There seem to be two kinds of Indian members on this forum. One type discusses the latest failures of the two airlines apparently funded by the ‘babudoms’, Air India and Jet Airways, and their worsening financial status. (Last I heard an Air India flight attendant fell from a 777 onto the ground and fractured her leg. This is representative of the airline’s horrid financial condition, and 9W is unfortunately in danger of slipping that way. Exaggerating, of course!) Another asinine leitmotif is the never-ending quest of a non-stop flight from the diamond city of Surat to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Tel Aviv or Newark. At the same time there are more meaningful discussions on airports being revamped and routes being launched – and one member (@sand26931) seems to be especially knowledgeable about Bengaluru Airport; such worthwhile contributions have made me highly informed throughout my many years of lurking on these forums.
The second type of Indian member – of which the most prominent is @CollegeAviator – details their experiences flying around the world and back. CollegeAviator, in particular, puts forth his twice-a-yearly shuttle from North Dakota to Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi (and back) with such detail and humour that I must blame his trip reports for eating up into so many hours of my time! There are, of course, other Indians who show their travels and travails, and I keep my eyes peeled for the desi flavour to an already well-populated Trip Reports forum.
Here is something to get me started as a member of the second group, though I will mostly be posting in the Civil Aviation forum, because the talk there can get extremely juicy at times!
Hello there! After many years of lurking on the forum, I am ready with my first post. I am an Indian first-year Computer Science student of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. My username, of course, is a proud statement: my country has more A320neos than any other. (I was actually contemplating VT-CID; C.I.D. is a long-running crime detective series on Indian TV, but I liked CIE better.) Of course, India is home to the A320neo Goliath, and therefore 6E A320neos are dime-a-dozen, so I decided not to make my username something commonplace like VT-ITT (which has too many Ts, by the way). Instead it pays homage to one of A.net’s perennial whipping-boys – and the airline in question is called a whipping-boy for good reason.
And while I am literally a college aviator, I am also a Bengali from Kolkata, like @CollegeAviator.
My surname, as it turns out, is Bhadra – which (confusingly enough for me) is the username of one of A.net’s newest Indian members.
Which brings us to my trip report. Throughout my school life I have hardly flown a couple of times throughout a given year (in 2017 I did not fly at all). Outside the country I have visited SIN (on AK, with a stopover at KUL’s now-demolished LCCT) in October 2013, and DMK and CNX (on FD) in May 2016. This should be representative of how little I have flown in general. Within the country I have flown largely to my birthplace, Kolkata, but also to places like DEL, BLR and GOI. My latest domestic trip was a slightly circuitous routing on 6E and 9W: MAA-CCU, IXB-GAU-CCU-MAA. (And this should reveal to you my home airport: while MAA – Chennai – is my ‘motherland’ airport, as reflected in its code, it has always received the short end of the stick as compared to DEL, BOM, BLR and HYD, and the international arrivals is an immediate turn-off to many.) I may write a trip report on that, time permitting.
This year I passed out from school and wrote (or rather clicked my way through) the JEE Main and Advanced examinations, which are known for being among the most gruelling in the world, and I secured a half-decent rank to ensure a place in the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli (while the IITs have worldwide acclaim, my rank wasn’t good enough, and NIT Tiruchi is said to be the very best after the IITs). But then my admission in Singapore’s NTU was confirmed, and my travelling schedule was confirmed for the next four years at least: I would fly more often in the upcoming four years than in my entire life till then. Instead of the train to and from Tiruchirappalli, and the occasional 6E ATR 72 flying TRZ-MAA-TRZ, my default route was to be SIN-MAA-SIN.
On 24 July 2018, my parents and I boarded 6E51 to Singapore, which took off at the unearthly hour of 5:30am. VT-IEG operated the flight. My parents returned to Chennai on 31 July, flying the afternoon flight, 6E52, which was operated by VT-IFR. After my first two months in NTU, recess week started on 29 September and continued till 7 October. This trip report is about my first flights solo, consisting of a flight on IndiGo on 29 September and another on Air India on 7 October, which was my first flight on a widebody.
I apologise beforehand for the poor quality of my pictures, as I captured them with nothing better than a Xiaomi Redmi Note 5, which – while proclaimed by the company to be ‘India’s Camera Expert’ – is, unfortunately, anything but.
Saturday 29 September 2018
I board a Grab from NTU, in Singapore’s western end, at 7:05am, reaching Changi T2 at 7:45; the fare is S$32, which is expensive by Indian standards (INR1710).
Exit from NTU onto Jalan Bahar.
My Grab after dropping off at T2 (the Prius C in the middle).
Pictured: the airlines using the check-in counters at Door 4 of Terminal 2. This is largely a Star Alliance terminal, as you have the homegrown behemoth, SQ, plus NH, UA, LH, LO, LX and AI (which I will be flying on the return). The only Oneworld presence comes from MH and its subsidiary Firefly. Besides, you have Mama SQ’s two remaining kids, MI and TR, of which MI will die out (like Tigerair before it) within four years. Shame. I always loved the SilkAir livery on the A320.
And then you have 6E. It flies twice daily from SIN to MAA, and once daily to BLR and CCU. The Indian mammoth is trying to start a new twice-a-weekly destination from SIN, Vijayawada (VGA), in the eastern coastal state of Andhra Pradesh, but regulatory hurdles are pending. In return, it will reduce the frequencies of another South Indian destination – cough, Tiruchirappalli, cough – from daily to 5x weekly.
I am pleasantly surprised to see the old-school split-flap display.
The array of departures, largely (as you’d expect) to Asian and ASEAN countries, but also the rare sight, like WAW (first line), LAX and SFO.
I am initially confused, as my check-in counter row is 7, but the signage is entirely that of United Airlines. As it happens, the boarding for UA38 to Los Angeles is taking place, and the UA signage will be replaced by IndiGo signage around 9:15. In this time breakfast is completed at O’Coffee Club Express. The full breakfast costs $12 – rather expensive, but worth the money.
