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Dramatic trip from DCA to India on AC, 9W and S2

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  • Dramatic trip from DCA to India on AC, 9W and S2

    This is my first trip report, despite my many travels around the globe, and I am posting it largely because of the bizarre nature of the trip. I traveled to India for two weeks as part of my post-graduate studies. This report is based on my understanding of events, and so any inaccuracy is regretted but not intended…

    Air Canada AC 309, Washington DCA – Toronto YYZ
    CRJ-100ER, C-FSKM

    An uneventful, on-time departure and arrival. First time on a CRJ, and the experience was better than I expected. I had heard a lot of negative things about the comfort level of the CRJ, but I thought it was generally good. I think I still prefer the ERJ marginally over the CRJ, though.

    After landing, we taxied for what seemed an eternity. I thought I must be taxiing all the way to India. We eventually parked and disembarked into a tin shed. No one told us that we would be walking into the Toronto cold, and so we were all unprepared, with our coats off. We walked through to a waiting bus which waited and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually, we left, only to screech to a halt, sending anything not bolted down flying to the front of the bus. Seemed the driver had elected to wait some more. Eventually, we started off again, before stopping twenty feet later, as we pulled next to another bus and the two drivers chatted for a while. We made it to the terminal, where I then began my connection to my international flight. Again, another bus ride or ten later I made it to the infield terminal and my flight.

    Air Canada AC 54, Toronto YYZ – Delhi DEL (Diversion to Ahmedabad AMD)
    Airbus A340-313X, C-FYKX

    A largely uneventful flight for the first 13 or so hours. My first flight on an A340 and I was generally happy. The slow climb rate that people talk about was especially noticeable on departure out of Toronto. Felt like we were skimming tree tops for the first few minutes of the climb out.

    Began our approach into Delhi, and this is where the trip went awry. What follows is so ridiculous that I couldn’t make it up if I tried…

    We were on our descent into what seemed a very cloudy city at about 10.30pm. At the point where we were about 3 miles out, Delhi Airport closed due to low ceilings caused by fog. We pulled up and the Captain came over the PA system explaining that we were low on fuel and were required to divert an hour south to Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Because we were so far into our approach into Delhi, and had to climb again, we had insufficient fuel to reach our preferred alternate, Mumbai. The cabin fell silent and pretty much stayed that way until we landed.

    Ahmedabad, as you may imagine, is fairly quiet at 11.30pm. We taxied to our bay at the far end of the apron, past two Jet Airways Boeing 737-700s and an Indian Airlines Airbus A320 which were already parked. The plan was to spend an hour at Ahmedabad, refuel, and either head back to Delhi if conditions allowed, or hop down to Mumbai, 15 minutes away. Though I was in Economy, the professor leading my study trip was in Business Class, and as soon as we landed in Ahmedabad, he came straight to Economy and (fortunately for me) fished me out and brought me to a third-full Business Class.

    An hour passed, and it transpired that the refueling crew would not accept the aircraft’s fuel credit card. The crew then managed to scrape together US$2,500 from among themselves (way enough for fuel to get us to Delhi or Mumbai) but the refueling crew would not accept the cash either and began to try and extort more money from the Air Canada crew. At this point, the crew began asking if anyone on board had a cellphone. Because we had just come from Canada, those who had cellphones could not get theirs to work on the Indian network. Except me. That is because I had my Australian cellphone which I use whenever I travel outside North America. So, the crew borrowed my cellphone, and it proved their only link (other than the onboard fax machine) that they had with Air Canada Operations in Toronto.

    Due to the delay in refueling, the crew’s hours were fast running out. The next option was to get the Ministry of Transport in Ottawa to try and get them to make an exception. It seemed that a waiver may be granted for an hour or so, to get the plane out of Ahmedabad to Mumbai, but that was it. And the plane had to get going ASAP in order to do that.

    Three hours had passed since touchdown, and it seemed that agreement had been reached to refuel the aircraft. The crew then set about submitting a flight plan to Mumbai and sought clearance from ATC. But their request to fly to Mumbai was denied, due to a lack of parking in Mumbai, as many of the other Delhi-bound flights had ended up there. So, we were stuck in Ahmedabad.

