On 27th August I took my first flight to Kolkata in my life. Even I was surprised that I had never been to one India’s largest cities in all my 45 years.
My thanks to The Telegraph newspaper who invited me to speak on innovation at the Northeast ICT summit in Guwahati, Assam and making the trip possible.
The day began early at 4am, showered and was ready by 5:15am for my Meru cab, which I had booked the night earlier. At this insane hour we reached the Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) in a quick 50 minutes. The cab ride was expensive by Indian standards, Rs. 670 including a tip. If I had taken my car and parked in the long term parking, it would have still cost only about half that of the cab fare. I also found out that the cabs are now dropping off passengers in the parking lot which is out in the open and requires a good five minute walk to the terminal. Thank god it was not raining.
A fast check-in led me to the long queues waiting at the security checks. I was surprised that four checkpoints were unmanned given that this is the peak hour of travel. At the boarding gate I sadly discovered that the CISF staff forgot to stamp my hand luggage tag, forcing me to trudge back to the security check point and get the holy grail.
I think this stamp only shows how unsure the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) is, of its own procedures. A truly effective security system would self-ensure every passenger is checked, rather than requiring an easily forge-able illegible stamp to prove it. While the security system at BIA is of global standards, they are sadly forced to follow rules meant for less efficiently run airports in India.
After boarding the IndiGo Airbus A320-232 VT-INI, we were informed that the Captain of the flight had called in sick and a replacement Captain was rushing to the airport. IndiGo has the best on time departure record amongst mainstream carriers in India, and the replacement flight commander got on board the aircraft at 06:55, just 5 minutes after the scheduled departure, and we were pushing back 5 minutes later. Chalk one more “on time” (flight departing within 15 minutes of scheduled departure) for IndiGo.
Taxied down to holding point on runway 27 with a British Airways Boeing 747-400 on the runway revving up for its flight to London, GoAir’s Airbus A320 VT-WAK holding in front of us. Here I experienced the chink in BIA’s runway efficiency. Since all aircraft are required to climb about 3,000 feet, it forces the air traffic control to provide two minutes between departures. Five minutes later we were airborne and soon punched out through the clouds in to the brilliant sunshine with the IAE V2500 Select One engines pushing us along.
The flight was turbulent all the way to Kolkata, and my plans to catch up on some sleep were badly shaken. The cabin service was good, efficient, and with a smile, something I experienced on all four IndiGo flights. IndiGo has it’s share of glamour, and I find those scarves around the necks of the cabin crew very flirtatious and sexy.
Landed on runway 19L at Kolkata’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport, quickly deplaned and promptly discovered why Indian’s like point to point travel. The transit experience was poor to say the least. An arriving passenger in Kolkata has to collect their checked-in baggage, go out into the non-sterile area, and essentially perform all the steps of a check-in all over again, including showing your ticket, ID, etc. It is painful.
The terminal building is quite shabby and I could not help but compare, and feel proud of the terminal at Bangalore. The toilets like most other AAI run airports was filthy. Suddenly realised, I was in the heartland of communism in India. Even though their masters in China and Russia have dropped communism, the India communists are there to carry the red flag forward.
After a brief wait we started boarding IndiGo’s first Airbus A320-232, VT-INA for the onward flight to Guwahati, thankfully via an aero-bridge since, by now, the rain was coming down hard. Felt bad for all the ground crews of the various airlines scuttling around the tarmac ensuring their flight operations. Who ever thought airlines were a glamorous job.
The North American captain had a bee in his bonnet taxing the plane like a Formula 1 ace, and then he performed a take-off any Air Force pilot departing Baghdad would be proud of. Full throttle followed by a steep 28 degree parabolic climb, wow!!!!
Despite the heavy clouds, the arrival in to Guwahati was a feast for the eyes. Lush greenery, mountains swathed in mist, green farms stretched out like carpets, intersected by flowing rivers. A beautiful land populated by beautiful people. All I could think of as we landed on runway 02, was I need to earn a lot of money quickly and retire here.
Got my bags and five minutes later was in the cab heading for my hotel.
The return trip tomorrow.
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