For those of you who have followed me around with the several trip reports that I have put on here you will notice home is in fact Kolkata for me. For those of you who haven’t noticed the several flights/connections I have to take in order to get to Kolkata from Grand Forks, things just got a little crazier.
I was in Mumbai. I had to be go to Kolkata. I pick up on this crazy trip so far with the plan(e)s and ulterior motives. The A320neo has, and there’s no other way to say it, taken Indian by storm. Right from the initial delivery, India has seem to have taken the most A320neo deliveries, with 83 for IndiGo (to date), 35 for GoAir (to date) with the PW GTF engines, and 21 for Air India and the 9 for Vistara with the CFM LEAP 1B engines, making India the largest operator of the NEO. If anything, quite the surprise I haven’t managed to log a NEO flight yet.
Therefore, plan was to take an afternoon flight out of Mumbai that would be on a NEO. With 9W336 the Jet A330 arriving at 1020 hours, anything after 1300 hours would be a safe bet. No direct flights on Air India, nothing at a decent time on GoAir and IndiGo being erratic thanks to the NEO groundings I had just the one (new engine) option: Vistara.
Slot issues at BOM meant that Vistara are yet to launch a direct Mumbai - Kolkata flight, despite building on a pretty solid foundation at both cities. It had to be via New Delhi, and UK944 departing BOM at 1420, reaching DEL at 1640, UK707 departing DEL at 1730 and reaching CCU at 1935. I found quite the steal of a fare: not only was I taking advantage of a student fare, there was a pre-summer sale going on as well: in the end it was only about $10 more for that one extra flight, and crucially a NEO flight.
Wait wait wait….I just came in from Delhi and here I was on my way to Delhi?! Yeah, crazy. It didn’t hit me until later, but more on this later I guess.
A couple of quick things before I get on with this: it just so happened that leading up to this trip the plane doing UK944 DEL-BOM would continue on to as UK707 DEL-CCU, my flight. I was willing to take the risk of a repeat registration for the comfort of knowing it would be same plane: delayed UK944? That’s okay, UK707 would be delayed too then. Furthermore, Vistara kept sending emails about upgrading this to Premium Economy: that too on two flights. I didn’t have the miles to upgrade both flights, it would have to be either or, if there was availability at the airport.
CRUCIAL CONNECTIONS, EPISODE 3: HOW DOES A CONNECTION WORK IN INDIA?!
And finally, closer to the date of the flight, tragedy struck: well, not that extreme, but a cause for concern. UK707 was now a Amritsar - New Delhi - Kolkata same plane service. Which meant CCU no longer saw Vistara’s NEO. A different plane. A change in airplane. Alrighty, well, a 50 minute layover in New Delhi didn’t seem to bad, given not a whole of passengers do domestic connections because of most cities being well connected (thanks, IndiGo..), but it just goes to show I had peaked insanity at this point. I did however take note that UK944 would be delayed more often than not by 25 or 30 minutes. I was in a pickle, but I had to wait and watch.
THE LONGEST DAY…AGAIN?! I have mentioned above that after 9W336 that I had been traveling for 42hr15min, and that there were still the 2 flights to go yet. And the waves of tiredness had started hitting me on 9W336, so this was going to be interesting. Plans for brunch had been made: lots of beer with TG & YS at the Beer Cafe just at T2 - and so we talked about planes and plans and everything for a couple of hours. But be me, a downer who knows how to ruining everything for himself, decided to look over FlightRadar24 for the airplane: VT-TNC operated UK751 to Ranchi, and would head to Mumbai via New Delhi as UK983. Everything was going well until a delay happened at New Delhi due to congestion: a 35 minute delay. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. I tried keeping calm.
It was time to head for departures, which for good or for bad was right across the street. It was about 1320 hours, 1hr10min before departure. I noticed that UK944 did in fact have a 30 minute delay. My layover in New Delhi was looking like it’d be a long one. This was not looking good. There is something very soothing about entering the brand new BOM T2: the open-ness, the cool, the calm - I loved it. Found the Vistara check in counter just by the entry gate which was helpful.
Be the afternoon where there is a bit of an international lull, in addition to primary runway maintenance there was the possibility of non-standard operations leading to further delays. Having spent so long in airports already the decision was made to check in as late as I could.
CHECK IN, SECURITY - THE UPGRADE!
