This past August I finally tied the knot with my long time girlfriend and a few days later we left for our honeymoon. This series of posts chronicles our first vacation as a married couple.
About 6 weeks before our wedding, once it became clear that we would be able to take sufficient time off from work to visit our first choice destination, Europe, rather than any of the Indian Ocean islands that we had as backup, I started hunting for flights. Booking at a short notice in the peak of the tourist season in Europe meant prices were very high, however I discovered a relatively reasonable fare from Jet Airways for my travel dates. I lapped that up, then made arrangements for lodging and internal travel, and we were set to go. Except for the small matter of obtaining a visa.
While residents of most developed countries can turn up at any European airport and get a short term visit visa, holders of not so powerful passports do not have the same luxury. As per the arcane visa rules of the Schengen area, we had to apply for the visa from Spanish Embassy. However, survey of online forums revealed that the Spanish embassy in Mumbai is notorious for delaying visa applications inordinately. We couldn’t risk losing our vacation to a delayed visa, so we tweaked our plans, made a few dummy bookings in order to be able to apply at the French embassy.
Visa applications processing for all Schengen countries (and many others, including Australia and the UK) is handled by VFS Global, which operates from a large office with airport style security in central Mumbai. A month before we were scheduled to depart, I submitted my visa application along with the supporting documents, including my academic, professional, and financial history, a cover letter explaining why I am travelling to France, and amusingly, a copy of my wedding invitation which was specifically required for honeymooners! The lady at the counter who collected my application informed that the turnaround time is usually only one day. Sure enough, I received a text message from VFS telling me that my application had been processed and I could collect my passport, but there was no word on whether I had been granted a visa. The next day, I went back to collect my passport. The same lady handed back a sealed cover. I anxiously tore it open and flipped through my passport , and there it was, the license to legally enter Europe and stay for a month. Phew!
Departure: Scheduled - 10.55, Actual - 11.19
Arrival: Scheduled - 17.00, Actual - 17.07
Seat: 32C (Economy)
A driver from Ola Cabs, the Indian clone of UBER, picked us up from our apartment at the scheduled time on the day of our departure. Rush hour in Mumbai generally means packed roads and our cab was making a slow but steady progress to the International airport. However, the traffic was becoming progressively worse and about three quarters of our way to the airport, our cab ground to a standstill. As the minutes ticked by, I started getting increasingly anxious, and my anxiety was only exacerbated on checking Google Maps and seeing a thick red line for the next two kilometres. The traffic started to clear after a while, but it was then a race against time to reach before the the check in deadline. The ramp to the departure section was never more welcome.
Turn left for departure
Ramp leading to the departure hall
You cannot just barge into the terminal building of an Indian airport. The entrances are manned by CISF, a paramilitary force primarily tasked with the security of industrial buildings owned by the government. Airport security was handed over to CISF after the hijacking of IC
814 in 1999. You need to produce your travel documents and Id proof which are then verified and you are let in.
We did manage to check in about 3 minutes before the closure of the check in desk with 9W
staff frantically looking for their last two travellers. We rushed through immigration and security, which thankfully had sparse queues given the time of the day. An airline representative made us skip the queue at the boarding pass check after clearing immigration, another quirk of Indian airports. We made a final dash past duty free shops to reach Gate 76 as the last ones to board the plane. Yay!
We are at our gate at last
Our ride for the day, VT
We found our seats at the far back of the plane, at the region where the A332 changes from 2-4-2 to 2-3-2.
Pillows and blankets awaiting us
A short while later we were pushed back from the gate with the animated safety video playing on the IFE screens, first in Hindi and then in English with French subtitles.
Long queue for take-off as usual in Mumbai
Take off from Runway 27 into a rather overcast Mumbai sky
Crossing the shore and flying over the Arabian Sea
After the seatbelt sign was turned off the crew did a quick drink and snack service. 9W
offers free alcoholic beverages on its international flights in Economy class also. We opted for orange and apple juice.
I was surprised to find the flight 100% full on a weekday morning, an unusual time for a long haul departure from India.
The captain announced over the PA that we would be taking a slightly longer route today and that may delay our arrival by about 10 minutes. We had ample time for our connection at Paris so that wasn’t a bother.
calls its IFE system just JetScreen. Oddly fitting for an airline with an unimaginative name as Jet Airways.
I flipped through the airline magazine to see what was on offer in the entertainment section. This is the international version of the magazine, with different travel articles from the domestic version and with the entertainment listings.