    It was after this time that the aircraft’s water ran out. And so did its food. And so did the patience of the passengers. The plane had 260 passengers, all upset. Yelling broke out in Economy as a passenger lost his cool. He was headed to his mother’s death bed (it was later understood among the crew that the diversion meant that he did not make it in time) and he felt that he was receiving such little help from the crew that the only answer was to go straight to the captain. “Bring me the captain,” he roared. “Or I will go find him.” At this point, he decided to arrange a posse of other upset passengers to go find the captain. My professor and I were sitting in the front row of Business when two crew members came to us and asked if we would be up for “protecting the flight deck.” If anyone should storm the cockpit, we were asked to tackle them. The tangible anger of the passengers made this a distinct possibility. The crew then barricaded the front of the plane with meal carts.

    We were stuck on the plane because Indian authorities would not let us get off. The airport authorities refused to let us into the airport and Customs and Immigration refused to let us into India. At 4am, a breakthrough – we would be allowed into the airport, but only after the next arriving flight was processed – an Air India Boeing 747-400 (not sure where from). We were told that we would be flying out of Ahmedabad at about 9am. The crew of the now-delayed AC 55 would take the first flight out of Delhi and would then take us back there. The flight would then change crews in London. But this would end up not happening.

    We finally got into the very basic terminal at about 5am, complete with stray cats walking though the transit lounge. Air Canada supplied water and chips, but little information. Their ground staff in Ahmedabad (both in sales, not in customer service) were understandably ill-equipped and overwhelmed. At about 7am, the Business Class passengers decided to commandeer the VIP lounge despite some very upset Indians. Ten minutes later, a real VIP (of sorts), the Commissioner of the Indian Consumer Affairs Bureau (ironic, huh?) arrived. He was surprised to find that he had company in the VIP lounge. We bitched and moaned to him about our experience and he did an average job of feigning interest and then action. But our audacity in storming the VIP lounge and chatting with a VIP spurred the Air Canada people into action.

    At 8am, we were told that the Business Class passengers would be taken to a hotel downtown. The plan to have a relief crew fly in was now abandoned, and we would be flying out in the evening as soon as the current crew had had 20 hours rest. Of course the new challenge was that flying to Delhi in the evening could have us facing the same fog problems again. Indian Immigration refused to land us in India and so we had to surrender our passports and take a small receipt in return. We were in India, but not officially in India. We struggled through the packed arrivals hall and through to the crowded dustbowl of a parking lot. It looked more like a football tailgate party than an airport parking lot. The image of our A340 sitting helpless on the apron, next to the Air India 747 in the early morning will stay with me. Not sure why, but at the time it felt somehow poignant.

    We made it to our hotel and had some breakfast. Here, we met up with some of our fellow travelers. Two were from a Canadian NGO, flying from Vancouver to Colombo to help in the tsunami relief. Their suitcases were full of water purification equipment. It struck me then how our diversion may impact those in need in Sri Lanka, due to the late arrival of this equipment and expertise. In reality, any personal inconvenience to us was of little consequence in the broader scheme of things. It was 10am, and we were told to be back at the hotel no later than 4pm so we could head back to the airport for our flight.

    My professor and I headed out for some touring of Ahmedabad. We were unable to go do some of the more interesting sight-seeing (such as a temple about an hour away) since we had to be back at the hotel by 4. We spent about 2 hours walking around at which point we were exhausted and decided to nap. When we returned to the hotel, at about 12noon, the Economy passengers were just arriving. I called home, and then went to sleep. I woke up just before 4, horribly ill and convulsing. I managed to slow the convulsing enough to make it to the hotel lobby where the Canadian NGO workers gave me medication to ease my problems. It was then that we were informed that the plane was now to leave the following morning, and we would be transferred to another (nicer) hotel about half an hour away. The hotel was nicer but I was all kinds of sick. I made it to dinner with my professor, and I improved markedly.

