Jun 012012

This post is just plain full of travel and plane geekery – feel free to skip if you don’t want to see what to expect on some slightly less common airlines. Paro to Male is only 3,070 kilometers as the crow flies (about 1,910 miles) but that would be too easy…and expecting two relatively out of the way places to be connected by such a straight line would be way too much to ask for…so, roundabout routing it was, involving no less than three tickets and four flights. I wasn’t really thinking ahead that in this part of the world, there’s no such thing as an easy transit, and almost got myself in trouble.

Despite my early flight, the hotel insisted that breakfast would be served. Breakfast is included, and they were going to make sure I had it. They suggested 5am, and when I went to the restaurant the overnight front desk guy was working, and happy to make me anything I wanted. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so boiled eggs, coffee, toast, and a bit of fruit it was! Then off for the short ride to the airport where I arrived just before 6am…way too early for a 7am flight out of this tiny airport! After killing time waiting (check-in, immigration, and security took maybe 10 minutes total) we were waiting…and then I realised why I wasn’t able to book business class on this segment: it was operated by an ATR! I’d read so much about Druk Air carefully selecting A319s because they were about the only plane that could navigate the tricky mountain approach into Bhutan…and now I was going to try and fly out on a prop plane? Time to start hoping that karma I earned paid off!

Druk Air Flight 401
Paro, Bhutan (PBH) to Kathmandu, Nepal (KTM)
Departure 7:00, Arrival 8:05, Flight Time 1:20
ATR 42-500, Registration A5-RGH, Manufactured 1999
Seat 4A

Boarded, and there were about 10 empty seats, one of which was fortunately next to me. So far so good! Pushback was about 5 minutes early, and we were airborne at our departure time. This was a good omen for my very tight connection in Nepal. A couple pictures of the airport and our plane on the tarmac:

There was even an inflight “meal” if you could call it that, complete with Diet Coke. I was more than happy!

Take off, weaving in and out of mountain valleys, crossing them at what appeared to be MAYBE 100-200 meters over them was terrifying, and after about 15 minutes we were high enough the nerves wore off and I could appreciate the awesome views of the mountains…including Everest!

Arrival in Kathmandu was actually only five minutes early, and it was time to rush to my connection. On the bus from the plane to the terminal, and unfortunately…in line behind an entire chartered A330 full of Slovenian tourists to get visas. I asked if I could transit without one “yes, just ask man at desk over there.” Um, there’s nobody at that desk. “Oh so bad. Wait for visa.” Ug. Waited about 20 minutes, at which point it was about 65 minutes before my flight time…paid my $5, got stamped in, got my transit visa, and ran to baggage claim where fortunately my two bags were waiting (yes, I hauled scuba gear all the way around the world) and ran out of arrivals to departures….arriving at the counter 52 minutes before flight time.

Oh, so sorry…flight closed 8 minutes ago. Time to put on the sad face, beg, complain about inefficient country you’d just come from and laud praise on the country you were now in…how you’re sure they’ll help you…and they did. Not only did she check me in, check my bags, and give me an exit row seat! Score…life was great until I got to immigration…where the queue was down the hall, down the escalator, and according to people in line at least an hour long. I tried begging, telling them my flight was soon, but to no avail. After that…it was time to get desperate. Just walk past everyone to the front of the queue, pretending not to speak English or any local language until you get to the immigration officer where you act as if you’ve done nothing out of the ordinary…get stamped out…and off to the gate.

Where the flight turns out to be delayed by 30 minutes anyways. Hahhahahhaha!

Jet Airways Flight 263
Kathmandu, Nepal (KTM) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Departure 9:30, Arrival 11:00, Flight Time 1:45
Boeing 737-800, Registration VT-JGJ, Manufactured 2001
Seat 20C (exit)

Not a whole ton to say about this flight. Absolutely packed, but I had an exit row aisle so nothing to complain about, until someone came with a boarding pass for my seat. Flight attendant took both, and went to get it sorted. I was planning to hold the “first ass in the seat gets it” and unfortunately it worked…the other person got upgraded to business class. Oh well! It was a short flight…and we even got a fun snack…this is the “non-veg” option:

Upon landing in Delhi, everyones phones started going off, buzzing like crazy. Seems there had been a plane crash in Nepal five minutes after we took off, and everyones relatives were wondering if they were ok. Absolutely crazy!

No time to dawdle, and thanks to the Paper Raj we had to go through endless queues to transfer, get mysterious signatures on our boarding pass, meaning that despite having 1:15 to connect, I was the last one to board the plane, which turned out to be ok, because it was only 20% full! Turns out this was the third to last day Jet would fly this route, so it’s likely few people were on it since a return flight wouldn’t be available.

Jet Airways Flight 258
Delhi, India (DEL) to Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB)
Departure 12:20, Arrival 15:55, Flight Time 3:35
Boeing 737-800, Registration VT-JGW, Manufactured 2007
Seat 20F (exit)

I enjoyed my entire row (well, two rows…the row in front of me was empty too, so nobody to recline into me) and before lunch they made a beer run. No other options, just beer! Can’t complain too much about that!

This was followed by a decent small meal. Landing was on time, caught up on lots of tv on the iPad.

Transit counter in Colombo was efficient, and I was quickly checked in for my next flight and issued a pass to the business lounge. I also questioned my flight for the next day, and was assured that yes….there is now business class available and you are on a business fare, so you will be upgraded at the gate if seats remain. Great! When I’d booked business was sold out, so I was looking forward to it.

A few snacks in the lounge, catching up on e-mail, and a picture of the planes out on the tarmac:

Sri Lankan Flight 109
Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB) to Male, Maldives (MLE)
Departure 20:15, Arrival 21:10, Flight Time 1:25
Airbus A320-200, Registration 4R-ABO, Manufactured 2011
Seat 2A

Nice short flight, but with an amazing crew. I was even called “the attractive gentleman in 2A.” Can’t complain when you get royal treatment like that. Food was amazingly good for such a short flight, so I had to snap a couple shots along with a pic of the menu card:

Dinner was finished off with a glass of Sri Lankan Arrack (coconut rum)

Then I had to fill out the arrivals card, which reminded us that nothing contrary to Islam was allowed in the Maldives. Good thing I googled this from the lounge before buying a bottle of duty free wine to take into the country! Landed on time, and it was time for my next new country!

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