While Changi is said to be the best airport in the world by a long shot – a sentiment reflected in Crazy Rich Asians, where one of the characters praises Changi’s butterfly garden and says that JFK has only ‘salmonella and despair’ – I do not agree as far as the Wi-Fi is concerned. As One Mile at a Time puts it, Changi’s Wi-Fi makes you ‘jump through hoops’. As per OMAAT, this is in stark contrast to DXB, where you just switch on your device’s Wi-Fi, accept the terms and you’re done. I install the iChangi app to get extended free Internet. Of course, it will be uninstalled once on board.
Check-in is quick and easy. It’s Changi. What did you think?
For a few minutes I pop to the (in inverted commas) ‘viewing’ gallery behind the Japanese restaurants on Level 2 (what we Indians call the ‘first floor’, Singaporeans call ‘Level 2’, and this difference is rather baffling for a country whose English is otherwise largely the British kind). Shame that the windows make for no good viewing. You can barely make out MI and IX (Air India Express) 737s and, in the distance, the UA 787-9 to LAX.
An MK A330-200 landing in the distance (either 3B-NBL or 3B-NBM, I forget). Once again, horrid windows.
Emigration, as you’d expect, is a nonevent. And then begins the long haul: going through the endless duty-free shops selling things for hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. I wonder whether enough people buy from them daily to keep the shops afloat without the need of any subsidy from the airport. Perfumes, watches, chocolates, alcohol, tobacco, small electronics – the standard Duty Free stuff.
Of course, the innumerable travelators. My gate is E4. A view from one of those travelators. The blue-and-gold, blue-and-teal and yellow-and-white tails dominate, of course, but you also have 9M-MLG at far right, in the sorry 1987 livery (looking at that livery reminds me of the two tragic disasters that claimed 537 lives).
Another picture with a different view. At far right here is 9V-TRB, one of two A319s in the Scoot fleet, with 9V-TRA being the other. It has the Tigerair tail and the wacko Flyscoot.com titles lazily applied.* Behind another Scoot A320 is an SQ A380. Squint enough and you can spot LOT’s SP-LRC in the distance. Squint harder for an EK 777-300ER, which, I believe, was A6-EPJ resting after EK433 from DXB.**
*The titles are weird only in this version; in Scoot’s normal livery, they actually look carefree, irreverent and happy.
**I absolutely hate Roboto, Android’s and Google’s flagship font, and I changed my phone font to Google Sans instead (which is less common but significantly better). Watch for this font in my labelled photos which help me keep track of registrations (I won’t be uploading too many of those, as the labels detract from the viewing experience).
A horribly blurry zoom, showing A6-EPJ and the just-visible tail of a PAL A321. Most of the left side of the pictue is dominated by 9M-MGB and 9V-OFA. Oddly enough, I never saw SilkAir’s 737 MAX 8 (9V-MB*) either on the outbound or on the return.
Camera ‘obscura’: the nose of 9M-MLG is largely hidden.
Another shoddy zoom, showing SP-LRC and an SQ 777-300ER and A330-300.
There you go: 9M-MLG.
Once again, 9V-TRB, the bastard child of Go Cat and Scooter.
Oneworld member number two (but not in T2): QR’s A7-ALS, pictured alongside the Pole and the Bastard Child. In the distance, to the extreme left, is a FedEx A300.
The ‘cleaned’ picture for your viewing pleasure (much of which will be dampened by the, ahem, bad zoom quality):
Moving on to other Star Alliance members: N15969 operating as UA38 to Los Angeles. I don’t know why UA can’t keep its registrations simple, like N781DN (Delta) or N690JB (JetBlue). The D and the J do great help in identifying the airline. Why does a United registration have to be a mash-up of numbers, as though it were a Hainan or Sichuan aircraft?
United is not known to be a good friend of SQ:
QUOTE: Those flight numbers are very interesting — UA37/38. Back when Singapore Airlines flew between Los Angeles and Singapore, the flight numbers were SQ37/38. Coincidence? I think not.
https://onemileatatime.com/united-los-a ... re-flight/
I largely sit around Gate E4 from 9:45 to 10:45. In this time, I read a few chapters of What Maya Saw: A Tale of Shadows, Secrets, Clues, a Young Adult book written by Indian children’s author Shabnam Minwalla, on my Samsung tablet using the Kindle app. It is at once a good-humans-versus-dark-forces battle, replete with many a twist, and a testament to the city of Mumbai Bombay. I thoroughly enjoy long books; this one weighs in at 360 pages, which is not that long objectively, but much longer than other Indian Young Adult books.
My reading experience is made all the more pleasurable by international outlets and USB ports installed at either end of every bench. Not many airports I have seen give you both options: power outlets AND USB ports.
At around 10:45 I decide to get up and explore one shop, at least – WHSmith, to be precise. Naturally the talk of the town world is Kevin Kwan, and posters are put up all around the shop.
Seriously, how many times will Penguin change the cover design of Roald Dahl’s books? They have changed at least four times since 2001.
All eyes on this book:
[The billionaires of China are making their presence felt everywhere, and perhaps nowhere more obviously than at this year’s World Cup, where the familiar names of Castrol, Continental and Sony until 2014 were replaced by Wanda, Mengniu, Vivo and Hisense. Fortunately, Vivo (and sister companies Oppo and OnePlus) are household names in India, so that’s one less worry for me. Unfortunately, many of the banner ads adorning the perimeter of the football fields were only in Chinese. No, no English.
