Thursday, 27 September 2012

Biman DC-10 Adventure III - Chittagong, Highlights of BG38 and TR2655

Chittagong Walkabout

Well Park Hotel is situated along a side road off O.R. Nizam Road and the incessant honking from the traffic greeted us when we woke up in the late morning. View of O.R. Nizam Road from the shared balcony of our suite.
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We booked our airport transfer with a quick phone call to the hotel reception and promptly headed out for a quick exploration of the city centre and lunch.

Exterior of Well Park Hotel.
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Provision shops and countless briyani shops vied for attention along the crowded shophouses that lined O.R. Nizam Road. However, it was much less overwhelming than what we had experienced in Dhaka and it made for a more pleasant sojourn to soak in the hustle and bustle of the vibrant marketplace.
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One of the many briyani shops along O.R. Nizam Road. Dum briyani form the staple food for most Bangladeshis and they are served from large aluminum pots that are typically located near the entrance to the shop. The large pot rest upon a makeshift stove of heated coals (also known as dum) that keep the dish warm. The slow heat also assist to retain the unique flavour of the basmati rice. A typical briyani meal ranges from Tk.65 for the basic option to Tk.150 (S$1 - S$2.30) for a more substantial helping with additional toppings and meat.
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Our hotel was located a major traffic intersection known as GEC Circle which takes its name after the adjacent General Electric Company complex. As most of us were unwilling to have another briyani meal for lunch, we proceeded down CDA Ave where the Google Maps app on our mobile phones showed the presence of a Pizza Hut outlet. In addition, the friendly hotel staff had also advised us that a KFC outlet could also be found in the vicinity.

Street scenes along CDA Avenue. Ubiquitous dull green 'CNGs' provide a convenient and if not possibly nerve wrecking means of transport in the city.
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Rickshaw Peddler. Meant for short distance travel, the rickshaw drivers are often only intimately familiar with the area that they specialise in.
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A group of Bangladeshi construction workers operating a manual concrete pump. Some of them seem to be still in their teens!
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A privately operated TATA public bus on service 8 with a barely discernable front and rear axle.
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We also spotted new front engined Ashok Leyland double deck buses and Daewoo Royal City operated by the government operator, BRTC, but were unfortunately unable to get a photo of due to the irregular frequency. The non airconditioned double decks were probably introduced into service as part of the new order of 290 buses that the government had placed with Ashok Leyland. The full article can be found here.

Photo copyright The Daily Star, Bangladesh.

Most of the more reputable airconditioned coach operators operate from the Garibulla Shah Airconditioned bus stand off CDA Avenue. Despite the numerous cracks running across the windscreen on one of its coaches, Green Line is widely regarded as one of the best coach operators in Bangladesh. This Irizar Century / MTrans bodied Volvo B7R has a Scania livery and rear axle but retains the original Volvo front axle and dashboard!
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An abandoned Hino RK at a corner of the coach terminal. The bodywork and interior seemed to indicate that it was used in Peninsula Malaysia before it was exported to Bangladesh.
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We decided to settle for Pizza Hut as we were unable to locate the KFC outlet. The windows on the second floor of the restaurant featured a series of stained glass murals which depicted the country's struggle for independence in the second half of the 20th century.
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Chicken Supreme & Chicken Exotica Pan Pizza. It was also a nice touch for the restaurant to include lemon slices in the glass along with the pitchers of Pepsi that we had ordered to go along with the pizzas.
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The airport transfer was operated by the hotel's own fleet of Toyota passenger vans. It took 40 minutes to cover the 20km distance from the city's main commercial hub to Chittagong Shah Amanat airport which is located in the South Patenga district of the bustling port city.
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The video below shows part of the ride from our hotel to the airport through downtown Chittagong. The traffic was generally smooth and the single lane road which links the Patenga district and the city proper can be seen towards the end of the video.


