I had made it home! My dog greeted me as it got some tears in my eyes. Mum had made some lovely brunch for me - the Bengali in me was delighted as I was treated to luchi and manghso'r jhol, and mangos. (Deep fried flour puffs. That's really not a justified explanation for how sinful it is…)
I took a long nap. I was quite tired. My dog sat outside my room door, waiting for me to wake up. Unfortunately, he was taken away to the creche before I woke up. I wouldn't see him for 16 days. I spent some great family time, in the midst of booking some more flight tickets my girlfriend told me of. More on this later.
A short night’s sleep. I was woken up at 0415 hours to get ready for another flight, a flight that’d be my last for just over two weeks. Web check in was done at Frankfurt, confirming a Boeing 737-900ER.
Two of SpiceJet’s B73Js were around in Kolkata at the time, VT-SLD and VT-SZL. VT-SLD is an all (well, mostly) white fuselage plane that had a tight rotation, that included a Mumbai-Kolkata-Mumbai run, two Mumbai-Goa-Mumbai runs and a Kolkata-Bangkok-Kolkata run. One delay, and everything would go haywire. (LOL, remember this)
A FINAL FLGIHT FOR 16 DAYS!
My family and I were traveling together for the first time in about six years - the last being to Hong Kong from Kolkata and back in 2010. All other family trips in between have had either my brother or myself missing. With me coming home over the summer, and my elder brother staying around in Kolkata itself, we decided to go to Mumbai and stay in our new house! We left home at 0530 and reached the integrated terminal at Kolkata at around 0604 hours.
CHECK IN, SECURITY….
Baggage screening took some time because of a box full of new house things had to be angled in a specific way. All clear after that.
Check in was alright, the lady did her job, but no smile as such. She offered us an upgrade to SpiceMax, with more legroom, priority baggage delivery, free food, etc etc etc. We politely declined that.
IndiGo is clearly the largest domestic operator out of Kolkata…
ecurity was a pretty quick affair - might’ve been quicker if people didn’t jump the queue, but oh well :)
It was around 0620 hours when we reunited and sat down for some morning breakfast at The Coffee Bean and Tea leaf, my favorite coffee joint in this part of the world.
We also ordered something curiously interesting - the LGBT sandwich. A vegetarian one with lettuce, green pepper, basil and tomato.
We were to board our flight from gate 3A on the ground floor, a bus/tarmac/awesome fun boarding - this made sense because our plane would come in from Bangkok (an international flight), but not necessarily requiring a jet bridge. Passengers would be bussed to international arrivals, while the aircraft can be parked in the same place and be prepared for its domestic run to Mumbai and Goa.
We waited near 3A because it was close to boarding time. It was 0710 hours, fifteen minutes before boarding time when an announcement was made saying that our flight would be delayed by a bit, and to await further announcements. All well and good, not too bad….
THE FIRST ROUND OF DELAYS…
Some time later, another announcement was made, delaying our flight to half an hour. Alright for us. My brother and I predicted a potential outburst from the passengers, but a half an hour delay wouldn’t be too bad. A rotation swap happened when I realized that VT-SLD actually stayed back in Kolkata (after coming in from Mumbai) and headed off to Bengaluru, while VT-SZL flew to Bangkok and returned, therefore would operate my flight.
VT-SLD, all white B737-900ER operating the Kolkata - Bengaluru (SG814) Bengaluru - Pune (SG516) Pune - Bengaluru - Kolkata (SG517) rotation for the day, as opposed to the Bangkok/Mumbai/Goa flights…
VT-SPK B737-800W operating flight SG130 to New Delhi
Boarding pass - for those of you who have flown SG over the years, do you remember the B737-800 printed boarding passes? :)
A bit past the revised delayed departure time, the penny dropped: ‘SpiceJet regrets to announce a delay of its flight SG488 to Mumbai. The revised departure time is 1155 hours. SpiceJet regrets the inconvenience caused’. A delay of four hours! Not too bad for the resident airport individual - after MSP, ORD, FRA and DEL, this almost all too easy for me :P
As my brother and I predicted, there was a large outburst from many disgruntled passengers as they screamed and shouted at the gate agents. And more and more. I was recording this on video, an IndiGo agent employee walked by. IndiGo were quite literally having a laugh as he saw me record and the drama that unfolded. My family and I just sat around in the corner listening to it all unfold: our free wifi was holding on well for a while, so we waited and waited :D A war of words ensued, obviously the passengers giving out stinkers rather than wait for a solution…
‘Har bar hum IndiGo pe jaate hai, bas ye ek baar SpiceJet mein…’(We always fly on IndiGo, just this one time on SpiceJet…) were the kind of comments we heard. Really ma’am? Why didn’t you stick to IndiGo this time? :) SpiceJet sent us a text saying the flight would depart at 1pm (1300 hours), but the gate agent assured us we’d be in the air before 12pm, with quite the unsure tone in his voice.
