Airpearl From Malaysia, joined May 2001, 936 posts, RR: 28 Posted (4 years 11 months 4 days 17 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Once upon a time, dinosaurs roamed the earth, and Emirates did not exist. In those far simpler days, only one airline would have come to mind if you were asked to name the best carrier in the Middle East. It ruled the roost in not one, but four countries along the Arabian Gulf – offering (had the term been in vogue then) cutting edge technology, superlative service by exotic air hostesses, gourmet cuisine, and the luxurious comfort of wide-cabin Lockheed L-1011 Tristar planes. As a kid, I imagined what a treat it must be to fly this airline with the golden falcon on its tail, and marveled at the unique multi-colored livery it applied to its nose. Award-winning Gulf Air was the envy of many.
Fast forward to the last remaining days of 2008, and the airline industry is deep in turmoil. No longer glamorous, airlines are best known for bleeding money and squeezing passengers into ever tinier spaces. It is a brutal industry that is totally unforgiving of the slow, lame or cumbersome. Make a mistake at your peril: the predators – hungry, lean and agile beasts run by bean counters - will serve you up for breakfast. Dinosaurs do not last.
A prehistoric pictorial book - a cherished Christmas present which fueled my early interest in aviation - features Gulf Air prominently, including on the cover.
Before this trip, I tried researching previous reports on Gulf Air in this forum. There haven’t been many: using the search engine, I found a total of three GF trip reports since January 2007, against more than 20 for Emirates. A friend living in the Gulf States hearing I was booked on the airline said: Gulf Air? But why? That question wouldn’t have arisen had I been flying EY or QR. There was something sad about it all - it seemed as if nobody of consequence wanted to be associated with GF anymore. It was no longer sexy; it was passé. Even shareholders abandoned ship, as one oil-rich emirate after another decided this airline just didn’t quite fit the progressive image they wanted to project.
The good old days at Gulf Air when it was the pride of the Middle East.
Today, Gulf Air seldom registers on the radar, even for people thinking about Middle East airlines. To be honest, it didn’t register on mine either when I was considering options for my Christmas trip to London. If not for Miss Ho, my faithful travel agent who knows I am always on the lookout for unique experiences on the cheap, I wouldn’t have been aboard this series of flights. So it wasn’t sentiment or nostalgia, but price that clinched the deal: I paid less than half of the MH Business Class fare to fly First Class on GF from Kuala Lumpur to London. Now, that’s what I would call a real five-star, value carrier.
christmas day 2008
So who hadn’t been a good boy this year? In early December, Santa delivers an early Christmas present: I am downgraded. The flight – booked and paid for five months earlier – will now no longer feature First Class on the KUL/BAH/KUL legs. I am told a two-class A330-200 (a configuration GF does not have) would be deployed on the route – it later emerges that a last-minute, wet-lease of two Jet Airways machines had been arranged, and I am ‘lucky’ enough to be among the first to experience them. Owing to the rock bottom fare I paid, up until the day of departure, Gulf Air still does not know how much of a refund I will get for the downgrade: I fear the quantum (if there’s a refund at all) will not even pay for a taxi ride from Heathrow into central London. It’s complicated; we will have to wait for advice from Bahrain, was the ominous message conveyed by the KUL GF office to Miss Ho.
The flight seems a lot busier than I expect for Christmas Day. The four Economy check-in desks are crowded with tour groups, and there’s even a queue at Business Class. Still, it moves quickly and I am promptly served. I feign ignorance as I present my e-ticket print-out that’s still showing “A” class for the KUL/BAH sector: my travel agent tells me there’s no First Class, is that right?
“Yes, there’s a change of aircraft, there is no First Class to Bahrain,” says the check-in agent nonchalantly. “We will stamp your boarding pass to say you’ve been downgraded.” That’s it: the briefest of explanations. The whole encounter is not unpleasant, but that’s only because this passenger has chosen not to make a fuss about the fact that half the First Class trip he paid for is now going to be made in Business. Aircraft substitutions happen; downgrades happen – I may not like them but can accept them as operational anomalies. However, I am surprised at how much is taken for granted by this airline. A quick apology “for the inconvenience” wouldn’t go amiss. And wouldn’t a passenger expecting a Gulf Air service be surprised to find a Jet Airways plane and crew? Apparently, GF doesn’t deem it important enough to let him know.
“Gulf Air 281” at KLIA’s gate C32. Many passengers are genuinely surprised when they reach the gate: huh, I thought we were flying Gulf Air?!
Like most non-aligned airlines flying into KLIA, Gulf Air sends its premium passengers to the Plaza Premium Lounge that’s unmistakable for the series of cut-out stewardesses from half a dozen airlines on display outside. It’s a decent place, but lacks the finesse of the airline-operated lounges at the airport. A recent upgrade has improved the previously tacky interior. There’s a small buffet area serving hot and cold dishes but nothing compels me touch them.
kuala Lumpur to bahrain
Gulf Air flight GF 281 in Business Class
Airbus A330-200 registered VT-JWE, leased from Jet Airways
Dept: 10.41 Arrv: 13.21 (on time)
Good Morning Sir! A steward in a smart black suit greets me cheerfully at door 1L. I catch a glimpse in the galley of a bright canary yellow outfit of a female colleague that literally shouts Jet Airways. Just in case you missed it, the TV screens proudly display the Jet Airways logo, the pre-recorded announcements and safety videos start in Hindi, while application forms for Jet Airways’ frequent flier program fill the magazine racks. Welcome aboard… ahem, Gulf Air.
VT-JWE is one of the two Jet A332s leased by Gulf Air, at least for the next few months, but likely longer. Unlike most of 9W’s other wide-bodies, these two aren’t equipped with the airline’s new herringbone J class cabin. But one can hardly complain for the lack of space: there’s simply acres and acres of room. It’s not a bad looking cabin too. The seats look like the same ones installed on South African Airways, though I can’t be sure.
I am sat at 3A in the back of the first Business Class cabin, directly ahead of door 2L. There are a further two rows behind doors 2, making a total of 30 seats in J. The load in the premium class is about 80% but I get an empty seat next to me today, which is a nice bonus. But the seat and head rest are rock hard: I wonder if that’s the compromise that must be made for a flat bed; for I haven’t a clue why someone would deliberately design such a hard seat. (To be fair, the seat gets better when reclined and yes, it does go fully horizontal.)
The seat in front is so far ahead of me I need to unbuckle my seat belt to get at the inflight magazine, Gulf Life. That, incidentally, is the first evidence that I am aboard Gulf Air. Or am I? In the same seat pocket, the IFE guide tells me I am aboard Jet Airways – with a generous selection of Bollywood hit movies, all available on-demand. The compartment under the seat pocket is for storing your shoes. A noise-cancelling headphone is already at my seat, together with a pillow, grey woolen blanket and a Gulf Air comfort kit.
As we push back, Gulf Air starts manifesting itself. Welcome announcements are done in Arabic first – GF has two senior-looking male crews aboard who dispense the obligatory Arabic coffee and dates at departure, and douse passengers with rose water just before landing, but otherwise they’re invisible for most of the 7 hours in between. The enthusiastic Jet crews make the English language announcements, serve welcome drinks, distribute menus, take drink and meal orders, and pretty much do everything else, all this while pretending no one notices they have Jet Airways name tags on. A steward offering newspapers from a trolley is caught in galley traffic while by my side, so I take the opportunity to ask what it’s like to be now based in Bahrain, instead of India. His response – sounding like I exposed his secret identity – tickled me. “Oh, you noticed. You do know we’re from Jet Airways,” he says, the last two words uttered almost in a whisper, as if it’s some subversive, secret society. “We’re being leased out.”
With air traffic light, we roll onto 32R and are airborne in no time. As we head out over the Straits of Malacca, the weather becomes increasingly poorer and the seat belt sign stays on. Chicken satay accompanies drinks after take-off.
It may just be mid morning but the menu, strangely, lists the first meal as dinner. Gulf Air has an a la carte style of dining, meaning meals can be ordered for anytime during the flight. It’s a nice touch: most other airlines reserve this type of on-demand meal service for First only. Having not had breakfast I am famished, so I order “dinner” early – as do a number of fellow passengers.