Fishing boats and cargo ships anchored along the banks of Karnaphuli River during low tide. The river empties directly into the Bay of Bengal and Chittagong is consequently an important fishing and container port for the country.
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BG38 Chittagong to Dhaka

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Date: Saturday, 08 Sep 12
Aircraft: S2-ACP
Seats: 38A
Departure Gate: 1

Scheduled Departure Time: 1730 LT
Boarding Time: 1825 LT
Push Back: 1844 LT (delay of 74mins)
Takeoff: 1857 LT on runway 23
Cruise Altitude: 16,000 ft

Scheduled Arrival Time: 1815 LT
Touchdown: 1923 LT on runway 14
Actual Arrival Time: 1931 LT (delay of 68mins)
Arrival Gate: 5

Driveway of the airport with a water tower/radar tower in the background. The airport infrastructure was modernised in 2005 with financial assistance from the Japanese government.
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Named after an Islamic saint, Chittagong Shah Amanat Airport is divided into the larger international section and smaller domestic section. The ground level is shared by both the departure and arrival halls while the boarding gates are located on the second floor. A large open air observation deck is located on the third level of the terminal building.
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There are very limited food options available in the airport and the absence of hotels and restaurants in the vicinity of the terminal building meant that passengers and visitors would have to rely on the handful of provision shops and the small cafeteria at the arrival halls for their needs. A cup of coffee costs Tk.20 (S$0.30) and a bowl of cup noodles cost Tk.150 (S$2.30).
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Upon arrival at the terminal, we proceeded through the obligatory security check and into the spacious terminal building where we discovered that our flight was unsurprisingly delayed by 40 mins with a new estimated departure time of 1810hrs. United Airways (4H), Regent Airlines (RX) and the state run Biman Bangladesh Airlines (BG) operate several scheduled flights between Chittagong and Dhaka daily. Mindful of yesterday's experience, we decided to check with the adjacent ticketing office and we received confirmation that BG38 would be operating this evening to Dhaka as the return flight from Jeddah. Some of us also managed to obtain a printout of our e-ticker on a piece of computer paper which bore the airline's watermark. There was also no chance of being transferred to a 'more reliable' B737-800 as the return flight (BG22 Muscat-Chittagong-Dhaka) had departed earlier in the afternoon. Although the airline's website showed an additional flight that was flown by a Fokker 28 at 7pm, it was in fact not operating as the airline's fleet of Fellowships had been grounded since July.
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We were informed that the check-in for our flight would only open an hour before the retimed departure time at 1700hrs and with 2hrs more to go, we decided to head to the observation deck.

Spotting at Chittagong Shah Amanat Airport

The entrance to the observation deck is located at a separate entrance near the domestic section of the terminal building and can be easily located by following the well marked signs. A large banner at the entrance to the observation deck depicted the take-off rotation of a Singapore Airlines A380 (possibly at Zurich-Kloten airport) and we could not resist taking a photo of it. The Bengali characters on the banner could be translated to "Visitors gallery. This way to see airplane" in English. A sizeable crowd of curious onlookers soon gathered around us and had probably wondered about the reason behind our excitement!
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The admission to the observation deck costs Tk.30 (S$0.45) per entry and we were faced with a three storey hike up the staircase to the observation deck with our accompanying luggage. The admission ticket was collected back at the top of the stairs.
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The observation deck spanned across the entire length of the terminal building and afforded views of the airport's single runway and the two aerobridge equipped gates. However, photography is hindered by the tightly spaced rectangular mesh grille. It is generally backlit in the afternoon but sunlit photos of the aircraft are still possible when they taxi into the apron.

Almost immediately upon our arrival at the observation deck, we were greeted with our first subject for the day in the form of a Youngone Cessna Grand Caravan S2-ACU. Youngone is a South Korean based corporation which has extensive business interests in Bangladesh and operates a small fleet of aircraft under its corporate aviation division.
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A friendly security guard soon approached us and offered to show us a better spot to photograph the aircraft but we were taken on a guided tour of the observation deck and were shown the airport control tower and mosque instead. He also helped us to safeguard our luggage and while his information about aircraft movements were not always spot-on, we did feel that it was worth paying him a small amount as a tip for his genuine efforts.

