Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Kingfisher Experience (aka, Goa, Part I)

Five years ago while in India, we chose not to visit Goa and instead headed to Kerala, primarily basing that decision on Goa being known as one big beach resort and Kerala having more culture and history. This time around and having not left the National Capital Region (NCR) for nearly two months, we decided the beach resort was exactly what we needed.

I had only flown domestically from Delhi one time in the past and had two vivid memories; nearly having an iPod docking station confiscated at security because I had packed the cord in the checked baggage and couldn’t make the strange new machine “work” and having to visually identify our checked luggage once we went through security prior to it being loaded on the plane.  Since that experience, Delhi had opened a sparkling new domestic terminal from which our Kingfisher Airlines flight departed.

The check-in experience was surprisingly pleasant. As soon as we hopped out of the car a Kingfisher porter approached and helped get us into the terminal and didn’t even make it seem like a tip was required, which of course encouraged me to tip; maybe I am a sucker. No line to check-in and would have been the same at security; that is, if I had obeyed the signs and removed all electronics from my carry-on, not just the laptop. So it came as no surprise that my bag, which still containing two digital cameras, a bag of cords and adaptors, a Kindle, and an iPod dock (the same dock that caused such confusion years before), was pulled aside and forced to go through the x-ray a second time. Once inside security, we were met with a modern, clean facility with shops, food options, and laptop stations that put any of O’Hare’s terminals to shame (though I suppose that’s not saying too much).

The “gates” were really just holding pens on the ground level that resembled a bus terminal (I’m not saying that in a bad way). When a flight was ready to board, they called the flight number and passengers loaded a bus and were taxied out to the waiting plane. I had always found the “bus” approach somewhat inefficient and amateurish, but for some reason it seemed to work here.

The “Kingfisher Experience”, which passengers are reminded to enjoy on the welcome video from the company’s chairman, who portrays himself to be the Indian Richard Branson (for those unfamiliar with India, Kingfisher Airlines is a subsidiary of a conglomerate that also brews India’s most popular beer under the same name and logo) was truly that. It’s pretty much what I imagine flying in the ‘70’s to have been like, minus the smoking and drinking; hot meals are served for free, the plane is plastered with Scotch ads (which is somewhat ironic since alcohol is banned on flights within India but a good advertising opportunity for Indian Branson), and the stewards were all female and dressed from head to toe in red. Absolutely no complaints with Kingfisher; with the check-in experience, the flight, and what I found to be their practice of holding back exit row seats, I’d willingly pay a small premium to fly them again.

The flight departed fifteen or twenty minutes late; however, the arrival at Vasco de Gama airport in Goa was still on time. The checked bags (absolutely no liquids are allowed on flights within India, so if you’re traveling overnight, you’re basically checking a bag regardless of size) appeared quickly and we found the hotel placard with our name. The only travel hiccup of the day was a minor brainfart on my part and something I would mercilessly remind Lindsay of if she had done the same. As we were walking to the car, I allowed the hotel representative to take Lindsay’s bag and a somewhat similarly dressed man took my bag as well.  Lindsay immediately asked, “Is that guy with the hotel?”  I mumbled, “yeah probably” as I was relieved of the labor intensive responsibility of wheeling a 22 inch roller no more than the length of a pool, thought for a few seconds, and finally asked the hotel guy (whom I would have thought as my thin defense would have proactively said something) who said, “Nope”. The guy with my bag was just a local looking for a tip that preys on unsuspecting tourists that I actively steer clear of in Delhi; at any rate, I not so politely got my bag back, felt like an idiot, and soon enough we were at the car.

The ride to the hotel was uneventful by Indian standards, which is to say our lives were at risk no more than one time every two minutes. We quickly left the main highway, which was actually a divided four lane road and drove through a few small villages. Goa has a Portuguese influence and brightly painted buildings of pink, purple, and orange seem to explode from the jungle. At that point though, we were ready to relax, and approximately eleven near death experiences later, we finally approached the gates of our destination, the Alila Diwa Goa.

More to come on the actual trip….fish markets, a concierge named Ranger, Russian tourists, screaming children, tawdry beach massages, and yet a beautiful and relaxing hotel.

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