While monetary clout means Qatar Airways will be the one ferrying people from across the world to the World Cup the next time around, the spectacular growth of Mainland Chinese airlines is a fascinating story by itself, at the expense of the likes of CX. (Note that China Southern Airlines is Asia’s biggest airline by fleet.) The capacity dumping on transpacific routes, as well as the aim to connect every second-tier city (the likes of Zhengzhou and Jinan) to at least Frankfurt and Los Angeles, perhaps Copenhagen or Boston, is something that remains a pipe dream in India. Air India has launched BOM-FRA after much procrastination, and that is India’s financial capital. What about the Jaipurs and the Kochis? (Kochi has very little non-Gulf traffic.)]
Back to the TR. Talking of TR, Scoot doesn’t figure as much in these displays as it does on the ground, because these show flight connections across all four terminals.
She will operate NH842 to HND.
Kawaii on show: look at the little fella on the sign to the right of the photo. It reads: ‘No toilets at [sic] gate. Nearest is 2 mins. away.’ If there’s an airline that wouldn’t shy from such cartoons on the grounds of being childish, it’s ANA. (Or JAL.)
Shame I can’t get a better picture of her. As you can see, 882 is NH’s 50th 787. ANA is the biggest operator of the 787. No small feat for an aircraft which was once plagued by engine and battery problems, but is now enabling airlines to launch new ‘long and thin’ routes which were unheard of before. Qantas Airways’ Perth-London flight is the best example. 882, like QF’s 787 (and also United’s, pictured above), is a 787-9, the 787 subtype which is being used for these ULH routes. (United’s SIN-LAX, featured extensively above, is the fifth-longest in the world.)
[P.S. As I write these words after all these days, the world’s longest flight, recently resumed after five years, takes off from this very airport: how times change! SQ’s A350-900ULR is another revolutionary aircraft that, along with the 787-9, is shrinking the world like never before.]
Enough talk of all these things. My flight is hardly 4 hours long (3½ hours on a good day, like today). Boarding commences at 11:15.
Screening at Changi is done at the gate, unlike in Indian airports where screening is done after Emigration.
Singapore (WSSS/SIN) to Chennai (VOMM/MAA)
VT-IFR, Airbus A320ceo (sharkletted)
First flight: August 2013
Take-off: 12:25pm (GMT +8)
Touchdown: 1:43pm (GMT +5:30)
VT-IFR, my chariot for today. The exact same aircraft took my parents back to Chennai on 31 July.
In the distance are 9M-MXP and 9M-AQH. A study in contrasts: every fourth AirAsia group aircraft is painted in a special livery, and 9M-AQH is the AirAsia group’s ‘100th Awesome Plane’. (Coach with 29” of pitch is awesome, indeed: sigh.) In stark contrast, Indian airlines (barring Vistara and SG) do not like special liveries. IndiGo has never had a special livery. All VT-IAY, IndiGo’s 100th plane, has by way of commemoration is a ‘100’ sticker on the nose.
As for VT-IFR’s nose:
9V-OJG, flying to someplace in India, possibly TR508 to Amritsar (ATQ) in the north of India, but I forget.
In the jetbridge. Some one-liners from HSBC (HPQ, meaning ‘horrid picture quality’):
9V-STW. Not so HPQ now. Rather HighPQ.
VT-IFR is my fourth sharkletted aircraft, after 9M-AQV (11 October 2013), HS-BBQ (15 May 2016) and HS-BBU (20 May 2016, which is the day poor old @CollegeAviator was witness to a fracas caused by a SpiceJet delay at Kolkata, where unruly passengers took it out on the airport staff). *DIGRESS ALERT* Since then, SG has improved by leaps and bounds, even introducing streaming IFE a couple of months ago, plus a dedicated freighter fleet and a possible order of seaplanes. If 6E is easyJet, mass-transporting people from P to Q with a gargantuan fleet, SG is the equivalent of Norwegian, who doesn’t have to take delivery of an aircraft every fortnight but is more focused on setting itself apart through little innovations. Neither the big Go nor the little Go (GoAir) will ever introduce IFE, so I must commend those who do. *END OF DIGRESS ALERT* But I am perfectly fine with 6E, as long as I have a fully-charged power bank at hand!
I am fine with any legroom, and I don’t really complain about legroom/pitch, regardless of airline. Not even AirAsia, as I wrote above, but I seem to be the only one for whom 29” pitch on AirAsia is not insufferable. Nevertheless, emergency rows 12 and 13 are branded ‘IndiGo XL’ and sold for a higher price (INR800 more). By the way, I’m happy that IndiGo doesn’t skip row 13. (9W does. Triskaidekaphobia, perhaps? I didn’t have to Google that word; I know it.)
DISCLAIMER: The following few paragraphs are intended for the benefit of those not familiar with IndiGo’s quirks. If you are familiar, feel free to skip this part – or, on second thoughts, you mught just want to read…
As I said, 6E is the equivalent of easyJet. No Wi-Fi, no IFE, no in-seat power. And no magazine. This is what differentiates IndiGo from other budget carriers around the world. They may not have IFE, but they do have a magazine, with destination-hopping, a round-up of the latest music/books/gadgets and a detailed fleet guide. IndiGo hasn’t any such magazine.
But it does have reading material, in the form of an inflight catalogue ‘Retail Therapy Magazine’ (quote, unquote) called 6E World (on domestic flights it is called Hello 6E). To make up for the lack of a good ol’ magazine, though, it has a few descriptions about the airline, its newly-launched routes (there being no proper destination map) and its outreach programmes, but generously peppered with tongue-in-cheek descriptions of inflight F&B and products on sale. You can’t resist a chuckle. Indeed, the airline at large has a(n in?)famous sense of humour: for instance, stairways read, among other things, ‘Stairway to 35,000 feet’ (a nod to Led Zeppelin). I need not tell any more (but I will, anyway). For more information, read this.
This month is all about the engineers:
For comparison, IndiGo’s cover girl (or boy) is usually a flight attendant, captain or first officer who is highly skilled in some other department(s). Case in point: the July cover (which I saw on the Chennai-Singapore flight) has multimedia-Bachelor’s-holder-cum-jewellery-designer-cum-dancer-cum-flight-attendant Ankana Sarkar gracing it.
