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Madurai'12:Silver Lining on Darkened Dream)liner Dream

 
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sumantra
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Joined: 28 Oct 2007
Posts: 4477
Location: New Delhi

PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:09 pm    Post subject: Madurai'12:Silver Lining on Darkened Dream)liner Dream Reply with quote

Madurai'12:Silver Lining on Darkened Dream)liner Dream


46.1 The Build-up to Another Madurai Trip

I am no stranger to Tamil Nadu's second largest city.
This would be my fourth trip to the Temple City on the banks of
the Vaigai. I have two reports on this forum, on my two trips to
the beautiful place, in 2011. In one of them, I have also talked
about my first trip to the place, in the early 2000s.

The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011
http://airlinersindia.s4.bizhat.com/airlinersindia-ftopic12136.html
The Call of the Vaigai! Madurai, Oct 2011
http://www.airlinersindia.s4.bizhat.com/airlinersindia-ftopic12465.html

This trip report can be found at the following URL:
http://www.airlinersindia.s4.bizhat.com/airlinersindia-ftopic13217.html

What would set this trip apart?
A chance to fly the Air India Dream)liner, of course.
Ever since the Boeing 787-800s had been inducted into the Air
India fleet, like many others on this forum, I have been looking
around for opportunities to fly on this revolutionary plane. Air
India would continue domestic operations on the B787 till December
2012, and time was running out for me! Air India's first
Dream)liner was NH, the `New Hope' plane, VT-ANH. This opened up
the Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Bengaluru legs. The `New Hope' plane
was followed by AND, the `Connector' plane, VT-AND. This was
followed by the third, `Princess ANI', VT-ANI. The Delhi-Kolkata
route was followed by Delhi-Dubai, and AI 102/121, the
Delhi-Frankfurt route, on the B788s. The Delhi-Bengaluru segment
had two B788 flights in a day. So, this would give me a nice
opportunity to try the Dream)liner out.

The opportunity came all of a sudden. I had an official trip to
Madurai lined up in the next few days. My hosts had asked me
about the choice of the carrier (they are a private institution),
SpiceJet, Jet, or Air India? All three served the Delhi-Madurai
segment, albeit via Chennai. The reader familiar with my line of
thinking would realise that even otherwise, I would not bat an
eyelid and go in for Air India. The best food in the Indian skies
and one of the best over other skies too, a nice frequent
flyer programme, nice modern planes, and good service.
This time, it was a chance to fly the Dream)liner, too.
SpiceJet would come a close second, since they had a same-plane
service to Madurai, and going by my brother's recent experience
(21 October 2012, SG 502 BLR-DEL), the buy-on-board food was a
revelation, stupendous both in terms of quality, as well as
quantity. This would also give me a chance to try out a new
SpiceJet plane with the new Boeing Sky Interiors, if such a plane
was operated on this segment on 28 November, 2012. In laypersons
terms, the Sky Interiors were basically the B788 interiors inside
the B737. Both SpiceJet and its bland cousin had acquired these
new planes. The third option was Jet Airways, followed by a
connection on a Konnect flight to Madurai. The chance of my
getting a new interior'ed B738 was statistically not too high,
since there were very few of them in the two fleets, at the time
of writing. What were my chances of getting the B788 on the
DEL-MAA leg?

46.2 Planning for a Dream)liner Trip, Hurdles Galore

I excitedly sent out a string of SMSes to a prominent Delhi
plane spotter friend. The day before the trip (27 November,
2012, Tuesday), we exchanged texts on this subject.
Air India had had a string of niggles with the Dream)liner, as had
Japanese carrier ANA before. The papers had said that a Boeing
engineering team was to come over, and examine the problems.
This had led to other wide-bodies such as the B77L and even the
B77W, operating some flights which were heavily patronised, in
place of the Dream)liner.

My friend told me that `Princess ANI' was indisposed.
The evening Bengaluru flight AI 403 had an A321 operating it,
as I found out from the AI schedules. AND, the `Connector'
plane, was doing the DEL-FRA runs he said, and this `prestige
route' would see a B788 at all costs. The `New Hope' plane VT-ANH
had done the DEL-CCU-DEL route, and would come back from Dubai.
The Frankfurter (oh, damn my obsession with food!) would come
back at 09:45 am, or sometime before that.
So, unless the Princess was back in the pink of health, the loads
would dictate which of the morning flights would get the
Dream)liner, AI 439 to Chennai, or AI 803 to Bengaluru.

My itinerary was as follows:

Set out 28 Nov (Wed) for Chennai from New Delhi
AI 439: Air India (B788) [Seat: 12J; PNR: Y04CJ]
IGIA T3, New Delhi - Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai
New Delhi (DEL) - Chennai (MAA)
[06:55 am - 09:45 am]

There was some trouble with the ticket booking. My hosts had sent
me my ticket, and tried to have the travel agent put in my Flying
Returns number. The travel agent had got my name and last name
wrong, something I discovered to my horror by simply putting in
`Sumantra' where the last name was to go in. Yes, this is on the
new Air India website, where one can get any booking in to one's
own account, whether booked as a guest on the site, or by a travel
agent. Naturally, it did not allow me to insert my Flying Returns
number into the booking. I was exasperated. Worse still, I was
unable to reserve a nice seat on the Dream)liner.



The above diagram was displayed on the website. On this forum, I
was advised that rows 11 and 12 came before the massive wing, and
the next best bet, was row 30 and behind. I wanted a window seat
with a good view outside. My excitement at seeing a two-seat row
at the end was doused by the fact that there was some space
between the window and the seat, due to the curvature of the
aircraft. This would make photography even more difficult. In any
case, I wanted to experience the silence of the massive GENx
engines with the chevrons. Moreover, I wanted to take more
pictures of the inside and outside of the plane, rather that
of sights, from the aircraft. I opted for 20J.

