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To the City of Joy and back, on Air India: Aug'11

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 8:02 am    Post subject: To the City of Joy and back, on Air India: Aug'11 Reply with quote

To the City of Joy and back, on Air India: Aug'11

August, 2011.
This would be a very short official trip to Calcutta/Kolkata.
What was on this trip to look forward to? I was inquisitive about
how much work had progressed around the new terminals at the
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata. I had
heard a lot of horror stories about the situation in the domestic
terminal, from colleagues and Calcutta-based friends, alike.
How bad could it be?

This trip report can be found at the following URL:

The ticket had been booked through a travel agent. However, I was
able to locate my booking on the Air India webpage, include it in
my itineraries, reserve my seats, and perform web check-in. The
web check-in on the new site is incredibly nice - a far cry from
the tickets on the new site, and the boarding passes on all other
airlines. The page-long forms are nicely designed.
This is something positive about the new SITA-designed new Air
India website.

In high spirits (not high on spirits!), I arrived at the Indira
Gandhi International Airport, Terminal 3 (``T3'', to most of us).
Has Air India read into comments on this forum?
Now, almost all - I repeat, almost all counters were checking in
passengers on all flights. One could go to any Air India counter,
and check in for a flight to any destination. This was a
long-awaited facility, and bode well for the beleaguered carrier!
I know that this could be done - since a few months back, when
each counter had an electronic destination board announcing the
flight number, some Air India officials were doing some crowd
management, and sending people to other counters. I guess they
have simply changed their policy. This certainly had the intended
effect. No counter was too long, or too busy. There were many
counters available. Just one counter said `AI403 Bengaluru', and
two announced two international flights - all in check-in
island E. I was also encouraged by the cheerful staff, who in
spite of not having had their salaries for the past few months,
did not show this openly, in any way. T3 was neat and clean, as
usual. The indoor plants in side T3 must bear special mention.
Now, one of the most pertinent complaints of The Wife (`TW') is
that I have never shown any interest in plants, trees or flowers,
the last - least of all, on occasions that demand a bunch,
bouquet, or at least a solitary offering, from a good and dutiful
husband. Even Jr shows some interest in what gardening his mummy
does all around the house. TW often comes around with a big smile
on her bubbly face, and asks me, ``do you notice anything
different in the balcony?''. The question is more often than not,
greeted with some blank looks and furtive glances shot all
around the room. Different? My smelly perennially moist towel
hangs waiting for some solar radiation to disinfect it, my shoes
lie there waiting for the same source of energy to defumigate
them, my socks hang out after a wash after being water-proof for
quite a while. What was new, indeed?
By this while, TW's expression changes from neutral, to a mildly
irritated one, as I notice the changing geography on her face. My
heart immediately skips a beat, I pray hard, look around
nervously, and finally spot a microscopic bud, or a nano-sized
fruit peeping out from the depths of a huge potted plant,
and that saves the day for me.
Ah... I'll spare the reader from some usual husband
rantings, and get back to the plants inside T3.
I plucked a shot (no, not a plant), to hopefully
placate TW, with a shot of the flowers. One must always have time
to smell the flowers, as they say, or at least take a shot, if
not partake of some pollen or anthem of some plant in bloom.

Here is a usual view from the side of the smoking lounge:

As I wandered around a bit, I also overheard some of the `Green
Team' conversing, as to when they should replace the Chinese
palms at the corner of the terminal end, and about some terms
which would have sent TW into raptures.

We were assigned gate 34B. This would be at the end of the Air
India wing, and with the lighting around, I was looking forward
to doing some spotting from inside the terminal building.
An Air India Regional `masked bandit' CRJ-700 VT-RJB, rushed past
me. It would take off from the main runway 10-28, towards the
west (runway 28 ).

A JetLite B737-800 followed suit, as an Indigo A320 landed on the
new runway 29.

A beautiful Air India B777-300ER pushed back.