Read for yourself:
A few of the airline’s outreach initiatives, such as the floods that ravaged the southwestern coastal state of Kerala in August:
The Speedometer, a Hello 6E/6E World staple:
More proof of the airline’s witty humour, from both the July and the September issue. I regret buying that pseudo-Thai curry which turns out to be nothing more than an Amdavadi (read: Ahmedabadi) street snack:
Pity they don’t accept INR on international flights, which I find very awkward. It is either the local currency (SGD here) or USD.
The international magazine is hardly 24 pages long. The domestic Hello 6E clocked in at over 64 last time around. This is perhaps because 6E World has hardly any advertisements not for the airline.
Anyway, boarding is completed around 11:55. The pilot, Albert Joseph from Chennai, makes his welcome at 12:06; second-in-command is First Officer Bala Rajesh from Coimbatore.
At 12:11 leading flight attendant Nagita makes her welcome and the manual safety demonstration is performed. Serving us today are four flight attendants, all from Mumbai: Nagita, Prachi, Sanjana and Yasmeen. (For those unfamiliar, IndiGo FAs are always female, and always between 18 and 27, both inclusive.)
IndiGo FAs make it a point to include the names of the FAs in their announcement, their hometowns and the languages they can speak. (I, on my part, audio-record it, since photography of FAs is strictly prohibited.) Nagita says today’s crew can speak English, Hindi and Marathi. Not very comforting, since most passengers on this flight are Tamil, and rather elderly at that. (There are the bog-standard squalling infants, though.) I am in 14F, and the elderly couple in 14D and 14E knows worse English than their two-year-old granddaughter, who is not on today’s flight but is repeatedly referenced (the old thatha and the old paati have saved her picture as the home screen wallpaper of their smartphones). However, I am pleasantly surprised later in the flight when Yasmeen speaks to them in perfect Tamil: why didn’t she say this?
Some more action on the runway. V8-RBC taking off as BI422 to BWN:
PK-AXE (HPQ) taking off as QZ505 to DPS. Within the AirAsia group, the Malaysian and Thai airlines cannibalise most planes for themselves, leaving little for the Ind(ones)ian and Filipino subsidiaries:
9M-MXW taking off as MH628 to KUL:
Two outliers in the Star Alliance. SQ has always been a bit of a rebel in the Star Alliance, as seen here with 9V-SYL, a 777-300 (non-ER) in a non-standard white *A livery. Other memebrs paint the tail black. To the right, once again, SP-LRC. While SQ does have a number of *A codeshare agreements, LO is truly a misfit. But I must commend them for two things: expanding their North American and Asian network like crazy (heck, there’s a weekly Rzeszów-Newark flight!), and giving an unlikely city – BUD – year-round transatlantic routes at long last since Malév stopped them in 2008 before shutting down completely in 2012. (Rouge’s seasonal YYZ-BUD does not count.)
It is now our turn. Takeoff at 12:25pm Singapore time. I need to start writing in Indian Standard Time hereafter. This is 9:55am IST, in order to keep track.
All is peace and quiet for 15 minutes as the seatbelt sign is on. Then starts the F&B buy-on-board service. Water is served free in cups for all, with refills on demand. I buy a Junglee Chicken sandwich and Red Thai Curry Rice for a total of S$15. I pay by cash. The lot is served at 12:48pm SG (10:18am IST) by my watch.
Another attempt at corny humour by the airline. Such things have (dis?)graced 6E sandwich boxes since 2008. I remember some Sundarella take on Cinderella on my previous IndiGo flight (Kolkata-Chennai).
And the Red Thai Curry Rice. While I am a huge fan of Thai red/green curries generally, I regret having bought this thing for US$5 (price in 6E World).
This company comes from Kota, a small city in Rajasthan better known for the IIT-JEE coaching industry. A similar industry exists in Hyderabad, and these two cities corner most of the top rankers.
The hashtag #traveldiaries is fine, as is the note, but…
…when all is said and done…
…it is not worth the eight-minute wait for such an #epicfail. As I said, it is nothing more than an Amdavadi street snack with heaps of dhania (coriander).
Anyway, the IndiGo safety card, which I photographed after the meal. I love the mustachioed Punjabi Jatt (and his son on the next page). It sets 6E apart from the rest.
A sign in the lavatory. It might have worked but for the smiley, which shows that the airline is acting too smart:
Contrast that to Airbus’s standard sign, which is far better. The polite tone (‘may we suggest…’) seals it for me.
Cup of water #1:
Cup of water #2:
It is now 1:36pm IST, and we are descending after 3 hours and nearly 45 minutes in the air. By now I have completed my book. Here is its last page (to put things in perspective, Maya is only 14 years of age):
Some building in Chennai.
Touchdown at 1:43pm. Announcement in Hindi and English: ‘Please remain seated until the doors are opened.’ (Everybody gets up, many bumping their head against the low ceiling.) ‘Please keep your mobile phones switched off until the plane has stopped.’ (Fingers reach for the button at the side of their phone, and press and hold it hard. Strains of conversation are heard. As for me, I never switch off my phone, preferring flight mode instead.) ‘Please collect your baggage from belt 4. We hope to serve you again. Have a nice day.’
Taxiing. Look who’s here! A Chinaman and a Qatari. And an Omani, too.
B-7593, which will fly O37070 to Shenzhen (MAA is an important cargo airport):
After these exotic sights, high time I returned to the more mundane A320s and 737s. Note that Vistara has gone from zero presence in MAA before February 2018 to having four destinations (DEL, IXZ, CCU and COK), the second-highest after Delhi – which, of course, is its hub with 20+ nonstop destinations. Impressive for MAA! (AirAsia India is also part-owned by the Tata group, and it also avoided MAA until February.)
