. I trotted off to McDonalds next door and purchased the only vegetarian option available.
While coming down from the food court
VT-PPD an A321
Delhi being a silent airport, no announcements would be made and we have to look at the boards for gate information and we allotted gate 29B,
Off to the gate area, and it was a pretty short walk.
Plopped my things at the gate and started spotting. It was a good place because I could see the take off and landings.
My friend VT-EDF being prepared to move to a gate.
VT-EDF pushed back
Taxing on own power to gate
This bird coming in after landing
Jet airways ATR72 prepping for Take off
Then I saw this bird land, I knew that was the plane that will take me back to Chennai,
And sure enough, the bird I predicted came and parked at Gate 29
VT-ESE just as predicted.
The IAE engines,
Dont you just love it when your predictions come correct.
So, back to spotting,
My first ever SQ shot,
VT-JFJ taking off-
View from my gate, and my plane parked
This beauty came in and parked at Gate 30. VT-PPL
Soon, it was time to board, and on the jetway,
Parked at gate 28 on the left, VT-EXE is just 7 months old, A320 with sharklets, would have loved to fly on that,
All the gates were almost occupied, my parents told me that the place resembles CMBT(Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus) at Chennai, which is the largest Bus Station in Asia and has buses coming in and going out from Chennai to all over the state and neighbouring states all through the day and is always crowded. Here only instead of buses, there are planes. I could attest to that, so many planes!
VT-PPL on the right,
The cockpit view of my plane
Is the first officer looking at me?
Captured an A319 VT-SCI coming in,
Taxing past us,
And moving to a gate to my left
Ground crew doing their work,
Engine and double bogey view,
See it before it becomes history,
Went inside the aircraft, all economy as expected, the cabin looked old, the walls were dull, the seat fabrics required change, in essence, the aircraft was showing its age. My father asked how old is this aircraft? I gently avoided it saying I have to take photos. I did not want them to get nervous.
Plopped down into the seat, and the leg space was lesser than that of VT-EDE, and the A/C was not running at all, it was very uncomfortable inside the a/c and lo and behold my window is the only one which is scratched like hell both on the inside pane and the outside pane. Inside pane is understandable, but the outside? How? Why Air India? Why me?
I tried to do my best for the photos, but some will be out of focus because of the scratches,
My scratched window, you can see how worse it is,
We taxied to Runway 11 for take off,
Wind sock on the other side,
A point to note here is even while waiting to taxi to active, the AC was not working and we were sweating and the lights went off and came on when the a/c went from APU to Engine power, not experienced this on the previous flight.
A sharklet Indigo coming to land, while we hold,
Take off roll-
The take off was sluggish, not like the push back felt on the previous flight.
Turned right on take off, did a 180 and turned left to join the normal route to the south.
There were some threatening CB’s on the left side which we avoided,
It was a bit bumpy. The cabin crew had announced that it would be bumpy all the way up to Chennai in the pre flight announcement, and to keep seat belts fastened at all times.
The air was unstable with few bumps and we eventually climbed up to 35000ft.
Snack service started,
The snack service consisted on one Dosa(a pancake type rice-lentil dish cut into four pieces, a piece of cheese sandwich, a cake, water bottle and a juice bottle
Metal cutlery in economy. Yay!
Devloping CB’s. The monsoon had advanced to Central India at this time, and there was a low pressure area brewing in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Andhra Pradesh which we would be flying through.
I forgot to mention, both times, when we were cruising, when I touched the windows, it would feel cold. Is it the case always? Dont windows heat up because of the air friction?
The rest of the flight is spent looking out of the window as usual.
Old style cabin indicators
Then it became fully clouded as we neared the LPA near Andhra Pradesh and nothing was visible on the ground. Then, we began our descent eventually.
There were some breaks in clouds over Andhra as we neared the coast.
It was like this most of the time at the later half of the flight.
There was a break in the clouds, and we had a beautiful view of Pulicat Lake, the sole reason I switched seats to this side of the aircraft.
The normal approach to the secondary runway 30 is to go downwind over the sea if there is traffic else come parallel to the coast and make a right hand turn to fly visual straight in. There is no ILS on the secondary runway.
Since an aircraft was landing ahead of us, we turned into the sea and looped back for landing.