Close-by was the absolutely last gate in this wing, and AI 849 -
the DEL-PNQ flight left from this gate. Ah, this is usually an
old A320, so I thought, I would be on a new aircraft, an A321! I
had pre-booked seat 12D for this flight. The boarding commenced
well on time, and I looked forward - er..., looked down to see -
an old A320 in the new Air India colours. The plane for the trip
would be VT-ESL. The plane had the new Air India
ochre-and-vermilion seat covers, and was quite clean, though the
SICMA aero seats - the plastic surfaces, definitely showed their
age. I had reserved seat 12F, which turned out to be an emergency
exit on this A320.

On entering the plane, we got a warm welcome.
Yes, literally, as well as figuratively.
The plane was quite warm. The air vents were on, but the overall
high temperature combined with the humidity in the atmosphere did
not make it a comfortable metal tube to be in. The crew consisted
of two very senior ladies, a senior gentleman, and two young
gentlemen. At least, these were the five I saw. All were nice and
friendly. The temperature would have been tolerable had there
been a short wait, but temperatures ran high in the cabin.

The loads on this flight possibly justified the use of an A320
rather a 321 - I counted 8 seats occupied in business section
(J) (good loads!), and only 9 vacant seats in economy (good
loads, again). The crew went about explaining that the AC would
be turned on as soon as the plane got into its own engine power.
They were very patient, and tried to cheer people up - but many
passengers were quite the opposite. Many people scowled,
complained in their breaths, and some spoke to the crew angrily.
Now, do the old ex-Indian Airlines A320s not have air
conditioning when the plane is on the ground?
``Sir, this is an old plane, the air conditioning when on the
ground is a bit inadequate, as soon as...''
``What is this? I haven't had this bad a situation on SpiceJet,
or Indigo,'' said an irate passenger.

Captain Sanjeev Chaudhury soon came on the intercom, and
announced that `all izzz well' - all was well with the aircraft
systems, just that there was a refuelling delay since the plane
would encounter turbulence and heavy winds on the way to
Calcutta, and would need a lot more fuel. The fuel truck came in
after a while (some inspiration!), and after about 40 minutes of
perspiration, we finally pushed back. VT-PPD, a 321 had docked at
the last aerobridge, and was right beside us. On the other side
had been the Chennai flight, which had pushed back in time. To
our left was now another old A320, in the new Air India colours.

I spent my time working, while the plane was on the ground,
occasionally looking right, to see if something interesting had
come by. I also just recounted what I had seen at the terminal.
In my 40 minutes or so at the far end of the terminal (where
some slumberette seats were kept, thoughtfully near some power
ports), I had spotted 5 Air India wide-bodies - first was an
Airbus A330-200 VT-IWB at the International end: this was there
when I had come in.

In those 40 minutes, four B777s come in. Yes, three Boeing
777-300 ERs (`77Ws'), and one 777-200 LR (possibly the Air India
flight from JFK, which is rarely late, if ever). A 777-300 ER had
just taken off as the taxi pulled into the departure level.
So I had seen 6 wide-bodies. I really wonder - is this the
normal schedule at around 4pm, or was I lucky to have seen so
many wide-body movements? Well, my wide-bodies shape did not make
too many movements, as I sat there in the slumberette seat,
working on my laptop, and occasionally taking out my camera and
my cellphone, to click pictures.

During the waiting period on the ground, I also clicked some
pictures around me, from the window beside me. Here is some
detail on the last gate at the Air India domestic end of the IGI
T3 finger, looking towards the west (the international part).

