The day of departure
I witnessed history unfold on 16th by being at home for most of the time where the opposition BJP routed the ruling Congress in the National elections. All I did related to the trip was to book a cab for the next day.
Pune sadly remains out of radar of the leading radio cab operators in the country and this time I tried booking Genie (owned by Meru – http://genie.merucabs.com/) after some horrible experiences with T cabs (the cab did not turn up at all and when I called the driver just before the pickup time, he said he is not coming) and Travel Time ( where they informed me 10 mins before reporting time that they cannot send the cab).
A day prior to departure, Air India had sent me an SMS stating – “AI regrets rescheduling of your flight AI 850 on 17MAY PNQDEL to 1840 hrs. Pls ignore if revised timing is same as in your ticket. For dtls pls call 18001801407”. I skipped a beat when I got this message for the DEL-SIN leg too, but the timings were the same as on my ticket.
At 14:10hrs on Saturday the 17th of May, I got an SMS with the same wording, but different timing. Heartbeat missed – The flight had been rescheduled and delayed by an hour. This was followed by a call in which the call center chap acknowledged that the connecting time would be close and that it would be sufficient for the connection.
I quickly tried rescheduling the cab time which was not possible on the website so I had to cancel the cab, and re book a new one by calling up the call center.
I also did few checks on the FlightRadar24 and expected the IXB-DEL flight to come to PNQ. Going by how Air India works, I was sure that I would be further delayed and that we would not be able to meet the revised ETD of 1940hrs. It showed that the expected aircraft would be VT-PPX which would have operated AI 806 / 879 / 880 (BOM-DEL-IXB-DEL) and then operate AI 849/850 DEL PNQ DEL leg. The other flights of the day which are generally part of the rotation were being operated by an A319.
Flight History & AI on the route
AI 849/850 is possibly the oldest flight on this route and existed even during the days when Pune had limited connectivity and operated from Sunrise to Sunset. Having been operated by an IC A320, this being one of the top performing markets and flights for Air India – was upgraded to an A321 few seasons ago.
Air India also launched a flight in the morning to complement this flight, AI 851/852, which departs Delhi at 05:00 and is the first flight out of Delhi for Pune. This is generally operated by the double bogey A320.
Two seasons ago, they launched their third flight on the route, AI 853/854 which departs Delhi at 1850hours.
Owing to the large presence of Government & Military traffic, which compulsorily travel the National Carrier, and lack of Business class seats on this sector, this flight does very well. The morning and late evening flights are operated by Single Class aircraft.
Reaching the airport, Airport Experience & Spotting
The ride to the airport was quick and I got down from the cab at 1750hrs. Pretty early for the 1940 departure. I was inside in no time, with the regular, show you ticket, show your ID, quick glance of your face, OK you miraculously look the same routing of the CISF staff guarding the main entrance. The stupidity at Pune continues, where in another CISF staff checks your identity within few feet of the main entrance.
Pune airport, has recently been upgraded by the IAF – with successful completion of first phase of MAFI (Modernization of Airfield Infrastructure) Project – which had led to long durations of runway closure and had affected the operations at Pune. The AAI, in the meanwhile got a canopy done outside the terminal, which would help a lot during the summer and also monsoons if it does not leak! Also the work for hanger space for general aviation aircraft is progressing fast and should be completed soon by the looks of it.
Pune being a military airfield, photography is restricted and I have adhered to the law by not clicking any snaps of either the terminal or the airside infrastructure.
Pune – does not have an inline baggage screening system and I rushed to the baggage screener to get my bag screened before the big group, which had entered ahead of me, gets organized and proceeds.
I proceeded to counter 3 where a gentleman told me that I would not get boarding pass for the DEL-SIN leg here but my baggage will be tagged all the way to Pune. He checked the baggage weight and promptly printed the boarding pass which read 26C. I immediately protested and told him that I have already blocked 5F and 18A for this journey to Singapore. He confirmed about the 18A and said that due to an aircraft change, 5C is no more available. I again told him that it continues to be an A321, which to the best of my knowledge is available in single configuration only. However, he did not budge. I then requested for a different seat in the front section, where in he punched in something and out came a boarding card saying 8D and he proudly told me he has given me emergency row aisle. This possibly is the most uncomfortable seat in the aircraft, which is ahead of the emergency row, seats 2 and has a crew seat in the right, and does not have a window. I had resigned to my fate and took the boarding card and the baggage tag and proceeded towards the security.
