Part Two: Gulf Air – another world and an affordable way to fly “Jet Airways” First Class
Gulf Air is a very different airline compared to Qatar Airways as well as Emirates Airlines. I am not saying that service is poor, and indeed the mix Arabic, Asian, and European crews are able to work in a team and give very consistent service. The long haul segment is slightly better, as expected, and not to mention in “first class”. It is fairly consistent with the reports at various travel sites. Food is another highlight and the Sky Chef programs are very successful. However, amenities are definitely lacking and there is no proper amenity kit or pajama/night ware service on a seven hours overnight flight.
June 3, 2009
GF 553 MCT-BAH Lv1335 Arr1405 Airbus A320-200 A9C-EJ
GF 280 BAH-KUL Lv2040 Arr0940+1 Boeing 777-300ER VT-JEJ
GF 553 - http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqN_I
GF 280 - http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqOAI (full album)
I transited through Muscat and the transit process at MCT was fairly straightforward. The airport was simple enough to navigate. The Filipino ground staffs at the transit desks are polite.
Gulf Air uses Oman Air lounge at Muscat, which is fairly simple and classic. The lounge has a fairly Arabic them, as well as no natural lights with no windows. There is a full cold salad and sandwich bar, accompanied with tomato soup, chicken pie (warm), and beef kebab, as well as a full alcoholic and non-alcoholic bar.
Gulf Air’s main hub results in a very nice lounge. The first class section is not huge, but sufficient for GF’s relatively limited first class offering. The lounge is a full service lounge and there are waiters to attend to your beverage and food needs. It has lots of natural light with wide windows that result in a nice day of planespotting. I have six hours sitting that at Bahrain Airport, and saw many Gulf Air and special Middle Eastern airlines that I don’t see normally in the US or Asia. I saw all three Gulf Air painted Boeing 777-300ERs, as well as a fourth one painted in Jet Airways color. The lounge attendants are very nice and they left you enough room of privacy. There is a full beverage bar, as well as a buffet bar. For lunch, there are three warm dishes – Chicken with chilies, meatballs, and a Vegetarian curry, as well as some side dishes such as basmati rice, grilled vegetables, and cheese puff. There is also tomato soup. For dinner, I was impressed that Gulf Air changes all the soup options and dishes. Dinner entrees include lamb cutlets, salmon steak, and vegetable curry, as well as two kinds of soups – lentil soup and Cream of Chicken and sweet corn soup. For lunch, the sweet selection limited to sliced pound cakes, but at dinner times, it features a few more real pastries, such as cheesecakes. The lounge is very spacious even during the late afternoon rush and evening rush hours. There is complimentary wifi, but the connection is very poor. I gave up after thirty minutes. The plane scenes kept me busy. The staffs are friendly and helpful.
GF 553 used gate 1 for boarding, and business class passengers (two of us) had our own personal bus. I was surprised that Gulf Air used a separate bus for the premium passengers. However, they do not have priority boarding. The first bus that left was basically all economy class passengers, and I was not sure if the other J passenger was not in the gate hold area yet, so they waited for him. Anyway, it is strange to have one big bus for only two of us. After boarding, we were immediately offered a choice of OJ or water, as well as a choice of hot or cold towels, which both of us chose cold towels, as the weather was hot (40 degrees Celsius) and then a choice of English and Arabic newspapers.
At Bahrain, the boarding process was more straightforward, as gate 15 has its own jet bridge. Unfortunately, there is no “priority boarding” lane, like other airports. I think it is possible, as there are two lanes and gate agents scanning passport and boarding passes. Not sure if priority boarding is announced, but boarding started at 8pm, as indicated at the boarding pass. Anyway, VT-JEJ has arrived BAH four hours ago. Anyway, the mood changed once I was onboard. The First Class F/A immediately escorted me to the seat, and plugged in the noise-canceling headsets. My pre-takeoff beverage order was taken and offered with cashews. Newspapers are offered soon followed by both hot and cold towels. The Jet Airways F/A (only one I saw) also welcomed me and I only note that he was 9W because he wore the 9W uniform. There was no PJ or proper amenity kit, except a socks/eyeshades/ear plugs kit on the entertainment and reading material drawer. After the other first class passenger arrived, Arabic coffee and dates are offered. The Sky Chef, Nicholas, and the first class purser, Marie (?) came by with their greetings and both were French.