In itself, this was a bit surprising.
On the Air India B77Ls and B77Ws, the seating is 3-3-3 in Economy.
Rows are ABC-DEF-GHK.
On the Air India B788, the seating is 3-3-3 in Economy.
Rows are ABC-DEF-GHJ.
On the Air India A332s, the seating is 2-4-2 in Economy.
Rows are AB-DEFG-JK.
Is there any history behind this numbering scheme?

Back to the seat map.
Why did I not try the other ones?
Simple.
They simply did not work.
Rows were missing.
Second, perhaps they got lazy, and did not write the leading
digit in the tens place.
Fine, that should have allowed me to select a seat in row 12,
such as 12J. I clicked on the seat, it showed that I had selected
seat 2J. Fine with me, I thought, but the system would not allow
me to save this. I was a Plebeian cattle class traveller.
How could I barge into bullish business?
It was frustrating.
I decided to try the call centre.
If that did not work, I would try to have an audience with
someone in the booking section, at the Air India office in
Safdarjung Airport.

What's in a name?
Everything, apparently.
I spent the better part of the late afternoon trying to get
through to the Air India call centre, with a view to request getting
my name right, on the booking. It was frustrating beyond words.
True, I was trying to get in on the eve of a day before an
important festival in Delhi, Guru Nanak Jayanti. But how could
all lines be busy all the time, and only a handful of agents be
busy on the phone at all times? The wait to hear a human voice was
excruciating. On the two times I was indeed able to get through,
I was transferred to the (un)concerned section, which was a
cul-de-sac. No one picked up the phone at that end. The next
time I got through, I tried going through the Flying Returns
part, only to be re-directed to the same cul-de-sac.
I tried my luck the next morning, the day before Guru Nanak
Jayanti, expecting more people to be on leave.
Thankfully, I was able to get through.
I was told that the name was the most sacrosanct part of the
booking, and could not be changed on the booking.
So, how could the agent help me?
He forced the Flying Returns number on to the booking.
Second, he was able to secure a seat for me, in place of the 20J
I had booked for myself, the previous evening.
12J it would be!
Things were looking up now, for my first Dream)liner trip.
Of course, there was the small matter that AI 439 may not be
chosen for the Dream)liner flight the next day, as my friend had
forewarned me. The eternal optimist, I was already feeling the
excitement running through my body.

The Wife and Junior were out of station, and I was camping at my
parents' place. On my father's insistence, I booked a Meru cab,
as he always does. The booking on the Internet was painless, and
very soon, I got an SMS also, confirming the order.
As I was drifting in and out of sleep for a 04:00 am start to the
day, the phone rang. Both my parents being early risers, this was
not too much of an issue, and they pointed out to me, that my
phone was ringing. Could I pick it up? It would perhaps be the
Meru cab driver. It was, indeed.
He arrived at the place some 20 minutes prior to my scheduled
departure time, as thanks to my parents' strict disciplined ways
with me, I made it to the cab within two minutes of the
designated time. We started towards IGIA T3 with a Jack Rabbit
start on the empty Delhi roads, and soon reached V1 and V2
speeds. He had conveniently muted the speed limit audio warning
signals, but drove well. As we exited the T1 tunnel and hit the
road to T3, I told the driver that there were speed governors on
this stretch, and the Delhi Police were enthusiastically sending
Challans (`driving tickets' in US terms) to owners of errant
vehicles. He smiled back at me, and told me that he exactly knew
where they were, and would take care. He did, and I reached a
crowded T3 well in time.

46.3 Check-in Chucks out Dreams...

The morning bank of flights meant long lines.
At the time of writing, Air India had taken up second position in
terms of traffic figures behind market leader Indigo (which could
be partly attributed to Kingfisher Airlines' suspension of their
operating licence, Jet Airways suspending many a flight, and
SpiceJet making very frequent changes in their schedule), in
addition to good load factors and reasonably acceptable on-time
performance. It showed, in the crowds thronging the counters.
The Air India island counters had long lines, which were moving
quickly, though. There were some Air India officials supervising
the scene, and three counters were opened beside the Jet Airways
part in quick succession, and Kochi and Leh passengers at the
back of the existing lines, were urged to go there. There were
calls for preference being given to flights that would depart
soon. All this was done quite efficiently.
When I reached my counter, I told the lady that I had done a web
check-in, and had pre-selected seat 20J.

Sorry Sir, this has been re-assigned to 15D
(oh no, an aisle seat), due to an aircraft change.
Oh, so it would not be the Dream)liner.
My heart sank.
Madam, is this a B77L or a B77W?
Let me check, Sir.
As she got busy at the keyboard, I tried to pre-empt her by
asking her to tell me the total number of rows, and I would
instruct her to assign me 31A or 31K if it were a B77L, or 42A/42K
if it were a B77W.
Bummer.
Further disappointment was in store for me.
It was going to be a narrow-body flight.
Can I get a window seat?
I was fearfully contemplating asking her,
if my flight booking itself was confirmed.
Thankfully, I did not, and thankfully, it was.
I had three choices, she said, and I chose 25A.
It was expected to be a full flight, she said.
She through checked me in for Madurai, clarifying that I could
collect my luggage right at my final destination, Madurai.

Lucky passengers for Bengaluru, I thought.
Oh, at least I would get to see the Dream)liner, I thought. That
was not to be, as when I neared the escalator at the food court
part, the only wide-body visible in the misty darkness was an Air
India B77L at the international gates. The Bengaluru flight would
get an adjacent gate, so I would be able to see the plane. No,
even that was not to be, as the flight showed an hour's delay,
07:35 am in place of 06:35 am. As I trudged towards our assigned
gate 31A, I noticed the Kolkata morning flight on the gate beside
us, 31B. Both waiting areas showed some good patronage, with
loads befitting an A321 for both segments. I envied the
passengers on the other side of the travellators. Gate 32 was a
wide-body capable gate, and saw loads meant for a wide-body. The
only wide-body on view, the B77L had taxied past the terminal,
preparing for take-off.