The movies section was well stocked with several blockbuster Hollywood and Bollywood titles.
However, I was disappointed to find only two Tamil language films on offer. SQ
for comparison offers many more Tamil films on their flights to India and so does EK
. A cursory glance across the cabin revealed a majority of the screens were indeed playing one of the two Tamil films! Surely there cannot be that many Tamil speaking people travelling from BOM
This flight was launched by 9W
in May 2014. The announcement came as a surprise to many industry watchers since the general belief post the approval of EY
’s acquisition of 24% stake was that 9W
would close its European operations barring LHR
and instead connect more Indian cities with AUH
, in effect becoming a feeder airline for EY
. Indeed, the airline terminated its short lived scissor hub at BRU
shortly after the acquisition. Perhaps operating this route is a better use of the A332 rather than leasing it out, like more than 70% of its long haul fleet.
I later learnt that this flight was well timed to allow for connections with 9W
’s early morning arrival from CMB. This seems to be a popular option for the large Sri Lankan Tamil community in France to travel from Sri Lanka. Perhaps 9W
should consider beefing up their Tamil language IFE options.
In flight headphones. They were so-so. I had no other choice since I had forgotten to pack my pair of earphones.
Long haul economy cabins in 9W
aircraft have foot nets to rest your feet. I found them to be very comfortable. I am surprised other airlines do not have something similar.
The legroom was generous. I am 6’2” and did not feel any discomfort, though the IFE box occupied come of the space under the seat.
FL360 it is then
The moving map
About 2.5 hrs into the flight, the crew at last reached our row with the meal service. The flight attendant merely handed over the vegetarian meal tray without asking for our option. Only on enquiring about the availability of chicken did he inform that they had run out of it. He also assured me that they would be serving the pre landing meal back to front so I can have my chicken then. Okay.
The food was good, as far as economy class airline meals go.
While fiddling with the IFE options I came across the in seat calling feature. Naturally, we played telephone for a while.
Somewhere over Iran
As the flight wore on, I decided to watch one of the Tamil movies available. The screen was large enough but the resolution made the system seem dated. The quality of the headphones didn't help either.
Before long, the crew began their second meal service. As promised they started from the back this time and I got my chicken roll.
And a bar of chocolate ice cream
A travel memory that I cherish is the sight of the Sydney Opera House shining in the twilight sky from an airplane window on approach to Sydney. I was looking out to see if I can spot the Eiffel Tower this time. No luck as I later learnt that CDG
is quite some distance from the city.
Touchdown at CDG
birds on the tarmac
We parked next to this A320 of SU
We disembarked into terminal 2C
Departure: Scheduled - 21.00, Actual - 21.08
Arrival: Scheduled - 22.40, Actual - 22.26
Seat: 30B (Economy)
9W code shares with AF on this and several other flights in the late evening departure bank out of CDG
Passengers ending their journeys in Paris had to go through immigration while transfer passengers were asked to proceed to the transfer desk. The IFDS screens there gave the terminal and gate numbers for upcoming flights. We noted ours and moved towards the shuttle bus. On the way we were approached by an elderly indian couple connecting to Lisbon. They did not appear to be comfortable in speaking or reading English and were clueless about going to their terminal. We figured that all Schengen area flights depart from terminal 2F and asked them to tag along with us.
A disinterested lady at the immigration desk stamped our visa and we proceeded to the departure hall. It was rather packed at that time of the day with flights departing to virtually every major European city.
Boarding commenced at the scheduled time
The safety announcements were made in French and in barely perceptible English.
View of the tarmac from the seat
Take off from Paris
And I did get to spot the Eiffel Tower from the sky!
The meal options were tuna or radish sandwich. We chose the latter. A couple of bites were all we could bear. It was that bad. We washed it down with juice.
Shortly thereafter we landed at El Prat airport. The final approach over water was very scenic.
Our bags didn’t take long to arrive at the baggage belt
The cheapest way to get to the city from the airport is taking the Roadalies (commuter rail) R2
line . However, it runs from Terminal 2 while most major airlines, including Vueling which is the largest operator at BCN
, fly from T1. We took a shuttle bus from T1 to T2
and followed the directions to reach the station in time to catch the last train of the day, saving about 30 euros over the taxi fare. We got down from the train at the Barcelona Sants station, and a helpful policeman outside pointed out our hotel to us.
By the time we completed the check in formalities and got to our room, we had been up for more than 22 hours. We plonked ourselves on the welcoming bed.
To be continued in Part 2