I left my hotel at Bangalore city center for the airport at 6:30 am by taxi. Traffic was not a problem on this early Wednesday morning. The ride only took 40 minutes. Apparently, airport road was not yet complete. I found it amusing that along the way, at every single overpass (which were all only halfway built), traffic was being routed from the main road, across a gravel shoulder to a parallel side road and then across the gravel shoulder again back onto the main road.
Taxi fare was Rs 730, comparable to the Rs 800 it cost me from the airport to the city a couple days prior (that also included toll – which was not collected on the way into the airport). Both of my taxi drivers were honest and polite. I was happily impressed!
Like airport road, Bangalore (BLR) airport terminal was also under construction. I walked around temporary walls announcing the new airport is “coming soon”.
Prior to entering the terminal, there was a ticket and ID check by the security police. While this might seem unusual for the U.S., I have seen similar checks at airports elsewhere in the world. At first, I was concerned that not having a paper printout of my eTicket would be a problem. Will the checker accept the electronic version on my phone? My concern was abated; almost half of the travelers showed their electronic itinerary on their phone.
There was not a long queue at the SilkAir ticket counter. Only one person was in front of me in line at the business class position. Air India staff performs the ground work for SilkAir. I found it difficult to understand the person helping me. While this was not unusual from what I encountered the previous couple days, it was disconcerting that a customer service representative for a major airline also had a thick accent.
Check-in was smooth. The agent carefully confirmed my Internet check-in seat assignments, which was nice. My bag and boarding pass were both issued to my final destination, Newark. I was also given an invitation to the Executive Lounge. My carry-on bag was tagged and I was given the India departure form.
There were two Café Coffee Days in the terminal. They were everywhere in Bangalore, and by the looks of it, here in the airport as well. I wanted to have one more taste of their coffee before leaving India, but did not want to rush it before going through security. I was hoping for more cafés in the secure area.
I proceed to passport check – plenty of windows were open, but most of the staff was perfectly content to read their newspaper or play on their phone rather than waving people down from the queue. I thought about the perennial joke/reality that India is mired in bureaucracy and that was moment I realized where bureaucracy came from. Their uniforms say Bureau of Immigration. Duh…of course!
With apologizes to my Indian friends……
There were no questions and hassles at passport check, I continued on to security screening. Only one scanner was working; men and women were asked to enter separate metal detectors. Everyone went through a slow manual hand wand process. Despite a short line of five or six people, it still took a good ten minutes to go through. I cannot imagine how long this process takes during a busy period. As with all good bureaucratic systems, I had to get my boarding pass and carry-on tag stamped.
Just like any respectable international airport, after security, I got dumped directly to the duty free shop. It featured the usual selection of cigarettes, alcohol, chocolates, as well as local favors such as tea and spices.
Indian tea anyone?
After duty free, I was surprised to see the small international flight area in the concourse. For a large city like Bangalore, I expected a large volume of international flights would warrant a large concourse. I guess not. Besides duty free, shopping was limited to a watch store, an Indian cultural goods shop, and a small book/travel/electronics shop.
Food selection was limited to Pizza Hut and the Kingfisher Bar. Alas, to my disappointment, no Café Square Coffee.
I proceeded to the Executive Lounge, next door to the fancy Kingfisher Bar. The lounge was dark and quiet, almost eerie. At most, there was just 10 people there, including the wait staff.
There was a good variety of muffins, croissants, sandwiches, and Lays potato chips. There were two warm items: chicken sausage and dosa (Indian pancake) with chickpea sauce. Beverage selection was good as well. I had the dosa, a muffin, and finished them off with a Coke. I always like to have Coke when it is made with sugar instead of corn syrup like in the U.S. and some parts of the world.
There was really nothing else to do other than waiting at the gate. Spotting was impossible as there was a hallway separating the outside windows and the gate area.
Route: BLR - SIN
Aircraft: Airbus A320-232
Registration: 9V-SLG (msn 2252), delivered in 2004
Scheduled Departure – Arrival: 9:45 am – 4:50 pm
Actual Departure – Arrival: 9:37 am – 4:54 pm
Flying Time: 4 hr 31 min
Photo © James Mellon
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
While I was waiting, an Emirates 777 arrived and parked at the next gate. Ho hum. Where do you NOT see Emirates nowadays? It was a nice contextual thrill, I guess. The locals joke Emirates is the national airline of India!
The same Air India staff at the check-in counter also sat up the boarding area. Business class boarding followed pre-boarding. There was yet another check by the security police ensuring that I had proper stamps on my boarding pass and hand baggage. Only after that did the gate agent lift my boarding pass. Even though they made the announcement for boarding, the aircraft was not quite ready. I was told that I could either wait in line or go back to the gate area so I could be seated. I chose to wait in line like everyone else. We stood in the jetway for about five minutes before being allowed to board.