A former Voyager Airlines Fokker 27 S2-AEM was stored at the western corner of the apron. The aircraft was used to carry shrimp fries.
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With only 2 turboprop movements before our flight and limited seats at the non airconditioned observation deck, it was a long wait before a lone fire engine headed out to perform a runway inspection ahead of the wave of arrivals. One of us was noticeably excited over the sound of the vehicle's two-stroke Detroit Diesel engine and Jacobs brake!
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Regent Air Bombardier Dash 8-312Q S2-AHB.
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Shortly after the departure of the Regent Air Dash 8 back to Dhaka, an United Airways ATR72-200 S2-AFE took its place beside the aerobridge. This airframe had operated with a myriad of airlines including Continental Express and Mt Cook Airlines (Air New Zealand) before joining United Airways in October 2010.
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We had initially estimated the arrival time for the inbound BG38 from Jeddah as 1700hrs as the turnaround would take approximately an hour. The crowd at the observation deck had steadily built up over the past hour with many of the locals clad in the traditional Muslim attire. The anticipation started to build up as the crowd trained their eyes on the eastern end of the runway.
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As it was well past the check-in time for our flight, we decided to set a cut-off time of 1725hrs before giving up for a photo of our DC-10 taxiing into the apron. At 1720hrs, the distinct profile of the DC-10 appeared in the horizon and much to the delight of the awaiting crowd, executed a beautiful landing on runway 23
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The shrill whine of the three General Electric CF6-50C2 turbofan engines drowned out the excited chatter of the crowd as S2-AFP 'City of Dhaka' taxied to her gate while being basked in the soft glow of the evening sun.
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We bode a quick farewell to the security guard who accompanied us throughout our stay at the observation deck and proceeded down the stairs to the domestic check-in desks where the check-in process for our flight was well underway.

Check-In

Domestic Check-In hall. A series of large mosaic murals depicting the life of Bangladeshis filled up the otherwise bland wall of the spacious check-in hall. Standardised check-in counters were used at Chittagong instead of the customised check-in desks that we had seen at Dhaka the previous evening.
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Check-in proceeded quickly as we were among the last passengers to be checked in for the flight. An irate local who was possibly placed on standby however, kept passing derogatory comments about the airline and complained audibly about being unable to get his passage confirmed.
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Although we had checked in individually and requested for a window seat each, we were unable to secure window seats for everyone due to the large number of passengers onboard who were continuing their journey to Dhaka.
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Security consisted of a single X-ray machine for screening the carry-on baggage and our boarding passes were stamped at the back by an elderly male staff as a formality. The narrow corridor emptied into a relatively comfortable airconditioned waiting lounge. A number of local passengers were riveted to the local TV channel that was screened from a small TV located at the corner of the room.
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The Flight

Boarding commenced nearly an hour after the scheduled departure time and no boarding announcements were made - an airline staff merely opened the door which led to the second level of the terminal and the crowd followed him to the aerobridge. With the flight delay, our hopes of being able to enjoy the DC-10 on a daylight flight were dashed as the sun had set over the horizon.
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S2-ACP "City of Dhaka" from the aerobridge before boarding the aircraft. The aircraft's name is printed in English on the left and Bengali on the right.
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We boarded through door L2 and were directed to our seats by a female cabin crew. It was a huge contrast between the light load on our previous flight and the packed economy class cabin on the return flight. There was a brief hold up in the boarding process as a passenger had decided to park his briefcase beside his seat and obstructed the narrow aisle although it was against the safety requirements.
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After squeezing through the crowded aisles, we were shown our seats by another female cabin crew who was stationed at the rear of the aircraft. The video of the entire boarding process from the waiting lounge to our seat was documented on video (below).