The security was quick and once I entered the SHA, I went and made myself comfortable near the boarding gate seats on the first floor. The Port Café stores have been renamed as Chicago Crust but the employees working there remain the same. There was no change in anything else on the first floor at Pune.
I checked the whereabouts of my aircraft, and it was overhead Kota, which meant a long time to go for it to land.
At 1808, VT-WAG landed from BLR operating as G8 241, it would turn around as G8 242 to BLR at 1825hrs. At 18:12, 6E 406 landed from COK & BLR and would operate to DEL as 6E 406 at 1850hrs. VT-INT was operating.
It had been raining for past few days in Pune, and pretty cloud on this day, but the METAR indicated decent weather.
VAPO 171200Z 31004KT 5000 FEW030 SCT100 BKN250 33/20 Q1013
Pretty normal weather for the day, and nothing significant on the NOTAM front either at Pune or at Delhi.
While watching the Narendra Modi procession and Ganga Aarti at Varanasi on the single TV set at the first floor of Pune airport, I saw G8 and 6E departing in quick succession and using runway 28 to depart.
I was hungry by then and with limited options, decided to try some Corn. This chap was also selling some MaXICAN Nachos! Another addition to the host of pictures I have with funny spellings.
At 1917, VT-JGY operating 9W 367 landed from Delhi, the same bird would operate as 9W 368 to DEL. It occupied bay#3. Quickly a line was formed and the first to go was a set of Jetairways Crew. Considering that this was the last flight of the rotation, it was really strange to see a turnaround flight was being operated by a crew based here. I guess it was due to some disruptions, otherwise I find it really crazy!
At 1921, VT-PPX landed operating AI 849 with a delay of 1:20 and docked at Bay 2, which is the aero bridge bay at Pune. Boarding lines were formed and commenced at 1935hrs but we were held at the door till about 1945, which was 5 minutes over the revised ETD. By this time, 9W 368 was already being pushed back for its departure.
Boarding & Inflight
I boarded at 1946 and the first thing I realized is that the aircraft configuration had not changed – Just shows the way, Air India treats its passengers. How can a pre blocked seat be changed at the whims and fancies of the airline staff. At 2005, the passengers stopped coming in but I could still hear the baggage being loaded while I was seated in the cramped seat – 8D. Soon the aero bridge was disengaged, doors closed and the crew made a quick round to close the over head bins.
I asked a crew if I can shift to any of the windows around – she nodded affirm. 4F, 7A were empty just in the first 5 rows of economy ! Wonderful I should say. I shifted to 7A.
At 2008, we pushed back and taxied to runway 28. The crew announced that Capt.Gujral was in command that we would take 1hr 45 minutes to Delhi. At 2015 hours, we started the powerful take off roll and took off in the westerly direction – banked right and set out course to Delhi, joining the regular Mumbai – Delhi path overhead Surat.
Soon we stabilized and the crew started with the inflight service. Dinner would be served! One of the reasons of sitting in the front section is to get food early! and soon, the crew was around – Sir, Veg or Non Veg? Non Veg, came the quick reply and within no time, I had in front of me a good meal. I am not sure if Air India has dinner for this flight everytime or it was different today due to the delay. None the less, I enjoyed my chicken – rice and Dal, along with some salad. The Tea/ Coffee service followed and the trays were cleared by 21:20. Pretty quick and efficient service from the crew.
The rest of the time, I spent in reading the inflight magazine and exploring the IFE. The magazine was just OK with some crazy literal translations from English to Hindi & the IFE is decent for the 2 hour flight. One of the channels was in-op and all the audio channels were in-op. The ear plugs which Air India provides are of such pathetic quality, they do not even have Left / Right written on them, certainly making me miss the old Kingfisher ones!
The inflight magazine had a one page advertisement on the Dreamliner to Singapore from delhi, strangely the timings in the advertisement and those on my ticket for this flight – did not match!
We had taken off from runway 28, banked right and joined the Delhi – Mumbai path overhead Surat, flying left of Udaipur and Kota and exactly over head Jaipur, we banked right again. We were flying at an altitude of 10500mtr for most of our journey with a speed of 986 kmph.
Descend started at 2130 as we crossed Jaipur, and with some right and left turns, we approached runway 29. When we were flying at 3900 mtr, the pilot made an announcement for the crew to be seated. Another text book landing on runway 29 by Capt. Gujral to quickly exit the active runway and take us to our designated gate at the domestic pier at T3 – DEL.
The next Part would contain the Transfer experience at Delhi T3 and the Dreamliner flight to Singapore.