This is the third and last instalment in my journey going from Singapore (SIN) to Chennai (MAA) via Bangkok and Bengaluru. My experience at the immigration and baggage claim at BLR, an overnight stay at the 080 Transit Hotel and the IndiGo morning flight to MAA are all illustrated here. It was not without incident, but I won’t regret taking three legs instead of the one direct flight, for more reasons than one!
This being my first time arriving from an international flight at an Indian airport other than Chennai, I was immediately wowed by the neat and sparkling arrival section. It is on par with what world-class airports like Changi have, and a welcome relief from the drab old corridors at Chennai’s ancient arrival hall — something that sorely hurt two weeks later when arriving there from Dubai. It was 11:30pm Indian time, and the long day — longer than most, at 26.5 hours! — was still not over yet.
(A new integrated terminal at Chennai has long been in the works, but it has been repeatedly pushed, and the latest delay has been from June 2022 — the month of my travels — to August at the earliest. I have no faith in this timeline either, because this is India’s version of Berlin Brandenburg Airport: the promised tomorrow that seemingly never comes. But even that airport did eventually open, so all that I can do is hope on a wing and a prayer!)
A WHSmith bookshop: it and its competitor Relay are a standard feature at almost all major Indian airports except — you guessed it — Chennai.
I was equally floored (pun intended) by the meticulously carpeted corridors and travelators that would look right at home in Changi. There being not much of a post-arrival screening nowadays, I breezed to the immigration hall.
An ad for where I’d be staying tonight: I was more than glad to be sleeping in the airport — luxuriously at that — without having to schlep to and from another location in the wee hours of the night.
Thereafter I reached Immigration, and for all the advances that have happened elsewhere at this airport, automated immigration gates are still yet to come to Indian airports. They have been a lifesaver both at Changi and at Dubai, where my passport had been recognised by the machine even though I had been to DXB only once. If only I didn’t had to face the surly officials at the immigration counters; this is once place where Government bureaucracy is unavoidable even at the best-kept private airports. Apologies for the blurry snap!
A view of the duty-free shops below — tell me this isn’t on par with the world’s best airports.
An ad for Tanishq, India’s largest jewellery company, which is also owned by the Tata Group as you can see.
By this time it was midnight, and I went down a level to collect my luggage, which didn’t take too long. Then it was a matter of proceeding to the 080 Transit Hotel, for which I’d have to go to the common departure area serving both domestic and international flights.
A view of the duty-free shops from the ground.
Arrivals were mostly domestic, barring LH754 from FRA, AF194 from CDG, MH192 from KUL and some unidentified flight ZZ9001(?!?!). Oddly, TG325 was nowhere to be found.
The departure hall was starting to get busy with all the international departures.
The 080 Transit Hotel (which is named after the dialling code for Bengaluru) is located two levels above the departure area.
A closer look at the departures, most of which were international. It is rare to find an international flight from Indian airports that departs when the sun is up. The great majority of international flights are during nighttime hours. (There are a couple of KLM-codeshared flights, operated by IndiGo.)
I took the elevator up to the second floor (departures were on the ground floor) and got a bird’s-eye view of the terminal.
The lobby’s décor was on par with what you’d expect at a top city hotel. Two agents were present to handle reservations.
Now I was taken for a baggage screening, back to the departures level. I had to wait for a good fifteen minutes before my bags were scanned and tags put on them. Only after this was done could I go back up to the hotel level.
I was assigned room 210, the very last of the ten rooms. Immediately I was taken aback by the beautiful, luxurious design and furnishings. It truly befitted a five-star hotel, though there are other options near the airport like the Taj Bangalore for those who are willing to splurge.
The bathroom was just as top-notch, and enough to make your mouth fall agape. From the beautiful scent to the exquisite tiling and fitments, there really had been no stone left unturned to elevate the ambience to that of a luxury condomimium in a posh city location.
The room afforded a view of all the people setting off to foreign lands at this ungodly hour, though it was obscured by small palm trees.
Below are the alarm clock, self-service menu, drinking apparatuses (!) and TV remotes placed on the desk below the TV.
