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Flying the Maharaja to the lands of central India

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Joined: 19 Dec 2006
Posts: 315
Location: Mumbai

PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2017 8:14 am    Post subject: Flying the Maharaja to the lands of central India Reply with quote

Airline: Air India
Sector: BOM-RPR
Date of journey: 26 Jan 2017
Flight number: AI-651

So this was a trip to the annual railfans' convention, held at different places each year. In 2017, it was held at Bhilai in Chattisgadh. At the beginning itself it was clear that it would not be possible to travel by train both times. It had to be a flight in one direction. There began the search for flights. Raipur (RPR) is the nearest airport, around 50 km from Bhilai. Jet Airways, Indigo & Air India fly to Raipur from Mumbai non stop. Indigo and Air India have 1 direct flight each, while Jet Airways has 2. After some deliberation, chose to fly the Maharaja - Air India. I was tracking the flight a few weeks before date of journey. It was mostly getting the new VT-EX series A320s while a one off A321 would pop in occasionally. A day before the journey, I saw that I would be getting VT-EXD, as it embarked on its long 2 day rotation involving BOM-CCJ, 2 CCJ - Gulf trips & then back to BOM to fly AI651 to RPR. All photos in the report are clicked with my cell phone, so pardon me for the quality of pics, specially pics of spottings from terminal.

On the day of journey I woke up, did last minute packing of miscellaneous stuff and started for the airport at around 7 am in our car. Dad had come along to drop me. The first stop was at the railway station from where we picked up a friend. The highway was deserted thanks to Republic day holiday, due to which we reached airport in no time. There were multiple layers of security on the access road, probably due to republic day high alert. Soon, we were at the drop off section of the beautiful T2. We entered the terminal through gate 3, which is right in front of Air India check in counters.

We had web checked in, so we did not head towards the queue. We approached a check in agent for getting baggage tags. She greeted us with a good morning, and asked us where we were flying to that morning. She proactively informed gate number of our flight when we told our destination. The experience had begun on a pleasant note! Without spending too much time near checkin area, we proceeded down to domestic departures level for security. The queues were quite short, and by 8.02 am we had already cleared security. Right after security, there were a couple of Jaguar cars on display.

Jaguar & FIDS by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

We had more than 2 hours to go for our departure. Some pet pooja was now on our minds. We thus proceeded towards food court. All the available options were scanned, and most were rejected due to their astronomical costs! We zeroed down to Theobroma, a cake & bakery outlet. In the midst of outlets selling 2 pieces of idli for Rs 200 & a cup of filter coffee for Rs 100, Theobroma selling a veg sandwich for Rs 125 appeared extremely VFM. An astonishing variety of bakery products were available here which made our task of choosing just one or two of them very difficult! I purchased a corn-spinach-cheese sandwich & a red velvet pastry for me, while my friend went for chicken sandwich & a chocolate pastry. All of these set us back by only Rs 430. The sandwiches contained 2 triangles each. The fillings were generous in quantity, and the bread soft & fresh (except the slightly hard edges). The pastries were delicious too. It was a really filling breakfast well worth the money spent.

We had taken seats with a tarmac view for breakfast. During & after breakfast we did some plane spotting. The stream of domestic narrowbodies was continuous as usual. Nearby, a 9W A330 was docked at an aerobridge, with a Jet Konnect 737 & Indigo 320 for company. The 9W 330s (saw 2-3 of them) and Lufthansa, Fedex & Ethiopian cargo flights were there to break the monotony of narrowbodies. I also had my first sighting of A320NEO during this spotting session. Meanwhile the third person accompanying us to the event on the same flight joined us. El Al 767 landed and docked at an aerobridge at 8.48. I was tracking our flight also. At 8.50 it was still around Ratnagiri. That definitely meant a slightly delayed departure for the BOM-RPR leg. Some pics from the terminal

DC car by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Air India express by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Lufthansa Cargo by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Garden by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

FIDS by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Our inbound aircraft landed at 9.30 while we were checking out one of the landscaped gardens in the terminal. We wound up our terminal tour to freshen up, and headed towards our assigned gate - 47A. The loads seemed pretty high from the size of crowd near the gate. FIDS now showed our departure delayed to 10.30. We came to know that the Indigo departure to Raipur too was rescheduled by 30 minutes from a friend travelling on that flight. A SkyGourmet catering truck was being aligned with a door to load food. On the neighbouring gate 47B, boarding was in progress for a Jet Airways flight to Delhi. It was badly delayed - the scheduled time was 9 am, but it departed well after our flight.

AI-651 by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Buses by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr
Looks like AI has got rid of the Ceritas leased from BEST. Good riddance

Jet Airways A330 by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Boarding was called for our flight at around 10 am. Unlike the usual scenes in India, in which people form a queue very much in advance, this time the passengers were patiently sitting & formed a queue only after boarding announcement was made. We joined the queue - in about 5 minutes our boarding passes were scanned & we entered the jet bridge. The boarding was going on rather slowly due to which we had to wait in the jetbridge for a couple of bridge. Used this opportunity to silently click a couple of pics.