On board in business class, there were three rows of seats in a 2-2 configuration. There were about six or seven passengers in business, including me. Overall, the decor was simple. Around the big brown leather seat, some areas such as the seat adjustment switches and the cocktail table were a bit worn. There was no seat back video or even at seat audio, for that matter. SilkAir is Singapore Airline’s no frills regional carrier and I definitely got that feeling.
Despite the plain interior, I was pleasantly surprised by the service. The differentiator with Singapore Airlines was only on the hard product, but not on the soft. The service was Singapore Girl all the way!
I was welcomed with a choice of apple juice, orange juice, or water. I went with apple juice.
It was followed by a choice of newspapers and magazines. I went with the Straits Times. Hot towels followed. After that, a flight attendant came by and took my after take-off beverage order along with a choice of nuts, pretzels, or chips. I went with orange juice and chips. There was no printed menu booklet (you get a menu even in economy on Singapore). Instead, the flight attendant presented me with a single printed page tucked on a leather bound cover. The menu definitely had more words, but the transaction went something like: “Mr. Wang, choices for lunch today are fish curry or chicken”. I went with the chicken.
Over the loudspeaker, the captain announced the flight time to be 4 hours and 30 minutes with an altitude of 37,000 feet.
At 9:37 am, we pushed back from the gate, eight minutes early. After couple minutes of waiting at the end of the runway, at 9:48 am, we took-off from Runway 27.
“Mr. Wang, some chips.”
That was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a bag of Lay’s as I saw in the lounge, but it was a couple stacks of unpacked Pringles on a tray. Nice!
The captain gave us a progress report. We were to arrive in Singapore at 4:50 pm. Weather is expected to be showers with temperature of 30°C.
Lunch tray arrives.
“Mr. Wang, appetizer salad and cake for dessert.” It would be nice if I remembered what they were actually called, or even better, had a menu to reference. Nevertheless, the point here is the flight attendant called out the dishes individually, which was a nice touch.
Main course, chicken thigh with mashed potatoes. The chicken was fatty. I had to peel back the skin and the layer of fat. The good thing was the fat kept the meat moist. The mashed potato was rich and buttery. Too rich for me, I left it after a couple tastes.
“Chinese tea, English tea, green tea, or coffee?” I went Chinese tea.
Overall, service was excellent, presentation was nice, but food quality was mediocre.
Meanwhile, reality programs (Wipeout was one) played on the overhead screens. There was no audio on this aircraft, so whatever being played on the monitors had to be conveyed silently.
About halfway through the flight, we encountered turbulence, which would not let up until the end of the flight. Captain announced the turbulence was not due to bad weather, but due to changing wind directions. He updated the weather in Singapore, which is now fine with a temperature of 30°C.
For duty free shopping, I wanted the SilkAir pen with a cutesy airplane on top. A flight attendant promptly brought one and proceeded to demonstrate the pull back action on the little airplane on my cocktail table. Alas, even after a few tries, the plane would not move. She went back to look for another pen. After coming up empty, she apologized and gave me a couple freebie pens and a pack of playing cards. Not a bad substitution prize!
The turbulence never really stopped and the seat belt sign never went off. During some of the lull, flight attendants offered juice and water while us passengers took quick trips to the lavatory.
Looks like business class had its own kind of issue paper!
Thirty minutes prior to landing, we started our descend. Flight attendants passed out hot towels and water. Not having a moving map and not knowing the geography, I had no idea where I was. I know now that we were flying over Malaysia and made our approach from the north.
At 4:50 pm, we landed on Runway 20C at Singapore. Total flight duration was 4 hours 31 minutes.
We made a quick taxi to gate F35 at Terminal 2 and was parked at 4:54 pm, four minutes late. It did take a few extra minutes to get the door open before we were able to exit.
“Thank you, Mr. Wang!”
"Goodbye, Mr. Wang!”
Two different flight attendants addressed me by name upon deplaning. That really made me feel special and put a big smile on my face!
Even though SilkAir is Singapore Airlines' no-frills regional arm, service was top notch. If you have flown on Singapore on short-haul flights, even in economy, there are many frills (such as hot towels, on-demand IFE, headphone delivery/pickup, printed menus) that are not really necessary. SilkAir is an attempt to do away with those frills without sacrificing service. In that regard, I think the airline has succeeded. However, given Singapore Airlines (the group) operates two flights between Bangalore and Singapore, one on SilkAir and the other on Singapore, with both flights costing the same for me, the obvious choice is to go with the Singapore flight. But given the Singapore flight operated at an undesirable time really puts it it at a disadvantage when I chose my flight. Mileage is another thing to consider as well. Since SilkAir is not part of Star Alliance, I was not able to accrue miles on my United account (it did not matter that I was flying on a Singapore codeshare ticket). I lost out 2,000 miles for not flying on Singapore metal.
The real reason why I took this flight was to connect in Singapore to flight SQ22, the longest flight in the world. On to part 2 of this trip!
[Edited 2013-11-01 23:04:32]