An Air India Airbus flight. Something that hasn't happened since 2012. That was a great flight from Chennai to Kolkata, onboard a rusty old A320. And ever since that flight, it was all widebody flights with Air India. Every one of them were lovely. Would this encounter with the A319 be as wonderful as the previous flights? Only time would tell. Air India was an obvious option because of their baggage allowance - 50lbs (23kgs) on the international routes/USA domestic, 25kgs (55lbs) on Air India.
Dad had done a multi city booking for Delhi - Kolkata and Kolkata - Mumbai back in September. The earliest flight out of Kolkata was AI676, departing at 0600 hours and arriving in Mumbai nice and early at 0850 hours. A more conveniently timed, but longer option would’ve been AI618 via Hyderabad. I wanted direct, for once. I selected seat 4F for this flight, right next to the CFM56 engine.
However, a huge reshuffle in Air India’s schedules in fall 2015 meant AI618 dropped out as a CCU-HYD-BOM route, while AI676 got rescheduled to depart Kolkata at 0945 hours, and reach Mumbai at 1235 hours. That was alright, but not ideal. Or so, I thought…. The Air India site started acting up when I found out I couldn’t change seats any longer..or update any information to be honest. It was weird.
They stay in Kolkata was slightly overshadowed because of throat infection I got, thanks to the pollution and dust in Kolkata, the first signs that I got in my taxi ride from the airport to home when I came back from Colombo. Add to that, some chilled beer during New Year’s. Great food, family time and mandatory annoy Dobby time were definite highlights of my time in Kolkata!
I forgot to add that my parents decided to tag along because of work in Mumbai. This would be Dad’s first time on Air India since 2012 (he flew a classy old A320 on CMB-MAA and a new A321 on MAA-CMB), while this would be Mum’s first time on the post merger Air India/Indian Airlines, the only Airbus she has been exposed to is IndiGo. (She was stated to go to Delhi during the time I was in Colombo, VT-ANT/U were the birds that might’ve been for her…)
The rescheduled flight time made me plan my already short stay even shorter. My parents had their plans, too. My last night in Kolkata. Dad gets two message from Air India. AI676 has been delayed further. By 1hr35min. A new rescheduled departure time of 1120 hours, and an arrival time of 1405 hours. Half a day gone! This was quite a mess up for whatever reason, but rather than blaming AI more, it was time to move on. Although, whatever plans I did have, were canceled. Web check in was no hassle, but this was very significant in how things would pan out.
The day of the flight. Morning. A groggy Dad tells me - Air India called up at 3 and 5 in the morning to confirm the delay of the flights. Twice because of two PNRs. They kept us informed. Well done to AI for ensuring all passengers were aware of this delay. VT-SCF took off from Mumbai as AI675. The one still in the interim pre-merger Indian livery, one of only 6 birds in this unique interim livery.
RACE AGAINST TIME!!
We left home at 0845 hours, in time for check in and other formalities. However, there were traffic jams. Long long LONG traffic jams because of the Biswa Bangla global summit. It was crazy. Crazy to the extent that we were still quite a way off from the airport at 1020 hours, 60 minutes before departure. In fact, I went to extremes. A friend asked me - is VT-SCF there yet? I said: I don’t know, it might be JGQ. JGQ because VT-JGQ was operating the BOM-CCU-IXB (Bagdogra)-CCU-BOM rotation (9W624), or else a more insane CCU-DEL-BOM on the evening 787 and a late night A321. Or worse, IndiGo. The horror!
Before anything though, we were at the departures level of Kolkata Airport. It was 1035 hours.
Went through baggage screening. At check in, we got the shock of our lives - 'we can't check you in' said the lady in a slightly rude tone. I stepped in - 'we did a web check in, we're here to drop off our luggage'. That trick worked like a charm. Check in counters close 45 minutes before departure time, and fairly so. We were late. Had I not done the OLCI, god knows what would've happened. Or what wouldn't have? Some exchanges in Bengali occurred between the staff members, pertaining to our luggage. We thanked the staff profusely for assisting us as we rushed towards security.
Baggage screening was empty because all passengers were at the boarding gate!
Again, empty check in. We barely made it!
Turns out, we weren't the only late comers for the Mumbai flights. There was us, and another family of 3 on the Air India flight, and 2 other gentlemen on the Jet Airways flight (9W610). If anything, this was a close call for us. A lesson learned in the hard way for us!