The flight had some turbulence. It was interesting to see regular
flashes of lightning in the clouds, as we flew eastwards into the
evening. This came in after the meal.
The meal?
It was announced as a snack.
The cabin was just beginning to cool down as we flew eastwards,
and soon, incredibly appetising smells filled the cabin.
The Wife (`TW') vouches for my dogged determination.
In a better mood of her's,
the above statement is to be taken at face value.
At other times, the above is to be interpreted as an exasperated
acknowledgement of my doggie-ness in determining the menu, from
the aroma.
Yes, back to the appetising smells that filled the cabin.
And some disturbing chatter, too.
``What, no non-veg?''
``Sir, I'm sorry, they have run out of the same''
Mumble, mumble, grumble, grumble.
For the glutton in me, the smells were appetising enough.
A lime drink was quite refreshing, after all the sweat and grime.
Sweet lime conquers the seat and grime.
The snack started with a brown bread sandwich. The bread was
fresh, and the chopped salad leaf-and-carrot-in-mayonnaise paste
was complimented by a surprise - finely crushed
groundnuts/peanuts, which gave an entirely different dimension to
an ordinary sandwich.
The main box had a tasty `hara-bhara kabab', as they say in
Delhi. This is a kabab/kebab made out of minced green vegetables,
which in the absence of a starch (potato) base, sometimes does
not keep its shape at the touch of a fork.
It tasted fresh, and was not too oily.
The item in the middle was a veg patty - nice and chewy, and went
well with some tangy mint chutney, which Air India usually does
quite well through whichever catering supplier it takes in the
food - Gate Gourmet, in this case. The piece-de-resistance was
three slices of paneer (cottage cheese). This was an absolute
melt-in-the-mouth offering. The ginger-and-spices marination
had seeped in to the deep interiors of the cottage cheese slices
beautifully, and this had been lightly roasted.
What air conditioning? What heat? What humidity?
I was already on Cloud Nine.
However, the dessert made me approach escape velocity.
This was a very fresh and moist brownie, which on closer
examination, revealed a very sinful, sticky and semi-solidified
chocolate syrup base. In a twist to the tail of the dinner tale,
I enacted a Dickenesian scene. Oliver Twist had polished his
copper bowl with his spoon, looking for stray pieces of gruel. I
was trying to complete the gruelling task of doing polishing off
every trace of the wonderful dish in front of me.
This type of brownie was a first for me on Air India: and
as the crew came to collect the used plates, I was still doing
justice to the gooey chocolate base in the small bowl.
The meal was rounded off with some surprisingly nice and strong
coffee: it was not the usual bland offering from the Swiss
multinational, which used to have a symbol of birds in a nest.
Immensely satisfied, I switched on my laptop, and got back to

We landed on runway 19R in a muggy 29 degrees Celcius Calcutta -
it had rained a bit, and the surfaces were wet. We got a remote
stand - this is close to where the new terminal is coming up.
There is a huge lot of construction going on, and the city will
look forward to the new terminal. The arrival hall is quite the
same as I always remember it to be, right from the 2000s when I
travelled to the city by air. There are some changes in the
entire building: some modernisation, but on the whole, it has the
old feel to it. In the early 2000s, it looked old (it was
actually just five years old) but was not too badly maintained -
this fell into a pitiful state in the late 2000s, before this
current slight renovation. There is nothing fantastic, though,
there are 4 belts for the incoming bags - I saw once each for Air
India, Jet and Kingfisher - for the flights of the three carriers
which had come in around the same time.

The return saw me hurry out to reach the airport. On reaching, I
figured out that the flight would be half-an-hour late.
So, what about the domestic departures part of the terminal?
It was the same unmaintained honeycomb structure on the top, and
the crowded check-in hall. There were three gates downstairs -
the rest were all aerobridge gates.

Calcutta is usually associated with Something green.

Close to the entrance is a bust of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose,
the great freedom fighter, after whom the airport is named.

There was something new, nice and pleasant. The ground floor has
been extended a large way, to the left, to include a large
waiting hall for bus gates 2 and 2A. This area is new, airy and
well-lit, and has a few power ports. This also offers a good view
of the action on the tarmac. Here is a view of the area, looking
towards the old portion.

Here is an air-side view.

An Indigo A320 docked at an aero-bridge.

Here are two birds, but no stone, please.
A SpiceJet 737-800 and a crow, both taking wing.
It is my usual cell-phone camera, which makes no stone unturned
to turn out a reasonable photograph (and fails, usually),
resulting in a spiced-up picture which is nothing to crow about.

Here is a view of the new wing hosting gates 2 and 2A, from the
old main building side.