The same photo with an obvious difference (I have never flown an A320neo despite its ubiquity in India). My surname is visible on the airstairs (Bhadra International is a ground handling company).
Final parting shot of the Chinaman, the Qatari and the India(n) Foxtrot Romeo:
No photos of this leg of the journey hereafter, as I am told ‘no photos, Sir’ at every turn. I don’t know why India has this policy. Perhaps this is the reason why there are so very few pictures of IndiGo aircraft in the Airliners.net database, despite there being so many aircraft. Whatever is there is taken at either Toulouse/Hamburg or Dubai/Singapore.
The primeval international arrivals at Chennai
The arrivals hall is straight out of 1983. It is deplorable. This is where despair reigns, if not salmonella. It looks truly sad in comparison to so many other Government-run airports, not to mention the four private airports mentioned below.
MAA really, truly got the short end of the stick as its Southern compatriots in Bengaluru and Hyderabad leapfrogged it with swanky new airports in 2008 managed by Hyderabadi companies GVK and GMR, respectively. (GVK no longer runs BLR airport, but it does run Mumbai Airport, and it will also run Navi Mumbai Airport when it opens. GMR also runs Delhi Airport.) The only upside: BLR and HYD airports are located a long way out of the city, especially BLR. MAA does not suffer from this. Moreover, while the Chennai Metro Rail has poor patronage compared to Bengaluru’s and Mumbai’s rapid transit system (let alone Delhi’s), this much must be said in its defence: it has a direct link to the airport terminal, domestic and international. DEL is the only other such Indian airport.
There is a long line for immigration, as there always is. Unsmiling officers record my thumb impressions (both thumbs), and a webcam (in a bedraggled white box with two hands joined in a Namaste) takes my picture. I collect my passport and take the escalator down to Customs, where Flemingo Duty Free has the usual wares on offer. The guy lets me go through when he sees my Singaporean student pass.
I exit the dreary terminal and am picked up by my parents’ car, as we proceed towards our home in the neighbourhood of Kilpauk, which has a fairly central location, but slightly to the northwest. We are in the process of shifting our home to The Metrozone, a massive apartment complex in Thirumangalam, further northwest, with the gigantic, swanky and brand-new VR Mall right next to it. After the cleanliness of Singapore, Chennai appears too colourful to me. It is almost like a busy construction site, and so does my home appear when I reach it nearly an hour later; many things are already into packing boxes.
IndiGo remains the unbeatable low-fare option to fly between Chennai and Singapore. It is the only airline with two daily flights on the route; Air India and Air India Express operate one daily flight, and the three SIA group airlines (MI, SQ and TR) also have a daily flight each. (Jet Airways pulled out in January 2018 in order to launch a second daily BLR-SIN flight.) 6E is short zero on IFE but high on entertainment, not to mention comfort and smiles.
A few other shots from my brief stay in Chennai:
En route home, on the Kathipara flyover, this lovely Lufthansa advertisement (HPQ, I’m afraid):
Here’s a terrible shot of VR Mall which I visit later in the evening (many shops are unopened well into three months since the mall’s opening):
Some things sold at the Chumbak store in the mall (the word means ‘magnet’, and the colours are indeed riveting):
Some more shops:
Apple has the country cornered hook, line and sinker. Many of my fellow Indian students at NTU flaunt the iPhone X already. The extent of consumerism is so great that the company is pushing its current flagship, the luxurious iPhone Xs Max, to the common man by launching attractive EMI (Equated Monthly Instalment) offers:
The ongoing #MeToo storm in India, which has erupted a year after the global counterpart, but which is nevertheless taking down sexual harassers relentlessly:
Sunday 7 October 2018
Among other things, today is:
• My last morning in the home I have stayed at continuously since November 2002 – nearly 16 years.
• The 99th birthday of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the oldest airline in the world.
• The 5th anniversary of my first international flight. On 7 October 2013, my parents and I boarded AK1254 to Kuala Lumpur, operated by 9M-AHY, followed by AK1812 onward to Singapore, operated by 9M-AFP, painted in the 1Malaysia livery. (The very mention of the name 1MDB rankles Malaysians, I hear.) I still have a hard copy of the plane-spotting I did at the time.
After a week tidying up things – our scheduled shifting date is 15 October, Mahashashthi, the commencement of the Durga Puja festivities – I am ready to bid farewell to my parents (I have no siblings) and embark on my second journey solo. Parting shots of my home:
I start for the airport at 8:45am, reaching after an hour. The domestic and international departures are connected by an above-ground roadway, whith the international departures a long way after the domestic. Goodbyes are exchanged, and I proceed to the entrance. In India you must show your boarding pass and passport on entry into the building, which is not the case in Singapore.
Now I must tell you about the terminal nomenclature here. MAA has two separate terminals for domestic and international operations, unlike the likes of BLR and HYD which make do with just one for both domestic and international flights. This airport, unlike most other large airports in India, is not named after a famous Indian. (Even Bengaluru Airport was renamed to Kempegowda Airport a few years ago.) But the terminals themselves were once named after two of the state of Tamil Nadu’s most influential politicians in the twentieth century, K. Kamaraj and C.N. Annadurai: thereby the Kamaraj Domestic Terminal and the Anna International Terminal. This is no longer the case, and the domestic and international terminals are simply referred to as such.
What baffles me, however, is the fact that my boarding pass for today shows this (the same was the case on 6E52): [Terminal 3]
The international departures are a far cry from the arrivals. They look modern enough, and similar to the domestic departures; the arched high ceiling with glass panels towers above everyone and everything. Many people are waving goodbye to their relations from a section near the entrance barricaded from the rest of the terminal.
The check-in counters are manned by thirty-five-year-old men and women (the women are clad in saris), unlike the girls in dark blue dresses at IndiGo. Not that I care. My two suitcases combined tip the limit of 30kg, but I am not overcharged for it. (On the outbound from Changi, a hapless guy had to pay S$200(!!!) per kilogram of excess baggage.)