The weather turns choppy over the Bay of Bengal. Lucky we have a long flight ahead of us – an already leisurely meal service is interrupted a number of times when turbulence forces the crew to be strapped in. A meal that gets going just off Sumatra, Indonesia, eventually gets done as we close in on the Indian coast near Chennai. (What you see here is the ‘express’ version.)
Leisurely is the way to go for a Christmas lunch in the clouds. Above is the smoked chicken starter, which I don’t remember ordering. This is followed by a very delicious mushroom soup.
This is the “Chef’s Selection” honey glazed chicken as my main course.
The lemon and meringue pie, served nearly two hours after the starter, finishes off the meal. But that doesn’t bother me. I have time on my hands; and my travel staples with me. I have the luxury of reading from cover to cover The Economist’s Christmas Double Issue: it’s become a sort of year-end holiday flying ritual for some years now.
And then there’s my dog eared, yellowing paperback edition of Beyond The Blue Horizon by Alexander Frater, which I dig up from the archives to reread. Mr. Frater retraces the original Imperial Airways route from London to Brisbane, and rich in historical detail, it always puts me in the right mood to truly appreciate the miracle that is our common interest here on A.net. It starts: My first love affair began early on the morning of 31 December 1946, a few days before my ninth birthday. It was with an aeroplane… Trust me, it’s the sort of book many of us on this forum will identify with.
The fact that the PTV at my seat is out of order hardly matters (though I imagine it would have had the flight been fuller, and I was without my favorite books). I set the screen in the adjacent seat on the moving map as background for most of the flight, but am only swayed to fiddle the AVOD knobs for Hart to Hart – the 1980s TV series of a wealthy Beverly Hills couple-turned-detective that today looks bizarrely innocent, and totally suited for my flight down memory lane.
There’s bright sunshine outside but you wouldn’t know it looking at these photos. Most of the passengers on this flight take advantage of the dark-as-night cabin and flat bed for a snooze. The Jet Airways crews work hard throughout – there’s an impressive, almost continuous patrolling of the cabin and the on-demand meal service means someone, somewhere is being served lunch or a snack. I get talking to some of the crew and am told that there’s going to be up to 150 Jet Airways staff based in Bahrain owing to the leases. There could be more coming too if the leases for an additional 2-3 aircraft materialize.
We have long crossed the Indian subcontinent. The going gets a lot smoother over the Arabian Sea when I am asked if I’d like a snack. I opt for a cheese baguette – but would rather have the off-the-menu Indian meal, the enticing aroma wafting from the galley as it is prepared. I later see a crew member carrying a tray of the special meal into the flight deck.
I raise the window shades briefly – the sudden glare no doubt unappreciated by my fellow passengers – to see cloudless skies as we make landfall over the Arabian Peninsula at the rugged Omani coastline.
Heading directly northwest, we enter UAE airspace and fly overhead the emirate of Abu Dhabi, still confidently building outwards and upwards, even as the rest of us recoil and contract.
Skirting the northern tip of Qatar, we are afforded a distant, hazy, early afternoon view of Bahrain’s capital Manama before coasting in for a smooth landing at runway 30R.
On-chocks 24 minutes ahead of schedule, VT-JWE gets a well-deserved rest at gate 14 of its adopted temporary home. The aircraft is next scheduled for a short hop to Dubai at 1530. The only hint that this Airbus is not quite what it seems is the presence of a tiny golden falcon at door 1R.
After a quick security scan, and with no need to check-in again (my onward boarding pass having been issued at KUL) I climb the stairs to the departure level. Bahrain International Airport is small by today’s Middle East hub standards and its design – though old – is straight-forward but, most importantly, there are great views of the airfield from the terminal. Among my pet peeves are some of these flashy new airports looking like shopping shrines that somehow feel the need to shield you, as much as possible, from the flying experience: Thou shalt not see the plane. Go forth and shop!
The view from the Bahrain terminal of a short-haul Gulf Air runaround. Behind, activity (or the lack thereof) along runway 30R is clearly visible. Hard to imagine it now, but Bahrain was one of a handful of airports around the world to see regular supersonic travel. It was the first British Airways Concorde destination, and the rare hybrid BA/SQ Concorde used to be a common sight here for a while.
Bahrain, of course, is also one of the pioneers of the transit shopping experience and, together with Dubai, was an early specialist in catering to the bleary-eyed as they wander aimlessly among the duty-free booze on their hour-long refueling stops half-way between Europe and the Far East. The introduction of longer-range planes in the late 1980s made the previously crucial Gulf stops redundant. Dubai responded by going on the offensive: feeding and growing the monster we now know as Emirates that forces us to continue stopping and shopping at its monstrous hub. (There was an old joke that said in order to get to Heaven, one needed to change planes in Atlanta. I guess a revised globalized version now would likely substitute Atlanta with Dubai.) Slower on the uptake and with GF’s resources initially divided among so many Gulf “hubs”, Bahrain fell further and further behind Dubai as a rival air hub. Sadly, today, it’s not even seen as a serious contender.
The duty free shop at Bahrain airport entices passengers with fake snow, reindeers, polar bears, Christmas trees and Santa: how’s that for a totally surreal experience in the Arabian desert.
Premium class passengers on Gulf Air can escape the musical Santas by making their way upstairs. There is a single entrance to what’s essentially two-lounges-in-one. The First Class Lounge, to which I am invited, is a private enclave located within the Business Class Lounge. Both lounges look very similar. I recognize a number of passengers from the KUL flight already here, awaiting their onward connections.
Going back to its Bedouin roots, a sheik’s tent is apparently the inspiration: full marks to GF for trying something different. It may not be the place you or I would necessarily choose to sit, but it is popular with large families traveling together, and Gulf Air knows its demographics well. This is the F section of the lounge – a very quiet place this Christmas Day.
I take a seat by the window, order a coffee from an affable Filipino waiter but decline the offer of food: there’s just no end to all this eating in these premium classes! With a fast and reliable wifi connection, I happily spend the next two hours on my laptop. The décor has a retro chic to it – one that wouldn’t look out of place when such places were called “The VIP Lounge” and passengers were dressed in suits and silks; not like now when a strange man attired in T-shirt and unwashed jeans is seen taking photos of his coffee. Just not our sort of chap, is he? Alas, how the standards have fallen.
A Cathay Pacific A340-300 is towed into the gate right under me. (Like all the best “VIP” lounges, this one has an excellent view of the airfield.) I am intrigued: mid-afternoon is an unusual departure time for Far East-bound flights. I look-up cathaypacific.com and discover this machine will soon be leaving for Dubai and then onto Hong Kong, where it’s scheduled to arrive at 6 a.m. Boxing Day. Cathay’s history in Bahrain stretches back to the days when the airport was the busy refueling stop for its flagship CX201 to London. The one-stop route no longer exists, but at least the airline stayed on – unlike QF and SQ which pulled out from Bahrain once their B744s were delivered.
I leave the lounge early to make my usual meandering way to the gate. One of the first things you see when leaving the GF lounge are two billboard-sized adverts for the splendors one can expect aboard First Class. Now, I may not be a marketing expert but this baffles me: an advert at this point is surely pointless. It would not sell tickets (we have them already), but worse, it can raise expectations. Superlative service, comfy beds, and freshly cooked meals prepared by on-board chefs who buy the produce themselves? I don’t envy the GF crews, who have a lot to live up to!
Bahrain doesn’t yield very much for spotters this time of the afternoon. The only plane of interest is this A320 belonging to Bahrain Air, a low cost airline that flies to more than a dozen regional destinations from here.
I arrive at gate 12 for the departure of GF005 to London Heathrow some 40 minutes before departure. Just about right, I think, not too early, and not too late. But something’s wrong with this scene: where are all the passengers?
I check with the agent that there hasn’t been a last minute gate change. No sir, this is the London flight: we’ll be boarding shortly. Please take a seat, she says. Of course, there are plenty of seats to choose from.