We boarded `PU', the `plasticky' plane (VT-PPU, an Airbus A321),
which had come in as AI 102 (the connector for the JFK-DEL-CCU
flight for the second leg). This plane had parked in front of
the international terminal. Given that we had a bus gate, I got
a view of the international terminal - the airside, from such
close quarters.
Wow! What was interesting about it?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.
There is just one aerobridge, and one bus gate.
I settled down into my seat, and noticed one of the ancient
`afterburner' buses which the NSCBI Airport is infamous for. Yes,
I had come in on one of these. No amount of camera optics can
make a crow into a peacock, or do any face-lift on one of these
`afterburner' buses. The `afterburner' kind - they release fuel,
but I guess, do not light it up, thankfully. The stench of fuel
is almost unbearable on these. A rose, by any other name...

Add to it the fact that they are not air-conditioned, either -
the warm humidity of Calcutta hits one on the face just prior to
alighting, or after de-planing. A dilapidated set of hangars
separates the airside portion between the two terminals at CCU.
Here is a view of the same.

There was a boarding ladder for GMG airlines, the leading private
airlines of Bangladesh (circa August, 2011). A Kingfisher A321
was parked to our right.

As we pushed back, the international cargo apron came into view.
This had a lone Blue Dart B752PSF. We crossed the threshold of
the secondary runway, and went on. Captain Laveen Seth executed
a powerful take-off on runway 19L once again (the main runway at
CCU is 01R-19L, which also happens to be longer than the
secondary runway). The main runway: this did not feel very
smooth. There were quite a few bumps as we spend along it, and
took off over the Nazrul Islam Marg, over three dilapidated
propeller aircraft to the left, that we rushed past. The plane
rose into the monsoon sky, banked right, and then banked right
again. This would offer a good view of a part of the cargo apron,
the entire airport, and the Hooghly river. Since I was on the
left side of the plane, I saw nothing of this. But I did see the
Howrah Bridge, the Howrah Station, and the Vivekananda Setu, to
the left. This is quite a sight!

I had had a filling lunch at my hosts' establishment, but the
sight, smells and sounds of the meal trolleys makes my digestive
juices flow, in eager anticipation. The `snack' started with a
soft white bread sandwich, with coleslaw salad dressing inside
it. Not a bad way to start a mini-meal, right?
The main box had two pieces of a vegetable wrap (or,
`Bombay Frankie', as it is sometimes called).
This was outright disappointing.
The shredded carrot-and-peas filling inside was...filling,
but quite devoid of any taste. No, even a boiled version would
have done fine for me, but this combination of spices just did
not strike the right note.
The middle offering more than made up for the utter
frank disappointment of the Frankie.
This was a mushroom-and-cream bake, in a soft base.
This was an absolutely melt-in-the-mouth affair, and I relished
each morsel of the treat.
To the right were three pieces of skewered chicken: chicken
kabab/kebab. This was not too bad, though there was nothing too
special about it, either.
With some trepidation, I looked forward to the next item - the
dessert. Until now, the appeal of the items had been something
like the output of a bistable multi-vibrator, something a
self-respecting electrical engineer knows. Yes, this is a device
that goes zero-one-zero-one- and so on, on and off repeatedly.
The dessert was no, not a chocolate brownie, but a chocolate
pastry. This tasted extremely fresh, and absolutely melted in the
mouth. The top had a generous spread of chocolate, and had three
chocolate chips embellishing the otherwise smooth top of the
pastry. There was another layer of chocolate inside.
What a way to end a meal!
Oh wait...the beverage round followed.
I chose the tea option by mistake, and I figured out that the
bistable multi-vibrator simile was not a bad one at all.
This had some very ordinary tea - from some run-of-the-mill tea
bags. Though it had been brewed properly, the tea bags looked
tired, and the tea did not have a taste to linger on in my taste
buds. The cabin crew were all senior people, who went about the
service in a very efficient and professional manner.