Nose by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

AI-651 by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

We were greeted by one of the FAs at the door. Just as we entered, another FA went to the cockpit with snacks for our pilots. We proceeded to our seats. I had chosen 23A, while the others were on 24A and 25F. First impressions of the cabin were good. For most part, it was spotlessly clean. Being a newer aircraft it has slim seats. Legroom was acceptable, nothing great. Seat pocket for my seat had a newspaper, safety instructions card & Air India's Shubh Yatra in flight magazine. I was pleased to see that the magazine was not missing. I skimmed through some sections of the magazine while boarding was still in progress.

Legroom by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

VT-EXD cabin by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Boarding was complete some time around 10.30. Capt Abhishek Prasad was in charge of our flight alongwith FO Pankaj. The captain welcomed us on board and wished a happy republic day. Later, the FA added her welcome note followed by announcements of AI being a proud Star Alliance member. Manual safety demo started shortly thereafter. We pushed back at 10.40, while the demo was still going on. After engine startup we commenced taxi towards the main runway. On the way, spotted VT-GHC, one of Air India Express' newest frames.

Waiting for takeoff by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

We were 6th in the takeoff queue. Ahead of us were an Emirates 77W, JetKonnect 737, another Air India flight and 2 Indigos. There were at least 3 more aircrafts behind us in the queue. We had to wait for around 5-10 minutes for our chance to takeoff. We were cleared for takeoff & begun the takeoff roll at 11.00. I took the customary pic of railway tracks & WEH Very Happy

WEH & Western Railway! by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

We flew a northbound heading for some time before we turned towards east. I could identify Vasai & Virar region below. Crossing the Sahyadris, we entered the deccan plateau region. Sahyadri mountains looked beautiful even though they are dry at this time of the year.

Crossing Sahyadri mountains by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Sharklet + clouds by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

After the seatbelt sign was turned off, the crew announced commencement of snacks service. Once again I turned to the Shubh Yatra magazine till the meal trolley reached my row. Its content was very good. A wide range of topics were covered and I enjoyed reading it.

Fleet info by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

By the time the FA serving meals reached my row, the trolley had run out of vegetarian meals. The trolley was refilled from galley and I got my tray. This is what it looked like:

Meal Tray by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Meal tray by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

It contained a dessert bowl, a veg sandwich, bottle of water, a cup for tea/coffee & the veg meal which consisted of a cutlet, chhole & samosa. Dessert was sabudana kheer. Plastic pouch contained metal cutlery, stirrer, tissue paper, refreshing wet towel, sugar, creamer & imli candy. A sachet of ketchup too was provided in the tray. There was no cost cutting visible in this meal.

Vegetarian Snack by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Dessert by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

AI logo on cutlery by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

The combination of chhole, samosa & cutlet was odd - I couldn't figure out what should the chhole be eaten with. Nevertheless, all the three tasted excellent. Sandwich was nothing great, it had 1 slice each of tomato & cucumber. Dessert was wonderful. Just like my previous AI experience, it was not too sweet! After the meal, the crew began a tea/coffee service. Normally I opt for coffee, but this time I decided to try tea. That decision paid off - The tea was excellent! I used the refreshing tissue post the meal. It was really refreshing. Meal trays were cleared after a short while.

My friend opted for non vegetarian meal. Here is a picture he clicked:

Non veg meal by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

We began our descent towards RPR airport at 11.53. There was a blanket of clouds on the way down in which we encountered some turbulence.

Clouds by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

AI-651 by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Descending through clouds by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Below clouds, Spoilers deployed by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Once below the clouds, we could see Durg/Raipur below. We crossed the airport, took a 180 degree turn & approached the runway from east. The steep banks towards left gave us some nice views of the terrain below. We could see many highways in the area, and from the air they seemed to be in a very good condition. We spotted a few railway lines and yards as well.

Steep bank by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Flooded fields by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr (photo by my friend)

We landed at RPR at 12.20 followed by some hard braking. Since there is no full length taxiway, we carried on till the end of runway to turn around. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the NEO from close quarters here, but those hopes faded away in no time. Before we could even turn back, the NEO was on the runway, going to the other end for takeoff.

Defunct aircraft by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Raipur is a small airport with only 2 aerobridges. We docked at one of them. In 5 minutes deplaning started. We preferred to stay seated till the rush thinned out. Announcements were made for passengers continuing to Vishakhapatnam to remain seated and co operate with staff to identify hand baggage. We were among the last few to get off the plane at Raipur. The terminal is small but very well maintained. One of my friends had a checkin bag. It did not take long to arrive on the belt, and we were off towards exit. There are excellent lawns and gardens outside the terminal. Local residents were almost treating it as a picnic spot. One of my co travellers joked that schools in the vicinity must be bringing children to the airport for picnic Very Happy Now you would wonder how did I come to know so much about the lawns... Well, we were on the lawns for at least 90 minutes, waiting for city bus to Durg/Bhilai. To end the report, here is a picture of the terminal, taken from the lawns.