    Air Canada AC 54, Ahmedabad AMD – Delhi DEL
    Airbus A340-313X, C-FYKX

    We were told that we had to be up at 5.30am to return to the airport at 6.30am. The flight was to leave at 8am. But then we all received a wake-up at 4am, being advised that the flight was now to leave at 7am. We left the hotel at 5am and arrived at the airport to find that the flight was going to be delayed indefinitely due to further refueling problems. Eventually we boarded the plane at about 9.30am. Fortunately my Business Class experience continued, but the only food the plane had was whatever the crew had picked up while shopping in Ahmedabad!

    Ahmedabad Terminal - Photo (c) J.J. Messner

    C-FYKX in Ahmedabad - Photo (c) J.J. Messner

    C-FYKX in Ahmedabad - Photo (c) J.J. Messner

    VT-EYB, an Indian Airlines Airbus A320, parked next to C-FYKX in Ahmedabad - Photo (c) J.J. Messner

    VT-EYB taxies for take-off - Photo (c) J.J. Messner

    The flight to Delhi was smooth. There was cabin-wide applause as we lifted off the runway in Ahmedabad and another round of applause when we touched down in Delhi an hour and a half later – we were forced to hold for a while as the refueling problem in Ahmedabad had caused us to lose our slot. We arrived in sunny – but smoggy – Delhi just before 12 noon. The immigration line was nightmarishly long, and then a malfunction with the baggage carousel then meant significant delays in collecting baggage.

    All in all, we arrived at our hotel about 36 hours late. Overall, I would rate the performance of the Air Canada people as mixed. The cabin crew were amazing under pressure. There was little they could have done better. The main shortcoming was the Captain, in my opinion, who I believe could have been more candid with the passengers during the ordeal. Although those of us in the Business cabin were fully appraised of what was going on, (and especially me as I was sitting in the cockpit with the flight crew for some time and some of the time the First Officer was sitting chatting with me and my professor) that was not so in Economy. Much of the outrage could have (I think) been defused if they passengers had a full understanding of just how little Air Canada was to blame for the whole thing. If the Captain had been more upfront about exactly what was going on, I think a lot of criticism could have been deflected. Eventually, the First Officer went to Economy for some Q&A, but it was a little too late and it turned into a bit of a siege for him. I got the impression that the some of the cabin crew also felt that the Captain could have been a little more forthcoming. It is a tough call, though, and it is easy to be a ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ as they say. The Air Canada ground crew in Ahmedabad (although, I’m sure, were overwhelmed and under-equipped) suffered consistently from a truth deficit. They may not have been entirely lying, but they weren’t exactly telling the truth either. A straight answer was never even a possibility and we quickly lost trust in them. It was a difficult situation for them to be in, and I think they suffered from a trait that I later found others in India to have – a strong desire to tell you what you want to hear, whether it be true or not.

    As compensation, Air Canada offered to credit all the passengers of AC 54 with free Aeroplan miles. I later found that others in my group were on Air France which had diverted to Muscat, Oman. I hear that that was just as exciting a story…

    And yes, I will be seeking reimbursement from Air Canada for my cellphone bill!

    Air Sahara S2 106, Delhi DEL – Mumbai BOM
    Boeing 737-382, VT-SAY

    Story of my life – fog. The Delhi pea-soup fog thwarted me again, delaying the flight by 3 hours. The airline provided lunch vouchers in the restaurant at the domestic terminal, but so did every other airline, and the place was packed. We decided to go through security and buy food on the other side, as we were told there were restaurants on the other side of security. The closest restaurant on the other side of security in Delhi turned out to be in Mumbai. All there was was a small snack bar where I picked up a couple samosas. We finally boarded the flight and I was impressed by both the food and service of Air Sahara. I would definitely fly them again. We arrived into Mumbai in the evening and the arrival was uneventful. Others in our group lambasted Air Sahara staff for the delay (we only had two days scheduled in Mumbai as it was) and we managed to extort a free dinner at our expensive hotel from them. In my opinion, fine compensation!