Outside, a Gulf Air A340-313 is being prepared for the routine London run – this is the latest of three GF flights every day. Registered A9C-LH, she was previously 9V-SJM in a short-lived career as a Singapore Airlines Celestar. Passengers start trickling in as the departure time draws closer. I count maybe 30 passengers in all; and recognize a surprisingly large proportion as being fellow travelers from KUL on GF281. Boarding is late and leisurely – no one pushes, rushes, or needs to queue. Ah, if only flying could always be like this.
bahrain to london heathrow
Gulf Air flight GF 005 in First Class
Airbus A340-300 registered A9C-LH
Dept: 16.49 Arrv: 20.55 (on time)
Boarding at door 2L, I am greeted by the inflight service manager as if I was the only person he’d been waiting for, and personally escorted through J class to my seat at the starboard side of the First Class cabin. Simple as it may seem, a genuinely warm welcome sets the tone for the rest of the flight. Here you are Sir, welcome to Gulf Air. Nice to have you aboard.
Sometimes when you board a plane, things just fall into place, and you know it’ll be a great flight. This is one of those occasions. Pretty Diana from Indonesia, who is put in charge of the First Class cabin this evening, says hello and offers to bring me a pre-takeoff drink. Next, Fadly from Malaysia – employed as a ‘Sky Chef’ and looking the part – comes over to introduce himself, hands out the menu, and tells me of the special Christmas dinner option which I might like trying. The crews are friendly and chatty, and yet highly professional: managing one of those tough balancing acts which I’ve only consistently seen aboard CX’s premium classes (what a shameless plug for my former favorite airline!) The fact that the load is light on a holiday may have had a bearing on everyone’s moods, but the good natured banter could not be faked.
For an empty flight, First Class is running busy. Of course, we’re talking relative terms here. Including me, there are three passengers in the F cabin making a load factor of 37.5% - substantially higher than in both J and Y. My traveling companions, a couple seated together in row 1, also flew in from KUL today.
The Gulf Air First Class cabin is a handsome one. Configured 1-2-1, it has a total of eight seats in two rows. Seat belts fitted on the leg rests allow two passengers to dine at the same table together. Notice also how the purple First Class carpets stop abruptly at the “border”.
Sitting so close to Business Class and with the cabin largely empty, I could not resist popping back for a quick snap. The place actually doesn’t look half bad.
Below, the First Class cabin, as seen from the rear, shows off the spaciousness of this section without the clutter of center overhead baggage compartments.
Window-seat passengers in First enjoy a wide flat surface next to them. There’s also additional storage room hidden underneath. Both come in very handy. The only downside to this arrangement is that the windows are now a fair distance away from the seat.
While still on the ground, Diana distributes the cream colored pyjamas and a dark blue duvet, while Fadly takes the meal orders. And to drink after take-off? Well, one surely cannot refuse the offer of champagne in this season of indulgence, so a suitably bubbly start it is to this 6 hour 45 minute flight to Heathrow. We had pushed back a little late and are assured we’d make up time on the way. But, of course, keeping to a schedule is not too high on the priority list for the passenger at 2K today. Cheers!
Here’s the menu for this evening’s flight. The regular dinner selections are supplemented by a special Christmas menu tonight.
Dinner starts promptly after we reach cruise. The sun has begun to set as we head in a north-westerly direction over the Saudi desert. I opt for the Christmas menu but start with an Arabic Mezze.
Seeing that I’m running low on champagne, Diana comes round with Belle Epoque’s unmistakable art nouveau engraved bottle for a refill. In a moment of madness, I ask if I can photograph her “in action”; then immediately feel silly and foolish, like a high school geek who asks the prettiest girl in class for a date. “Yes, of course,” says Diana beaming. The geek’s over the moon.
Christmas dinner continues with a large helping of roasted breast of Norfolk turkey, chestnut stuffing and a halal chipolata.
This is followed by a rich Christmas plum pudding served with vanilla sauce and ice cream, after which I am well and truly stuffed. Compared to the last meal I had aboard Jet, Diana served dinner with much greater speed, but no less graciously. My fellow passengers in F have also finished their meals. We are barely an hour and a half from Bahrain and still in Saudi airspace when the lights are dimmed for us to get some shut eye.
I decide to continue my reading, determined to stay awake all the way to London – which isn’t easy when my body clock says its past midnight, and my head swims in Belle Epoque. On another carrier, I might have been tempted to test out the PTV offerings so that I can add another flick to my growing collection of half-watched movies. But Gulf Air still operates an archaic 24 channel loop-system for its movies and TV, so I don’t even bother to remove the noise-cancelling headphone from its pack. The IFE on GF is clearly light years behind Emirates.
I turn back to Alexander Frater who’s been a faithful traveling companion: he’s just landed at Bahrain’s Muharraq Airport on a Gulf Air B737-200 from Kuwait. I read that the very same airport I had just departed from on this fly-by-wire Airbus 340-313X began life as a “lunch stop” for Imperial Airways’ Handley Page HP. 42 Hannibal (registered G-AAGX, sadly lost over the Gulf of Oman March 1, 1940) while traveling between Cairo and India in the 1930s. But the terminal building that greeted Hannibal’s passengers was a little different: “A thatched palm shack, with a signpost outside, one arm pointing to London and the other to Karachi. Imperial’s big brass bell hung outside with a plaited rope lanyard. Four bells meant an aircraft was approaching, six that it was ready to depart.”
Meanwhile aboard GF 005 cruising along at 38,000 feet on Christmas Day, the crews are dispensing exemplary service. In fact, they’re as good as any I have experienced. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes the service so good: I wonder if it’s just as simple as genuine pride in work well done. Both Diana and Fadly drop by regularly to check if I need anything. “How about some coffee?” Diana asks for the second time in the darkened cabin. Surely one can’t refuse again – so it is served, together with an interesting selection of chocolates blended with Arabian spices. “Please try them and let me know what you think, okay?” Fadly later comes round with a comment form – which I happily complete – then suggests I should try the Moroccan mint tea. Yeah, why not, I say, finally succumbing to being spoilt rotten.
I sit back and reflect on a column I read in today’s IHT penned by Ann Hood, a former TWA flight attendant, who remembers with great fondness the good old days of aviation, and wonders why flying has become so unpleasant in the U.S. today.
Ms Hood writes: “I remember the first time I stepped on to a Lockheed L-1011 as a flight attendant in 1979. I marveled at the beauty of that plane. I put on my apron with my name across the top, and I smiled at the people who had saved up their money, put on their Sunday best, and chosen TWA. It is not so long ago that flying had that civility, that glamour, when flying through the sky really felt like something special… we remember the service we provided – dare I say cheerfully? Proudly?”
Had she been aboard, I think Ms Hood would have enjoyed this flight. And I am quite sure she would have approved of the service provided by Diana and Fadly. There’s civility, glamour and it feels special: we are truly soaring here.
We are over Germany now and will soon be descending for Heathrow. It looks like we’ll be there on time, as promised. I thank Diana and Fadly for the wonderful flight, but they shrug it off as “normal”. When I suggest that they were perhaps over-doing it with the hot drinks service, Fadly laughs out loud. “Ah yes,” says Diana, with a cheeky smile. “We were bored and needed something to do. You were the only one awake!” It is a great end to one of the most enjoyable Christmas Days I’ve had in a long time.
The best holidays are ones where there’s nothing you absolutely have to do. A few days of catching up with old friends over a meal or drinks was what I needed after such a crazy, tumultuous year. “And where are you celebrating New Years?” I am asked. When I tell them, there are frowns of pity: oh you poor thing! It is true, I do have to be aboard a flight on Dec 31 if I am to make it back to work on the morning of Jan 2. But the words of comfort are undeserved: it is by choice rather than design that I am at Heathrow on New Year’s Eve awaiting a flight to Bahrain. When I booked it more than five months earlier, it seemed like a good idea. Nobody likes to ring in a new year on the plane: it’ll be nice and empty, ideal for sleeping off the excesses of the year-end festivities. Or so I thought.