After check-in is done I proceed towards Emigration. This baggage notice has obviously been pinched from Qatar Airways; its corporate font, Jotia, is never seen elsewhere:
There is a similar baggage regulation notice that has been pinched from Kempegowda Airport, but the monitors display it for too short a time for me to snap it.
This notice is more in the style of AAI, the government airport operator. Flemingo Duty Free is below:
Fortunately my flight today is departing from Gate 17, right behind Flemingo Duty Free, which means I do not have to go all the way to the annexe, which is just as ancient and dreary as the arrivals. It is really your luck. If you are lucky, you get to depart from the new high-ceilinged portion of the terminal. If not (on my MAA-SIN flight in July, I was not), you follow a rabbit warren to the annexe (with beautiful Tanjore paintings on the walls along the way), and soak in the doom and gloom of the atmosphere (which occasionally gets dispelled by chittering munchkins who are under the impression they are at liberty to run around the place).
The food options near Gate 17 are ridiculously overpriced. The blackguards charge ₹170 for a sandwich! This is the equivalent of a little under US$2.50, which might not appear much, but Indians are accustomed to buying sandwiches for ₹30-40. There is a Cookie Man and a Wow! Momo at the end of the terminal on the ground floor, and a restaurant/spa on the first floor.
Meanwhile, some plane action. 4R-ALA operating the morning SriLankan flight to Colombo.
9V-SLM resting before MI435 to Singapore. The horrid windows seem to have been inspired by Suvarnabhumi, making photography a PITA.
There she is: the first widebody aircraft I will fly on!
Exactly the same aircraft as @CollegeAviator in his Kolkata-Delhi flight in December 2017, as I discovered while reading his TR well into a week after my flight:
At gate 30 was the only Dream)liner around: and this would be the bird taking me to Kolkata! VT-ANX came in from Dubai as AI996, on time & all well. A pretty new 0.9 year old plane, I was hoping the interiors on this one would be decent. ANX is indeed an Everett built B787 which have proven to have to be (relatively) better built on the interior at least, compared to the Charleston ones. I guess time would tell.
Chennai (VOMM/MAA) to Singapore (WSSS/SIN)
VT-ANX, Boeing 787-8
First flight: December 2016
Take-off: 12:30pm (GMT +5:30)
Touchdown: 5:40pm (GMT +8)
I don’t care whether she comes from Paine Field or Charleston. All I care is that I will be flying on a plane with IFE after nearly a decade. The last – and first – time was an AI A321 in May 2009 from DEL to MAA, but the touchscreen at the time was severely buggy. I have since flown a few 737s of Jet Airways, but the PTVs are never enabled on domestic flights. (More recently, in June 2018, I flew the eleven-year-old VT-JBB from Bagdogra to Guwahati (the 9W699 afternoon flight), which also had non-functional PTVs – but also the JetStream streaming IFE. However, I will not count that, and, moreover, it was a short 40-minute hop.)
The windows obscuring 9V-SLM as she taxis away:
In front, VT-IYL (6E7195 to Madurai), and, behind her, VT-IYJ (6E7145 to – well – Tiruchirappalli):
4R-ALA is now a tiny speck in the centre:
A bigger and better view of her:
VT-EXB has landed from Port Blair, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, as AI551. Indonesia is actually our closest maritime neighbour, and Banda Aceh is 740 miles from Port Blair and 500 from Car Nicobar. (GCMap)
Time to board now. It is 10:45 when boarding is called, and at 10:50 we go downstairs. To my right is another gate, with Tamil Nadu Tourism ads to the left of the TV in the centre:
The (largely Tamil) passengers:
The only SkyTeam flight at this airport, SV768 from JED, will arrive at 7pm.
After this photo there was another call of ‘no photos, Sir’. But what do I care.
Air India was the last airline to become a full member of an airline alliance in July 2014. Juneyao joined Star as a Connecting Partner, and Fiji Airways will join the Oneworld Connect programme. But that’s all. Joint ventures have become far more important than alliances since at least 2011. As much as 9W gets into bed with Delta Air Lines and AF/KL, I’m afraid it will never join SkyTeam. SkyTeam is little known in India outside DEL, BOM and BLR, and Saudia will always be the only SkyTeam airline at MAA (at least BLR has Air France).
Now VT-ANX is nearly two years old. But at least she has escaped the fate of some of her big sisters, the 777-300ERs, who are reduced to a despicable condition in less than half that time.
Closer and closer… nearly there…
There! I am out of the Bukaka aerobridge! That means I am on a 787 DREAM(LINER!
To my left is J, which goes until row 12. Thereafter is Y in two cabins in a 3-3-3 layout. I believe only JAL has 8-abreast seating on the 787. Rows 13 to 28 form the first cabin. I am in 28C, an aisle seat just in front of the toilet. Four toilets separate the two Y cabins (each aisle has two on either side), and the bulkhead in between has a picture of flowers.
I am cock-a-hoop when I see that my seat has not only a functional IFE monitor (ha, Jet Airways!), but also a remote control (for those for whom the touchscreen is a bit too much), a USB charging port and a coat hook. You push the button and the remote pops out, but I can’t put it back.
There’s also a packaged pillow and blanket, which I do not need. The tray table is the open-the-half-to-get-the-full kind, which I have never seen before.
Flimsy headphones. I never use them. I have my own. Where to plug them in is a bigger issue. Eventually, I find the two-pronged headphone jack right in front of the aisle armrest. Note: there are no power outlets.
At 11:16am the safety demonstration video starts. I’m happy to see a bog-standard safety video, rather than the over-the-top kind that has made Air New Zealand famous among even those who will never fly it. Also, fortunately, the setting is an actual aircraft, which I find to be appropriate. I can’t quite understand why, say, SQ will roam around Singapore showing the safety features of the plane. More points for creativity, I guess?
