Monday, January 12, 2015

From Lohegaon to Sonegaon & back on IndiGo’s A320

2014 ended with very few flights for me, yet I went to some new places, flew new airlines and aircraft. Even before the year was to end, I had booked for a short trip to Nagpur for a wedding, followed by a short family holiday in Tadoba Tiger Reserve. As always the trip had some last minute scare due to work, but I made it!

Trip Planning & Flight History– The first of many favorite parts of a trip
We booked the ticket in October’14.  The sector has traditionally seen flight operations from IndiGo. If my memory is right, the airline started basing its second A320 in Pune sometime in October 2009, with base departures to Chennai – Kolkata with one aircraft and Nagpur – Delhi with another. In 2013-14 when the airfield saw closure due to MAFI (Modernization of Airfield Infrastructure) project of Indian Air Force, the schedules were changed and when the airfield opened for normal operations, IndiGo chose to continue its base departures to Chennai and Kolkata – thus starting a non-stop Kolkata flight, terminating the early morning Nagpur flight.

Currently, Go Air flies an early morning departure to Nagpur, which operates as Bengaluru – Pune – Nagpur – Kolkata in the morning and reverse in the evening along with two departures of IndiGo, first at 11:05 and the later at 18:25.

In the past, Jet Airways has tried this route, when they operated a Pune – Nagpur – Indore and vice versa routing on a B737 (Kolkata – Mumbai – Pune – Nagpur – Indore and return) and prior to that Kingfisher had a popular Nagpur – Pune connection via Indore on ATR-72

It was a breeze as usual on the official IndiGo website. Hassle free, with options of choosing seats, meals and excess baggage – none of which was booked by us.

Few days prior to the flight, I checked what the availability of seats is, most of the paid seats were snapped up, which meant the chances of getting emergency row or first row was rare, so I purchased the seats.

Airport Information
Enough has been covered in my previous trip reports about Pune and hence I will update only the latest. The canopy structure is now complete, so vehicles now come in and stand underneath the canopy. Also complete is a building in the old parking area, which was supposed to house ticketing offices and Air Asia has been allotted space there, the rest of the airlines are protesting to move there. The hangers meant for private jets parked in Pune are in final stages of completion.

Nagpur Airport – famous for the over a decade old MIHAN project now has a Work in progress hanger which will soon be for Air India MRO along with 7 bays and one operational runway – 14-32 which is 10500 feet long. The airport has been renamed as Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in 2005 from its earlier name of Sonegaon.

IndiGo’s two A320s parked at Pune typically operate as Pune – Chennai – Pune – Nagpur – Delhi – Goa – Delhi – Bengaluru (Subject to change once it reaches its hub in Delhi) and Pune – Kolkata – Dibrugarh – Kolkata – Ahmedabad – Pune – Nagpur – Delhi, making it easier to predict the registration a day in advance !

Pune – Nagpur is a distance of 605 kms ( 800 announced by the pilot) which is scheduled to be covered in 1hour and 20 minutes. The flight would typically fly overhead Aurangabad (IXU) before setting course for Nagpur. 

The return rotation typically works as Delhi – Vadodara – Delhi – Kolkata – Dibrugarh – Kolkata – Delhi – Nagpur - Pune

Pune - Nagpur
Check-in & Airport Experience
We reached the airport well in time for our 1825 departure. The cab situation in Pune has improved after Meru cabs entered the scene. Quickly going through the standard CISF – double check at Pune, we made our way to a quick baggage screening and to the counters of IndiGo. An IndiGo aircraft was pushing back for Delhi – their 5th daily and another (VT-IDD ex-Tiger Air) was at the bay waiting to go to Bengaluru as 6E-105.

Check in was quick and pleasant, followed by a very quick security as we went and waited at the first floor departure gate. No new options have been added in terms of shopping or eating at this level.

Unfortunately there was no air force activity in this clear winter weather as we waited for our flight to arrive from Ahmedabad.

Boarding & In-flight
The incoming aircraft landed before time at 1750 hours from Ahmedabad (AMD) and docked at bay 4. About 100 passengers seemed to have got down at Pune. I hurried to stand first in queue so that I could find a place for cabin luggage as well as see the loads on AMD-NAG sector.

Hello 6E had this interesting information
Boarding commenced at 1805 and was done in the next 5-7 mins, helped by light load of 78 pax boarding at Pune with around 25 already inside the aircraft transiting. That is indeed a very light load of just over 50%!