It’s 7.30 am and not yet dawn when I reach Heathrow’s Terminal 3 for my scheduled 9.30 am departure. The building has undergone a bit of a transformation since I was here last, or maybe it’s just the mood lighting making everything look more attractive than they actually are. At one end is a place looking like a trendy cocktail bar – it turns out to be the check-in area for Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class that’s a sharp contrast to the fluorescent-lit utilitarian counters used by the other airlines. What a crafty ploy to win converts to the airline! Even hardened cynics traveling Gulf Air look over enviously from their First Class check-in desks and think to themselves: hmmm, maybe I should give VS a try next time…
Gulf Air First Class check-in is a painless affair – you should join our frequent flyer program, I am told – and sent on my way with a chirpy new year’s greeting. There’s only a short queue at Fast Track and in no time at all, I am hit with the maze of people and shops that is the Terminal 3 departures lounge, not unlike a busy mall during the Sales. The departure screens are the only hint that planes – quite a number of them actually – also use this crowded facility.
I escape the crowds by visiting the Gulf Air Lounge. The smallish lounge that’s a spitting image of the one in Bahrain is not overly busy today. There’s no separate First Class section. Through the windows outside, the slowly brightening skies reveal the outline of a Boeing 767-300ER belonging to Royal Brunei parked next door.
I find myself a corner seat by the window where I see the tails of AI, VS, AA, AC and 9W close to the BI B763. It may not be overly fancy, but there’s a nice clubby feel to this place I rather like.
When I leave the lounge, slightly less than an hour before scheduled departure, the boards are already indicating the gate is closing for GF 002 to Bahrain. I am not particularly alarmed: Heathrow has a tendency to do very early gate calls, even if boarding does not necessarily happen earlier than elsewhere. On the way, I pass an enticing poster of the overly plush interiors of the Virgin Clubhouse that, in the brash style of its founder, shows me what I’m missing out on by not choosing Virgin Atlantic.
An Airbus A340-313X with its uniquely golden nose and registered A9C-LI sits looking almost ready at gate 28 when I arrive. Despite what the departure board says, passengers have not yet boarded and the crowded gate is far from “closing”. From the look and sounds of my fellow passengers, quite a number must be in transit for Manila or, like me, to KUL. A surly looking girl dressed in olive green from Alitalia Airport Handling checks my passport, tears off my boarding pass and hands me the stub without a word. There are no more seats so I find some carpet space by the window and am as happy as a lark watching the goings on airside.
london heathrow to bahrain
Gulf Air flight GF 002 in First Class
Airbus A340-300 registered A9C-LI
Dept: 09.20 Arrv: 18.59 (on time)
There’s a warm welcome at door 2L but the busier flight means that this time, no one escorts me to my seat. (Damn these expectations!) I am the first passenger to turn up in First Class. Mariko, a friendly and easy going Japanese girl in a Sky Chef’s uniform, is working in the galley but rushes out to say hello when she sees me. She waits to hang my coat and offers to bring me a drink. Champagne, perhaps? It may be coming up to new years, but having over-indulged in the past few days, I thought a little bit of balance was in order.
This is my seat 1K on the starboard side. There are as yet no other passengers in the cabin, which is one of the reasons why I like to board early – for the pics. But basically it’s the same type cabin as on my Christmas Day flight, you’ve seen it before.
I am the only one in First Class for quite a while – starting to wonder if I’d be getting a cabin all to myself. But no such luck: my fellow passengers suddenly all turn up at once. Seven of the eight seats are occupied on this flight to Bahrain – three from the same Bahraini family including a remarkably well behaved little girl – are seated across from me in row 1, and another three passengers in row 2 who turn out to be headed for KUL as well.
With the cabin getting busier, Mariko’s colleague, stewardess Orporn from Thailand joins her in serving drinks and offering newspapers, hot towels and menus. Interestingly, pyjamas are not distributed – perhaps because it’s a fully daytime service. (There are also no branded amenity kits on offer on this or any of the GF flights I was on.) The division of labor between the Sky Chef (who’s recruited not from other airlines but directly from restaurants) and flight attendant intrigues me. Meal orders are naturally taken by the chef, but meals are mostly served by the f.a. – in the case of my BAH/LHR flight, stewardess Diana did all the serving at dinner. On both GF flights, it is the Sky Chefs who perform the manual safety demonstration!
We push back ten minutes ahead of schedule and are soon taxiing close to gigantic Terminal 5, home to the BA Royal Widebody Regiment, today perfectly aligned in a guard of honor. As we get there, one flashing airport fire engine after another rush past us and make for a parked BA 744 in the distance. It may just have been a drill; or was it just precautionary, perhaps there was an incident? I can’t be sure. Whatever it was, it added a bit of excitement to our taxi. (Apologies for the poor picture quality – it was a distance away taken with a camera with limited zoom.)
Mariko takes lunch orders as we are climbing over the Kent countryside. She starts with seat 1A working in a clockwise direction which means that by the time she reaches me at 1K, the beef fillets as a main course are all gone. She apologizes profusely and seemed so distraught that I have to say: No, it’s fine – I can have the fish, it’s okay, really!
I start with the Arabic Mezze again, only this time, it’s a little different.
After the starter is cleared, Mariko comes round to say she has “some news”. Apparently more beef had somehow been located as we cleared 37,000 feet, and would I like that instead of the fish. I say alright and she apologizes again for the inconvenience caused.
We are making good progress. Our route across Europe from Heathrow to directly overhead Brussels, then over Frankfurt, and Budapest is starting to look like a join the dots game. What a shame the thick blanket of cloud enveloping the continent means I get to see none of them out my window.
This is what Gulf Air calls its “Chocolate Explosion” as decorated by Mariko. It is a sinfully delicious dessert.
The skies clear momentarily as lunch service is completed to reveal snow-capped mountains as we fly over Bulgaria before another bank of cloud shuts off the views again. Most of the passengers are already in snooze mode or are watching a movie. I, meanwhile, take advantage of the in-seat laptop power to start on this trip report. I am not expecting – and in fact, do not get – the same level of personalized service I received on the Christmas Day London-bound flight. Not that there’s anything wrong with Mariko and Orporn, both are fine crew – it’s just a matter of ratios I guess, the fuller the flight, the less attention that will be lavished on you.
Our route takes us just west of Istanbul, over northern Cyprus and into Lebanon and Syria.
The First Class seat in the fully flat mode which I don’t get to enjoy for too long.
As the sun starts to fade and with just over an hour to go, afternoon tea comprising delicate finger sandwiches and scones and clotted cream is served.
The flight seems to be ending far too quickly and with it, my holiday. In a couple of hours, the year 2008 would have ended too. Savoring the last sunset of the year over Arabia on a plane in the comfort of a First Class seat, I am suddenly feeling very privileged indeed.
Back at Bahrain International Airport, where we arrive 10 minutes ahead of schedule, passengers are bussed to the airport. (First and Business Class travel in a separate mini coach that gets to the terminal before the rest.) It is now early evening and the airport is a hive of activity. I have a little over an hour to connect to the KUL flight while all around, other GF flights are being called for Bangkok, Manila, Abu Dhabi and others.
Flight GF 280 to Kuala Lumpur is departing from bus gate no 34, which is located in an annex of the airport. When I get there some 30 minutes before scheduled departure, this is what I see. Ever wondered what a fully loaded A330-200 would look like if all its passengers were forced to stand up in one room? Well, wonder no more:
The few chairs that are available are painfully inadequate for one full flight, much less for a lounge serving six gates. So, almost nobody gets to sit down. But that is not the main concern. The passengers – mainly Malaysian holidaymakers returning home after the year-end holidays – queue anxiously as hassled airline staff slowly and painfully explain to confirmed travelers why they do not have a seat on the plane. GF has over-booked the flight, and some of these passengers will not be aboard tonight.
I take my time and am resolved to be on the very last bus to the plane. It’s going to take some time. As the lounge slowly starts to clear, I find an empty seat – and, next to me, Kumar who’s on his way to Cochin with three duty-free bags laden with Scotch. Kumar had been working in Bahrain for 20 years. Still, there’s not much savings, he says, almost everything is sent home to sustain his wife and two daughters in Kerala. He hasn’t seen them for over a year. “But I am happy today,” he beams. “I am going home… it will be a happy new year for me. In a few days, my daughter will be married.” I leave Kumar with the promise that I’ll visit Kerala one day, and feel a little uplifted by our brief meeting.