The loads on this flight in the economy section were quite good -
there were only some 10 seats or so vacant. The gentleman to my
right was on a Roja, this being the ceremonial month of Ramzan, I
guessed. The crew give him details of the meal: he opted for the
vegetarian option (which surprised me a bit, since Air India
always serves hahal non-vegetarian items, as a rule - in case the
reason for his opting for the vegetarian option was just to be
sure of the halal part). The crew paid special attention to him -
he had his meal at the designated time (much after the crew had
cleared our trays). He broke the fast with the traditional large
dates - sometimes called the `Basrai-khajur', the sight of which
sent a small tingle in my taste buds.
He had made a special request for some juice (in a very soft and
polite voice) and some fruits, which the senior lady brought to
him very promptly, from the Business class pantry - all with a
smile. After his meal was over, the lady had possibly been
observing the gentleman - she came up to him, and asked him if he
would have some tea. (My taste buds were not exactly tingling at
the sight of this item, at least!) The gentleman answered in
the affirmative, and he rounded off his meal with the tea.
This personalised service on a near-full economy section was
certainly a very warm touch on behalf of the crew members.
Full points, Air India!

I enjoyed the audio selection on this flight - the old Hindi
film music selection had some superb offerings. The captain came
on the intercom, and said that he had reduced speed some 35
nautical miles from Delhi, due to congestion at the airport.
Well, would we have the seven holy rounds - a Hindu marriage-like
exercise? Since the plane had come in late into Calcutta, it had
taken off late, too - we were behind the clock by some 40
minutes, it was perhaps all but expected.
However, there was a very pleasant surprise - we landed quite
fast, on the new runway 11-29, coming in from the east (i.e.,
runway 29). Captain Seth made a feather-touch landing on a very
wet runway, and we headed off towards the terminal.
And stopped midway, along a taxi-way.
After a bit of waiting, we went on, took a left turn,
and...docked at the International terminal!

We docked right next to an old IC 320 painted in the new colours,
with two Air India 777-300s parked nearby.
The anti-climax was that we got the stairs, and there were some
buses waiting for us. No, these were nice and new - not the
rickety `afterburner' Air India buses at Calcutta.
We took a round of the international section, and went towards
the domestic arrival bus gate. Yes, this is the large gate which
passengers are bused to, in case they take an ATR or a CRJ7
flight, which usually get parked on the apron. I wonder - I have
seen at least one aerobridge which can really stoop down low - to
the level of a small aircraft. I guess it is also the fact that
ATRs and CRJ7s have their unique in-built stairs, which preclude
aero-bridges from being used with them. Interestingly, we were
told right there that our luggage would come in on Belt 1. This
bus gate is thoughtfully built very close to the `mudras' hall,
so that passengers have to only walk a small distance to the
baggage claim. The baggage came in very quickly, and I was soon
off to home in the 33 degree Celcius Delhi cool humidity. But
not before I grabbed a shot of two indoor banana plants on Belt
1, where our luggage had come in.

I thus conclude my report with an image of the IGI T3 plants -
something I had started the report with, in the first place!
Links to my previous TRs, in reverse chronological order:

16. To Chennai, Mar'12 with a Celebrity Captain!
(This is out of sequence owing to sheer excitement, and nothing else!)

15. Marble Rocks, Marbles Rock; Jul 2011

14. The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011

13. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 3: Monino!

12. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 2: The Central Museum
of the Armed Forces

11. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 1: The Overall Trip

10. The City of Lakes: Mother's Heart, Heart of the Motherland

9. Mostly Indoors, in Indore:

8. Inter-metro Shuttling on AI: DEL-BOM on AI810, BOM-DEL on AI888

7. On the cusp: DEL-BOM on IC863, BOM-DEL on AI660

6. DEL-BOM on IT308, BOM-DEL on IC166

5. DEL-MAA on IC439, MAA-DEL on IC802

4. DEL-PNQ on IC849, PNQ-DEL on IC850

3. DEL-MAA on IC429 (A321), MAA-DEL on IC7602 (CRJ7)


1. IGI T3, AI 314 DEL-HKG and AI 311 HKG-DEL
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 9:53 am    Post subject: Re: To the City of Joy and back, on Air India: Aug'11 Reply with quote

Sumantra - thanks for sharing again.

A nice report of a largely uneventful set of flights. Just the way they should be, if you ask me.