All the same, it was fantastic to be in the lap of luxury for a brief good night’s rest, with the added sound effect of people of all ages bustling around in the terminal. Of course, it would have been even more exotic to have a direct view of the planes on the apron, as any avgeek can attest to — but not that it mattered at one in the morning, when sleep was the first order of business. I was told by the friendly receptionist that there would be a wake-up call at 5:30am, and I would have to leave shortly thereafter, as my flight was departing at 8.
I slept like a baby from 1:30 to 5:30, barring a brief trip to the restroom at 3:30. Throughout my sleep I was well aware of the chitter-chatter of families and singletons alike in the departures hall below, but that did not disturb me in any way, thanks to the high-class quilts and pillows.
At 5:30 sharp there was a phone call from reception, and while it was a little too early for my liking, I knew I’d have to get out sooner than later, so I changed and dressed quickly. Before leaving, I decided to capture the free Wi-Fi connection cards in a bit more detail — not that it mattered, because my Airtel SIM gave me all the data I wanted.
At 5:45 I left the room and went down the corridor. By now the sun was up and most of the international departures had given way to domestic ones, so the terminal was even more crowded.
I thanked the receptionist, Sini, for the good night’s sleep and she displayed a QR code to scan for providing feedback. This done, I left the transit hotel and went down — but not before taking a picture of all the planes on the tarmac.
All departures were domestic at this time, including the Air France codeshare flight which was operated by IndiGo. The airline has signed a number of codeshare agreements from airlines across continents and alliances, including Air France–KLM, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and more recently Qantas and American Airlines. With its unmatched domestic coverage, it’s no wonder that airlines from across the globe have been forging ties with the largest low-cost carrier in Asia, despite not having anything close to a business class product (including hot meals!).
Cars were lining up outside, as they do round the clock at India’s third-largest airport. Though this was a Saturday morning and not a weekday, there was no shortage of people taking early-morning flights.
Baggage drop counters were introduced by BLR in November 2018, and can be used if you are travelling on specific airlines within the country, with one piece of baggage only. I would definitely have gone for this if I had only one suitcase in hand, but having two checked-in baggage pieces is a big no-no on Indian domestic flights — as I would find out to my dismay in a few minutes.
At 6am I joined the domestic flight queues. All IndiGo flights were served by a common group of check-in counters, and the same went for all the other airlines.
Here’s where the drama unfolded. I had wisely noticed during booking, a couple of weeks before, that I would have to pay a nominal fee to check in a second piece of baggage on board. All would be well, I thought. But when I approached the check-in counter, Yashudha, the check-in agent, promptly told me that I would have to pay excess baggage fees per kg ON TOP OF the fee for a second piece of checked-in baggage! This was a huge shock.
Since I had not taken a domestic flight for many years, I was completely unaware of the rules by Indian airlines that prohibit passengers from checking in more than 15 kg on domestic flights, that too for one piece only! I had well overshot this limit, and had no choice but to fork out ₹7,700 INR (nearly US$100). Furthermore, I wasn’t able to tap my debit card contactlessly, and had forgotten the PIN, so I was running out of payment options; until a brainwave hit me in that tense situation, and I decided to use Paytm — India’s most popular e-wallet — to pay the hefty amount.
This was the one and only incident that soured the otherwise perfect plan of taking three flights from Singapore to Chennai instead of one, and if not for this restriction on the checked-in baggage limit on domestic flights, it would have been completely free of all tensions. Perhaps I’ll have to bring only one suitcase hereafter, instead of the whole kitchen sink, in order to stick to this 15-kg restriction if I am to take any domestic connections from international flights in the future.
And whether or not I even do so depends on whether Chennai Airport can open its much-delayed integrated terminal by December, in order to save myself from that despicable old arrival terminal. If the new terminal (which looks quite promising and beautifully designed) can open by then, I will gladly take an international flight into MAA instead of connecting via BLR or anywhere else, so as not to have to worry about how much baggage I can carry. But if not…
There was not much that could be done about the situation, but I do have to give Yashudha credit for calmly explaining what had to be done; not once did she lose her cool, but instead went about the process as level-headedly as possible. Anyway, I thanked her and proceeded up to the domestic security. It was 6:40am now. Security was done within a few minutes. Bags were to be placed in ad-covered trays like these, in addition to metallic and electronic items having to be placed separately.