I get on the last bus. A short ride away on the tarmac is the other half of a pair of leased Jet Airways A332s. VT-JWD will be operating GF280 to Kuala Lumpur tonight.
The passengers take their time, which is fine with me. Boarding a widebody by stairs is a real luxury these days, and I intend to savor every moment.
I go into a little snapping frenzy with the camera at this stage. Which is probably why I miss the beginnings of a small crisis brewing at the bottom of the stairs. A woman has dropped her cabin bags in a heap on the tarmac. Her young daughter has gone ahead of her, but she stands at the foot of the stairs, calling out in a mildly hysterical manner. A Gulf Air ground staff rushes over in her direction, but before he can reach, she announces: “I am a Business Class passenger. Do you expect me to carry these bags up the stairs?” My offer of help is ignored. A lady of some means, she is not talking to me, but addressing ‘the staff’. “So, do you or do you not have someone to help me carry these onto the plane?” she commands.
As my help is obviously not required, I squeeze past with an “excuse me”, smile broadly as I climb the stairs, and can’t help thinking I’d just met one of Alexander Frater’s Imperial Airways passengers.
My attempt at photographing everything in sight was too good to last. Someone was bound to notice. As I snap the nice looking SriLankan A332 (headed for CMB via DOH) from the stairs, what I take to be a friendly wave from the bus driver (I give him the thumbs up back) turns out to a warning. At the plane door, a ground staff member tells me photography is forbidden. I don’t protest and obediently say okay, but think: too late, I’m all done!
bahrain to kuala lumpur
Gulf Air flight GF 280 in Business Class
A330-200 registered VT-JWD, leased from Jet Airways
Dept: 20.33 Arrv: 08.59 (next day, on time)
Aboard, every seat is taken. On this flight, I am seated in the second Business Class cabin behind doors 2. A number of passengers around me have been upgraded from an over-flowing Y class. A delayed boarding on an over-booked flight is always chaotic, but the crew – stunningly beautiful Jet Airways stewardesses in long yellow coats – manage to get everyone seated and strapped in with relative ease. As the usual welcome drinks, literature and menus are distributed, we push back – remarkably just a few minutes behind schedule.
Soon we’re speeding down runway 12L, and when we level off, the Jet service swings into action. The announcements may say “Welcome aboard Gulf Air” but the service is clearly Jet Airways, which must have the most attractive flight attendants I’ve ever seen. A stewardess, dressed in a black pant suit and looking like the perfect seductress in a James Bond movie, asks me if I would like champagne. How could I refuse?
The eastbound service takes us over the city over Dubai. At 37,000 ft and rushing along at a brisk 1,032 km/hr, we see the city below lit up like a Christmas tree as it prepares to celebrate the New Year. Even a blur attempt at a picture can make out the Palm islands offshore, while the Burj Dubai – the world’s tallest building bar none – is clearly visible to the naked eye.
Dinner orders are taken. Having eaten more than I should since I left London, I am not too hungry, but look at the GF menu anyway. And boy, am I impressed. On a 7 hour overnight flight between Bahrain and Kuala Lumpur, the airline serves supper followed by a full breakfast. Two hot meals: amazing! (I can think of a number of so-called premium airlines which will serve one light snack on an overnight flight of the same duration “because that is what our customers prefer.”)
Of course, this customer did choose something light (soup and sandwich wrap; and passing on breakfast) in the end. But it is really nice to have had a choice.
Although it is New Year’s Eve most passengers, probably already too tired, just nod off in their seats. I admit to be among them. If there had been any celebrations at midnight, it would have been over the Arabian Sea, probably somewhere south of Karachi. I sleep right through it.
By the time I awake, it is already 2009, and the plane pitching and rolling as it negotiates the rough air over the Bay of Bengal. We are a just over an hour from landing and, I realize, it is the end of my journey. A Miss India contender, seeing that I am awake, bends over, and with the sweetest of smiles wishes me a happy new year. What a great start to the year.
Need I say more? What a pleasant surprise this trip turned out to be. I had expected - and was quite prepared for - mediocrity from this forgotten airline from the Gulf but instead received excellence. I guess the service made all the difference. The crews aboard the two flights on GF First were top class – as good as the best out there. Was I just lucky? I really can’t say; but I’d happily give Gulf Air another try. Of course, there are elements of the product which are in need of overhaul, most notably the IFE. But in the end, it bothered me less than I thought.
Finally (phew) here’s wishing you a fantastic year ahead filled with lots of flying! Thanks for reading.
9MMAR From Malaysia, joined Jul 2006, 2102 posts, RR: 19 Reply 3, posted (4 years 11 months 4 days 15 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Happy New Year Airpearl!
The last trip report that had me hooked up from the forum was your Flying on Borrowed Times trip report posted a month ago. I can't believe what a fussy trip report reader I have become that only YOUR composition lived up to expectation.
Once again, congratulation for the wonderful composition, which is surely a testament of an even more wonderful experiences you had on both the Christmas Day and New Year Day flights with Gulf Air. With you, every composition is different in style, you should seriously considering publishing a compilation of your flight reports (with the exception of the QF A380 inaugural flight, that's for sure).
So, are we expecting a report on Virgin Atlantic to Kerala in your next instalment?
Wishing you many happy returns and every happiness in 2009.
p/s Love the sarcasm you throwed towards a certain expensive 5 Star Value Carrier whose 93% of its passengers prefer cold snacks over hot meals inflight.
Ronerone From Jordan, joined Aug 2004, 1642 posts, RR: 53 Reply 4, posted (4 years 11 months 4 days 15 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
What a great read as always Mr. Airpearl!
You know, at first i also thought why Gulf Air? But i change my mind now after reading your report.
It is also a very nice surprise that you get the 9W/GF wet-lease blend as well. Adds a little something to the whole experience.
Regarding the SkyChef, i am a bit baffled at what exactly differentiates the role from the flight attendant. At least on Etihad, who clearly stole this concept from GF, there is a lot of grey area between the Food & Beverage Manager (EY's SkyChef version) and the regular flight attendant.
My question is why is the SkyChef for example recruited from restaurants, if he/she is assigned to do the manual safety demonstration as necessary?
Other than that, i liked the ambience of the F cabin. It seemed quite intimate
Thanks a lot for sharing! Excellent pictures by the way!
A Stop Away From One-Stop, Is Non-Stop : Airbus A340-500
SR 103 From United States of America, joined Sep 2000, 1728 posts, RR: 41 Reply 5, posted (4 years 11 months 4 days 14 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Absolutely amazing trip report as always Airpearl.
I have to say that I did not ask "why Gulf Air?" I have only flown the airline once, ten years ago on a round trip FRA-BOM-FRA in J. To say the crew were excellent back then would be over doing it, but I have flown a lot of EK since then and their crew have yet to match the genuine hospitality I received on GF.
Back then the food was rather mediocre and lounges in BAH and AUH were nothing special at all. Good to see some changes have been made to their hard product. However now that I have had the pleasure of flying Etihad and Qatar, I can honestly say that Gulf Air would never top my list of Middle Eastern carriers anymore. However your trip report really opened my eyes to the fact that Gulf Air still has some legs to stand on. Hopefully they can maintain this momentum and continue to enhance their product and bring back their reputation as a leading quality airline.
As far as getting a Jet Airways aircraft and crew on a GF price tag, that's an absolute steal! I could only dream of being so lucky. Oh and yes, those are the SAA J seats!
Again, thanks for an absolutely great trip report and trip down memory lane for me.
BA319-131 From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2001, 8352 posts, RR: 55 Reply 6, posted (4 years 11 months 4 days 14 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Great report, great pictures, what more can I say? - enjoyed the wrighting style too!
This is the 1st GF TR that has shown them to be any good for ages, yes there is the whole downgrade thing to the Jet Airways 332's and no F in them, however, they looked pretty good for J.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): As a kid, I imagined what a treat it must be to fly this airline with the golden falcon on its tail
- I did the same thing, used to love those L-1011's!
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): I paid less than half of the MH Business Class fare to fly First Class on GF from Kuala Lumpur to London.