    Jet Airways 9W 458, Mumbai BOM – Goa GOI
    Boeing 737-85R, VT-JNL

    Again, a delay, however shorter this time, at only an hour or so. And one of the most ridiculous experiences of my life – our plane was only thirty or forty feet from the terminal, yet we still had to board a bus, drive fifty feet (including a U-turn) and get off it again, to get to our plane. Ah, India.

    The flight was great. I love Jet Airways and I am hoping for the day they set up operations domestically here in the US!!! How an airline can serve a tasty, three course in-flight meal on a 45-minute flight astounds me, especially when airlines here will give nothing more than peanuts on a flight under 3 hours.

    Arrival into Goa was rocky, with one of the heaviest landings I’ve experienced. The use of reverse thrust was also avoided, although given our speed, it seemed somewhat necessary. Apparently not.

    TUESDAY JANUARY 11, 2005
    Jet Airways 9W 3516, Goa GOI – Bangalore BLR
    ATR 72-500, VT-JCA

    My first flight on an ATR, and an unexpected one at that. I had no idea it was going to be anything but a 737. So, an unexpected pleasure as it turned out. I quite liked it. The flight was just over an hour, and for the first time on my trip in India, it was on time. The food and service – even on this short flight on a prop – was superb, this time with the food exhibiting a real south Indian character. The landing into Bangalore was rocky, with the left touching down then the right then the left again. Bangalore Airport was smaller than I expected, and the new airport is definitely needed. Due to traffic, we parked at a remote bay and bused back to the terminal.

    Jet Airways 9W 816, Bangalore BLR – Delhi DEL
    Boeing 737-75R, VT-JNV

    A slight delay in leaving Bangalore, but overall a good flight with more good food. We arrived in Delhi at night, and collected our baggage in a swelteringly hot domestic terminal. By this time I was beginning to feel decidedly ill, and we had to try and get a bus to the International Terminal. Getting an answer from any of the ground staff was impossible, and eventually we managed to get on a bus to the other terminal after about an hour of trying.

    The bus, operated by the Indian Airports Authority, was driven by a cast of thousands (about five men in the front cabin, with very big guns). They decided to put some cases under the bus and others in the bus. When we made it to the international terminal, they unloaded the cases under the bus but refused to unload the cases they themselves had loaded into the cabin of the bus. So it fell upon me (already quite ill) to take the initiative and unload everyone’s baggage, including that of passengers not in my group.

    Air Canada AC 55, Delhi DEL – Toronto YYZ
    Airbus A340-313X, C-FYLC

    Another delay. This time 2.5 hours, with departure now put back until 3am. Fortunately for me, my fellow group members traveling on Air France were also delayed until 2am. We had no idea why either of our flights were delayed, but we made the best of things and hung out in a bar past immigration. After a nap on the table at the bar, I awoke to be told by the rest of the group that it was time for them to board. So we went through security, and they boarded their plane. I still had an hour or more to wait, but a breakthrough occurred – I managed a glimpse of my plane. It had arrived!!! I had not felt so happy in ages despite feeling deathly ill. If I were at home, I would never have boarded a plane in my condition. But I was determined to get home. I napped on the floor in the departure lounge (all the seats were taken) and awoke just before boarding.

    I boarded and again discovered the truth deficit that some people in India possess. I asked for a window seat in an exit row. The check-in agent had happily informed me that one was available, and that he had reserved it for me. He lied. He obviously did not want to tell me what he thought I did not want to hear. So, I was in an aisle seat at least 7 rows from the nearest exit or bulkhead. But given how many trips I had to make to the bathroom on that flight, I owe him a debt of gratitude for having put me in an aisle seat.

    The 15.5 hour flight was long an uneventful. I later discovered that the delay had been caused by engine control problems before the plane had even left Toronto. Air Canada later offered the passengers 4,000 free Aeroplan miles as compensation.