There are drop-down monitors above the E seats (in the centre) that are used only for the safety video, and never again during the flight.
The famous 787 dimmer window. Unfortunately, AI will be using the crew-override setting, meaning the windows will be pitch-black for the duration of the flight. Why do that in broad daylight?
Sloppy rendering of the Star Alliance logo. And where is the cheatline? Where are the red window outlines?
In the meantime this is the best I can get of 9M-MXE as she prepares for MH183 to Kuala Lumpur. (FR24 screenshot)
Happily plugging in:
Y is full:
We are airborne at 12:30pm. People have started to explore their IFE well before, but I am still struggling with the rather non-responsive touchscreen and the non-intuitive remote (the four-way directional buttons are at the TOP of the remote and not the centre):
At last, after five minutes of fiddling, I get it started. The touchscreen works well for the remainder of the flight.
I should have seen this before: (help for remote)
The map selection. Unlike many TR writers, I simply do not bother with maps on an IFE-enabled aircraft. All the more so when they are written in Times New Roman, boldface. That is a real turn-off:
What are Nikitin Seamount and Palawan Trough doing here?
A more pedestrian (ha!) view of the flight information:
Only after looking at this elderly gentleman in 28E do I realise that the remote can be put back in by yanking at it; it then shoots back inside like a seatbelt.
DISCLAIMER: My IFE descriptions are EXTREMELY detailed. Understandably so, since I never fly IFE-equipped aircraft, and it is very much a novelty for me. Feel free to skip them.
Now for the movie selection.
I am not the guy who hopes that season X and episode Y of serial Z will be loaded. I don’t ever watch anything in English, anywhere, whether movies, shows or music. Instead I plunge headlong into Bollywood:
A solid selection of titles new and old:
From this point the films get progressively older, though suddenly newer movies crop up again in page 7:
Suddenly new movies again in page 11:
The children’s section…
…with a paltry three movies, of which two are mainstream Bollywood movies and have no business in a kids’ section:
As much as the kids’ movie section is lacking (who knows where else in Air India’s selection all the kids’ movies are?), there is a small number of cartoon features, Indian and otherwise.
Now for the Hindi TV shows. Comedy consists of either Kapil Sharma, a rather crass comedian who has a run-in every now and then, or the original (2004-vintage) cult hit Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai.
‘Drama’ is strictly crime here. Two of our biggest Hindi TV channels, Sony TV and Star Bharat (and, since Hindi is the most-spoken language, they are among the most-viewed of all channels), air endless reruns of C.I.D./Crime Patrol and Saavdhan India, respectively. (Another of Sony TV’s claims to fame is The Kapil Sharma Show, above.) As for me, I flinch from gruesome murder scenes, though lakhs (i.e., hundreds of thousands) of Indians do not seem to do so.
By way of ‘light entertainment’ (I am fed up of all of Air India’s misleading titles), there are only folk concerts. Sorry for the HPQ.
The ‘light entertainment’ videos could as well be put up in this largely Bollywood-dominated section, despite all the sufi music and ghazals on page 1:
Some more Hindi shows carelessly thrown together. On the other hand, Emirates Airline, which my father flies more often than any other foreign airline, takes great care of its Indian IFE selection, not only as regards the sheer quantity but also the high quality (so he says). AI has got the tail end of everything here.
Now for something else. I skip the survey.
But then I see this. And I want to know how much trumpet-blowing the sarkari carrier has done here. See for yourself:
‘…truly an experience to cherish for every passenger..’ Words better suited for the Residence or the Qsuite. But this will suffice for poor folk like me. After all, this ticket was hardly ₹8000 (US$110), which is a paltry sum to pay for the luxury of IFE.
Baap re baap. 23 special meals?!
Here comes the trumpet-blowing. If this were true, Air India would have become its very antithesis: Emirates Airline.
This much is true: teams called ‘Railways’, ‘Services’ and ‘Air India’ compete at national-level multi-sport events.
The last line is nothing but puffery. It only implies DXB is a tiny little shed in the middle of the sand and the world comes to transit at IGI Airport (read: DEL). Emirates Airline and its ilk have built their fortunes on the inefficacies of AI and sarkari airports, of which the worst-suffering example must be MAA. (Seriously, though, DEL was recently the tenth-busiest airport in the world in one of the quarters of this year. But certainly not due to AI alone, though AI does have a big hand. Rather, it is because it is the A320 – and A320neo – capital of the world. And there is chiefly one airline responsible for it. I flew it on my previous flight.) (10-11)
Anyway. Returning to the selection, there are a number of regional languages…
…with hardly 6 movies in my own.
I don’t bother with the next few pictures here. This is only for the benefit of showing Hollywood film watchers on aeroplanes – that is, everybody in the world who flies airlines with IFE, except me – what Air India has.
After a great deal of flicking and scrolling, I bump into this little gem of a movie:
Without further ado, I select it for watching… but then I suddenly press the back button, as I can’t wait to see what sort of (mis?)description Air India has for its other Hindi films. Take a look. (Upload only 4.)
I return to the one I chose and go ahead with it. It received approbation from all quarters, though it wasn’t outstanding enough to merit more than three-and-a-half stars (out of five) from any critic. Still, it is excellent in its own right.
The Modi government, in the guise of AI’s IFE, force-feeds you with advertising campaigns that (expectedly) you cannot fast-forward through. This is the Swachh Bharat cleanliness campaign which is far less successful than it should have been.
Then an overlong ad on the capital.
Tumhari Sulu starts with the obligatory Government anti-smoking ads, this time endorsed by Akshay Kumar, the world’s 7th-highest-paid entertainer. However, all films released in India are required to include them, whereas the Delhi ad is a part of the IFE and not the movie. I have no pictures of them.
Then the film itself.