- I think it sadly shows how cheap they have to be to get people to fly them up front.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): I am downgraded. The flight – booked and paid for five months earlier – will now no longer feature First Class on the KUL/BAH/KUL legs. I am told a two-class A330-200 (a configuration GF does not have) would be deployed on the route – it later emerges that a last-minute, wet-lease of two Jet Airways machines had been arranged, and I am ‘lucky’ enough to be among the first to experience them. Owing to the rock bottom fare I paid, up until the day of departure, Gulf Air still does not know how much of a refund I will get for the downgrade: I fear the quantum (if there’s a refund at all) will not even pay for a taxi ride from Heathrow into central London. It’s complicated; we will have to wait for advice from Bahrain, was the ominous message conveyed by the KUL GF office to Miss Ho.
- Whole thing really lacks any customer service.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): A quick apology “for the inconvenience” wouldn’t go amiss. And wouldn’t a passenger expecting a Gulf Air service be surprised to find a Jet Airways plane and crew? Apparently, GF doesn’t deem it important enough to let him know.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): Good Morning Sir! A steward in a smart black suit greets me cheerfully at door 1L. I catch a glimpse in the galley of a bright canary yellow outfit of a female colleague that literally shouts Jet Airways. Just in case you missed it, the TV screens proudly display the Jet Airways logo, the pre-recorded announcements and safety videos start in Hindi, while application forms for Jet Airways’ frequent flier program fill the magazine racks. Welcome aboard… ahem, Gulf Air
- Hmm, Jet could do quite well out of this..........
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): one can hardly complain for the lack of space: there’s simply acres and acres of room. It’s not a bad looking cabin too
- Very nice indeed for J, loads of space, much more than other carriers J product.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): Hart to Hart – the 1980s TV series of a wealthy Beverly Hills couple-turned-detective that today looks bizarrely innocent, and totally suited for my flight down memory lane.
- I know, please, everyone like to look out of windows at an airport, even nervous flyers want to know what is going on around them.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): I’d happily give Gulf Air another try. Of course, there are elements of the product which are in need of overhaul, most notably the IFE. But in the end, it bothered me less than I thought.
- I'd give them a try after this! - The IFE does not bother me, very rarely use it.
Yes, because you was travelling the -route from London. on this sector, GF is fighting against Oman Air, Emirates, Etihad...
Have a bad day/route and you end up here: on board the old "343": http://www.gulfair.com/Air/A340-300(343).htm
And the planes are still flying to Europe (FRA)! Also, the BEST crew on planet can't save the flight from a nightmare.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): Of course, there are elements of the product which are in need of overhaul, most notably the IFE. But in the end, it bothered me less than I thought.
Well, up to 2007 travelling in J on B767's was the only alternative to the central-cabin-ceiling monitor a hand-held DVD-player. And still today, the old "343" are only offering a 10.4” monitor, 10 audio and 6 video channels- thats it!!!!!!!
I knew you could not resist a tiny slap to our wau-branded friend.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): However, I am surprised at how much is taken for granted by this airline. A quick apology “for the inconvenience” wouldn’t go amiss.
GF isn't known to be very in tune with ground service, I must say.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): Gulf Air 281” at KLIA’s gate C32. Many passengers are genuinely surprised when they reach the gate: huh, I thought we were flying Gulf Air?!
Sigh... Wet lease no dount but I feel they do not hold much thought about upholding their brand. When I last flew the GF A430, they had signs of SQ peppered all over the cabin!
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): It’s a decent place, but lacks the finesse of the airline-operated lounges at the airport.
Ah yes, the Plaza Premium Lounge. It looks much better than before though! I had the pleasure of paying to enter it once some years back when I flew BKK-KUL-SIN on MH. I think it was RM35.00 but still... pretty decent rates to enter a lounge.
OMG! Hahahahaha... I remember this series from when I was still in school!!! Together with others like Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, A Team, Knight Rider, Battlestar Galatica... Some of my favourite shows growing up.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): Dubai responded by going on the offensive: feeding and growing the monster we now know as Emirates that forces us to continue stopping and shopping at its monstrous hub.
And we all know where Dubai got the model from.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): Bahrain fell further and further behind Dubai as a rival air hub. Sadly, today, it’s not even seen as a serious contender.
Unfortunately I cannot agree more with you. Somehow, I am of the opinion that too many cooks did spoil GF's broth. I was drawn to GF due to it's perceived glamourous past and the fabled "Golden Falcon" but I was very disappointed with what I experienced. Snappy crew, SQ interior (didn't even bother to remove the signs), bad IFE, God-awful catering... I could go on but I would not want to dampen your First Class experience.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): I leave Kumar with the promise that I’ll visit Kerala one day, and feel a little uplifted by our brief meeting.
Ah yes, the wonders of meeting people from other lands during travel. On the same trip which I visited the Plaza Premium Lounge, I met a Turk on the BKK-KUL flight and he was curiously intrigued with my constant fiddling of the camera seemingly recording EVERYTHING from A-Z. I lied that I was a travel writer in an attempt to make my picture taking look sane. We wound up talking about our travels and eventually paid for me to get into Plaza Premium Lounge so we could wait out our transit in a quieter place. Numbers were exchanged and we went our separate ways, me to SIN and him to IST.
LOL... In a strange way, I can relate to what was going through your head at this point. "MUST CAPTURE EVRYTHING!". I honestly don't care if people think I am strange because I will only be with them for at most, the duration of the flight and thereafter won't see them again. My partner has since caught the bug and has gone on snapping pics nonstop to document everything possible when we travel so we now work in "shifts". Hahahaha... Him on the outbound, me on the inbound or vice-versa.
Overall to me, GF is a has been. They now seem so patchy playing catch up all the time and it is no wonder Abu Dhabi and Oman broke out of the reigns to form their own carriers, and I am glad they did! Although they seemed to have got their act together with their last over-haul which resulted in the present coporate livery, it doesn't seem like they have enough momentum to keep things going forward. Sounds like MAS? The similarities are sometimes very uncanny!
Welcome to my starry one world alliance, a team in the sky!
TravellerPlus From New Zealand, joined Nov 2008, 347 posts, RR: 0 Reply 11, posted (4 years 11 months 4 days 9 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
What a great trip report.
I loved the books you chose. I have both myself, with Beyond the Blue Horizon being my favourite. I also have the Ian Allen book featuring the GF Tristar. It reminded me of the transit stops I used to make in Muscat. You take me back to when I was 7 or so. Thanks for the memories. Nice to know that that my tatse in books is shared.
I too spent New Year on a plane, a BA747 between LON-SYD. We were on the final BKK-SYD sector. You were a lucky tinpot as I was in Y class, so no champagne for me.
What goes around comes around....unless your luggage is not on the carousel...
PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 6497 posts, RR: 78 Reply 16, posted (4 years 11 months 3 days 22 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Fantastic report, Airpearl - well written and accompanied by great pictures. Interesting to read about GF's "new" birds. Bad to hear about the downgrade, though.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): His response – sounding like I exposed his secret identity – tickled me. “Oh, you noticed. You do know we’re from Jet Airways,” he says, the last two words uttered almost in a whisper, as if it’s some subversive, secret society. “We’re being leased out.”
LH4116 From Sweden, joined Aug 2007, 1702 posts, RR: 14 Reply 17, posted (4 years 11 months 3 days 21 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Excellent report Airpearl
Another great reoirt from you! The thing i most like about your reports is your writing, simply the best writer on this forum. But not only the writing is good, the pics are too! What kind of lens are your using for your D80?
I was very surprised to hear that GF's F was cheaper than MH in J, I actually find the MH J product to be a bit bad actually, in comparison to the other Asian majors.
The 9W seats looked nice, the seat are as mentioned the exact same as on SA, IIRC EY also had the seat onboard two of their A332's. The GF F seat on the A343 looked great, in fact it is the same seat they had put on the A380 F-WWJB. The seat is manufactured by EADS Sogerma.
The food looked very nice, on both 9W and GF, the food in F looked almost exactly the same as something that could have been served in a restaurant. For some reason most premium airline food doesn't seem like fine dining restaurant food.
