28th of July 2015 included a lot of sadness. I was to leave Sri Lanka the next day, and I didn’t know when I’d see my lovely friends next. This question was soon answered as I found out that I could perhaps fund my own first ever trip after I found a job in the university. The question that arose was the origin. Mumbai? Kolkata? New Delhi? The city options opened up three airline options. Jet’s two flights from Mumbai, Air India’s direct from Delhi, or Mihin Lanka’s three-weekly service from Kolkata. Kolkata was the place I would depart from to head to Colombo since my parents settled there. Mihin Lanka, a new airline? Heck yeah! I found the cheapest fare to be on the 25th December and returning on the 28th. I booked this quick weekend getaway with gusto, since the Mihin website is not as efficient as its big sister, SriLankan Airlines.
PRE-FLIGHT: WEB CHECK IN & ORIGINS OF THE FLIGHT
Web check in was relatively straightforward, however, seats were pre-reserved and I had absolutely no choice to make changes! I was automatically allocated seat 28F. Not ideal, but not a middle or aisle either! It was going to be a packed flight. An Airbus A320 (THE ONLY Airbus A320 in Mihin's fleet, 4R-MRE) would operate this flight instead of the scheduled Airbus A319 (4R-MRF). Now before moving on to the trip report itself, here’s a few things I knew before entering into the unknown, Mihin Lanka. My father took the inaugural MJ331 to Kolkata on the 17th of June. He was very happy with service, although it was in Business Class.
Mihin Lanka has always been a mystery to me, but of those airlines I wouldn't have missed out on much had I not tried it. But this was a great opportunity. The timings changed from a mid morning departure to an early morning departure (based out of Colombo) for the winter. The change in timings unfazed the ColBongs (Colombo's Bengalis) because we prefer this than wasting half a day traveling via Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. Despite being a low cost carrier airline, food is served on the Kolkata flight at least. I was excited for this. Flights have also been going full, Kolkata has been doing well for Mihin Lanka. With those in my mind, I entered into the unknown….
As was the past few days in Kolkata, I woke up insanely early (4am, thanks jet lag!) on Christmas Day. And this time, for good reason! I was super excited because I was going back to Sri Lanka for the weekend. I left home at 0730 hours, in time for my flight to Colombo. 4R-MRE, as predicted, was enroute.
I reached the airport at around 8am. The international terminal was full of life. IndiGo to Bangkok, AirAsia to Kuala Lumpur, Emirates to Dubai, Biman and Air India to Dhaka, and finally, Mihin Lanka to Colombo were the flights departing around the time during Christmas day. Instructions were unclear as to where baggage screening was happening for Mihin Lanka (since Kolkata is still a generation or two behind even with the new integrated terminal, Chennai being the other, sigh).
BAGGAGE SCREENING AND DROP, IMMIGRATION, SECURITY, SPOTTING
I was told that the Jet Airways baggage screening people would do the needful. And my God was the line long! IndiGo, AirAsia, Biman and Mihin Lanka had their baggage screened in the same Jet Airways x-ray machine. A huge line.
Luckily, Emirates had Air India taking care of their baggage checks. The information screens showed that MJ332 to Colombo would depart at 1020, as opposed to the ticket that said 1040. These twenty minutes were crucial for me because it probably would’ve meant being denied check in or just making it for the flight. It went past 0820 and I was starting to get very anxious. Just when I was at the fag end of the line, I took a look back and it was a huge HUGE snaking line.
NOOO what has happened here?!
This is when a lady and her son jumped the entire line. I kinda guessed they were on the Mihin flight, but I felt it was a bit unfair on us who were standing in line for longer, and would keep waiting.
Anyway, at the check in (F14) there were four different counters open for Mihin, the usual 2 for Economy, 1 for OLCI luggage drop and 1 for Business class. Almost everyone’s check in procedures were complete, I was one of the last because of the very long line. However, since I was alone, I got first call to the business class check in counter. But the lady and her son, who like I guessed, jumped ahead of me at luggage screening had an issue with that! Ah well, my check in went off without a hitch, nice Bengali lady at the counter got my stuff done. All clear.