As the light spread over the city, I noted that we would get an
old friend, the `investment plane', VT-PPF. The plane that would
set out for Calcutta was another old friend PV, the `Boyle's
Law' plane. When the gates closed 5 minutes prior to departure
time, the Economy section had filled up completely. There was not
a single empty seat visible anywhere. As I would deplane at
Chennai, I would also notice 12 previously occupied business
class seats, out of a total of 20. Another old friend,
PO, the `letters' plane: VT-PPO, taxied past us. The Air India Regional
planes parked close-by were BO, the `smelly plane': VT-ABO, an
ATR-42 in the old Alliance Air colours; and two `masked bandits',
the CRJ-700s. The two were JE, the `Junior Engineer' plane: VT-RJE,
and the `Quick Turnaround/Just Back' plane, VT-RJB.
Captain Sandeep Rana was in command.
He made a very powerful take-off from the new runway 29 into the
11 degrees Celcius misty Delhi skies, and banked left.
For a change, most of the cabin crew on this flight were quite
senior ladies. In most of my trips of late, the usual combination
is that of very senior people, and fairly new ones, with not too
much representation from the set of middle-aged crew. Khushwant
Singh's old joke about the cabin crew in Air India and Indian
Airlines being of his age, came to mind,
but that was made more than a decade back.

46.4 Palpable Excitement, and Excruciating Exasperation.

The seat belt signs stayed on for quite a while, as did my sleep,
and while I missed the ding of the seat belt sign going off, I
did not miss the nice smells that permeated the cabin. Sometime
during my eye-shut, I had faintly heard an announcement about
breakfast, and my re-assured mind had relaxed further. I noticed
something in common between the young lady on seat 25B beside me,
and the young gentleman on seat 25C, beside her. Both put down
their tray tables, and dozed off peacefully.

Something as exciting and enticing as the arrival of the
breakfast trays did nothing much to change their preferred
activity. There was something common again in my neighbours.
The gentleman reluctantly took a vegetarian tray, as did the lady.
As usual, I went the non-vegetarian way.
Would I regret the decision?
My neighbours opened their main boxes, which had me salivating.
There was a flat cylindrical Aluminium container which
vegetarians got, but it was absolutely exasperating to wait for
my two neighbours to open their respective containers.
The main course for them had an aromatic upama (`uppu-madu') in
the centre, flanked by a dry cottage cheese/paneer-based
preparation with onions and tomatoes to the left, and an
irresistible potato-bean curry to the right.
It was frustrating to simply watch the duo pick at the main
course, much like a sparrow on a grain heap does.
Even after some 15 minutes had passed, neither had volunteered to
even open their flat cylindrical Aluminium containers.
My curiosity was simply killing me.
To my horror, the gentleman in the aisle seat returned his tray.
W-H-A-T?
He had returned a barely sampled Air India food tray.
What is the world coming to?
He put his head down on the seat tray, and fell asleep again.
I had only one remaining chance.
To my absolute astonishment, there was a pop sound, and a can of
Thums Up made its own small contribution to the increasing global
warming, releasing some carbon dioxide into the atmosphere inside
the cylindrical metal tube. The plane, that is.
By now, I could not stand it any longer.
I attacked a very fresh bun, and finished it off with the butter
chiplet, and the strawberry preserve.
All of this in no time at all.
The fruit bowl was a refreshing sight. There were four slices of
a very sweet red watermelon, beside two slices of a ripe orange
papaya, the `Disco' variety which one commonly got in Bengaluru,
later Mumbai, and now, every now and then, in Delhi, too.
My feeling of contentment at the lovely start to the day was
balanced by an equal and opposite inquisitiveness at trying to
figure out the contents of the flat cylindrical container.
My neighbour was my only chance.
I eagerly opened my main course box.
It had some very lightly fried (and mildly salted) potato cubes,
beside a very soft and fluffy cheese omelette. The catering
company had done it precisely to Air India's standards, so that
there wasn't even barely a visible trace of oil, and yet the
inside was soft, yet not runny (which I do not like), but enough
for the Mozzarella cheese to melt, and spread its goodness
around. And yes, there was a hint of coriander as well, as a few
finely chopped green shreds gave it a very delicate flavour. This
too was lightly salted, and I doused it in ground pepper, and
devoured it. The cabin crew had done the warming (not the global
kind, mind you) to perfection, to ensure that the box would get
warmed, the omelette cooked mildly, and yet not stick to the
bottom, forget getting even a little browned. The other side had
two chicken sausages, which also had been lightly tossed in oil,
and very lightly browned. I simply love the Air India dishes done
with only a hint of oil!
My neighbour had still not opened her cylindrical box.
What a waste, what a waste.
Her main box saw some slight patronism, as did some fruit
slices, and a part of the bun, and its accompaniments.
The cylindrical box lay unopened.
My tension was palpable.
The beverage run had started, with the tea coming first.
I was in half a mind to try the tea, but decided to wait.
Even the coffee came in, it was a very light and tasteless
instant coffee, as I could visually make out, from the colour (or
rather, the lack of it), and the aroma (the complete lack of it,
that is). The brown-coloured coloured milk went down my
oesophagus in no time, but I was still waiting.
That mysterious flat cylindrical Aluminium container.
I had half a mind to simply grab the container, and do an encore,
to what I had done for the coffee, but somehow controlled myself.
Much to my disappointment, the trays were cleared quickly,
without any part of the mystery clearing out for me, in any way.
She put her head down on the seat tray, and fell asleep again.
I got back to my laptop, keying in this extremely shocking and
inexplicable part of this trip report.