The moving map on GF looked very outdated. I really liked that thet had wooden floors onboard the A343, i haven't seem that before.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): … pretty much describes the mood in the UK at this time. The whole country seems to be preoccupied with bargains
Well that also describes the rest of Europe, and I'm having a very hard time preventing myself from shopping.
Globetraveller From Germany, joined Apr 2008, 379 posts, RR: 20 Reply 18, posted (4 years 11 months 3 days 21 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Hey there Airpearl,
Another fabulous trip report - one of the best ones I have read in a while. Your narrative style creates such a leisurely read yet it is just amazingly captivating. Well done and congratulations on another world class trip report.
Sadly, I fell very ill while I was in Malaysia this winter and I never had a chance to come to Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, I will return in summer, so maybe we can finally meet sometime then. In the meantime, keep those amazing trip reports coming.
Hi RGElectra80, I am always hoping to fly but probably not for a while, unless I suddenly find a sponsor for free tickets!
Quoting TupolevTu154 (Reply 2): C class on the Jet A330 doesn't look a patch on Gulf's A340. What a shame you had to put up with that
Yes indeed TupolevTu154, totally unbearable it was!
Quoting 9MMAR (Reply 3): I can't believe what a fussy trip report reader I have become that only YOUR composition lived up to expectation.
Happy New Year 9MMAR, I know you're angling for the publishing rights yeah? hehehe
Quoting 9MMAR (Reply 3): So, are we expecting a report on Virgin Atlantic to Kerala in your next instalment?
That's actually a great idea. Thanks!
Quoting Ronerone (Reply 4): You know, at first i also thought why Gulf Air? But i change my mind now after reading your report.
Hah, Roni, somehow I doubt I'll see you flying GF... who did you think that friend from the Gulf was? hehehe
Quoting Ronerone (Reply 4): Regarding the SkyChef, i am a bit baffled at what exactly differentiates the role from the flight attendant. At least on Etihad, who clearly stole this concept from GF, there is a lot of grey area between the Food & Beverage Manager (EY's SkyChef version) and the regular flight attendant. My question is why is the SkyChef for example recruited from restaurants, if he/she is assigned to do the manual safety demonstration as necessary?
There's quite a bit of overlap, at least on GF - the SkyChef is in essence the substitute crew member in First Class, so each flight just carries one fa and one chef in F. The chef I guess is trained in the everything a fa would, in addition he/she brings along the extra culinary experience from a previous employer.
Quoting SR 103 (Reply 5): I have to say that I did not ask "why Gulf Air?"
You're quite the exception there SR 103! I heard so many negative things about GF before these flights that I almost cancelled. When they downgraded me to J in early Dec, I had the opportunity to send in for a full refund, and was in half a mind to switch to QR. Now I am glad I didn't.
Quoting SR 103 (Reply 5): your trip report really opened my eyes to the fact that Gulf Air still has some legs to stand on. Hopefully they can maintain this momentum and continue to enhance their product and bring back their reputation as a leading quality airline.
I too hope so, it is certainly within the realms of possibility. Thanks for your comments!
Quoting BA319-131 (Reply 6): This is the 1st GF TR that has shown them to be any good for ages
Hi BA319-131, I'm quite shocked that I am writing this type of report on GF myself!
Quoting BA319-131 (Reply 6): I think it sadly shows how cheap they have to be to get people to fly them up front.
That's true, but then again, they wouldn't have got the F class passengers who usually fly on BA or SQ anyway. What they did manage to do - in my case anyway - was to get someone who would probably have flown Y or Y+ class on another airline to uptrade by paying a relatively small supplement, please him, and hopefully get repeat custom. From the sizable number of F and J pax from LHR to KUL, that seems to be a strategy that's working. Whether or not they make money out of the venture is another story.
Precisely, excellent marketing ploy for 9W I thought, especially in Y class where the Jet planes are better equipped than GF's and the crews possibly friendlier. What more with 9W frequent flyer program applications in the magazine racks... surely GF would want that removed, right?
Quoting Debonair (Reply 8): Yes, because you was travelling the -route from London. on this sector, GF is fighting against Oman Air, Emirates, Etihad...
Hi Debonair, I agree this is a key route for the airline... and I was traveling First. Still, the crews really were good, I can't deny that.
Quoting Debonair (Reply 8): And the planes are still flying to Europe (FRA)! Also, the BEST crew on planet can't save the flight from a nightmare.
I didn't know that... good thing I didn't decide to fly to FRA with them. Or that would have been a different story altogether. I understand though that these older 343s are either being phased out, or refurbished - that's why they've got the 9W leases at the moment: to allow some planes to be overhauled.
Quoting 767ER (Reply 7): I have read the Alexander Frater book as well - what an engaging well written book.
Totally agree 767ER! And a treasure trove of info. I find new things every time I reread it.
Hmmm, I see. Think my encounter with Kumar may have been a little different from yours... hahaha
Quoting Ryanair!!! (Reply 10): My partner has since caught the bug and has gone on snapping pics nonstop to document everything possible when we travel so we now work in "shifts".
Oh wow! This has become a real job for you hasn't it? It certainly feels like that to me when I decide to do a TR; an enjoyable job, but a job nonetheless, with notebook and camera always at the ready. After each trip, I say to myself it's the last TR I'll do, but another enticing trip will come along and...
Quoting TravellerPlus (Reply 11): You take me back to when I was 7 or so. Thanks for the memories. Nice to know that that my tatse in books is shared.
Hi TravellerPlus, glad I brought back the memories and I must say you've good taste in books
Quoting Caleb1 (Reply 12): Please continue to travel and feel free to submit these reports. I can hardly wait for your next installment!!
Thanks Caleb1 for your very nice words.. I shall try to please.
Quoting EtihadAirways (Reply 13): I grew up with gulf air too and always looked at it as a glories airline I really wish all the best to Gulf Air … they will always be in my Heart.
Hi EtihadAirways, thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoyed the report, and I too wish the best for the airline.
Quoting CO7e7 (Reply 14): Did you try to find out what the deal was with the fire-trucks surrounding the BA744 at LHR ? Happy New Year!
Happy New Year CO7e7! No I didn't - it wasn't reported anywhere that I could find. Hopefully it was a non-event.
Quoting Vietsky (Reply 15): Great trip report. I felt like I was flying with you
Thanks for the comments Vietsky. Hope you enjoyed the ride.
Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 16): Interesting to see CX's A343 at BAH - it used to be one of the few 777-200 "long-haul" destinations for a long time.
Hi PlaneHuner, CX only fairly recently (past year or so) switched equipment on the Gulf runs. It's a product upgrade as far as the passenger is concerned, at least up front in F & J. Now the routes are operated by long-haul equipped A343s and A333s supplemented by B744s on some DXB flights. I'm not sure if the B772s still fly here.
Quoting LH4116 (Reply 17): What kind of lens are your using for your D80?
Thanks for the comments, you're too kind LH4116. It's a Tokina 12-24 mm f/4 DX lens
Quoting LH4116 (Reply 17): I was very surprised to hear that GF's F was cheaper than MH in J, I actually find the MH J product to be a bit bad actually, in comparison to the other Asian majors.
It is, in Malaysia. MH feels it is able to sell at a premium in its home market, and often prices its tickets as high or even higher than airlines like SQ. Frequently it is the only direct flight out. Bargains however can be found outside Malaysia where MH needs to discount heavily to get the loads.
Quoting LH4116 (Reply 17): I really liked that thet had wooden floors onboard the A343, i haven't seem that before.
I like those floors too - 9W also have them in the galley areas aboard their A332s with the herringbone J class configuration.
Quoting Globetraveller (Reply 18): Sadly, I fell very ill while I was in Malaysia this winter and I never had a chance to come to Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, I will return in summer, so maybe we can finally meet sometime then
Hey there Globetraveller, sorry to hear of your illness, hope you're better now. Yes, please keep in touch and hope to meet the next time you're headed this way.