Immigration was also done without any drama. Some more Mihin passengers were wondering if a meal would be served onboard, and hence instructions to themselves were to eat on the plane itself, the food they packed, that is. Security was done without a hitch too. I headed straight for the extreme end of the international terminal (gate 8 or 9), where an India Post Boeing 737-200F was just kept in a bad condition :(
A sad state of affairs here… :(
I saw A6-EMI, EK570 from Dubai land. I went off to gate 10 for the magnificent arrival of this Boeing 777-200ER.
4R-MRE had already arrived, I had missed that somehow. The 9.8 years old Toulouse built Airbus A320 was parked at Gate 12. This plane spent a significant part of its life in India as VT-DKR (Air Deccan, Simplifly Deccan and Kingfisher Airlines).
The Tata Docomo WiFi was really disappointing, perhaps the worst I have seen around airports in India. Anyway, I was determined to post a few images online before boarding my flight. It was 1005 hours. A few seconds after winning the war with the wobbly internet, the ground staff came up to me and said in Bengali - boarding has started, you are requested to board the plane. Well, okay then.
Boarding pass checked, the ‘I don’t even know why’ check on luggage tags was next, and then we headed down the jet bridge of Gate 12 towards 4R-MRE. 9M-AFG, an Expedia livery Airbus A320 of AirAsia took the attention of many passengers, as I started at the nose cone of 4R-MRE.
The passengers stopping in the gangway caught the attention of ground staff. ‘Doshta dosh beje gachche. Boarding khub aste jachche. Airbus theke Statebus hoy gachche!’ was the comment of the ground staff (Translated - its 1010, boarding is going so slowly. Its turned from an Airbus to a state bus!) Boarding was a pleasant feel. A very good morning was wished by the flight attendant, as I went past the new Mihin business class, that is on par, if not better than SriLankan Airlines' Business class. Good morning from all flight attendants, I replied by saying 'ayubowan'. Not the right thing to say, since that means - welcome in Sinhala!
ONBOARD - INTERESTING COPASSENGERS…..
On first glance, MRE was kept well. Except for the windows, those were bad. I reached row 28 and boom, the lady and her son whom I was talking about were seated on 28D and 28E. An awkward flight lay ahead. Passengers slowly filled up 4R-MRE, a full flight was guaranteed ever since I booked the ticket. In fact, 28E wasn’t the seat of the boy sitting next to me. The lady instantly thought it was OK to occupy her son’s not assigned seat beforehand, rather than talking it out when the passengers arrived. That was nice of her, sigh.
Some of Sri Lanka's typical juices (Smak and Kist) were served along with runs of water. Of course, this wasn't made easy because of all passengers blocking the aisles. The usual UL-style clicker counters went past a few times as a part of the head count.A Taj SATS truck drove away after serving my plane. I was looking forward to the meal service! Total silence till about 1100 hours when food smells made its presence. The passengers on seat 28A/B/C were having their own meal, a brunch of sorts.
Apologies folks - a dirty window and smoggy conditions in Kolkata made for less than ideal photography conditions. The crashed bus and Air India ATR!
Biman Bangladesh Bombardier Q400 from Dhaka
VT-JFM coming in from Port Blair, and will continue on to Delhi as 9W2264
Departure time came and went. Everyone thought the departure time was 1020 hours (as was shown by the FIDS in the terminal, wrongly) so the moaning and groaning had begun twenty minutes earlier. Even after 1040 it wasn’t looking like their was anything going to happen. 1105 hours, Captain Andrea gave us a detailed explanation of the delay and departure (from 01L towards the north before banking South west to Colombo). I kinda figured when I saw the luggage loader pull back and only to return when a bag was removed, a passenger in fact was offloaded. Captain announced a further delay because of congestion at Kolkata.