Raipur Airport by Akshay Marathe, on Flickr

Summary: Yet another good AI flight for me. Food was good, the crew served with a smile. Flight was late, but then it is BOM - only half the flights manage to be on time. My ratings would be as follows:
Food: 5/5
Service: 4.5/5
Punctuality: 3.5/5
Cleanliness of cabin: 4.5/5

Hope you enjoyed the report as much as I enjoyed the flight!
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Joined: 28 Oct 2007
Posts: 4685
Location: New Delhi

PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2017 9:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for a lovely trip report, Akshay!
One has to admire your dedication to your hobbies, and your enthusiasm for putting a wonderful trip report in, some time after coming back.
Mumbai always has a way with names: Titu for the peacock (CSIA T2) Smile
Thanks for the Theobroma tip Smile VFM on a forum where VFR is used more Smile
Dilip Chhabria's designs are amazing, as usual.
Boarding queue: Mumbai, after all, where one indeed sees queues. The North...less said, the better
The snack looked nice, though the question about the chickpeas is very valid Smile
Lovely pics from the air, including the sharklet and wing ones. The Swami Vivekananda airport at Mana is indeed beautiful, arty, and is very well-maintained.
Thank you for a lovely trip report...we look forward to more!
Cheers, Sumantra.
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Joined: 19 Dec 2006
Posts: 315
Location: Mumbai

PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2017 12:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you sir! Words of appreciation from accomplished writers like you always serve as encouragement Smile The airport is indeed impressive - very much unlike other AAI airports. As for Theobroma, I've eaten at their outlets in Mumbai city as well & I always had good experiences.
MRVC Mania. My blog dedicated to the new violet-white suburban rakes of Mumbai.
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Joined: 09 May 2007
Posts: 3671
Location: Pune,Maharashtra

PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2017 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Was like reading a nice story - the whole TR !

Great one Akshay. How was the Railway meet? May be you can write in another TR - about that or share the link of the railway forum offline.

I wonder how many planes do remote boarding at CSIA - the number of 9W step ladders and AI busses is a lot

Regarding the defunct plane you mention, it is United Airways of Bangladesh which had an emergency landing due to engine failure in second half of 2015. The airline went bankrupt in 2016.

While the engine which arrived via Road, was replaced. AAI asked for parking charges for all these months which the airline could not pay and hence the plane remained there. I dont know what happens now to that plane.

Raipur has a great terminal but it remains one of those airports where the terminal and apron capacity does not match.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 11:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey Akshay, great to see a trip report from you!

Nice images, and a lot of attention to detail to the terrain around (and under Razz ) your flight!

Great that you got the new A320 - but hey I'm sure the double bogies would've been a delight, too!

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2017 10:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lovely TR! and ncie photos ...

interesting to know you were going to Durg/bhilai! ... I was born there and the last time I went there was 1991.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 17, 2017 3:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@ameya: I haven't planned on writing a convention TR as such, will try to write a short summary here. The two days went away in a flash due to the company of friends who rarely meet due to the hectic pace of life in Mumbai as well as others from all over India! There were a few presentations & documentaries by railfans themselves, a quiz, panel discussion & and a couple of presentations by officials of Raipur division. We went on a MEMU joyride from Bhilai to Raipur. The sheer size and complexity of all the freight yards in the region left us awestruck! We were wondering how the loco pilots manage to learn the ENTIRE layout by heart including all signals, tracks, turnouts etc (which is a requirement before being allowed to drive trains).

Return journey was in two legs - first one in Howrah - Ahmedabad superfast upto Nagpur in Sleeper class. It's run was fantastic. This train has around 8-9 halts between Bhilai & Nagpur. That was a feast for us - we really enjoy start-stop kind of runs with a tight schedule. Driving style of our loco pilot made it more fun - brake late & accelerate very quickly. Just what the doctor ordered Smile At Bhilai Powerhouse (where we boarded the train) he braked so late that we thought this is some other train passing non stop Very Happy

Tearing down the tracks at 110 km/h with freights sidelined at almost every station was an exhilarating experience. Travelling in non AC class gave an excellent feel of the journey. From over 35 minutes late at Bhilai we made it to Nagpur just 8 minutes late, helped in part by buffer time in its schedule. This was the beast in charge of our train:

Second leg was in Nagpur - Mumbai Duranto, another excellent train in all respects - be it schedule, coach maintenance & cleanliness or priority. However we were sleeping for most of the journey. We hit the berths after having dinner & woke up only at Kalyan. Got down at CSTM, took a bus to Churchgate and then local back home. That is the trip in a nutshell.

While we were at the airport we didn't see any bus boarding flights. They might be more in early mornings/night probably, for aircraft parked at remote bays for the night, or cases like domestic arrivals parking at international gate for the next flight.

@jbalonso777: Yes double bogeys definitely would be a delight. In fact when I booked this flight it was being operated by double bogeys & I was pleased to know that. Somewhere in between things changed.

@avbuff: Glad you liked it.. I didn't know you were born there!
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2017 11:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Iím sure people are cursing me by now ... you probably forgot where you went my reply is so delayed, forgive me Rolling Eyes

I read half of this TR months ago and had to reread it which Iím not complaining about at all!! Lovely TR and pictures.
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