WARNING: You need to be an Indian cinephile to understand this paragraph. It has nothing to do with the trip report. Now I had better not talk of this channel. It has sunk beyond redemption. Launched in 1999 as India’s second full-time Hindi movie channel (the first being Zee Cinema), Sony Max has suffered from a severe dosage of Telugu, Tamil and Kannada dubbed movies since 2013. For a channel this important (it prided itself on its Hindi movie collection for many years), it lauched its HD version very late, on Christmas 2015. For the first year of the HD channel, all went well, as it showed a nice mix of popular blockbusters, niche indie movies and classic (1960s-1990s) Hindi movies, but since 2017 both the HD and SD channel show an almost exclusive diet of poorly-dubbed and commercially unsuccessful Telugu and Tamil movies; ironically enough, among those movies is the multi-thousand-crore-grossing Baahubali two-film franchise.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade:
Now the one irritating thing about AI’s IFE is that, when you rewind, it will actually fast-forward the current location by 30 seconds and rewind from THERE. The rewinding is not very smooth, either, and very jittery.
Enough of IFE talk. It is 12pm and food has been served, starting with a round of salted peanuts. I ask for a Coke to go with it. All flight attendants today are male and well over 30. The next round of food will come after 30 minutes.
A scene early in the film. Spoiler: the TV never does get repaired.
Hah! A map in the corner.
It is now 12:30pm, lunchtime, and I order the non-vegetarian meal. There being no menus, I cannot accurately describe what is being served. All I can say is that it is an excellent meal all round.
Main course: rice and some chicken pieces, for lack of a better description. Accompaniment: curd rice in the South Indian fashion, which I skip. Dessert: some sort of murabba. Metal cutlery (kudos!). Tissues. A tiny bottle of water and a tinier chiplet of butter. A dry-as-dust bun which can certainly do with that butter. A red plastic tray with an orange A4 sheet of paper with the Air India logo. A little mug in case the passenger wants coffee or tea; I do not.
On the chiplet of Nova butter is Chhota Bheem, one of our homegrown cartoon characters and a franchise unto himself:
After a very nice repast, a visit to my neighbour immediately to the back – the L3(?) restroom – is in order.
I have not seen this kind of ‘push-to-enter’ lavatory door before.
I push it:
Inside it is pitch-black, I know not why. Here’s the sink with handwash (photo with flash):
Toilet paper and mouthwash:
Suddenly it strikes me that I should lock the door.
No sooner do I lock it than, lo and behold, LED lights behind the mirror come up!
The smoke detector:
It is 1:30 now and I have little to do but complete the film. However, I am occasionally distracted by the bright screen in 25D. The guy there is watching Dangal, a film for the ages.
My film is over at 2:45, and I too want to watch the climax of Dangal. I put it on and fast-forward it at the highest possible rate. (You cannot jump to a section of the film just as you please. You must take the arduous route.)
At 3pm IST (5:30pm SG) descent is announced. Hereafter I will stick to Singapore time.
A bumpy touchdown at 5:40pm…
…with Dangal still fast-forwarding and nowhere near the historic moment where Geeta Phogat nails the elusive five-pointer to win gold:
I give up. My co-passengers are ready to deplane.
The windows, which were force-dimmed throughout the flight by the crew, are now badly fogged up, severely hamstringing my chance at planespotting. You can only just make out the number 09 and the letters FI.
The aircraft is OH-LWE. Having never seen A350s before this trip, I am suddenly confronted by so many of them, with…
…D-AIXH (that is its tail):
I suddenly notice an issue of Lonely Planet (Indian edition) hanging out of the bulkhead just behind me, and pull it out…
…to reveal a number of Marathi and Hindi newspapers (which makes sense as this aircraft flies a BOM-SIN-MAA-SIN-BOM rotation, with AI343 SIN-BOM being next):
I am exasperated by the poor planespotting opportunities and move to the right side of the aircraft. HB-JNA:
9V-SBH (another A319, like the Bastard Child) and HB-JNA:
The galley between J and Y:
A shot of J. The rows are 1-3, with 4-10 and, unfortunately for rational-thinking people, 13 being skipped.
A signature of AI. The outlined windows.
From the aerobridge at Gate E12.
Now I am out of the aerobridge and in the terminal.
That A380 is VH-OQG.
A parting shot at the bird that gave me my first widebody experience. I will remember VT-ANX as long as I live. (That A320 is 9V-TAX.)
And now for the innumerable travelators.
Terminal 2 departures.
9V-SSD and HB-JNA. The latter will have to wait for a long time before flying LX177 to ZRH. VH-OQG is also visible in the background; it will fly QF2 to LHR. Despite QF pulling out of DXB (and making DXB T3 exclusive to EK once again?), both airlines have had a lot to gain.
Auf wiedersehen, VT-ANX! Fortunately this one is the last of the travelators.
Finally out of the travelators. SilkAir to HYD:
IMMIGRATION: I am about to join the not-very-long lines for immigration, but an ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) official must have seen my Student Pass and guided me to the special lines for Singaporean citizens, Permanent Residents and Long-term Pass Holders. I am surprised to find that my Student Pass might qualify as an LTP. All the same, I go through and scan my passport in the machine. It is very slow, taking at least three or four minutes, but I am through.
Now on to the baggage collection belts. Changi makes a great deal of these codeshares. I am frankly astonished to find my flight to be an Air New Zealand codeshare. This I never saw in Chennai.
I wait 15 minutes to collect my two heavy suitcases from Belt 32, then trundle them to the MRT station. The fare to Boon Lay (the station closest to NTU) is hardly S$2.
Arrivals/departures across all terminals.
What a memorable flight. By all means I will fly the sarkari carrier again. IndiGo is efficient, but too efficient; Air India has no shortage of amenities to pass the flight, and above all IFE. This is what I value most. If AI offers a fare low enough, nothing will stop me from grabbing it with both hands.
Thanks for reading and keeping patience with me – if you managed to! Until next time!