Things quietened down a little bit when SpiceJet offered snacks at the Travel Food Services lounge upstairs by gate 18, but some were still left unhappy. ‘How do you expect by just serving us a sandwich and tea?’ said an angry lady. Well, I’m sure SpiceJet understands your frustration and does not expect you to be happy, but lady come on, here’s a concept - how about you stop assuming all sorts of non sense, be optimistic, head upstairs and see what you get? Yes? While the shattering blows of many people yelling had decimated because of them heading upstairs for food, the four of us waited because we had other priorities - my internet would run out in twenty seven minutes, so we waited. :P In the mean time, activity around included the usual Emirates EK570 B777-300ER service from Dubai, and the Air India Dream)liner VT-ANI AI401 from New Delhi.
An interesting plane did the rounds in India back then - a Travel Services B737-800W (in Moravian-Silesian Region colors) was wet leased to SpiceJet around the time. OK-TVO was heading to Agartala, a city tuck in the hills of North Eastern India.
THE FREE MEAL
When we finally headed upstairs to claim our meal, finding seats at a table was a challenge. This is because people really love to have chairs for themselves (which is obviously justified), and at least two chairs for their carry ons (which is nuh uh, not cool!). I was in charge of mission 'salvage chairs', while my brother was in charge of mission 'get food'.
Got the food stamp!
The TFS food court was decent. A variety of Indian delicacies that included North India, Tandoori, South India, the Bengali favorite rolls, Indian Chinese, sweets and beverages. Passengers on SG488 were only given the choice of idli or dosa, two of the most popular foods in the Southern part of the country. Hey, at least, that lady would be happier by 4 levels because its not the sandwich that she expected! We had dosa, and it was decent. Not too shabby at all.
Pretty good for a free meal!
I saw both the wide body Boeings depart. We waited around for a bit longer, before we figured that the flight was now delayed till 1300 hours, a delay of 5h5min. I headed for a walk as I could finally see some Jet Airways Boeing 737-800s. This brought a smile on my face! One of them was operating flight 9W630 to Mumbai.
Jet and IndiGo were the two airlines that had on time flights to Mumbai - both Air India (AI 676, again!!) and SpiceJet (our flight..) were delayed, us having the more significant one.
SIGNIFCIANT DAMAGE, IT WOULD SEEM….
I decided to walk over as close to the international terminal as possible to have a glimpse of VT-SZL. And I did - in some form though! I could see the rear end of the fuselage, with the plane INSIDE the hangar! Wow, something had indeed gone really wrong, I really wanted to know now.
A terrible image - but in the center you might just see the red rear section of the B737-900ER…
Let me just take a moment to appreciate the new Kolkata Airport terminal here. I will be honest. I (along with many others) have been quite critical of both the new integrated airport terminals in Chennai and Kolkata. While the one at Chennai is in shambles, Kolkata has been getting better. The Food Court is a great addition, along with a spa, a bar/tavern (!!!) and some boutique shops around. The food quality at the court wasn’t too bad either. Well, truth be told, free dosa tasted even better :)
Not bad Kolkata, not bad!
THE DAMAGE IS REVEALED…
We headed back downstairs. There was the one gate agent who initially announced the delay standing around. We asked him what our options were. We could either take a full refund for the flight and take any other flight during the day, or just wait around if, true to the person’s word, the flight would depart before 1300 hours (which kept changing during the same conversation - he himself was unsure if he meant the flight would depart before 12pm or 1pm). The avgeek in me asked what happened - a crack in the windshield was detected. Oh man!
It was getting close to 12pm. The flight got rescheduled to 1330 hours (1.30pm), a delay of 5hr35min. The calm before the storm saw VT-IAY depart to Ranchi, the 100th A320 of IndiGo. OK-TVO also returned from its short flight from Agartala, before it headed to Chennai.
THE BEGINNING OF A STORM….