GF 77W VT-JEG – heading to Riyadh as GF 161, and landed back at BAH at 6:54pm, before heading back out to BKK
GF 343 A9C-LJ – GF 006 to LHR
SV MD-90 HZ-APR – arrive from RYD as SV 520 and returned to Riyadh as SV 521
GF 77W VT-JEJ arrived from MNL as GF 155, and later brought me to KUL as GF 280
EK 332 A6-EKX – arrived from Dubai as EK 839 and back to DXB as EK 840
Air Arabia Airbus A320-200 A6-ABM as G9 105 from Sharjah
Ethiad’s Airbus A319-100 A6-EID – Arriving from Abu Dhabi as EY 375 and back to ABU as EY 376
Egypt Air Boeing 737-500 SU-GBL – Egypt Air flight 920/1 to and from Cairo
Saudia Air’s EMB-175 HZ-AEL – SV 526 and 527 to and from Jeddah
Gulf Air’s Airbus A340-300 A9C-LB – GF 263 to Riyadh
Jet Airways’ Boeing 777-300ER VT-JEK – GF 154 to Manila
Gulf Air’s Boeing 777-300ER VT-JEH as GF 508 to Dubai
British Airways’ Boeing 747-400 G-BNLP to Doha as BA 125
Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-200 B-HNA back to Riyadh and Hong Kong as CX 732
Kuala Lumpur –
Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-300 B-HNP from PEN and to HKG as morning flight to HKG
Malaysian Airlines’ Boeing 777-200ER 9M-MRF as MH 129 to Melbourne
Malaysian Airlines’ Boeing 777-200ER 9M-MRD as MH 125 to Perth
Malaysian Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 9M-MPQ as MH 004 to London Heathrow
Malaysian Airlines’ Airbus A330-300 9M-MKH as MH 715 to Denpasar
Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 777-200ER 9V-SRD to SIN as 10:30am/ 9V-SRG to SIN as 1:30pm
Gulf Air’s on time reliability has always been my main concern. I had a choice of GF 150 to BKK or GF 280 to KUL, and both flights were operated by 9W 77Ws, and the flying time was similar with same catering. However, flightstats.com pointed to the dismal on time record of GF 150, so I decided to stick with a more reliable GF 280. Fortunately both flights had a late start due to different reasons, and ended up on time or even early at KUL.
GF 553 boarded on time and the door was closed at 1:29pm. However, it was stuck at Muscat due to the closure of Bahrain airport because of some VIP movement. President Obama was arriving at Riyadh and I assume the airspace was closed briefly. The F/As immediately offered more drinks for two of us in business class, as well as showing half an episode of “E Television Special: World’s Most Expensive.” Finally at 1:48pm, the engines had restarted, and taxied towards R/W8. We took off at 1:55pm. Flying time was an hour and fifteen minutes, and without sky map, I have no idea about our route information. Descent began at 12:42pm (Bahrain was an hour behind of Muscat), and we landed at R/W30R on 2:10pm and parked at gate 15 five minutes later.
GF 280 pushed back at 8:48pm, as BAH was very busy at the 8 to 9pm period. All four GF 77W flights departed between 8 and 9pm to BKK, KUL, MNL, and DXB. Following GF 77W VT-JEK to DXB, Jazerra Airbus A320, Yemenia’s Boeing 737-800 Winglet, GF 77W VT-JEG to BKK, and Oman Air’s Boeing 737-800 Winglet to Muscat, we took off from R/W30R at 9:12pm. Flying time was seven hours and one minute. We first climbed to 35,000feet, and then headed towards Sharjah/Dubai, Fujarah, and then into Arabian Sea, and then into India – cities of Mumbai (south), Sangli, Bjapur, Adoni, and Nelloye (North of Chennai), before climbing to 37,000feet as we entered Andaman Sea, and then Nicobar Islands, and traveled along the western coast of Malaysia. Descent began at 8:47am, and then we landed on R/W32L at 9:13pm, and parked at gate C32 at 9:22am.