Seat 38A. The full economy class cabin on the aircraft can carry a maximum of 314 passengers distributed over 40 rows of seats in a dense 2-5-2 seating configuration. Certain DC-10 and MD-11 operators such as Finnair had their economy class cabin fitted with a mixed 2-4-2 and 2-5-2 seating configuration. The exceptionally large passenger windows on the DC-10 family of trijets also further cemented the type as a firm favourite among many passengers throughout its chequered history.
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The aircraft type is imprinted on the handle of the window shade.
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A compartment at the back of the window seats on the DC-10 conceal a life jacket for the unlikely event of an emergency. Two small inspection windows are also built into the cover of the compartment for the crew to ensure that the life jacket is present.
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Cabin view from seat 38A towards the front of the aircraft.
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The overhead luggage bins over the window seats are rather small and it can be hard to fit anything larger than a small backpack into it. The hinged luggage bins over the centre block of seats are significantly larger and are definitely recommended for passengers with larger pieces of hand luggage. It is however, still a far cry from the spacious pivoting bins that can be found on the Boeing 777 & 787 aircraft.
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Armrest seat controls on the DC-10. As with the previous flight, none of the controls worked though they looked to be in a better condition with the seat marking still intact. In this age of touch screen controls and LED displays, I certainly missed the distinct 'clicking' of the rotary dial to select the desired audio channel on the older aircraft!
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An obligatory packet of Starship Mango Juice was served to passengers before the aircraft was pushed back from the gate.
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The maroon carpet, thick padded seats with floral prints and warm lighting and lack of PTV units were reminiscent of air travel in the 1970s when it was still a glamorous affair for most to fly in Economy Class.
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A light rain had started to fall when we started to taxi towards the end of runway 23 for takeoff. After a U-turn at the end of the runway, the three engines were powered up and the aircraft did a powerful takeoff run on the rain-slicked asphalt surface and rotated steeply before the terminal building. The climbout was no less satisfying than the one we had experienced on the previous flight and it was certainly a treat to immerse in the loud roar of the engine (we were directly ahead of the intake for the tail mounted engine #2) and soak in the ambience of the retro cabin interior.

After the seat belt signs were turned off, we headed out of our seats to make use of the limited cruise time to explore the cabin. Much of the rear cabin bulkhead is covered with a faded brown lining with oriental motifs.
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There are a total of 6 lavatories onboard the aircraft, with 2 lavatories at the front of the aircraft and a row of 4 at the rear of the aircraft. Two lavatories at the rear were initially unlocked for this short sector but the cabin crew obliged our request to unlock the other 2 lavatories as well. The lavatory can be unlatched from the outside by lifting the small spring loaded metal 'LAVATORY' plate on the door and sliding back the bolt beneath it.
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The condition of the lavatory varies greatly between individual units and I was surprised to find it to be clean and generally well maintained. Carefully folded paper napkins were placed on the racks beside the sink and standard amenities such as toilet paper, seat covers and paper cups were also available. A lever at the side of the toilet flushes the toilet and a solitary air vent provides much needed ventilation. Unfortunately there were no Bengali translations of the English signs stickered in the lavatory unlike other examples in the fleet.
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Following a short cruise at 16,000ft, the aircraft commenced its descent into Dhaka Hazrat Shahjalal Airport and we skimmed past the familiar lights of Uttara moments before the undercarriage of the aircraft made a firm contact with the runway surface. It was interesting to note that many Bangladeshi nationals switched on their mobile phones the moment we touched down and after a chorus of start-up tones, a number were deep in conversation even before we turned off the runway!

We listened to the post-landing announcements in Bengali and English for the final time on this trip and watched another company B777-300ER departing for Kuala Lumpur after our aircraft vacated the airport's sole active runway.