Descending over Pulicat lake,
The lake has many small islands,
This is Sriharikota, the place where all rocket lanches are done by ISRO(Indian Space Research Organisation)
L&T Kattupalli Port
Ennore North Chennai Thermal Power Plant(NCTPS)-
We turned into the sea as usual
Ships waiting at outer anchor of Chennai Port
Finally starting to see land,
Entering land over Palavakkam area,
Buckingam Canal to the right and Old Mahabalipuram Road(OMR) to the left
Velachery MRTS(Mass Rapid Transit System) railway station-
St Thomas Mount Metro Station(under construction)-
The Railway tracks near Palavanthangal Railway station-
Crossing the Grand Southern Trunk Road(GST) Road into the runway threshold
The GST road is a lifeline to the city and connects it to all the southern districts.
The braking was slow, but then the aircraft braked hard suddenly eventually slowing down to taxi speed and vacating the runway.(There are no rapid exit taxiways in Chennai)
Taxing to the terminal
The new domestic terminal in the center of the image(where we will be heading), Old domestic and International terminal to the right side and the new International Terminal at the far right, with the beautiful Pallavaram hills serving as background.
View of the remote parking bays,
All good things must come to an end. Kingfisher graveyard.
Indigo which landed ahead of us,
At this moment it hit me, a burning smell, like that of rubber burning, it was getting more pronounced by each second. My parents asked me what the smell was, and since we had landed, I blurted out the details of this aircraft. They were like, its OK we have landed. The wheels and the brakes had overheated as usual, lucky the tyre did not burst.
Crossing the Main Runway,
Repair work underway
Old International Terminal
VT-PPE- A321 with VT-SPK Spicejet operating to Vishakapattinam
VT-SLB in the background
VT-PPE being connected to ground power
A look back at my plane
Walking into the new terminal to baggage claim
Baggage belt being displayed for all later flights. My flight flashed when I saw it first and later never displayed
VT-SLB had just came in from Madurai and its passengers were also deplaning along with us,
It follows a Delhi->Chennai->Madurai->Chennai->Delhi without fail almost everyday. Spicejet mostly operates the same plane on some routes everyday.
It was Belt 2 for us, but the previous flight was not yet complete
And after collecting the baggage, it was out outside ending our first ever plane trip
Being an Air India fan, I tried this flight and was able to see the extremes, of both the newer and older A320. If we had flown on the older A320 first, it would not have created a good first impression. Both flights gave different experiences, the first flight was fun where I could feel the seat pushback during take off and feel the climb and turns, whereas the second flight was more gentle in the same. AI has the best pilots, most of them ex air force and are used to hand flying(not the usual V1, rotate, NAV). We can clearly see their skills during landing. Other airline flights will wobble left and right during landing in the crosswind(you know the typical Airbus wobble, UL is the worst and the sharp Boeing wobbles), but AI pilots would keep the plane steady in crosswind with good rudder and stick control and land gently, with the plane showing no jerks or drifting throughout, even I have overheard passersby at the airport standing at the traffic signals on GST Road would say that other airline planes wobble a lot. AI pilots are the best in my opinion.
The cabin announcements were limited to the “Doors arm and crosscheck”, “Cabin crew to your seats for take off/landing”. More announcements regarding altitude, speed and what cities we are overflying, descent announcement would be forthcoming. The cabin crew also were too professional, almost the American style mentioned here in the forums, “Veg/Non-Veg?” thats all. There was no IFE, which I was initially upset about, but apart from the moving map which we people prefer, I don’t see the need for IFE in these short flights.
AI has a shortage of capacity on short haul routes and excess capacity on long haul routes. New leased A320’s are expected to join next year and the Double bogeys will be retired then. AI is trying hard to keep the double bogeys in a good condition, but age of the plane still shows. But, I was happy to fly in a plane which will soon be a part of history.
Overall, it was a good experience on VT-EDE and VT-ESE on Air India, a Star Alliance member. I would fly them again as long as it is on the newer A320’s or A321.
Chennai too known for its beautiful scenery on take off and landing did not disappoint. The best time for take off and landing is after 8AM when Chennai affords a beautiful view of the sea or the city, depending on the runway in use and whether you are taking off or landing. I had done my homework well and did the seat selection accordingly and I was rewarded minus the scratched window.
Thank you, until the next flight, opportunity willing.