Well Gulf Air’s A320 is nothing special to talk about. It has four rows of seats in grey colored cloth, and all the controls are manual. There is a legrest, but no adjustable headrest. Seat pitch is still forty inches, which is still more generous than US airlines. The seats are reasonable comfortable for a ninety minutes flight, but can’t imagine flying it on a longer flight. The light load allows me an empty seat or half the cabin, which is fine.
The highlight of the flight is the opportunity to experience Jet Airways’ first class suites of Boeing 777-300ER, without the expensive price tag. I don’t think I need to say much, but the suites are very nicely designed. Each seat has numerous closet spaces – one for hanging coats and placing shoes, one side storage bin for perhaps laptop, and then another storage bin for reading materials, entertainment system headsets, headsets, amenity packs, and light items. The side tray has a large surface and it can handle beverages and light snacks. The ottoman can be used as a seat for companion and the space underneath can handle a duffel bag or laptop bag. There is no overhead bin but there are lockers for roller on suitcases. There is a door that can be manually open and close. The door can be locked at the OPEN position during takeoff and landing.
For adjustment and lighting of the suites, you can use the seat control unit console. They are all electronically adjusted. There are also four pre-set positions that can be changed – dining, takeoff/landing, sleep, and recline mode on the side without using the electronic controls. In terms of lights, there are floor lights, the regular ceiling light, personal lamp, slightly brighter light on the side, and all lights off. Seat adjustment is also electronically controlled. Recline of the headrest, legrest, lumbar support, and seat forward and backward movement can be adjusted through the unit. There is an electrical universal unit, as well as USB drive. The handset control is on the side bin, and the flight attendant call buttons can be used on both the handset control, as well as the electronic control console.
The seats are very comfortable in recline position, takeoff and landing position, as well as bed position. The padding is very nice and I had very comfortable sleep for two hours. If it is not because of the turbulence that we hit after leaving India, I can sleep for hours.
Both flights have excellent flights attendants. For the short flight, lunch was brought out fairly quickly after the meal, and the concerns of the other F passenger were addressed properly. He had a tight connection to another Middle Eastern destination, and the purser immediately asked the cockpit and after takeoff, he also let him know that we would be on time, and he should be fine. For my long haul flight, the French F/As are efficient, polite and friendly. They took care of your needs without being intrusive. They had extensive knowledge about wines and food. I can use the call button freely and they also have a smile. The Jet Airways F/A was less visible, but came out a few times throughout the flight. Sky Chef was Nicholas today and he definitely did his job well. The dishes were all heat up well, as well as spending much time on presentation.
On the short flight, a short subject was shown – basically one of those “laughing factory” shows. Well the dropout screen did not drop at my section.
On the longer-range flight, PTV is available and they are on demand. Jet Airways provide the program, and Gulf Air just uses Jet Airways’ entertainment programs. Even the entertainment magazines are provided by Jet Airways. There are many programs available and there is no complaint.
Catering and amenities:
Catering is strong with Gulf Air. The short flight featured a hot lunch – a choice of beef with rice and Grilled chicken with a light tomato/BBQ sauce with potato croquette, green beans and vegetables. I had the chicken, which is okay. But I think there should be a piece of chocolate or a roll to go with the meal. Anyway it is a short flight.