VT-SJI operating S24363 from Bengaluru to Imphal via Kolkata and Guwahati
S2-AFM from Dhaka…two Biman Bangladesh flights close together! (I like this Biman livery the best)
Despite the detailed explanation the lady on the aisle asked the flight attendant - ‘Why aren’t we taking off?’ in a rude and unkind way. Come on, they are human too, right? And, for some reason, the boy next to me misheard Captain Andrea’s announcement and then hilarity followed. ‘Mumma, pilot bollo Pakistan hoye jabe na? We will be leaving Pakistan bollo’ (Mum, the pilot said we’re going to stop at Pakistan right? He said we will be leaving Pakistan). Where Pakistan actually meant Parking Stand! That wasn’t it. This escalated to the extent that the boy’s Mum asked the flight attendant if the flight would actually be stopping over at Pakistan or not, to which she got the obvious response that this was a direct flight.
DEPARTURE - PUSHBACK AND TAKE OFF
Finally. Pushback was at 1125 hours, forty five minutes after STD. The lady in seat 28D decided this was the best time to send her son to the washroom at the back, but he got sent back to his seat for obvious reasons :) Both IAE V2500 engines whirred into life as we began a pretty short taxi towards runway 01L.
Waited for a Jet Airways Konnect/JetKonnect/Lite/Delight/Fright 737-800 to land, we took our position and blasted down the runway into the smoggy skies of Kolkata. An intense bank to the Southwest followed. Course set for Colombo, Sri Lanka.
AN EVENTFUL FLIGHT!
Seatbelt signs off, and some passengers rise up from their seats. This begun the fun and games in the flight. It began with the dude beside me asking me to lower my window shade for his entertainment purposes (read - laptop). He put on his Hindi movies really loud, without headphones connected. And I don’t know what exactly was he trying to prove because all he did was skip to the last scene of whatever movies he saw. He finally settled for watching Hera Pheri from start to finish.
The crew pulled up the trolley to the front of the aisle at 1159 hours, the meal service had begun. Passengers had got up and blocked the aisles, making it a handful for the crew to do their stuff, which was unfortunate. However, being the normal Sri Lankan hospitality, they absolutely welcomed this, despite the trouble caused. They also answered each and every call made by the passengers. Top class stuff. Meal service also resumed from the rear galley, with two flight attendants taking orders and then handing out the trays. Just to bother the child beside me and his mum, I pulled up the window shade at times just to look out and keep it there. Twice, just before she’d ask me to lower my window shade, I’d do it anyway. But it was fun to do this, lol.
Like I said, I really didn’t know what to expect from Mihin Lanka, and especially the food service. So far so good from Mihin. Great crew, welcoming announcements, very detailed stuff from the Captain and keeping us abreast of the delay situation (but of course, this didn’t go down very well with the passengers…sigh). A steward came over and asked me - ‘sir would you like the non vegetarian lunch or the vegetarian lunch today?” I went for the former.
A very small meal container was placed on a medium-ish sized tray. A dinner roll, absolutely molten liquid butter, Mihin Lanka branded milk chocolate and a Sri Lankan apple juice accompanied the main meal. The main contents itself was a spicy chicken curry with fried rice and a Sri Lankan boiled veggie preparation. A small meal, but I loved it. I was pretty surprised by what Mihin Lanka offered to me, and I was happy. Plastic cutlery to go with that, but that’s alright. :)
THE BAD KIND OF PASSENGER?
Trays collected, I got my laptop out and watched Iron Maiden’s Flight 666 concert. That’s when round 2 of the fun enfolded. A lady yelled at the crew members when they handed her the meal tray. From what I heard of the commotion, she said 'what kind of service is this? Bring me a non vegetarian meal or else I'll throw this in your face!' Here's what I think happened: because the crew members did not use a trolley for the rear half of the cabin, the meal service slowed down a little. This perhaps was a flaw in itself, but there's only so much the crew could do with so many passengers blocking the aisle! But, it must also be noted that the woman's attitude was terrible. You don't say stuff like throw food in people's faces! Stuff like that happens, so you either eat it or forget it, seriously! Anyway, her stubbornness meant that the crew had to find a non vegetarian meal in Business Class. I do not recall what happened afterwards. She did have a minor rant on the expiry date of the juice not too long after this. Pretty sad stuff.