    We arrived in Toronto at about 8.30am. Did I mention how much I dislike Toronto Airport? It was not until about 9.15am that baggage began to arrive on the belts, and then it came out in dribs and drabs on two different belts. No one knew which belt to watch! It was mayhem as hoards of people ran from one belt to another as the baggage alternated between belts. Then, as baggage began to flow equally on both belts at the same time, people settled in between the two belts, watching them like a tennis match, looking one way, then another, then back again. It was 10.30am before I emerged from Customs. The connection was slow and arduous and then I discovered that my 12noon flight was leaving from the farthest gate in the terminal.

    I was still sick, but it is rare that I will walk off a 15.5 hour flight feeling better than when I got on it.

    SUNDAY JANUARY 16, 2005
    Air Canada AC 304, Toronto YYZ – Washington DCA
    CRJ-100ER, C-FSKM

    My flight home turned out to be on the same plane I began my trip with, C-FSKM. A quick flight, landing at National from the Quantico approach. Nice view of Andrews AFB as we descended.

    Pleased to be home after some trying experiences. Can’t wait to go back to India, however word for the wise – don’t make Delhi your start and/or end point in India, especially during the winter. I will make Mumbai my destination next time. Not sure if I will go out of my way to fly Air Canada again, though. And I will definitely be avoiding Toronto for transit in future. Jet Airways and Air Sahara will definitely be on my itinerary again when I return to India.

    AIRIGAMI.NET - The next generation of paper airliner modeling.

  • #2
    Sounds like a bit of a rough time. Good you got back in one piece though.


    • #3
      Note to self: Never go to India....period.


      • #4
        Great Report; Great Pics and Great Story
        - The baby will be back -


        • #5
          Originally posted by Crism
          Note to self: Never go to India....period.

          its the dirtiest of the dirty but really nice people and overall an awesome place, but rude, crude and crazy. And is always one of the worlds most dangerous places.


          • #6
            how would you know?

            Originally posted by kcmh
            its the dirtiest of the dirty but really nice people and overall an awesome place, but rude, crude and crazy. And is always one of the worlds most dangerous places.
            Silly statement above, but your signature line says it all...
            Lockon Aviation Photography


            • #7
              Definitely great and INFORMATIVE story. The buse transferts,and the Ahmedabad episode show a lot remains to be done. Too bad officialdom marred the Ahmedabad part by treating you like outcasts for hours before granting permission to deplane. I am amazed a great country such as India behaved like some African small fries !
              Thanks for visiting
              *Avimage's Monthly Slide list *


              • #8
                Very nice trip report! Very informative and fun to read.

                Originally posted by Crism
                Note to self: Never go to India....period.
                Will F.
                Photos: JetPhotos.Net | | General Photography


                • #9
                  Why were you sick? Was it just the travelling and being stuck on the plane and switching timezones?

                  Also about the time where the guy gave you a seat that you thought was an exit but really wasnt... I usually carry a seatmap of the planes i'm gonna be on from that tells the good and bad seats and then i check the boarding pass to make sure that the seats are good/what I was looking for or expecting.

                  Originally posted by Crism
                  Note to self: Never go to India....period.
                  Not sure if thats the best attitude to have. India sounds like an interesting place to visit. Bad experiences happen everywhere, including the US. Just seems like it's a good idea to do some research ahead of time.

                  Great read Arigami!
                  Last edited by Airbus_A320; 2005-01-21, 00:32.


                  • #10
                    Wow James, seems like you had Murphy against you all the while. Pretty much everything happened to you. Flight delays, you got sick, cabin anger, ran out of food and water, baggage carousel broke down, airport restaurant was packed, your gate was taken when you'll arrived... you had a really bad trip.

                    Originally posted by Airigami
                    word for the wise – don’t make Delhi your start and/or end point in India, especially during the winter. I will make Mumbai my destination next time.
                    "The Director also sets the record straight on what would happen if oxygen masks were to drop from the ceiling: The passengers freak out with abandon, instead of continuing to chat amiably, as though lunch were being served, like they do on those in-flight safety videos."