Lines were not overly long, given there was just this one Vistara flight. I was at the counter for 1330 hours where the nice check in agent confirmed my routing to Kolkata via New Delhi. The slightly overweight baggage waived through and no questions asked about the student ticket the agent offered me an upgrade to Premium Economy: finally! I was all for it - knowing I did not have enough miles for a redemption (and I won’t any time soon…) I decided to spend the extra Rs. 143 for the upgrade. I told them on the condition that I got a window seat: they said the’d block seat 6F and then process my upgrade. All went well….
….until the red flag popped up at UK944 was to be 30 minutes late, and no guarantees that there would be more of a delay because of Mumbai’s ATC. They’d let New Delhi know of my situation, and that I’d be expedited through the transfer, if not I’d be booked UK721 to Kolkata. I would have liked to be on the original flight. Anyway, all set I headed for security at 1350 hours, check in taking a bit long. Lines were thankfully short & orderly so security was no pain whatsoever.
Headed towards security
Boarding pass for Premium Economy
Walked past the shops and stuff - Mumbai has come a long way in terms of passenger experience, but I succumbed to finding another recliner to sit on while UK983 pulled up to the gates close by. Vistara pretty much have the Northwestern pier to themselves, so it is nice to see some pretty relaxed operations on this side, not many passengers around and generally quiet.
A Jet Airways A330 was parked close by, this being 9W352 to Delhi later in the evening.
Taxiing to and from Runway 32 can take quite some time, and in my case agonizingly long. VT-TNC arrived, in what looked like the slowest taxi ever. I was hoping for a smooth first flight on the A320neo but it was not to be. If anything, the ground staff were working rather well with the rest of the crew to make for a quick turnaround if at all possible, and full props to them for doing that. NEO of the day!
In the meantime some 777s came in from the middle east - Etihad cargo from Abu Dhabi and Emirates from Dubai, this being EK506/507.
In the meantime, VT-JTC departed from Chennai as 9W485.
Keeping an eye on the jet bridge passengers started boarding pretty soon - we were behind by 12 minutes. I joined the premium economy line which was quite empty before merging with others to hop onboard VT-TNC.
Let's head to the gate
Head on, kinda
Warm welcome onboard I found my seat 6F and made my self comfortable.
View from the window
Whoa empty row, I hope it remains that way!
There was a large plushy pillow waiting for me - perfect for the nap that will be!
One of the things Vistara have harped on with the NEO is the improved passenger experience and it showed with the use of mood lighting (although orange) while boarding. The Airbus condensation makes for a inviting feel too. If anything, it felt really strange being back onboard a narrow body airplane!
Cabin filled up front, cabin filled at the back, the middle way was empty: row 6 had just the two of us (the other passenger in 6A), and middle seats in Row 5 empty. Water was handed out in cups, in addition to a a wet towel which is exactly what I needed in the humidity!
Menus were handed out, quite smaller compared to business class but a step ahead of economy. (I will find the menu and post pictures of it here…when I find them.. :roll: ). Captain came around with their announcement: it would be a 1hr45min flight over to New Delhi, with some more ATC delays predicted, but generally smooth along the way. He even introduced the cabin crew - Sonia, Mithila, Dipika and Dimple.
Everything happened quite quickly - boarding took all of 18 minutes to close doors, we were on our way at 1500 hours, a delay of 30 minutes. I was unfortunately not able to record a video of the A320neo start up - the close proximity of the flight attendant doing the safety demo and previous memories of UK944 deemed me to be a bit careful.
Interesting sound of the CFM LEAP though - sounds like there is two phases to the start, and obviously significantly longer than what I am used to on the IAE V2500 or CFM56.
Anyway, taxied to the runway and once again it was a stop-go procedure as it was the only runway in use.
IndiGo A320 joining the fray from Terminal 1, grounded Air India wide bodies… :boggled:
A Queen, presumably on her last legs.
Runway 32 at that, it was a little slow - Mumbai have optimized maximum usability of Runway 27. Several planes took off and landed, while I went in and out of sleep - one of which included a Jet Airways A330 from Delhi which would later continue with the alternate domestic/Doha rotation in the earlier report.
Anyway, lined up and took off for what was my first ever departure from Runway 32, 58 minutes late. The engines on the NEO sounded like small GE90s, which is not quite the sound one of would associate an A320 with, but instead a 777 - a characteristic quite commonplace with the CFM powered NEO and described in several places.