The aircraft pulled into gate 5 68 minutes behind schedule and we were parked next to the company's leased B747-400 TF-AMY which was being readied for her flight to Riyadh (apologies for the poor photo quality). This aircraft was repossessed by Air Atlanta Icelandic five days after this photo was taken and had plunged Biman Bangladesh's flight schedules into chaos.
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We had a chat with the friendly stewardess in our section and found out that the DC-10 crew were rostered on the company's B777 fleet as well. A final photo of the rear economy class cabin on S2-ACP.
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One of us managed to request for a cockpit visit while disembarking the aircraft and we were afforded a rare glimpse into the cockpit of the DC-10 which featured the original analogue flight instruments and flight engineer's station.
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Flight Engineer's station located at the right side of the cockpit. This position had been made redundant with the introduction of the 'glass cockpit' on the MD-11.
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We met up with the affable CPT Ishtiaque and F/E Ahsanul outside the gate and chatted with them during the long walk to the immigration counter. They had apparently noticed when some of us were taking photos of the aircraft before boarding at Chittagong and had tried to invite some of us onboard for a jumpseat ride! Unfortunately, fate had it that we boarded through the L2 door and headed straight for our seats located at the rear of the aircraft.

He was in fact well aware that many like-minded aviation enthusiasts had made their way to Bangladesh to ride on the DC-10. Moreover, they were also optimistic that passenger DC-10 operations would continue until end 2013 when two additional B777-300ERs would join the fleet to take over the duties from the tired workhorses. As we were arriving from a domestic flight, we were simply waved through the immigration counters into the arrival hall. After getting a souvenir photo of us together with the friendly flight crew, we bade a fond farewell and proceeded to the domestic arrival hall to collect our sole check-in baggage.
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Flight information display screen at the arrival hall.
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The compact domestic arrival hall had been renovated with new tiles and had a single conveyor belt. However, passengers were instead directed to collect their check-in baggage from the Biman Bangladesh check-in counter at the adjacent departure hall instead.
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TR2655 Dhaka to Singapore

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Date: Sunday, 09 Sep 12
Aircraft: 9V-TAT
Seats: 12F
Departure Gate: 1

Scheduled Departure Time: 0215 LT
Boarding Time: 0125 LT
Push Back: 0157 LT
Takeoff: 0207 LT on runway 14
Cruise Altitude: 37,000 ft

Scheduled Arrival Time: 0815 LT
Touchdown: 0749 LT on runway 20C
Actual Arrival Time: 0754 LT
Arrival Gate: 4

Check-In

Dhaka Hazrat Shahjalal Airport commenced operations in 1980 and took over as Bangladesh's main international gateway from Tejgaon Airport. Although the airport had been modernised through the years, the original fan shaped structures, wooden staircase railings and wall murals had been left intact.
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After sending off a trio of our group who were flying on a Singapore Airlines flight back to Singapore and Australia, we settled in for a lengthy four hour wait before the check-in desks for our flight would be opened. Free wifi was available throughout the departure level but sadly no food options could be found in the landside portion of the terminal.

With multi-coloured hues of blue set against an olive coloured background, the striking uniform of the airport police certainly stood out against the crowd in the terminal building.
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Banners were placed at the check-in counters to direct passengers to the correct rows for their flight. The International Terminal was divided into Terminal 1 & 2 and the check-in for Singapore Airlines and Tiger Airways was handled at Terminal 1.
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Check-in for our flight was opened 3 hours before the scheduled departure time and long queues of passengers soon formed behind the 6 available check-in counters.
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As we were at the front of the queue, we were issued our boarding passes with our pre-selected seats after a short wait. The departure card was also provided by the courteous check-in agent.
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Two counters were allocated for foreign passports at the immigration clearance area and passengers who were holding foreign passports were relegated to a single queue as the other had been occupied by a relatively long queue of Bangladeshi citizens. It was perhaps surprising when the immigration officer at the other queue decided to stop processing Bangladeshi citizens and instead waved us over to clear the growing queue of foreign passengers.

