It was time to go back to India, and time to experience another new airline and visit another new city. KTM-VNS would be my first flight with Air India (AI). As a result of the room service related food poisoning noted in my review of Dwarika’s, I was not feeling in top form before this flight.
The ride to the airport only takes about 15 minutes, as it is located right on the outskirts of the city. There was no dedicated Business Class check-in line for Air India, and I waited about 15 minutes for the group of four in front of me to finish arguing with the agent about their seat assignments. Apparently they wanted to make sure they would be on the side of the plane to best view the Himalayas on our egress.
I guess it is to combat smuggling, but the security checks at KTM are INSANE. My bags were scanned on entry to the airport, then they were checked by normal security, then they were checked again while going from the waiting area to the bus that would take us to our apron position, then checked again after we got off the bus and before we got on the plane. Seriously!? How often do people receive contraband in between security and boarding the plane? A little bit of overkill.
After two of the four security shakedown points, I was in the international departures area. I hadn’t banked on this, but there actually IS a lounge at KTM. What’s more, there are TWO lounges! One is a Thai/Star Alliance lounge and the other works with a variety of airlines. Cheap Air India has no arrangement with either lounge and gave me a voucher for a cup of coffee…jerks. Luckily, my Priority Pass (thanks again AMEX) card worked for the contract lounge. It was mercifully empty and I snagged a Pepsi in hopes of settling my stomach and a couch to lie down on until boarding.
The flight was slightly delayed. On my way through yet another security check points, I saw a Nepalese national team in front of me on line. I wondered what sport it could be, as not a single player on the team was my height and none of them looked particularly athletic. While re-packing the contents of my bag post-security I saw the front of one of their jackets…Basketball. If your national basketball team doesn’t have a single player of even 6’4”, I don’t foresee good things in their future.
The holding pen post-secutiy and before boarding a rust bucket bus to the plane smelled like piss and thankfully we weren’t kept there too long. We were frisked again on our walk out to the jalopy and then driven roughly 10 seconds before being deposited in front of the plane. I’m not sure why they don’t just let passengers walk.
The most intrusive security check yet opened and unpacked both of my carry-ons before letting me pass. When you’re traveling for three months with only carry-on luggage, you go to great extremes to make sure everything is efficiently packed so that you can actually close your luggage and get it on board. Some jerk ripping through things then handing me a messed up bag about made me want to sock him in the mouth.
On board I was surprised by how nice the Air India shorthaul J cabin on this Airbus A320 was. IFE screens in the seatback (non-functional outside of the airshow on this flight), ample pitch, and they seemed to be rather new [CABIN PHOTOS AT THE END]. This flight turned out to be incredibly empty. Maybe 30-40% capacity in Y and once I was seated no one else joined the J cabin. Despite a nearly empty cabin, the service was non-existent and it required a special request to get a beverage other than the water that was served as a default with the meal. As I mentioned, I still felt like crap, so I ended up not eating the meal, but it’s pictured below for your enjoyment.
I nodded off for a bit and then a stewardess woke me and told me to put my seat upright for landing. After landing at the new and modern airport in Varanasi, I was surprised that they forced us to an apron position as every single on of the jetways was unoccupied. After this unexplained annoyance, there was no bus and we walked to the other side of the building to get to immigration. Air India had of course neglected to hand out landing cards on the flight. I almost got into a dust up with some jerk on the immigration line. He was standing near an immigration desk, with no one currently in front of him, filling out his card. I had already filled out my card and when I went to the desk, this guy got in my face as if he had some sort of hold on Indian immigration and everyone else should patiently wait until he filled out his card. I calmly told him that I had filled out my card and he hadn’t finished his. He was not eligible to proceed to immigration and I was. He of course got irate and I just ignored him. Guy was like 65 anyway. What was I going to do? Punch him out in front of his wife and Indian immigration…that’d end well…Welcome back to India.