This was my first trip I was paying for from my own earned money. I was not going to let a child and his mother prevent me from enjoying what was left of this pretty eventful flight. I pulled my window shade up. Land ho! We were just about exiting Indian airspace and entering Sri Lankan airspace.
ARRIVAL - DESCENT, LANDING, DISEMBARKATION
Not a standard safety card, its only for 4R-MRE!
It was absolutely lovely to see the Gulf of Mannar once again. Soon, the lovely lady first officer made an announcement informing us of the conditions Colombo was reporting. A very warm 35C temperature with clear visibility and sunny skies. I’m definitely back to the weather I’m used to, I thought. Preparations for landing were made as we got closer and closer to Earth. Seeing the lovely Indian Ocean by the side: a runway 22 approach. We soon flew over Chilaw, followed by Negombo. As soon as we were in the vicinity of Negombo, we made a pretty sharp turn to the left.
Over the Negombo Lagoon, closer and closer to Earth, I noticed quite a few of the Toyota Prius cars (their obvious rear end make it…obvious!), as a diesel local train went by: we soon made a smooth touchdown and welcomed in the warm sight of many SriLankan Airlines Airbus wibedobies….and of course, an Emirates Boeing 777. A6-EMT, a non ER -300 was operating the day’s EK348 DXB-CMB-SIN rotation. Taxiing took its time as we headed for Gate 11 (I think). Engines cut out, doors disarmed. The flight came to an end with people getting out of their seats even before the plane came to a complete stop. Of course.
Oh there's my suitcase!
Dumped right in to the luggage train - of course!
Being seated towards the end, I had to wait for quite some time to head out. I thanked the crew and wished them a merry christmas. Up until 36 hours before the flight, I had no way of going from the airport to my friend’s place. However, this was done with the help of a VIP onboard the flight, who flew the CCU-CMB-CCU sectors very frequently. He is a very close friend to my parents, and fair to say, an inspiration for me. Unlike the usual immigration procedures, we were taken to the VIP arrivals section. A lovely room for everyone to freshen up before or after the flight.
I handed my passport to the lovely SriLankan Airlines agent, but alas, the system would not take my non-diplomatic passport and I had to go through regular immigration. Which wasn’t too bad! Passed through duty free, suitcase collected, and I headed out in to the Tropical Winter Heat…in the land I called home for 4 years.
List of things I did not want to see on arriving in to Colombo: Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes.
And it was only a year ago when I was discussing with my friends that in 2014, Sri Lanka was experiencing its wettest winter in years! I hopped in to the very comfy Toyota Crown cruiser that had diplomatic flags on it. We rushed through the city. As soon as I reached my friend’s place, I contacted my neighbors…the people I was closest to during the entire 4 year stint…
Being stalked in FR24 is always fun!!
Kolkata - CCU
Colombo - CMB
I was quite happy with the service onboard Mihin Lanka, and if anything, pleasantly surprised. Like I mentioned, this was entering in to an unknown, not sure of what to expect. However, a clean aircraft (decent looking Business Class), pretty alright catering, and a smiling crew committed to make passengers happy despite them standing up on the aisles which made service tricky for them. The cockpit crew kept us abreast with latest information.
The passengers, however. I do no know where to begin. It was the typical 'yay we're going on a holiday lets enjoy it so much so others' holidays are ruined and annoy the crew members and show them our terrible attitude' types. Disgusting.
Kolkata's baggage screening was no where close to efficient, but security and immigration was pretty quick. Colombo was an absolute joy to walk through, and was great to be back!
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