All that's missing are picture of the food!

sumantra wrote:
The ticket had been booked through a travel agent. However, I was able to locate my booking on the Air India webpage, include it in my itineraries, reserve my seats, and perform web check-in. The web check-in on the new site is incredibly nice - a far cry from the tickets on the new site, and the boarding passes on all other airlines.

Yep. Just like my recent experience: the new still looks rather uninspiring, but works great and beats the pants off of all the desi competition in terms of utility and convenience.

sumantra wrote:
In those 40 minutes, four B777s come in... So I had seen 6 wide-bodies. I really wonder - is this the normal schedule at around 4pm...

What a perfectly civilised and logical schedule, with the entire domestic network within easy reach of the long-haul flights.

sumantra wrote:
The cabin crew were all senior people, who went about the service in a very efficient and professional manner

That's always been typical of my IC (and AI) experience. The crew seem generally well-trained, and know how to do their job very well. There's no guarantee they will always want to do it though!
four years free of jetya punti!
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 11:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice report and pictures - thanks for posting! I really liked the maturity and sensitivity in serving the fasting gentleman at the right time and with grace. Definitely the hallmark of a seasoned and professional crew on board... Kudos to AI!
We miss you Nalini!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yep, those old IC birds don't have anything other than the lights on until the APU is switched off and it generates its own power. Obviously not ideal, but that's the way they roll.

Speaking of those old A320s, I don't think there are any left that are yet to be painted into the new AI Flying Swan scheme, or are there?

Cheers for posting, Sumantra. Do add in pictures of the snack in your future TRs!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 8:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your appreciation, Jason, Nimish and Varun!
Nimish: you travel around much more than many of us do. I guess work pressure keeps you from posting trip reports, or at least, picture reports.
Jason: yes, a friend told me that the 4 777s coming in that short time slot are the JFK, ORD and YYZ flights, followed by the NRT one. I guess Air India is slowly and silently building its DEL hub well, and doing some decent route planning.
Jason and Varun: I usually switch off my horrid-picture-generating cellphone when this is announced - many people and cabin crew members do not look positively at the `airline mode' (which even my rather entry-level cellphone has). Hence, I do not end up taking pictures for the main raison d'etre of some of my trips. I guess the detailed descriptions of food started because of this!
Varun: thanks for the `power point' on the old IC A320s. Old livery - I still see some in the classic Indian Airlines scheme at DEL. Some 319s at least, are in the `Indian' scheme. This is again based on what I have seen at my base, DEL.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very well written TR, Sumantra.
On a traditional route like DEL-CCU-DEL, your eyes for detail pick up lots of interesting titbits for readers. And your unique style of blending the aroma of "incoming" airline food with the actual flight experience makes the reading all the more interesting!
Curious to know why you always travel on AI (preference or compulsion Laughing )? Also, as far as I remember CCU has only one aerobridge but how come the Indigo aircraft (being a domestic run) docked in to that?
Keep the good work flowing!
Tally Sheet:
41 Countries ||55 Aircraft types ||60 Airlines ||75 Airports
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2012 6:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

PAL@YWG wrote:
Curious to know why you always travel on AI (preference or compulsion Laughing )? Also, as far as I remember CCU has only one aerobridge but how come the Indigo aircraft (being a domestic run) docked in to that?
Keep the good work flowing!

Oh thank you, Mr. Pal! On some bog-standard metro routes, one does not have much to report on the airports and sometimes the planes, too, so I guess one keeps his eyes and ears open for oddities, and small but interesting things!
Why Air India for most trips? Yes, official diktat, but I have ended up flying all of India's domestic airlines (and many international airlines - but the list of course, is a minor fraction of your list!), on various trips. Most official trips have to be made on Air India, and in most cases, I do not mind it one bit (read, the food-for-thought...).
The CCU international part has only one aero-bridge - the domestic part has a few. The one in the picture was in the domestic part. Yes, it was a bit surprising to see an Indigo aircraft get an aero-bridge, though I have seen Indigo and Go Air at BOM also on aero-bridges. Of course, more as an exception, than a rule.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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