DCAjet From United States of America, joined Aug 2004, 386 posts, RR: 4 Reply 20, posted (4 years 11 months 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
I know I am being repetitive, but let me add to the chorus: Sir, your reports are just a pleasure to read. You take the reader with you in the cabin and up 30,000 feet above the ground, soaring with the imagination. Simply, a cut above.
Gulf Air? Oldie but goodie! And who can forget their VC-10s and L-1011s?
Simply a matter of good taste - especially the Balenciaga-designed and inspired uniforms! And it beats, if you ask me, the noveau riche touches of an Emirates A380 and the Emirates-like wanna-bes!
"Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten"
MAS777 From United Kingdom, joined Jul 1999, 2926 posts, RR: 6 Reply 22, posted (4 years 11 months 1 day 12 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
What a fab report!
First off - I also got that very same airplane book for xmas in 1984 and recall that that book too was the start of my bizarre affair with civil aviation.. i think i still have the copy in a box somewhere in KL!
I too read Alexander Frater's book and probably have it in the same box (in KL).. lol!
Anyway - this has definitely tempted me to try GF on my very frequent trips back and forth between LON and KUL.
I am currently swapping between LH, SQ and NZ (since I also have family in HK) for my trips east.. and yes its all to do with banking all those important Star Alliance miles.. but i think having requalified for Gold again within 2 weeks of 2009 - I am ready to try out different airlines.
GF was a definite maybe, whilst I tossed up returning to flying KLM (helped by the prospect of their slightly more updated 777s soon to be flying to KUL) - but having read this - I am even keener now to try out GF!
I have been put off by poor service in the recent past with TG (thanks to LH's codeshare BKK-KUL on days I fly into/out of KUL when LH doesn't fly in directly) whilst I couldn't cope with backtracking and the poor connetion times with BI. I pondered about CX but I should be able to bank some miles with GF on to my Virgin Flying Club account.. so thanks again for this great tip-off!
back to topic - its great to see BAH hasn't changed much since the days I flew regularly on BA33/32 LHR-BAH-BKK-KUL and back for all my school holidays - on the greatest TriStars that ever operated with British Airways!
Airpearl From Malaysia, joined May 2001, 936 posts, RR: 28 Reply 23, posted (4 years 11 months 1 day 1 hour ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting DCAjet (Reply 20): Gulf Air? Oldie but goodie! And who can forget their VC-10s and L-1011s? Simply a matter of good taste - especially the Balenciaga-designed and inspired uniforms! And it beats, if you ask me, the noveau riche touches of an Emirates A380 and the Emirates-like wanna-bes!
Yes, indeed, I was glad there was a bit of old GF glamor in the flights I took - hopefully they're just not one-offs. From the sounds of many in this forum, that could sadly be the case. I too am not a great fan of the gilt-edged glitter of EK, and I think the GF F cabin is far nicer, imo. Thanks for your nice words DCAjet.
Quoting Ojas (Reply 21): I must say you brought back my childhood memories or should I say nightmares to life. I have had the distinct pleasure to travel GF for almost 10 years and actually saw the downfall of GF. However, After reading your TR I can at least now think of GF as an option, but the horrific times I had with GF, I'm yet apprehensive to travel with them.
Hey Ojas, good to hear from you. So sorry it brought out the nightmares! After the reading about the last flight you took after reading my TR, I'm not sure if I should be thrilled that you are now considering GF as an option
Quoting MAS777 (Reply 22): Anyway - this has definitely tempted me to try GF on my very frequent trips back and forth between LON and KUL
Hi MAS777, I am sure GF offers very good value fares out of London too. Putting aside all these "airlne enthusiast" biases and emotional baggage which we all burdened with, this option from KUL was simply unbeatable; totally value for money. I've just received a note from my TA to say I am being refunded about a quarter of the fare I paid for the airline's downgrade to J - which makes this journey priced almost the same as a 1-year excursion Y class ticket on MH. How's that for value?
Quoting MAS777 (Reply 22): its great to see BAH hasn't changed much since the days I flew regularly on BA33/32 LHR-BAH-BKK-KUL and back for all my school holidays - on the greatest TriStars that ever operated with British Airways!
Yes, BAH is pretty much the same, and for this booming part of the Gulf, that's an oddity. But it was great to come back to a place one can still recognize.
CF-CPI From Canada, joined Nov 2000, 885 posts, RR: 0 Reply 24, posted (4 years 11 months 19 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Your trip report made my day!
There are no apologies needed for being a 'geek'. I have been enraptured by GF ever since they adopted their stunning Falcon colors and was thrilled to see such an in-depth report with tons of cabin and meal pics. To add to my own geeky joy, I have moved my Dragon Wings 1:400 model of A9C-LH close to my computer and I'm giving it a good look as I read about your travels.
I hope the new year will bring you some more happy miles, and we'll see further reports!
25 Akhmad: How disrespectful of her! I've got rapped on the knuckles as well in DOH. Anyway, what a great and delightful TR!
26 OA260: Hey excellent TR . I enjoyed every word and every photo. Having had the 9W experience myself last week I totally agree with you about the service and
27 B747forever: Amazing TR The pics are really good. Seems GF isnt that bad, as I thought. Pity about the downgraded service on your flights from/to KUL. That is exac
28 Airpearl: Ah, what can I say CF-CPI. This is bringing geekiness to a whole different level... I can totally relate! Hi Akhmad, I wasn't actually offended, but
29 B747forever: That is great. Hope you are satisfied with the sum!
30 Flying Belgian: Hi AirPearl !! What a pleasure to look at your report. To be honest I was looking for some picture of the interior of VT-JWD-E for such a loooooooonng
31 Abrelosojos: Thanks a lot for an excellent trip report - I have not flown GF in a long time and perhaps it is time to give them a try. BTW, I had a J class experie
32 Airpearl: It's not so bad... worth more than a few London taxi rides Hi Flying Belgian, thanks for your comments. Yes, I had been looking for pictures of the s
33 MAS777: Some great news for potential GF flyers to/from KUL.. I have just heard that GF is considering upgrading BAH-KUL to the 77W (which is planned to be le
34 TDubJFK: Absolutely great report - and so nice to see a carrier we dont see too many Trip Reports on . I really like reports like yours where there are a few p
35 Econojetter: Hey Airpearl, sorry for arriving fashionably (not!) late to your party. I paused for quite a few moments upon seeing the photo of the Green & Swanboro
36 Airpearl: That sounds good. But sadly, it could mean the end of the A343s. If it happens, GF will be flying the best equipped aircraft of any airline into KUL.
37 Pumaknight: Cracking report...top read. You aren't wrong about UK and Sales. It seems that we will talk ourselves into a recession regardless as to whether there
38 Pawsleykat: Awesome report there Good pictures too I second that Made for a great read JG
39 777way: Very impressive F class, I would rate is the best looking in the Middle East region.
40 Readytotaxi: Well, your report must take the Oscar. It has to be the best I have read, like the fact that you prepare the report inflight, cool. Keep them coming,
41 Trintocan: This was great AirPearl! I enjoyed your report and all of the pictures. GF seems to be an airline with a lot of class and a strong sense of heritage f
42 Lovetojetblue: great book got it at an auction 2 years a go in BDL
43 JFKMan: What a lot of fun I just had reading all that! Looks so lovely and posh and "old fashioned" for air travel. Puts American carriers first classes to sh
44 LH459: Now that's really funny, that same book was one of my favorites as a boy as well! I suspect we must be around the same age . This was a really enjoya
45 Mirrodie: Great trip report. Looks like First Class travel at its best!
46 Airpearl: Yes indeed Pumaknight, watching the news, one gets the impression there's nothing else but the sales going on - and that this was the very last chanc
47 LH459: Yes, I've been selling GF in the states. They offer joint fares with major US carriers to all of their destinations, via Europe. Until recently, they
48 SQ772: Hey Airpearl, another amazing, witty, fun report to read, and lovely photos... and sorry that it has taken me this long to post my comments. I wonder
49 turjo101: This was a great TR. I know it was almost 2 years ago, but I was looking through Trip reports for GF and came across this one. After seeing the pictur
50 fersolieslava: Good day AirPearl! I agree with what you say, it's so nice to be suprised in such a way and your experience with Gulf Air First Class should definitiv