By 7am I was in the departures area, which had plenty of restaurants. Several eateries were still there since my only other time at BLR Airport, which was in October 2015.
Plenty of restaurants had ordering kiosks and even QR codes as a response to the touch-free way of life demanded by the COVID-19 situation. But several people roamed around without a mask, which is unthinkable in places like Singapore. Still, it shows how far India has come after the devastating second wave last year, where people feel confident and safe enough to not have to wear a mask even in a public area. It shows how much vaccination can do to a country’s morale.
Newspapers were placed in stands, which I appreciate, given how many other places have eliminated them as a result of the pandemic.
There were several chic-looking shops here, plenty to make it look like a high-end mall. A few of these are in Chennai’s domestic terminal, but not the international terminal, which has barely anything at all.
Luxury boutiques for clothes, jewellery, watches and the like were present all around. Bookstores like WHSmith and Relay are found at a number of Indian airports, including BLR — with MAA being, once again, the exception.
At 7:30, very shortly before departure, I popped into a KFC and bought a veg burger and bottle of water.
When I was done, I had to rush to the gate and found out that it was empty, and I would be one of the last to board!
In the distance stood a BA 777-200ER, which I zoomed up on later as we were taxiing.
Flight: IndiGo 6E6825/IGO6825
Date: Saturday, 4 June 2022
Route: Bengaluru Kempegowda (VOBL/BLR) to Chennai (VOMM/MAA)
Aircraft: VT-IZD, Airbus A320neo
Age: 3.7 years (first flight: 9 October 2018, delivered: 25 October 2018)
Seat: 18F (window)
Boarding: 7:45am IST, UTC +5:30
Departure: 8:15am IST
Arrival: 9:05am IST
Duration: 50 minutes
Second flight on 6E A320neo (after VT-ITG, 6E547, PNQ–MAA, 7–8/6/2019). Almost all my flights on 6E have been on the A320ceo (particularly the VT-IE* series, which have all been phased out). I am yet to fly the latest A320neos (VT-II*/IJ*/IS* series) or A321neos (VT-IU*/IL*/IM* series), and indeed I had flown only one of their A320neos before. For the world’s largest A320neo operator, this is kind of a big aberration in my flight history.
Also, interestingly, this flight broke my streak of four consecutive flights on widebodies on Star Alliance members: AI347, SQ529, TG404, TG325.
Waiting for us was VT-IZD, with which our family has had some sort of a relationship before. My mother flew it to Kolkata a year before, in June 2021. (As you can see, I didn’t have a Flightradar24 subscription at the time!) Also, the person running the Indian stall in my university canteen took this exact aircraft the previous month (May 2022) when he was returning to Chennai on the 6E54 redeye. So my known ones were no stranger to this bird, and now was my time to get on board her for this 45-minute hop.
I settled into my seat, 18F. This afforded me a good view of VT-IUV, an A321neo next to us, which had just come from Mumbai as 6E5267 and would very shortly return there as 6E5323.
Next to her stood VT-TNJ, a Vistara A320neo, which would have an almost identical journey from and to BOM — even departing and arriving at the same times.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the Hello 6E inflight magazine in the seat pocket. Given that many international airlines such as SQ, TG and EK (all of which I have flown this year) have scrapped their inflight magazines — not even having a digital version — it is heartening to see Indian airlines persist with even physical copies post-pandemic. That’s especially true since IndiGo didn’t even have a proper magazine until late 2019, though I kind of prefer Hello 6E‘s previous avatar as a shopping catalogue, which was (in my opinion) far better presented and less clumsy.
IndiGo has a safety card with a cute turbaned sardarji. In childhood I used to be fascinated by this man, and since I didn’t fly 6E that often, I badly missed him. Later, particularly in 2018–20 before the pandemic struck, one in two flights for me was on 6E, so I didn’t miss him as much. Today’s 6E safety card is smaller than its early-day versions, and foldable too.