Once everything had calmed down a little, Dad saw a rather unique Airbus A320 in on the taxiway, holding. But what got me really excited was the fact that there were three Jet Airways Boeing 737-800s bunched together… And no, this wasn't Mumbai T1B! The interesting A320, however, was a Bhutan Airlines plane. An airline I never knew about! I did think that Druk Air - Royal Bhutan Airlines rebranded themselves to Bhutan Airlines, but of course - they do not have A320s.
On to the left was of course, VT-SCF. My plane. And right next to that, at the usual Dream)liner gate, was VT-SCC. There we go - two rare Indian livery A319s parked side by side. Great!
Boarding for us began in the usual order, but because we were seated towards the front, there was still some time for us to board. I went ahead and saw the state of VT-ABO. It was just there, broken and damaged….no activity next to it.
My first A319 flight in over eleven years, and its on the rare Air India A319! On the day of flying, SCF was 9.3 years old, a bird built in Hamburg Germany
Boarding was called for rows 3 to 21. Basically the final call, almost. VT-JFH was close to being pushed back for departure to Delhi as 9W2264. That left VT-JNL to operate 9W630 to Mumbai. VT-JNN and VT-JNL are two of the most popular planes in Jet Airways’ fleet for the simple reason that they’re so old, almost every one of India’s frequent flyers has been on these birds :)
A pretty trashed sign card…
The other ex-IC A319..
A warm welcome onboard by a pretty young flight attendant followed, I took my seat 4F which was just the second row in Economy class.
As passengers started taking their seats, the departure time inched closer and closer. The passenger in 4A asked for a newspaper…a Bengali one. This request was tended to pretty quickly, good job Air India!
The seat itself had pretty decent legroom, while 4E remained empty - always a joy to have a seat between empty! :D The seat covers were those used on pretty much all IFE equipped A319/A320/A321s - with a cut for the PTV screen itself. The seatback at some third party ads, last seen on Jet Airways planes back in the bad days of 2012. The flight wasn’t going to be a full one.
Emirates B777-200ER taxiing towards the runway for departure to Dubai as EK571
Third party advertising…
Still loading the luggage!
Our Captain in command was Capt. D. Irani. He didn’t communicate much with us passengers anyway, but that’s okay I guess. Doors were asked to be armed at 1115 hours, while pushback commenced at 1119 hours, one minute before the new scheduled time. At 1117 hours, VT-JNL was pushed back about 20 minutes before its scheduled time. Wonderful! A race was on. JNL and SCF were line astern in Kolkata, all set to head for Mumbai. And this is where sh*t hit the roof, basically.
NOT SO NICE CREW!! :(
We all know that it is okay to take photographs and videos of stuff the tarmacs of civil aerodromes. However, for some reason, the flight attendant doing the safety demo didn't quite know this. While it wasn't as dramatic as the rude flight attendant on my one and only flight on Vistara, the flight attendant pointed at me, and asked me to put my phone camera down. Quite the rude gesture anyway. Both CFM56 engines whirred into life as details of the flight were given. A very long flying time of 3 hours was announced. Wow! When it usually is only 2hr10min to 2hr25min… This was quite amusing to me. As we began our taxi, JNL took off into the smoggy skies of Kolkata and made its way to Mumbai. So much for the race, we were far behind :P
Last few pictures I got prior to the crew's rudeness…
I usually keep my bag under the seat in front of me. It is usually announced that bags could be stored in the overhead bins or under the seat in front. Despite this, another flight attendant (the purser, I think) insisted that she kept the bags in the overhead locker. Remember, I made sure the straps were all the way in, ensuring that in the event of an emergency, I could step out easily. I obliged, despite getting the impression that I was forced to do so. Pulling the bags out was really tricky because of the seatbelt. The flight attendant made a comment which wasn’t necessary. Quite easily, my worst Air India flight, oh and we weren’t in the air yet!
We had to taxi down runway 19L for departure. Most of the taxi was slow, however, down 19L, it was quick. 1135 hours, the CFM56s made a very low pitch yet enjoyable spool up as we blasted down the runway to take off. On lift off, the plane started making some pretty strange sounds….similar to what Chewbacca made as he saw Han Solo get killed before his eyes, launching an attack towards Kylo Ren. A westward course was set towards Mumbai. Reached our cruising altitude of 34000 feet.