As we made ourselves comfortable, IFE Poonam briefed us on the safety procedures since we were seated on the emergency exit row and the reason why I’m mentioning the name here is because these were the most crisp and clear instructions I have ever had in over 50 flights which I Have sat on the emergency exit row. Indeed the airline should ensure that the IFE trains their other crew for this.

Doors closed at 1812 and we pushed back at 1815 for a long taxi to runway 28. The instructions by the crew were very clear except for one part where the crew mentioned that Capt. Peter was from Czechoslovakia. Well, he can either be from Czech Republic or Slovakia! It would be a 1:15hr journey to Nagpur. Vacant premium seats were available on sale inflight.

As we taxied out, my wife wondered if IndiGo has taken my last Trip Report seriously and stopped announcing समयपर रहना अनिवर्य है”/“ Samay par rehna aniwarya hai” ( It is mandatory to be on time). I wondered that too since there was no announcement to this effect. 

We waited for an 9W ATR to land (arrival from Indore) and were cleared to taxi on active, where we made a powerful westwards takeoff from runway 28 at 1820, banked right headed to Nagpur.

Service started soon after we stabilized and I saw that the non-veg options have substantially reduced in the menu. We ordered for Corn & Spinach sandwich (Quality improved over last time), Non-Veg noodles (Out of stock) – hence asked for Veg Noodles and two coffee.

Cockpit crew did not announce the flight details like altitude, speed and route in-flight but Capt.Devraj, the First Officer came on PA as we started our descent and announced that our ETA would be 1928, 17 mins before schedule and outside temperature being 21 degree Celsius with clear skies.

We landed before time on runway 32 and went till the end to turn and park at one of the aerobridges. The airport is a huge building with flights concentrated at few times, like many other airports.

Deplaning & Baggage
The baggage was quick to come out and the staff was around to check if we are taking our own baggage or not. We were out in no time being welcomed by infinite horns at the airport and chaos that ruled the exit lanes.

Nagpur – Pune
Check-in & Airport Experience
We reached Nagpur airport, fairly early for the 2145 departure, which I was sure would depart early. As we entered, we saw crowds boarding flights for Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Pune on IndiGo, Air India and Go Air.

Check-in was quick and pleasant experience but the security lines were long and we waited for lines to be cleared before we crossed Security. The Security Hold Area (SHA) is divided into ground floor and first floor sections. I think Nagpur is the only airport, where I have purchased a bottle of water for Maximum Retail Price (MRP)

Boarding & In-flight
The incoming flight arrived at 2105 and about a 100 passengers deplaned before row wise boarding was announced and enforced. We boarded in the second lot and made our way to the emergency exit row. The briefing on emergency procedures seemed dull and not up to the mark, obviously compared to the inbound flight.

Hello 6E was missing from my seat
Boarding was complete for this flight which had about 12 empty seats and push back commenced at 2134 as we taxied to runway 32 and were airborne at 2041. Capt. Puneet Kaushik was in command with First Officer Capt. Dhillon for this 800 km journey which was announced to take an hour and 10 minutes. We banked left and set course for Pune cruising at FL340 (34000 feet).

Between boarding and push back – came the twist, the familiar and amusing announcement in auto mode - समयपर रहना अनिवर्य है”/“  followed by समयपर रहना महत्वपुर्णा है”/Samay par rehna mahatwapurna hai” ( It is important to be on-time)
Now I am confused on why this was not played in the inbound flight ! Standardization anybody ?
Inflight service was quick owning to this time of the day not being the perfect time for Buy on Board. We asked for two cups of coffee which were promptly delivered.

The pilot came on PA and announced the commencement of descent (somewhere over Aurangabad) at 2215 and expected time of arrival being 2240. A steep descent later,  we flew in really smooth with flaps extended, reduced thrust as we made a feather touch landing on runway two-eight at Pune at 2234 and exited the runway after light braking to reach the bay at 2235. This indeed was one of the best landings I have had for a long time!

Deplaning & Baggage
The step ladder at the rear took a lot of time to come thus the majority of the crowd rushed towards the forward exit as we deplaned and made our way to Baggage belt 4 to collect our luggage. As we walked towards the arrivals gate, VT-GOQ of Go Air taxied in followed by a Jet Airways aircraft.

Overall Rating
Booking – 5/5
Web Check in / Website – 5/5
Airport Experience – 5/5
On-Time – 5/5
In-Flight service 4/5 (Inconsistent)
Meals – 3/5 (Still needs improvement)

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