After a long time, we approached the airport's main runway,
land-side. Captain Rana put the plane down like a feather.
I looked out of the window, as we taxied to the apron.
I noted with some interest, two discarded food trolleys right beside
the international cargo section, which said Korean Air, and had
the Pepsi-like logo on them. As expected, we docked at a remote
stand near the domestic departures, and got to exit from the right
forward door of the plane, something which is rare at other
places, but very common at Chennai. I noticed Captain Rana
standing in front of the plane, requested a security personnel
there, and went up to him, and expressed my admiration for a
feather-touch landing. He smiled shyly, and expressed his thanks.
A friend texted that it was a great day for Captain Rana, as he
had been promoted to a Flight Instructor!
It was some twenty four degrees Celcius, outside.

46.5 The Secondary Runway, and Near-Empty Flights!

The Kamraj Domestic terminal does not have any direct internal
connection between the Arrivals and the Departures section, for
connecting passengers like me. However, the gates are not very
far from each other. I resisted the temptation of the two outlets
of Sri Krishna Sweets, one in the Arrivals terminal, and the
other land-side, and quickly went to the Air India counter,
picked up a baggage tag, and went upstairs, to check the upstairs
security line. There was hardly any line upstairs, much to my
surprise. Further, the security unit has further shifted air-side
(depriving a devoted power-port hunter like me, of a possible
location). I settled down near Gate No. 8. This is close to the
nice connecting corridor between the Domestic departures first
floor, and the international one, which The Wife and I have
experienced once, in 2008. Yes, we had taken IC 589 MAA-TRZ-TRV
(which goes onward to Sharjah) on 05 Mar (Wed), from the Anna
International Terminal. This was the only time when I
experienced the secondary cross runway at Chennai, making a very
powerful seaward take-off. There were a shocking 8, yes, EIGHT
passengers on the TRZ-TRV leg, The view from the runway at
Tiruchirapalli was also memorable, since The Wife and I spotted
something we had only read about in history books, The great Rock
of Trichinopoly! This is the one associated with Tipu Sultan, and
his wars against the British.

I have never been on such an empty plane before, save a Cathay
Pacific Boeing 747-400 from Vancouver to Hong Kong in the aftermath
of the Cathay Pacific strike in June 2001, when we had our choice
of lie-flat seats in Economy, in groups of three or four,
depending on one's preference. I chose the former, as I didn't
want to give up on my window seat! This was actually a big relief
from the tight leg-room on board. That was an experience, as for
our onward journey, a colleague and I had heard about the
impending Cathay strike four days prior to our departure from
Mumbai. The B777 came in on time, but got delayed at Bangkok, and
landed late at Hong Kong, where both of us ran the length of the
terminal to get to our connecting B747 (this is where the current
US gates are, at Terminal 1). Just before the flight took off at
4:30pm, we got the news that Cathay pilots would finally go on
strike at 8pm (thankfully, not when we were in the air), and they
did, we discovered when we reached Vancouver. We were lucky to
get Rs.81k return tickets at a grand deal (Rs.53k). While the
food was not too bad, it was nothing to rave about. The senior
colleague had commented in the chaste vernacular, that there was
no `seriousness' in the food. The reader familiar with my
gluttony will know what the above statement indicates.
By the time our return had cropped up, the strike had just ended.
Hence the lie-flat seats in Economy.

The wind-socks blowing around indicated that the ideal direction
of the winds would be apt for operation of the secondary runway.
I was excited at the rare prospect, but noticed that the cross
runway was not being used at all.
Perhaps, much like the two Kingfisher A320s parked near it, or
the more numerous ATR-72s around. Or the three NEPC Fokker
F-28s/F-50s resting (rusting?) beside it.
I powered up my laptop almost immediately, connected to the free
20 minute WiFi from Tata Teleservices (IGIA T3 Delhi has a
corresponding one from Aircel), and checked my Flying Returns
account. Yes, it had been updated. I got my Silver Edge bonus
points as well. This was my first Silver Edge year, and I was
enjoying it. The Internet speed was a bit slow, and connections
were flaky. My next target was this forum, but I got disconnected
quite soon.

46.6 Interesting Movements, Mimicking Real-Life Events!

Among other interesting movements I noticed, DD, the `National
Channel' plane VT-EDD went past us, after an Emirates A332 had
gone for take-off. Soon after, a Sri Lankan A332 took off
sea-wards, from the main runway.
JetKonnect VT-JCV deliberated (on its identity?) in front of the
domestic departures for a while, before changing its mind, and
deciding to go ahead to the runway, after all.
A beautiful AIX B738 made a smooth landing on the main runway.
This was VT-AXW, the one with the Sanchi Stupa on the port side
of the tail. A Tiger Airways A320 took off. as another JetKonnect
ATR-72 was pushed back for departure, with the starboard engine
spinning slowly. Stealthily creeping up behind it, as if
mimicking the real life displacement from the second position in
terms of passengers carried, were two old Air India A320s,
looking resplendent in the new colours, SH, the `Shell' plane:
VT-ESH, and PI, the `Irrational' plane: VT-EPI, in quick
succession. Interestingly, the former pre-empted JCV and took off!
The Chennai apron looks quite busy at this time, and I was
enjoying the goings-on, albeit from behind two layers of coloured
glass. I look forward to the new terminal being inaugurated soon.
Two Jet Airways B738s came in, led by VT-JGE.
The `Investment' plane PPF pushed back, going back to Delhi as AI
430. A large crowd of passengers braved the two coloured glass
layers, and clicked away in gay abandon, with flashes firing all
around. I can only shudder to think of the effect of a close
flash on reflective glass. More so, since I have an Analog SLR.