As with the previous TG flight, the seats beside me remained empty, and so I got the ‘poor man’s business class’ once again — though on a low-cost carrier on a flight less than an hour, it hardly mattered.
At 8am, as is the norm on 6E, the names of all cabin crew and flight attendants were announced over the PA system, and which languages they spoke. In pre-COVID years, IndiGo also made a point of stating which cities the cabin crew hailed from. Of course, note that 6E has only female flight attendants as a cost-saving measure.
Flying us today were Captain Anup Singh and First Officer Sakshi. (This is a very common Indian female given name; indeed, the check-in agent next to Yashudha was also named such.) An inreasing number of Indian girls are choosing to become pilots nowadays, and as India’s largest airline, 6E has had a huge contribution in training women for the same.
Serving us today were Sohini, Nikita, Vandana and the lead flight attendant, Neha — the last of which is another ubiquitous Indian girls’ name, though it has been falling slightly out of popularity of late. They performed the manual safety demonstration at 8:05am, at the same time as we were taxiing.
We pushed back further and taxied past the line of planes at the departure gates.
To our left was VT-IIL, one of 6E’s newest A320neos, which had returned from Bangkok as 6E76 — the first time in two years that this flight was being operated!
Further left was G-YMMI, British Airways’ 777-200ER that was operating BA118/119. Before the pandemic BA sent its brand-new A350-1000 to Bengaluru, putting it in a select club of destinations worldwide (the others being Toronto, Tel Aviv and Dubai) that were the first to receive this rare aircraft with the new Club Suites with doors. But now it is a bunch of two-decade-old 777-200ERs that serves BLR.
At least BA and Air France maintain their old 777-200ERs very well and have fresh and new cabins — which is much more than can be said for Thai Airways, which despite having younger 777-200ERs has much older cabins on them, as I was to find out a few weeks later. While BA sends its old 777-200ERs to BLR and the brand-new 787-9 to Chennai, with TG it is the opposite: new A350s to BLR, old 777-200ERs to MAA. (Even though the 787-8 is supposed to operate that route, since June 2022 it is almost always the 777-200ER.)
Further down were two more aircraft from the latest VT-II* series of IndiGo A320neos. First VT-IIB, which would soon be leaving for Malé.
And then VT-IIR, which would depart for Dubai in a few minutes’ time, for a BLR–DXB–COK–DXB–BLR rotation — COK standing for Kochi or Cochin, the largest city in the southern state of Kerala.
At 8:15am we wereready to go, and zoomed past an ATR 72 of Alliance Air, the only airline owned by the Indian government today after Air India (Express) was acquired by the Tata Group.
We lifted for takeoff at 8:17am and banked sharply right, so bringing an end to my brief but (mostly) enjoyable stay at Bengaluru.
Here’s a look at the menu, entitled ‘6E Tiffin’. Most of these items were not sold on this short sector, though, save for the airline’s famous nut box.
Proceednigs were noted down in my journal, as always.
The only service on board consisted of FA Vandana handing out the box of nuts that I had pre-ordered online, though I did not have it, plus a cup of water. She was in charge of my set of rows, and further up front was Nikita.
Before very long we had commenced descent into Chennai.
We flew out east over the Bay of Bengal, overshooting the famous Marina Beach…
…before turning back into land.
The wheels finally touched down at 8:57am, for a flying time of some 40 minutes.
In the distance stood an A330-200 (B-LNY) of Hong Kong Air Cargo, one of five in its fleet. This subsidiary of Hong Kong Airlines operates flight RH9375/9376 to Chennai every couple of days. (Oddly, the left side has only Chinese titles; the English titles are on the right, which is the same approach adopted by Air India and Aeroflot, as well as their subsidiaries.)
As we approached the terminal, we saw the standard aircraft using the two gates (17 and 18) in the new part of the international terminal: A6-EGP which would operate the morning EK545 flight to DXB, and 9M-AGA which would operate AK10 to KUL.