9W A330 that I saw landing towards the right of the picture, and the Mumbai afternoon lull
Perhaps my shortest visit to Mumbai, at 4.5 hours - I will be back in a few weeks!
Made a bank towards the North/Northeast and set course for Delhi. At this point I was very tired and it was a matter of being awake for lunch and hopefully reaching Delhi in time to make the connection.
It was a little bumpy on climb out due to the monsoon clouds around, but once clear it looked really fluffy, but of course, flying through them would be bumpy. Announcements happened, and I slept through most of them. Tiredness was at an all time high and I sure was beginning to question the wisdom of some of my choices.
Menu choices were announced before service: the Economy folk would get the makai murg pulao and Vegetables in Red Thai Curry, but us Premium Economy folk and up front folk were advised to refer the menus. Once again, I need to dig a little bit to find the menu…
I was served my meal at 1556 hours, 28min in to the flight. Looked really inviting - almost like the Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines or Indian Airlines meals from a decade ago. Goes to show how devalued Economy is nowadays, while premium economy really is just economy from a couple of years ago…
A very late lunch, if anything. The chickpea was a nice tangy one, a unique one which I really liked. Likewise, the main course was quite outstanding too, and to finish off a top meal was the dessert. Cannot go wrong with a Vistara meal, I guess! I went for an apple juice to go with it. If anything, this meal kinda reminded me of what flying in domestic skies was like a decade ago - of course taking nothing away from the fantastic meal Jet had a few hours ago.
The next thing I remember really was waking up to a tray table stowed away, tray obviously gone, and mood lighting set to blue. Plane naps are truly trippy! I took this opportunity to ask the crew to help me with my onwards connection - she assured me that I’d be sent towards the very front, and that a good chance it would be this very aircraft taking me to Kolkata. I could only hope, but I knew it would in fact be VT-TTJ, an A320ceo. Counting down, awaiting my fate… sigh
DESCENT & ARRIVAL
Half an hour later I woke up from yet another nap, but this time it was the Captain’s announcement in preparation for descent. It was 1645 hours, 1hr17min in to the flight, but crucially 45 minutes to the next flight: we should’ve been on the ground, but were just beginning descent. Crucial connections got bigger than ever. We were cruising at 37000 feet, 3km visibility and 30c visibility and some expected delays due to congestion. Oh great - increasingly likely I won’t make the connection - hooray!
While my row was mostly empty during the flight, a mother and her infant took up 6A - even the little one’s cries could not keep me awake, but in fact it was the deployment of the landing gear that prompted me to wake up and get the camera out. Lined up with Runway 11 and made a smooth touchdown at 1716 hours, after a flying time of 1hr48min, but crucially for me 14 minutes to departure for the next flight - highly unlikely I’d make it, barring a miracle.
WE'RE TOO LATE: UK707 HAS DEPARTED
The final nail in the coffin was when we had to wait on the taxiway as the crew did their announcements - we taxied in towards the ramp, gate D49, 42 minutes late at 1722 hours, or 8 minutes to departure. Next to us was VT-TNI, but on port side was VT-TTJ, doors closed, and ready to head to Kolkata as UK707.
Being marshaled in
I'm about ready to launch from my seat…
I knew I hadn’t made it. Doors opened, I headed out, a ground staff was waiting for me with a boarding pass which confirmed that I had in fact been put in to the next flight, thankfully on the same day. It would be on UK719. I was also offered a free meal voucher to KFC.
I made my way through arrivals in to the transfer area, which is a good point to end this flight report. Unfortunately I did not get much photos or videos from here. A 3hr layover in front of me, the first failed crucial connection.
Mumbai - BOM
New Delhi - DEL
Taking absolutely nothing away from Vistara because the delay wasn’t their fault: starting right off from an easy to use website, a fantastic fare deal, very helpful and welcoming ground staff enabling me to log in my first Premium Economy flight on Vistara and in Indian skies making Vistara the first airline I have flown on to three different classes. Then on the flight itself the crew were nice & welcoming, accommodating & courteous. The seat itself was fantastic, and a meal that was wonderful. UK944 is a flight number I do not necessarily have good memories of: my first ever flight on UK was UK944 back in 2015, and that went a little awry at the very end, and this time around it was badly delayed. But anyway, on this occasion it wasn’t anything to do with Vistara at all. A bit of a layover at New Delhi, then….
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