The storm was on its way - both metaphorical, and literal. Dark clouds formed around the vicinity of Kolkata Airport, as a person went and asked what was wrong with the aircraft. He got the same response, and some more details such as the unavaiblitly of spare parts and planes in Kolkata. He also described how the lease of the European planes work - if something were to go wrong on the 737s, despite having the resources. Only mechanics of the lessor (Travel Services) can help out. Taking that into account, any leased plane that had an issue like we had, that'd basically mean cancellation of any and all flights operated by the plane.
Speaking of cancellation, that's what we were expecting to hear. My family and I had back ups: of course, the WhatsApp groups suggested IndiGo and Jet, fares for both had dropped to below what it was for our SpiceJet flight. The calm was shattered by a lady at around 1pm. She remembered that she had to attend a wedding in Mumbai at around that time. Some others joined in with the shouting, and this is where things got very ugly. First things first, what bemused me the most in the middle of the arguments people all of a sudden remembered quite a few things - they were about to lose Rs. 5 lacs if they didn't attend a meeting, their patients were waiting for them, their wedding would go missed, etc etc etc. One lady was quite vocal and loud, and so she reiterated the fact that she'd lose her Rs. 5 lacs, and how would that get covered if she missed it? Would SpiceJet pay for it? That was her argument. Hey lady - if you were earning so much already, why didn’t spend a few hundred rupees more and fly on Jet Airways or IndiGo….?
Another B737-900ER came in: back then, all of SpiceJet's B737-900ERs would touch base in Kolkata. One went to BLR, the other had a cracked windshield….
AI A319, the North Eastern work horse…
Continuing on with the Agartala - Kolkata - Chennai flight
A sad but true reflection of the Indian crowd was shown when one (not at all) gentleman said 'If you have balls of steel, you will tell us why the flight isn't leaving. You swear on your mother that you're not lying". Wow, poor gate agent is merely stating whatever information he’s been given, and yet these customers I call my fellow citizens won't believe anything that he said. And then there was this absolutely absurd conspiracy theory that the loudest mouths had - SpiceJet are deliberately increasing the delays so that we are forced to cancel our tickets, lose all the money, rebook on another airline and then SpiceJet would get a commission!! Wow, and all of this was after SpiceJet offered refunds, which is in the law. I realized the level of stupidity that people have in the world today. Clearly, people went a long way to blame SpiceJet for everything: potentially killing a doctor’s patients (and his patience :P ), making someone miss a wedding, throwing away a Rs 5 lac business deal….hmm, could I be equally stupid and blame SpiceJet for cancelling a potential biriyani dinner? :)
To add fuel to the fire, VT-SGV showed up. People got angry. The lady who was worried about her money going threatened to protest on the runway if VT-SGV was not used to fly our flight.
To be honest, I wanted to see how she'd pull it off, because she was adamant she'd get it done :P Unfortunately for her, the actual storm arrived. It started raining. Very heavily. I could barely see a double bogey Airbus A320 of Air India depart.
Departure time was now pushed back 1400 hours, a delay of 6hr5min. Some pretty intense confrontation happened, this time another man, but he had to physically restrained. He threatened to break an agent's legs - Jeez!
VT-IAY, IndiGo's 100th A320 came back from Ranchi while we were in the airport…
To be honest, I saw no reason for SpiceJet to be blamed. SpiceJet were doing what was in their best interests. We trust an airline with our lives to take us from point A to point B safely, amongst other things. With the continuous delay, we were guaranteed a safe and secure aircraft across India. SpiceJet took their time in ensuring the aircraft was safe to fly. Much rather have a delayed flight than a catastrophe.
Adding more drama, VT-SPU showed up - this time a Boeing 737-900ER of SpiceJet! Both SPU and SGV were not doing any favors to SpiceJet…
The angry lady sat down pretty close to me. I deliberately spoke loudly about how its not easy to swap planes, to aggravate the lady. I became the second thing she hated that day, the first being SpiceJet themselves.
More arguments erupted when people were not happy with the food (idli and dosa) provided.
Demanding tea and coffee, and complaining about the lack of child suitable foods (like cake), SpiceJet showed up many tiny bottles of water which was greatly appreciated by most, barring quite a few people who were still angry at SpiceJet because of reasons such as aviation (where, like any other industry, sh*t happens).