Also present was 4R-ALN, one of several SriLankan Airlines A330-300s that perform shuttles between Colombo and Chennai throughout the day.
For the first time in ages, we taxied to a remote stand! I haven’t used a remote stand in many years, and so it was a pleasant surprise, since I would get a view of the planes from up close. Beside us was VT-IUF, one of 6E’s first A321neos.
At last it was time to disembark, and I chose to exit through the rear door. I thanked FAs Sohini and Nikita for their courteous service and went down the stairs. Then I took a picture of the registration, which is not really possible if using an aerobridge, as is always the case otherwise.
As an interesting tidbit that only hardened avgeeks may notice, I may also mention that 6E’s aircraft registration style (registration and flag above the windows, aircraft type immediately below) is followed by a small number of other airlines around the world, such as Air Canada, Air Europa, Finnair and JetBlue. The slight difference is that 6E puts the flag closer to the rear of the aircraft (to the right on the plane’s left side and vice-versa) while the others put the registration closer to the rear, except for Finnair which has two flags on either side of the registration.
From the ground I took more pictures of the 6E bus fleet, as well as the other aircraft around us, such as VT-ILT here.
And then the registration below the wing — too bad 6E puts its registrations below the wing instead of above. Go figure that on all my flights with TG and EK, where the registration is on the wing’s upper side, I could not get very good pictures of it!
6E uses the phrase ‘lean, clean flying machine’ quite a lot in its advertising.
At last I got on board a bus — it was fun to be riding one again after so many times using only aerobridges! Meanwhile VT-IUF showed up once again as we drove around her.
Other airlines too had a chance to present themselves: it’s not like the big blue giant had taken centrestage at the apron.
At length we approached the domestic terminal, which is streets ahead of the international one, in terms of both upkeep and décor.
Honestly, the sculptures really do look very good, and indeed the only pressing omission is the lack of big retail outlets in the departures section.
I now descended to the big, airy baggage claim hall.
This really is a very well-built and spacious area, and something I hope the upcoming integrated terminal can pull off well.
In just a couple of minutes both my suitcases were ready for collection, and I was off like a rocket. This was the polar opposite of so many of the international flights I’ve had into MAA where the luggage takes no less than half an hour to arrive.
By 9:20am I had left the terminal and waited to be picked up by my family. It’s quite convenient to get to the metro station from the airport, and this at least is an area where I must admit that Chennai excels in.
As we were leaving the airport we saw Singapore Airlines’ 3x-weekly 737 MAX 8 morning service land. This was 9V-MBA, the airline’s first 737 MAX, and in fact this was only the second time that the MAX was operating this sector, since throughout April and May the inferior 737-800 had operated it.
Suffice it to say that even before this trip, SIN and BLR have been among my favourite airports in the world in terms of design and architecture, while MAA and to some extent BKK flatter to deceive. This flight only reaffirmed how much Bengaluru has profited, and Chennai has lost, from (not) having a beautiful airport with world-class maintenance, facilities and retail options that attract people from across the planet. The luxurious 080 Transit Hotel is as convenient as it is glamorous, and helped take away the stress that would have arisen from having to book a taxi to another location at well past midnight, trying to squeeze in some hours of sleep and setting out again before the crack of dawn.
Furthermore, the presence of a big hub at BLR with round-the-clock flights to large and small destinations has been a factor behind IndiGo’s rock-solid position as the overwhelmingly largest airline in the country. No other airline can afford to beat the world’s largest A320neo operator in terms of price, frequency and service for such a busy metro route. The Tata Group (Air India + Vistara + AirAsia India + AI Express) as well as Akasa Air and the resurrected Jet Airways have their work cut out for them to challenge the blue giant of the Indian skies. As for SpiceJet and Go First, may God help them.
Thanks for reading along these trip reports! My upcoming ones are about a quick four-day jaunt to Dubai — the Arabian counterpart of Singapore — and the return to Singapore, also on Thai Airways. Do provide your comments as they help me appreciate the Flight-Report community. Until next time, then!