It actually got better !
After my recent journey from Manali to Delhi by Jagson airlines, it looks like those folks must have read Mouthshut and Arun's review.. the experience was a pleasant surprise - much better than I had expected ! So let me narrate my story of close encounters of the Jagson kind...
How to get there by Air ??
My wife and I had been planning on a trip to Manali, and the question that came up was - how fast and comfortably can we get from Manali to Delhi. I did not want the bus option, so I started surfing the net for flights, and found many options. Some websites said Vayudoot operated flights between Delhi/Chandigarh and Manali. Others said Archana airways and Jagson airlines operated flights on alternate days. One website said Raj airways has flights from Mumbai to Manali via Chandigarh. Pure hogwash ! Dont beleive any of these sites, coz the fact is.. as Arunpv put it. Jagson is the only, no-choice airline so dont waste any time trying to find out about the others. Indian airlines websites lists Kulu (Bhuntar airport) as one of the destinations in its fligjht-search, but says there are no flights to that destination !
Okay now lets book my ticket
Right, now that I had chosen my airline, I wanted to reserve my tickets. My travel dates were a good 1 month away.. beginning of December.. but since I was not aware of the demand for this flight, thought I should book well in advance. So off I went to my friendly neighbourhood IATA - certified travel agent. ''I want to reserve tickets for Manali-Delhi'' I said. HE looked up his files and then said there were no flights to Delhi from Manali ! Well what about Jagson Airlines, I asked, they have services there. He looked at me like I was from Mars. ''Jagson Airlines'' I repeated, stressing on the 'G'', why dont you look up your records. Sorry sir, as per our information there are no flights to Delhi from Manali, he persisted. Rats, I left, and then I tried the travel desk in my office, but got No reply after a few follow ups. All right, lets contact the airlines directly.. after searching the web I managed to find their Delhi office tel no which I called. They gave me a travel agent no. in Mumbai - Ambassador travels. I contacted them.. phew at last a travel agency which acknowledged the existence of Jagson! They will charge 150 bucks extra for jagson tickets, they said. Why ? Sir we have to make lot of std calls you see. After about 10 days I finally got my tickets in hand. Make sure that you reconfirm the tickets 48 hrs prior to departure, she warned, and even wrote that on the ticket slip.
The day of the travel
After staying in Manali for 3 days, it was time for us to depart from there the next day morning. I remembered the bit about reconfirming the tickets. The ticket slip had the tel nos. of their agent in Manali which I called, but nobody picks up. Well it was a Sunday so maybe they were closed. I then tried various nos all day..but At the end of the day, I had failed to contact them... thought I would take a chance without reconfirming.
Next day morning we got dropped at the airport at 8:30 am. Our flight was scheduled at 9:50, and the ticket slip said we have to report 120 mins before departure. I had taken a chance and reported 90 mins before.. sacrificing some precious sleep. The military security guard was polite and courteous and escorted us to the check-in area, which we were shocked to find deserted. A solitary gorkha passenger gave us a wry smile from his seat in the couple of rows of plastic chairs. The Jagson airline office next to the hall was locked and bolted.
The wait at the airport
At 9:15 a couple of men finally opened the Jagson office, and started to man the 'check-in counter'. This looked very much like those road side sand-witchwala stalls, a cart and umbrella-like shelter at top. Passengers started trickling in, and I found that they were even selling tickets there much like sandwiches.. passengers walked upto the check-in cart, paid the money and had tickets in their hands. The man whom I thought was their sweeper.. doing up the office floor with a broom.. was actually the check-in steward ! Arunpv's review had given me an indication of their sense of punctuality, and I was getting ready for a long wait. However, at 10:30 the aircraft finally landed in. We got ready for the security check, and formed the line. Ever wondered if the cabin food packets pass through the x-ray machine ? They do, and here they pass through the same machine which scans passenger bags. The Carton full of food boxes was loaded to the x-ray machine but alas, it konked off.
So as the machine was repaired, security resorted to a manual opening and checking of our bags. What about the food packets.. well they were let off.. maybe a packet was also donated to the security guys methinks. Then we identified our checked-in luggage and it went on to be loaded in the plane. After sighting the small ATR aircraft I couldnt help but fear that it may not hold all the luggage.. what if it all didnt fit in ? But mercifully, it did, there was space in the front of the aircraft as well as the rear, into which all the bags were bundled in.
The flight takes off..
Finally, we were walking on the tarmac to board the plane. Arunpv's review was now almost by-heart to me, so I knew all of the passengers could expect window seats, coz the boarding tickets did not have any seat no.! The wings of this aircraft are attached to the top, so the view from all the windows is unobstructed, unlike conventional aircraft where the wings and engine obstruct much of the view. My poor wife.. it was her first experience on a plane, and I had narrated Arunpv's review to her many a times, she was physically and mentally prepared for the worst.. as if on a jouney to the moon. Unlike Arun's experience, I did find safety instruction card in my seat pocket ! The flight took off at about 11, and the take-off was breathtaking ! The plane was flying almost parallel to the Beas river, and the view of the river snaking its way between the high mountain peaks was splendid. The small aircraft did not climb high, so the entire journey afforded great views of the hills below. I could see the roads winding their way past the hills, the orchards & plantations, and small villages nestled among the valleys.
The food was a pleasant surprise.. you did not have a choice of non-veg, but you could appease your hunger with some tasty noodles, wrapped sandwiches, biscuits, a couple of chocolate bars, a glass of cold drink and tea. I could see the pilots in the small cabin ahead.. you could not exactly tap them on the shoulder, but you could sure lean over the partition and offer them a cup of tea.. which the air-hostess was doing ! For much of the journey, I could see the pilot hunched up behind a newspaper.. not sure if he was actually reading it or shielding himself from the sun. The 90 minute flight was smooth sailing, with no air pockets or bumpy rides. I could see the lotus shape of the bahai temple down below to my right as the plane descended at Delhi airport, with a fairly smooth landing. We alighted from the plane, my wife beaming over this pleasurable ride, thanks to the tight expectations set before. A small coach carried passengers and baggage to the Delhi airport building. Hats off to my maiden Jagsons flight.
All in all, a pleasant flight experience, never mind the strains to actually get inside the aircraft !