I also heard a request to bring 160 packs of something, giving an indication of the loads of the flight - about 50 empty seats on the plane…
A final push of the departure time back to 1430 hours (6hr35min delay), the SpiceJet gate agents finally announced boarding for the flight, to the cheers of the crowd around. A line formed pretty soon, a wheelchair passenger was put on to the bus, the rest of us had to wait a good 20-25 minutes before boarding actually started.
Waiting in line for the ending of time If eternity should fail
Us passengers boarded the bus, where it was nice and cool. However, the same could not be said about the heads of the passengers (including me, to be honest). We were just stuffed into the bus as we waited and waited. Passengers started to make sarcastic comments as the wait seemed like an eternity. A ploy by SpiceJet to give passengers a sense of hope. Not a very good game to play….
Tick tock, tick tock…
Over the horizon VT-SZL appeared, as it was being pulled very gingerly across the tarmac by a tug. The plane wasn’t even at the parking stand and here we were stuffed in to a bus. This, I feel, was a bad move by SpiceJet.
BUT FOR SOME REAL QUESTIONS….
I heard a few conversations - we wouldn’t take off till 4pm at the least (a delay of 8hr5min!), and the windshield crack was apparently detected at 6am, when the flight landed from Bangkok. This kinda triggered some questions in my head - hy weren’t us passengers notified at check in, so that we could make alternate arrangements and reach Mumbai? And apparently, one mechanic tried to hurry things up and get it fixed, but it was far from safe. Why risk the lives of so many passengers in order to get things done quickly? On those basis, why couldn't they just say it'll be a long delay and give us passengers an alternative? (Not my family and I, we had all the time we needed!)
THE ACTUAL BOARDING….
With those questions in mind, we headed for the aircraft after about 30 minutes in the bus, following the crew van. Passed by the old domestic terminal towards SZL, that was parked at a remote bay. Stairs were attached, doors were disarmed, but we had to wait for a bit for the crew to set up. Boarding began as all passengers just literally pushed through everything they could - people had no chill. Not sure what convinced them that pushing along would make the flight depart earlier. The bus behind us was sent to the very back of the aircraft, boarding through the aft doors.
Going up the stairs, it was still a bit drizzly out, there was no welcome at the door, obviously. Finally boarding - no more flights for the next couple of weeks!
ONBOARD - YES!
Walking down the aisle, people took their own sweet time - taking forever to put baggage in the overhead bins, keeping it half way out so bumping into them with our heads, taking pictures in the aisles…. Come on, we're so late anyway, don't delay us any further folks! Add to that, the rear boarding stairs meant that people still wanted to squeeze their way to the front of the cabin, and so there were a lot more delays, a lot more pushing and a lot more yelling, courtesy of the passengers. Lovely.
As was with VT-SUD (Q400) and VT-SGX (B737-800), the gray interior looked very tired:
Took our seats 19A and 20ABC. The crew were still no where to be seen.
Passengers did not cooperate with the crew when they were asked to be seated. Strange, first all of them yelled at SpiceJet for being delayed and now they themselves are forcing a delay. Idiots.
Wear and tear..
Seat pocket contents:
Boarding was completed, and there were less than 160 passengers. That means we had a free seat in between that really helped :) Captain gave us a few details about the flight, and to be honest, I could hear the stress in his voice. He welcomed us onboard flight SG488 to….Kolkata. Oops! nd he apologized profusely for the huge inconvenience caused because of the windshield, and the fact that the aircraft was not released until the maintenance team were happy with the serviceability of the aircraft. We’d reach Mumbai in 2hr25min flying at an altitude of 36000 feet. The flight attendant’s announcements were done pretty quickly - she basically just a load of words very quickly and without a mistake, without even looking at a book or anything. Experience counts!
Doors were armed, and engines were fired up at 1540 hours. The safety demo was done with the use of a recorded announcement, a common trait on low cost airlines.
We taxied towards Runway 19L, which took a while. We took off at 1553 hours (a total delay of 7hr57min) into the cloudy skies over Kolkata. A turbulent experience, as the Captain rightly described.
After all those many flights, I was hoping for a quick uneventful last flight….well, at least we're finally airborne! Dark clouds and a bumpy climb out as the Captain rightfully described…
Service started, but there was a sense of uncertainty. There is free food onboard, is that for everyone? What happens to our pre-ordered breakfast? With the slow pace of service and the crew being pretty clueless about what was going on, I wasn’t sure. Two trolleys were used, one that was rolled all the way to the front, and another up to the emergency exit. It was about twenty minutes before we finally got our meals - all of them were non veg breakfast, just as was paid for. Mum also ordered for some poha (rice flakes) and tea/coffee with that. The masala tea wasn’t bad at all!