The restricted area consists of an eclectic mix of gift shops and restaurants which continued to stay open despite the late hours.
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We decided to make use of our Priority Pass privileges and headed to the Sheraton VIP lounge (Ruposhi Bangla Executive Lounge) located on the third floor of the restricted area. It costs US$20 per entry for passengers without a valid lounge invitation or equivalent access privileges.
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A small but decent selection of hot dishes such as fried noodles, buttered fish fillet and cajun style chicken were available for guests. Moreover, chilled cans of Coca-Cola and Sprite as well as bottled mineral water were also available. The lounge also has its own private toilet facilities.
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The Flight
The boarding call for our flight was announced through the public announcement system 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time and we made our way to the gate which was located at the southern end of the building. The gate holdroom had been emptied by the time we arrived at the gate and immediately boarded our aircraft. 9V-TAT (l/n 4532) would be operating our flight and the aircraft was delivered new to the airline in December 2010.

We were warmly welcomed onboard the aircraft and made our way to our pre-selected emergency exit row seats. We discovered another passenger was occupying one of our seats and the issue was soon resolved with the help of an assertive female cabin crew.

View of seat 12F. Row 12 is the first row of emergency exit row seats on Tiger Airway's A320 aircraft and passengers were able to enjoy an exceptionally generous amount of legroom (albeit at a premium of USD20 for this four hour long sector). However, luggage could not be stowed under the seat in front due to safety considerations and the seats in row 12 cannot be reclined as well as it may obstruct the rear overwing emergency exit.
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A young Chinese male cabin crew soon came around to give us the safety briefing for the emergency exit row seats and the two Bangladeshis seated beside me were noticeably jittery about being seated in such a row as they studied the instructions in the safety card intently for a signification portion of the flight!

We pushed back 15mins ahead of schedule and the cabin crew took up the painstaking task of demanding passengers to switch off their mobile phones for the duration of the flight. At 0207LT, our aircraft left the ground and we caught our final glimpse of the sprawling city as we headed into the thick thunderstorm clouds.

A limited inflight service was conducted after the seat belt signs were turned off. It was entertaining to watch a number of Bangladeshi trying to request for a drink before realising that they would have to pay for it! The cabin lights were dimmed for passengers to take a rest and I watched a number of documentaries on my mobile phone before drifting off to sleep.

The intense purple and orange hues during sunrise never fails to amaze me as nature provides one of the best inflight entertainment.
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It was also an intriguing experience to have my two Bangaldeshi seatmates stretch their hands across my seat and attempt to capture the view outside with their mobile phone cameras.
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We descended through a thick layer of clouds and made an uneventful landing on runway 20C on an overcast morning. It was also to be my last flight arriving at Changi Airport's Budget Terminal.



The elevated walkway leading from the stands to the centralised immigration clearance and baggage claim area was non airconditioned when the terminal had welcomed its first passengers back in 2006. It had since been sealed up and fitted with an airconditioning system to improve passenger comfort.
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Stepping out of the arrival hall after one of my craziest and most memorable overseas trip, I was certainly glad that I had flown the DC-10 and visited a country that I otherwise would not have in the great company of my friends. Apart from clocking my first flight on a DC-10, it was also the first time that I had set foot in Bangladesh and this trip had also netted my maiden flight on a Boeing B777-300ER.

Would I do the trip again? Possibly Not.
Would I recommend the trip to others? Definitely.

Thank you for reading!

Postscript: Triggered by the unforseen repossession of its sole B747-400 TF-AMY by the leasing company and the demands imposed by its contracted hajj flights, the flight schedules of Biman Bangaldesh airlines had descended into chaos in just one week after our adventure. The severe lack of airworthy aircraft had meant that the airline had to suspend its domestic operations until the end of the hajj season in November.

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