As the `Investment' plane deliberated on its next profitable
move, a SpiceJet Q400 VT-SUC came up behind it, and prodded it to
take a quick decision. AI's stocks were on the rise, after all,
and a bearish or bullish decision, however important, would have
to be take quickly. VT-JNZ followed, and took the remote stand
vacated by VT-PPF. A SpiceJet B738 landed, and SUC made a graceful
take-off. The SpiceJet B738 took a remote stand, as a Jet Airways
B738 landed. The investment took off, after a long run. The loads
looked quite good, since I was seated right beside the departure
gate. The SpiceJet B738, VT-SPF went past. This is the
`Sunscreen' plane. The registration is interesting, since in
cosmetic terms, `SPF' stands for `Sun Protection Factor', and the
Sun Group holds a majority stake in SpiceJet! Another company B738
came in to land, after which the `Sunscreen' plane took off.
After a hiatus, PN, the `Diode' plane VT-PPN, went past us. I was
drifting in and out of concentration, as I alternated between
looking at the goings-on, and typing part of this report. A
SpiceJet Q400 landed, and the `Diode' plane took off. I was
getting restive very quickly, as the departure time approached.
My attention was diverted off the action on the ramp to the
announcements, some of which were barely audible. Soon, I saw a
beautiful MD-11 of Lufthansa Cargo make a smoky touchdown,
followed by an A319 in the Flying Swan livery. It was an old friend
once again. CH, the `Swiss Miss' ETOPS plane: VT-SCH. This was my ride
for my previous Madurai trip as well, in October 2011!

46.7 The Largest, to the Second-Largest

Set out 28 Nov (Wed) for Madurai from Chennai
AI 671: Air India (A319) [Seat: 03A; PNR: Y04CJ]
Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai - Madurai Airport, Madurai
Chennai (MAA) - Madurai (IXM)
[12:20 pm - 01:20 pm]

We boarded quickly, in what looked like another nearly full flight.
I counted four empty seats, as far as I could see. I was seated
on 03A, a bulkhead seat, with an awesome amount of leg-room.
Captain Nikita Reynolds was in command.
As I texted this to my Delhi plane spotter friend Mr. All-Stare
MacLean, he replied back naughtily, asking me if I had made a
pen-friend that day.
This was a familiar flight, from the Indian Airlines days.
We skirted two other cities in Tamil Nadu with airports, on this
route, Pondicherry/Puducherri and Tiruchirapalli. There is nearly
a straight line joining the above two cities, with Madurai. The
plane took this straight-line route after going along the
beautiful coastline for a while, and coming inland.

The announcement of a snack was welcome, but it turned out to be
peanuts, both literally, as well as figuratively. Zip-lock
packets were handed out, along with a bottle of water. The crew
were a mix of the very senior (Mr. Rajamani, the smiling chief
purser), and people who looked relatively fresh. There was a
packet of salted groundnuts, along with a mango drink, which was
welcome, all the same. The reader may remember my pointing out a
memory from that memorable 2002 Madurai trip on IC 671, when my
colleague had asked the stewardess what was on offer, in the
vegetarian and non-vegetarian selections, respectively. She
described the fare on offer, and seeing the look on our faces,
said that we could try both. Needless to say, we did justice to
both the boxes, in an ample manner, proportional to our ample
middles. The Chennai-Madurai leg had some nice
Vada(i)-Idli-Sambhar, all on a meagre 45 minute flight. This was
a decade back, and a lot of water has flown down...even a
seasonal river like the Vaigai in Madurai, and a lot more
pollutants, down the Mithi in Mumbai, and the Adyar, in Chennai.

Captain Reynolds made a soft touchdown in Madurai, and we were
out in the 31 degrees Celcius warm sun, waiting for a bus. The
baggage took some time to come. I was received by a friend
outside, and whisked off to the official accommodation.

46.8 Food for Thought!

While the official lunch was nice but nothing special, the dinner
was...awesome. Yes, it was back to Amma Mess again, the place I
described in my July 2011 trip to Madurai. This is a home of
Chettinad(u) cuisine, and primarily caters to non-vegetarian
items. Chettinadu cuisine comes in two flavours, some Chettiars
are strict vegetarians, while some are strict non-vegetarians.
Amma Mess caters to the latter class of people!
Even with a reduced amount of hunger, we took items such as the a
Pomfret fry (which sounds something like `vowel-meen' in the
local parlance), Chettinadu Chicken curry, Crab (Nandu), Prawn
Dosa(i), done with the unique combination of spices that have
kept it a family secret. The place is quite expensive, as they do
not compromise on the original recipe, or the taste. For instance,
they do not re-use cooking oil for one dish, in another.
After my official work was done, I had about 10 minutes to grab a
very quick bite, before heading off towards the somewhat small
but very impressive Madurai airport.
The previous day's lunch was predominantly North Indian fare,
which disappointed me quite a bit, save an Avial, which has all
seasonal vegetables cooked in coconut milk and grated coconut,
over a low flame. I jumped at the Sambhar, and the Rasam, which
had the characteristic small onions found in this region.
The dessert was some ksheera-pongal, a beautiful pulses-based
sweet embellished with lightly tossed cashew nuts.
We were served on a plantain/banana leaf.
After the meal, I folded the leaf to have the long edge away
from me, with the flaps being closer to my huge middle.
It enabled a flaps-down descent, in aviation terms.
Today, the lunch had a dry curry and pulao/pilaf, along with some
nice Sambhar rice, Sambhar rice, as different from the Kannadiga
delicacy Bisibelebath, which has the rice cooked in with the
Sambhar. The dessert was a nice senthakai payasam, or rather, a
modernised variant made with vermicelli, rather than the
traditional thinner substitute. I had to down all of this in 10
minutes flat, so the quantity was a bit less for my linking.
I had a flight to catch.