More wear and tear…
1640 hours - breakfast time, right?! Starting off with Poha - the crew would pour hot water and let it sit for a while
I'm not exactly a fan of such foods - but for some one who has been traveling around the world, waiting in airports for long and not eating enough, this tasted surprisingly good!
Western breakfast - box in a box concept adopted by SG, a la Vistara…
Pretty normal bun, but the dessert was delicious!
Lyonnaise potatoes and scrambled egg were alright… I guess these were meant to be consumed over 8 hours ago!
Grilled sausage was decent
Masala tea and dessert - both were great
SpiceJet were 10 years in to service…
And the after mint! Basically a full service carrier meal
THE WRATH OF THE PASSENGERS….
It was a pretty sleepy flight for me, but the same cannot be said for the crew. They had their work cut out because of the unruly passengers on board. They kept forcing the crew to get them their free poha. Verbally pushing them, standing in their way, it was a huge mess. My sympathies were with SpiceJet, and I was quite disappointed with the kind of people on the flight. Absolutely disgusting attitude from them.
I headed for the lavatory. Being a low cost airline aircraft, there is no galley per se at the aft section, because where the galley would be on a standard Boeing 737, the lavatory was present.
The BoB menu
Descent started at around 1747 hours, not long before we were circling over Mumbai. Fair enough, we missed our time slot by over seven hours, so one circle is probably not too bad! :P
Lined up with Runway 27, and made a smooth touchdown at 1816 hours, a delay of just over 7hr30min. The Lufthansa A330-300 from Munich that overran the runway was around which was not a surprise to see, considering all the Lufthansa planes I had seen in Frankfurt :P
Taxiing didn’t take too long, we docked at gate A6. Once again, pretty strange to see SpiceJet use jet bridges because these were used mostly by Jet Airways planes, however their move to Terminal 2 freed up a lot of space. What I also found interesting was the fact that blinds were pulled down over Terminal 1A. Announcement was made onboard that luggage would come out on Belt no. 5.
I was the last to disembark, there were no passengers heading for Goa on this flight. My brother, father and I stopped and looked at the cockpit of SZL. A new windshield pane was clearly distinguished from the rest, with a hint of basic masking tape just sticking out - well, that was interesting! Glad we saw it after the flight rather than before, but hey if they took their time in fixing the plane, the team did a fine job. Duct tape fixes everything!
VT-SZL would head back to Kolkata as SG487, resuming the rotation I talked about at the very beginning. VT-SPK (a B737-800) did the BOM-GOI portion of SG488, 4 hours late. Not sure what happened to people flying CCU-(BOM)-GOI…..
THE MESS THAT WAS TERMINAL 1B
The inconvenience, however, had not ended. All screens and monitors around had shown that our luggage would come out through belt 4, and not 5 as announced. Add to that, a very cramped congested and confused Terminal 1B atmosphere made for a very less than mediocre experience. At least three flights had luggage being delivered on belt 4, ours being one and two pretty full IndiGo flights. Found our bags and headed for the exit, which was another loud mess.
1912 hours - we finally stepped out of the airport prior to an hour long drive home….reaching home at around 2015. So, we left home in Kolkata at 0530 hours, and reached at 2015 hours… 14hr45min. No, this wasn't an international trip…. But hey, at least I got the biriyani I was craving for months!
Kolkata - CCU
Mumbai - BOM
A very eventful day, for sure. All my sympathies were with SpiceJet all along, while they had to deal with passengers who accused SpiceJet of all kinds of wrongdoing, developed conspiracy theories against them, while also coming up with, to be very frank, a bunch of shitty excuses to justify their yelling. Neither were they being very helpful in allowing SpiceJet to offer them a solution. Taking nothing away from SpiceJet, but there are a few questions that did pop up in my mind: why wasn't this delay informed to us at check in if they detected the fault a few hours prior? Why add the half hour extension to delays when they could just tell us it would be a massive delay in the first place? And of course, the misinformation given onboard about the baggage belt. With these questions in mind, I had a lovely plate full of biriyani in front of me, the potential reason for the yelling I never did :)
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