I was taking a nice quick nap for a good forty minutes. And so were most of the passengers. It was quite quiet on board, the only sound being the CFM56 engines doing their work. Oh, and three young women seated in 3A/B/C. They were chirpy all the way. The calm and serenity of the flight was kinda shattered when the announcement was made that lunch was about to be served, and so passengers were requested to put their seatback upright and not to walk down the aisles. Did I mention it sounded more like a command than a request? Maybe someone can confirm - is this regular on Air India? Whether or not it is, that’s okay, but really bothered me and many other passengers, was the fact that it was a very loud announcement that startled people straight out of their sleep. Not necessary, in my opinion.
Cabin - PTV holes in the seat covers…
Carts were rolled up as both the senior crew members started off their chatter in Bengali, and not quite a genuine smile on their face. Not good. 1222 hours. I had my tray of non vegetarian lunch in front of me. Lets just say, this was the best part of the flight. I did expect Air India to serve a pretty nice lunch, taking the delay into account. Yes, the announcement was made before the flight itself, part of the welcome announcements (on this flight, we will be serving you lunch).
The salad comprised of chopped cucumber and tomato. There was a slice of lemon and green chili, with that. The main course was fantastic. Paratha (indian bread) folded in between the foil cover. The chicken was fantastic, and went well with the rice and yellow dal. Lovely stuff. And to top it off, a lovely rajbhog dessert. Once again, a fabulous meal from Air India!
I dozed off once again, only to be awakened by some rough turbulence, Seatbelt signs were turned on. Some one got up from her seat, which meant the whole plane had to know.‘Ma’am please sit down!’ was the rude shouting the entire plane received through the PA system. It was the steward who asked me to shut my phone camera off. Quite clearly, not the best of crew members in a flight I’ve ever experienced. I wasn’t expecting such a shambolic performance from Air India, but I guess that’s how life is.
All Air India A319s have a seatback PTV, and so the seat covers are designed in such a way…. Yeah.
It was almost two hours into the flight, I decided to walk back to the lavatory. Guess what, the flight attendant who shut my camera off kept looking at me suspiciously. Seriously dude? Lavatory was well kept anyway. Except some compartment that kept opening on its own and required constant slam backs. Descent began pretty soon.
It felt like a slightly strange descent phase as we were higher than normal. Ah ha, that’s when I knew were going to fly over the coast and line up for either a Runway 14 or Runway 09 approach. A runway 14 approach last happened for me back in 2007 onboard a slightly larger Airbus A321 of Kingfisher Airlines, on the same route. A Runway 09 approach? Never. As we soon got closer and closer, we flew over land for quite a bit on approach, and therefore, that meant a runway 14 approach. It was quite a lot of fun seeing all the buildings, cars, roads…and finally the air traffic control tower, Terminal 1B and planes! Many Jet Airways Boeing 737s and IndiGo A320s lined up, with the odd Vistara A320 joining the fray. A very smooth touchdown was made at 1430 hours, a flying time of 2hr55min, and a delay of 1hr55min.
We taxied towards Terminal 2, crossing the primary runway 09/27. I saw a Jet Airways B777, Air India B747/B787 (VT-ANU, the Star Alliance livery plane), and a Swiss Air A330, which had gone tech due to a cockpit issue. Docked about 10 minutes after landing at the gate, there only was an Air India A321 on the tarmac then. It was eerily quiet on the tarmac, considering its Mumbai!
Waited for all pax to disembark, the crew didn’t even bother standing in the doorway and greeting passengers off the plane. Wow. The walk to the arrivals was not too long, but did take a while.
A proper farewell to a flight I would not like to remember: luggage took a good 20-25 minutes to be delivered, considering the fact that the concourse was basically empty, this was not very nice. Quickly putting this flight behind me, my family and I headed for my Uncle's house, as I prepared for the long trek back to the USA. I had 5 flights to go, and these were going to be long ones.
Some bonus pics from the trip.. Christmas is always decorated!
My dog.. I miss him a lot :(
Street food is always a joy in the city of joy!
My flight on FR24
Kolkata - CCU
Mumbai - BOM
All good things have to come to an end some time, and my streak of great flights with Air India had come to an end. The rude crew members really set up for a boring and not so nice flight. That said, there were positives: huge thank you to the ground staff for letting us through, despite their initial rudeness. We were informed of the delay twice before the flight, Air India ensured everyone was informed. And the food was lovely - perhaps the best I have had in the skies. Kolkata and Mumbai's airports were pretty decent, and nothing much to choose from between the two.
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