46.9 Madurai, to Chennai

I recounted my previous visit, when I darted to the check-in
counter at the stroke of the 45 minute deadline for check-in,
armed with a OLCI/web check-in printout in my hand.
I bid farewell to my gracious hosts, as the car went towards the
Madurai airport. The itinerary for this leg of the trip was as
follows:

Set out 29 Nov (Thu) for Chennai from Madurai
AI 672: Air India (A319) [Seat: 05F; PNR: Y04CJ]
Madurai Airport, Madurai - Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai
Madurai (IXM) - Chennai (MAA)
[02:00 pm - 03:00 pm]

I have seen these gentlemen at the check-in often, perhaps on all
four of my Madurai trips, spread over a decade and more. Both have
a Goatee/French cut beard, and are friendly and soft-spoken. I
smiled at them, and they checked me in without any ado, after I
had had my luggage X-rayed. I went upstairs towards the security
check, as a loud noise indicated that my ride for the day had
arrived from Mumbai, via Chennai, as AI 671.
Would it be a known registration for me?
It was an A319 in the new Flying Swan livery, and had parked some
distance away from the terminal.
Mr. All-Stare MacLean texted me that it would be the CG, the
`balanced plane': VT-SCG. I am really lucky to have friends who
keep me informed about what to expect, before each trip.
I went downstairs, to see quite a crowd waiting for the flight.
This would be another full flight.
The new terminal is at least a year and a half old, but still
looks and feels brand new. The maintenance has been terrific, and
the entire place is spotlessly clean, and polished surfaces
sparkle at the beholder with a sparkle in the eye.

We were bused to the plane.
The buses are relatively old, but well-maintained, a far cry from
the `after-burner buses' at Calcutta, or some old ones at
Chennai.



I failed to catch the Captain's name precisely, it was
either S. N. Jadhav, or S. M. Jaidev. The plane filled up very
quickly, leaving only about 4 seats vacant. Captain Jaidev made a
powerful take-off from runway 09.
The snack was the expected Zip-lock packet with a Mango drink,
and a packet of peanuts/groundnuts. The rubbish (trash, to the
American) was cleared quickly, as very soon, we were descending
land-side, towards Chennai. In this brief period, I had switched
on the video channel, and was pleasantly surprised to find the
movie `Oh My God' quite an entertaining farce. Captain Jaidev
put her down on runway 07 like a feather, and again, I exited
from the front door on the right, into a 31 degrees Celcius but
slightly humid Chennai afternoon. We had reached on the dot.

As we entered the domestic apron, I sighted VT-JNY, a Jet Airways
B738 at a remote stand.



When we had boarded the bus, much to my surprise, I saw a KLM
cargo B744 come in, and turn towards the international apron,
rather than the cargo ramp.



46.10 Architecture Inside the Kamraj Terminal

The title of this section may shock the reader more so, since this
trip report describes a November 2012 trip, much before the new
terminal building was opened in 2013.
I urge the reader, to read on!

The domestic arrivals terminal hasn't changed much over the
years, since this part was commissioned as the Domestic arrivals.
Close to the first belt, there was a very interesting model of a
high-rise building. Not just was the quality of the build
interesting, it had dynamic LED lighting as well, to complete the
experience.



There were lights all around the place, the model cars had lights
too, as had the boundaries of the water areas, and the parking
space.



The lights inside the building went through cycles of low and
bright.



We have a fascination for scale models of various things around
us. The Japanese brought Bonsai to the perfection of an art.
Buildings, cars and for us aviation enthusiasts, aircraft.
There was the usual Chola-style Bronze Nataraja statue, close to
the exit.



This time round again, I resisted the double temptation of the
two Sri Krishna sweets counters on the way from the baggage
carousel, to the arrival terminal (not to mention the Sangeetha's
outlet to the right, as one transits from the domestic arrivals
to the domestic departures). Sangeetha's serves a North
Indian cuisine with a unique South Indian touch (unintentionally,
say a few). I picked up a baggage tag, and saw that the ground
floor security check lines were quite short. Yes, this was not a
very busy period for the airport. The crowd would pick up around
late afternoon, coinciding with a large bank of departures from
the city.

Set out 29 Nov (Thu) for New Delhi from Chennai
AI 539: Air India (A321) [Seat: 13A; PNR: Y04CJ]
Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai - IGIA T3, New Delhi
Chennai (MAA) - New Delhi (DEL)
[06:00 pm - 08:50 pm]

Meanwhile, I was drifting between paying attention to my laptop,
and the goings-on on the apron, outside. VT-JCS went past, so did
CG: the `balanced' plane, VT-SCG. A Jet Airways ATR-72 took off.
A SpiceJet Q400 VT-SUH went past from the left to the right, and
took off after the `balanced' plane. An AI A321 was the next to
take off. An Indigo A320 VT-INU pushed back, going the GMR way
(read, to HYD, and DEL); and a Jet Airways
ATR-72 VT-JCV landed, and parked at remote bay 50. PI: The
old `irrational' plane VT-EPI pushed back, VT-INU took off, and
another Indigo A320 landed. VT-EPI is an elderly A320 in the new
Flying Swan livery, The Life of PI is ostensibly quite long!

46.11 The Prodigal Son Returns Home

The crowd on the first floor told me that this was going to be a
very full flight, again. We boarded from Gate 8.
I had settled down on seat 13F, by mistake.
`Settled down' meant taken out my camera, the laptop and two files,
put up my bag and jacket in the overhead bin, and already taken pictures
of the international apron. There was a Maldivian A320 there,
an exotic visitor. There was also an Air Asia A320 parked beside
it. The rightful occupant of seat 13F came in, appraised me of my
mistake. I was taken aback, but then sheepishly backed out of
this seat, with all the paraphernalia in hand, to my assigned
seat. I was lucky. It had got dark by then, and I had already got
the exotic bird captured in my camera.



I had a nice view of the international apron.
Captain N. Arora was in command, and Ms. Arora was the cabin
superintendent. Nothing escapes the watchful gaze of
Mr. All-Stare MacLean, a prominent Delhi plane spotter. He had
texted me earlier that my ride back home would be a familiar
friend, PPD, the `pulses cake' plane VT-PPD.