                    -- The LA Times, in a review of 'Flightplan'


                    • #11

                      Excellent flight review Airigami! Man, too bad you had the worst of experiences during your visit. Good thing you kept your cool and made it back in one piece. Believe me, having flown between India and the US several times now, I can relate to your experiences with the Indian airport personnel and everyone else. Helping people out, or going the extra mile to make your trip more pleasant isn't something that they like to do. And there's a general sense of apathy toward the passenger as well, unfortunately. I've also heard the bad stories from experiences at DEL, and trust me, you will want to avoid it year round. BOM is by far much better these days, though it can be just as bad sometimes.

                      Again, a delay, however shorter this time, at only an hour or so. And one of the most ridiculous experiences of my life – our plane was only thirty or forty feet from the terminal, yet we still had to board a bus, drive fifty feet (including a U-turn) and get off it again, to get to our plane. Ah, India
                      Yep, been there, done that. I guess since they don't have covered walkways or something like that leading to the aircraft, they have buses instead. And then there are the stupid Indian rules...

                      I'm glad you liked 9W and S2, I've flown both and have liked the service. They're very good.

                      Thanks for posting this review, it was quite informative and a good read. Wish you a better trip to India next time you go there!



                      • #12
                        Thank you everyone for your positive comments about my review. It certainly was quite a trip.

                        Of course, to assume I got sick because of India would be wrong. I get sick whenever I travel (even within my own country) and it has become somewhat of a running joke among my family and friends. It sucks especially because I travel a lot and so I get sick a lot - and given my future career, it is likely that the amount of travel on my agenda is only going to increase...

                        There are many things wrong with India. Much of my experience was trying to say the least. Yet, if I was able to, I would be on the very next plane to Mumbai. I love the country. There are many things wrong about every country, but if you quantify what is wrong with countries, you just make yourself miserable and you'll never want to travel again. It is a country's faults and eccentricities that make it interesting. And quite frankly, India's faults pale into insignificance in comparison to the warmth and friendliness of its people. It is an amazing country, and for anyone who does not visit India at least once, all I can say is that it is your loss. I know some people think that India is unsafe, but everywhere has the potential to be unsafe. I never once felt unsafe the entire time I was in India. I feel far safer walking down the alleyways of Indian cities than I do in some parts of my own city.

                        I even caught myself checking out a job advertisement for a two-year posting in Mumbai for an NGO... Not sure my lungs could deal with two years of Indian metropolitan smog though...

                        Oh, and BTW, let me reiterate again - Jet Airways and Air Sahara are AWESOME! I can't wait for their longhaul product!!! I can't remember having ever flown better domestic airlines.

               - The next generation of paper airliner modeling.


                        • #13

                          Thanks Airigami.

                          Btw, you think Mumbai's pollution is bad, try the city of Pune, about 100 mil. Mumbai's pollution's nothing compared to what you can see and feel there. Pune was recently called the fifth-worst polluted city in Asia, and unfortunately, the city leaders have not even noticed it, or they could care less.

                          There have been efforts in Mumbai atleast to make the city more lung-freindly. The taxis were recently converted to CNG and quite a number of city buses run on compressed natural gas well.

                          And yes it is a safe country for the most part. I can walk around at night at 9:30-10:00 in Mumbai and feel absolutely safe.

                          Last edited by Foxtrot; 2005-01-21, 16:56.


                          • #14
                            nice report+pics

                            is the AC YYZ-DEL non-stop or does it stop on the way
                            Airlines: XT,KL,SN,ACA,DL,AF,TV,SN,OS,LX,WA,NW,FI,US,AW,CO,OH,OO,9W,AA,AE,FL,B6




                            • #15
                              AC YYZ-DEL and DEL-YYZ are both nonstop flights (when they run to schedule and don't need to divert)...

                              The YYZ-DEL-YYZ route (I think) is the longest non-stop on the AC network. That's what the crew said, anyway.

                              I am told, however, that especially during winter, severe headwinds will often necessitate a refueling stop in Stockholm or Copenhagen on the DEL-YYZ run.
                     - The next generation of paper airliner modeling.