For the long haul flights, the meals were well presented. I guess I don’t need to repeat myself too much. Here is the wine list and menu transcript:
Perrier-Jouet “Belle Epoque” 1998
Pouilly-Fume Les Genievres 2005, Guy Saget
Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 2006, Bouchard Aine
Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 2005
Chassagne – Montrachet Rouge 2005, Bouchard Aine
Chateau Haut Lagrange, AC Pessac-Leognan 2001
Delheim Shiraz, Simonsberg 2003
De Bortoli Noble One 2004
From the Bar
Martini Sweet Vermouth
Harvey Bristol Cream Sherry
Smirnoff Red Label Vodka
Smirnoff Silver Label Vodka
William Grant Whiskey
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Jack Daniels Tennesse Whiskey
Napoleon Brandy VSOP
Amstel Light (Holland)
Diet Coca Cola
Schwepps Soda Water
Schwepps Tonic Water
Schwepps Ginger Ale
Schwepps Sparkling Mineral Water
Orange, tomato and apple
First Class Dining
A variety of Middle Eastern hot and cold dishes of marinated artichoke, filled vine leaves, hummus roasted garlic dip, babaghanoush, filled eggplants, warm falafel, marinated squid and lamb kebab served with Arabian bread
Crab and Pomelo Salad
Mixed salad leaves topped with crab meat and pomelo fruit
Sweet & Sour Vinaigrette
Crispy cheese croutons
The Chef’s Recommendation
Your Sky Chef will tell you the selection available
(Golden roasted chicken with tomato and preserved lemon
Blanched spinach and aromatic rice)
Fish and Chips
Pieces of fish in light tempura style batter
Oven Baked potato chips offered with your choice of sauce (tartar or ketchup)
Local rice and vegetable dish flavoured with fine spices, roasted chestnuts and onions
Seasonal Fresh Fruit - kiwi, pineapple, strawberry & cantaloupe
Selection from the local market
Your Sky Chef with tell you the selection available
Selection of flavours
Zanjabil ginger – Muhallabiah – Caramel Delight – Hazelnut Cream
Crated and homemade in Bahrain by Chocolaterie Dutch Delight for your enjoyment
Seasonal Fruit juices
Camomile, English Breakfast, Moroccan Mint, Earl Grey, Ceylon black tea
Freshly brewed or decaffeinated coffee
Seasonal Fruit juices
Lime and honey energy drink
Seasonal Fresh Fruit - plum, mango, cantaloupe, white grapes, banana, & pineapple
Selected from the local market
Selection of Cereals
Served with full cream or low fat milk
Natural or fruit yogurt
From the Bakery
Thick white and brown toast, glazed fruit pastries, croissants, muffins and Arabic bread
Eggs prepared on board by your Sky Chef
Scrambled, fried, poached, hard or soft boiled eggs and omelette with your choice of sautéed mushrooms, char-grilled tomato, steamed green asparagus spears, hash brown potatoes, chicken chipolata
Banana compote and hazelnut syrup
European style breakfast
Oven baked turkey bagel
Layers of turkey, emmental cheese and roasted capsicum
Traditional foul medames, roughly mashed broad beans, diced capsicum, tomato and onion, flavored with cumin
Camomile, English Breakfast, Moroccan Mint, Earl Grey, Ceylon black tea
Freshly brewed or decaffeinated coffee
My main issue is that there are no turndown service, no pajama, and no amenity kit. The website has publicized that pajama, as well as turndown service are available on overnight flights, and KUL was listed specifically. So I was surprised that no pajama was provided. The amenity pack (can’t call it a kit because they only have socks, eyeshades, and ear plugs) is pre-placed at the side storage bin. I think I should have asked but with the price I paid, I assume I can’t expect much with Gulf Air. Anyway, the whole experience is just so cheapened without those amenities, but with the Gulf Air contract with Jet Airways ending in a few months, I assume there is no incentive to make it better. I assume the mattresses can’t fit on the 9W 77W suites, as well as Airbus A340-300 seats, and now there is no incentive to order new GF ones, and don’t want to pay 9W for use of their mattress and blankets. A nice duvet is still provided, but a turndown service only seems appropriate. Anyway, I don’t turndown, but at least a nice amenity kit should be provided especially FIRST class.
Nothing much to write, but Gulf Air does not close the curtains of first/business/economy after landing. So after we were parked at the gate, all the business class passengers rushed to the first class cabin, and the flight attendants should have stopped the rush especially two jet bridges were used here at KUL. It is a minor point.
In conclusion, Gulf Air is an interesting airline. I first flew them when they still flew to Hong Kong. I flew their Hong Kong to Bangkok flights in first class, which was operated by an older Airbus A340-300. This experience is definitely better and at least there are menus on this longer flight. The suites are comfortable, but I think the Jet Airways product is way too advanced for Gulf Air. There are so many amenities that go with the suites, and Gulf Air is either not willing to invest in them or these amenities is too expensive. At the end, there is a certain mismatch. I don’t regret my decision to fly Gulf Air’s premium class products and is perhaps the only affordable way for me to try Jet Airways’ Boeing 777-300ER. The F/As and food are nice, but hopefully there will be more appropriate amenities to go with the first class cabin and product the next time.