Even before we had reached cruising altitude, very appetising
smells had started permeating the cabin. It is nice to see the
cabin crew go pro-active on the food part, something which I
immensely appreciate. Contented passengers will also mean some
rest for the crew on the remainder of the flight, to look at it
both ways. The plane showed signs of bad maintenance from the
inside. While the plastic surfaces were clean, the fabric looked
a bit tired, and slightly dirty. It was due for a wash/dry clean.
Usually, so am I, but this time `round, I had taken a bath in the
morning. Taking a bath is something I always consider an entirely
avoidable encumbrance. Some of my baths are termed as `dry clean'
operations, owing to the relative lack of water in the entire
fast-forwarded process, but that is a different story.
I'll go back to the plane, now.
Row 13 had the window and aisle seats with stuck recline buttons.
I pushed mine in again, the button retracted a bit, but I would
be lying if I said that the seat did not take my instructions
lying down. The person in the aisle complained about it to the
senior lady going around, who pacified him by saying that she would
report this to the Engineering staff.

The salt-and-pepper noise in the PTVs gave way to the
announcement screens and the audio working correctly, but on
reaching cruising altitude, the system went the seat way.
No audio and video for seats 13 A, B and C.
My neighbour was getting restive.

46.12 Dinner...and what a Treat!

By now, the appetising smells just got closer, and a cheerful
younger lady was handing out hot trays to passengers around.
The smell was unmistakably the Chettinadu spice combination.
This lady, and the senior one, were converging towards my row.

The website had mentioned a `snack' against the booking,
so I was very pleasantly surprised when the announcement was that
of dinner. Could one have asked for more?
I overheard a segment of conversation, which I tried to convince
myself, I had heard incorrectly. Not exactly a segment, but a word.
`...finished...'
The senior lady came to our row, and handed me over a tray.
I requested her for my usual choice.
She was extremely apologetic that they had run out of the
non-vegetarian boxes. No triskaidekaphobia for me, but was it
something to do with the number 13?

After my salivation at the South Indian spread in yesterday's
breakfast flight, I was hopeful at trying this out.
However, I kept myself guessing.
My neighbour did not patronise the meal at all.
Why do I always seem to get neighbours without a semblance of an
appetite? His dimensions did not exactly indicate the same.
I started with the bun and butter chiplet. The butter chiplet was
cold and hard, much the way I like it to be.
The bun, while not of the same calibre as the previous day's
breakfast bun loaded from Delhi, was quite acceptable.
Next, I started with the Indian salad bowl, which had an enticing
lemon slice. I closed my eyes as I pressed the above-mentioned
item, for some micro-droplets from the rind to fill the area
around my nose, and the larger juice drops, into the box.
I could sense my digestive juices flowing, or more realistically,
possibly gushing out. On a bed of longitudinal
cucumber slices, were two similarly-dimensioned pieces of
capsicum/bell pepper, and an equal number of slices of the orange
carrot, the `Nilgiri' variety/`Vilayanti gajar' of the North.
I added a hint of salt, and sprinkled the entire pepper sachet on
to the box, waited for a while, and then immersed myself into the
experience. My mind had relaxed, and I was feeling pleased.

When I opened the main box, I was taken aback, since I had
conditioned my becalmed mind to expect a South Indian meal.
This was a North Indian spread, with a slight Southie touch.
I decreased the distance between the tray and my olfactory
sensor, trying to censor out other distracting thoughts.
Hyderabadi Biriyani!
The long-grained aromatic Basmati rice had been done to sheer
perfection, and cooked in a slightly milder amount of spices than
something more original (which is why I may have missed the aroma
altogether), but this was awesome. I was glad that I had saved a
few drops of the lemon for this. This was a meal in itself, and
it was a treat for the senses. I woke up to the fact that there
were two other items in the main box, which could also go well
with the Biriyani. The dry fruit pieces (almond and cashew) had
been very lightly fried, and added on top, both for the aroma, as
well as the visual appeal. To the left was a cauliflower and
peas preparation, done in yogurt/curd. It was simply heavenly.
As the reader may know, cauliflower pieces in Indian cooking are
often tossed around in a hint of oil for them to acquire a
hardness, which prevent them from melting away into the rest of
the curry, when cooking. They were done just right. The yogurt is
usually added towards the end, for it to retain its flavour and
milky consistency, and add just a touch of sourness into the
cooking, rather than for the whey to separate out. Of course,
this must be done over a low flame. The peas had absorbed this
gravy well, instead of being boiled, broiled or baked before, and
added. That is the way real cooking is done, and I loved every
morsel of it. I regretted that it finished out all too quickly.

Of course, I had the paneer/cottage cheese preparation to look
forward to. What could be amazing about palak paneer (cottage
cheese in a spinach puree gravy)? Almost everything.
The paneer cubes were soft, and seemed like having been marinated
just the way I do it at home. (As an aside, I am a pressure
cooker - I cook only under pressure.) They seem to have been
marinated in a hint of roasted cumin powder with salt. I usually
add some Kashmiri pepper/Deghi Mirch, which is a powdered form of
an extremely soft pepper/chilli, which imparts its characteristic
flavour, and intense red colour to a preparation. I also put in
a little milk (I do not use yogurt/curd too much myself) , and a
dash of finely chopped ginger, mashed around a bit, but the
preparation tasted as if only the cumin and salt had been put in
the marinate, but it was just wonderful. There was no garlic in
the spinach puree, with a little onion having been possibly added
to the spinach gravy, after being fried very lightly, but not too
less, either. The highlight was some small tomato pieces, which
were intentionally left half-cooked, to impart a characteristic
flavour and taste. The entire box had been very tastefully done
from the chromatic point of view, in addition to the aromatic
one. The cauliflower-and-peas was predominantly yellow, the
Biriyani brown with the interspersed orange carrot and red tomato
shreds, and green peas breaking the monotony. The palak paneer
was deep green, interspersed with the off-white colour of the
paneer, and red fine pieces of tomato.
It was a real treat for all the senses.
The dessert took my breath away.
It was a soft and moist brownie, embellished with dry fruits.
It was served on a semi-solid Chocolate syrup base.
Even my picky neighbour, who had given the salad and most of the
main box a royal miss, could be seen polishing the dessert.
As usual, I opted for the coffee, half expecting PPD, one of the
older A321s, to have a coffee brewer on-board. While the lady
served out the coffee, while the colour was dark, the aroma was
unmistakably that of the common brand of instant coffee, which is
very easily available all around. However, it was at least strong
and hot, though I finished it in no time at all.
I remembered the Moron PJ.
Why did the Moron drink piping hot coffee very quickly?
Simple. He had seen that the price of cold coffee was double that
of its higher temperature variant.
The trays were cleared quickly, and I sat down to type a part of
this trip report.

Captain Arora descended quite fast, made a reasonable touch-down
in spite of the high rate of descent and the speed. It was
November, 2012 - I noticed a new piece of art inside the arrivals
hall, a stylised depiction of Goddess Durga.



My bag took some time to come out on Belt 1, just before those
from AI 850 from Pune, came on to the same carousel. I set out
back for my parents' place in a black-and-yellow Maruti Omni van
taxi. Most of the memories of the trip were jogged around,
juggled around quite violently, as this is one vehicle that seems
to be missing all traces of a suspension. One can literally feel
the road while travelling in this vehicle. Reaching my
destination was a big relief, as winning the Mother of all
Battles with taxi drivers vying for an opportunity not to go to a
set of destinations, was offset by the Mother of all Rattles.
I was shaken, as well as stirred.
This Martian Mar-tiny beast of a vehicle...
I was in no mood to Bond with the Be(a)st.
---
Links to my 46 trip reports:
https://sites.google.com/site/sumantratrip/


Last edited by sumantra on Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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ameya
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:10 pm    Post subject: Re: Madurai'12:Silver Lining on Darkened Dream)liner Dream Reply with quote

sumantra wrote:
[coming soon]


This is cheating !
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sumantra
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ameya Sir - my reports aren't perfect, like yours are! The `[coming soon]' comes for a self-reference in the text itself (hence the second pass), and the fact that I detected a few typos in the text, which I tried to correct. I apologise, Sir!
Cheers, Sumantra.
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The_Goat
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for another great TR, sir!

I missed one but, did you actually get a 77L on the DEL-MAA route Shocked

I loved Madurai when I visited a few years ago. Part of my family hails from there too. Still remember the great breakfasts at Murugan Idli Shop!
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himmat01
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As usual it was a pleasure to go through the TR. I have fond memories of Madurai especially the food. Very Happy
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ameya
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another impressive TR Sir.

A great desc of the food on the DEL-MAA leg and the deliberation of planes at Chennai was total ROFL moment.

Enjoying reading it completely. Read it in bits and pcs the whole day, between meetings & during meetings Very Happy

Just one suggestion Sir, a long observation, others please correct me if I am wrong.

Please separate your two reports, your second one always seems to be shorter than the first, thus the reader gets to know less about the return journey.
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sumantra
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 07, 2013 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot for the kind words, The_Goat, Himmat, and Ameya!
The_Goat wrote:
I missed one but, did you actually get a 77L on the DEL-MAA route
No, I wasn't that lucky Smile However, given the troubles the 788s are across the world - QR, EY, AI - are having recurring problems with the 788s back in service, this may be a distinct possibility on a high-load day!
The_Goat wrote:
Part of my family hails from there too.
Sir, I admire the geographic `southern' spread of your family. South of India, South of Tamil Nadu, and now, South of France, too!
The_Goat wrote:
Still remember the great breakfasts at Murugan Idli Shop!
I have only been able to partake of this magical outlet at Chennai, and would highly recommend it to all. Idli's and other snacks all-day round, what fun!
himmat01 wrote:
I have fond memories of Madurai especially the food
I am all with you on this one, Sir. `NV' as they call it, non-vegetarian fare is simply excellent at Amma Mess.
ameya wrote:
Please separate your two reports, your second one always seems to be shorter than the first, thus the reader gets to know less about the return journey.
Ameya Sir, I am glad you liked the DEL-MAA food part as well as the MAA `deliberations', as much as I enjoyed describing it in detail! As regards the point above, I have to confess that it is not just the hurry to key in a report - I am still learning the strings. I have picked up a lot from your writing style, and Dr. Ganguly's suggestions to get things more structured. I will try to buck up, and try to do better, thank you!
Cheers, Sumantra.


Last edited by sumantra on Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:44 pm; edited 1 time in total
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jasepl
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 08, 2013 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Food Porn!

I love it! Smile
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sumantra
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

jasepl wrote:
Food Porn!
He he...interesting term!
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Nimish
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice TR Sumantra - sad that the 787 did not come through on this trip. Does Silver edge get you domestic lounges at AI stations?
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sumantra
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot Nimish!
Nimish wrote:
sad that the 787 did not come through on this trip.

Wait, Nimish - this was the first of...many misses even before the 788 went out of service, with just one hit. Just one, on which I actually used my brief period of status. Yes, I will describe that in detail, with lots of pictures.
Nimish wrote:
Does Silver edge get you domestic lounges at AI stations?
My eriod of status was only Nimish-mAtra, very brief. No lounge access. The benefits were 10% more points (that was welcome!), more luggage allowance (which I did not end up using at all!), and one upgrade voucher (which I do not regret using, since the period went off as quickly as it came in!). More about that, soon! I have a few of these reports lined up, and will possibly do them very soon.
Thanks again, Sumantra.
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