As you may or may not know, GF has an old and a new First Class, depending on which aircraft you're on. Two of my flights were scheduled to be on the A330 with the new sleeper seats (or SkyBeds in GF lingo): LHR-MCT and BAH-DUB. The other two flights were scheduled to be on the A340 with old-style First Class seats. Some photos on the GF website: A340 old-style and A330 SkyBed.
Alright, let's go to the flights. I've included some pix, click them to enlarge.
April 21st, 2007
A330-243 A4O-KA (old colors)
Photo © David James Clelford [Airplane-Pictures]
STA: 0700 +1
ATD: about on time
ATA: 0640 +1
I was booked to fly on BD130, departing DUB at 1740 and arriving in LHR at 1900. Figuring this might be a tight connection, I approached the BD ticketing desk in DUB in the early afternoon of the 21st with my paper ticket, and asked if it would be possible to take BD128, departing 1535 and arriving in LHR 1650. "No problem at all, sir, please go to Fiona at the Business Class check-in and she'll take care of things."
No queue at the Business Class check-in, and Fiona sorted everything in no time.
After the "instant criminalisation" at security (is putting liquids inside a plastic bag really helping to make the world a better place? I can still put C4 in my toothpaste package if I want to... ) I went to the BD gate.
Nothing special to mention about BD128 (A320 G-MIDP operated the flight, which was almost full). We arrived in LHR about on time. BD arrives in T1, whilst my GF flight would depart from T3. I passed security in T1, and took the bus to T3. 35 minutes after landing I was at the GF transfer desk in T3, only to find nobody there. A sign read something like "This desk will be manned within two hours of departure of our flights". Oh well, time to do some shopping then. After spending some money, I went back to the GF transfer desk. The friendly lady there ("Woody") changed my BD stock boarding pass to a GF stock boarding pass. I also received an invitation to the GF Business and First Class lounge.
(this photo was made in Dublin, hence the BD ticket stock)
The lounge was just a short walk from the transfer desk. I settled and took a glass of Piper Heidsieck brut. The lounge was nice and quiet.
The food on offer wasn't THAT impressive, just a buffet with fried rice and satay, as well as sandwiches, nuts, etc.
I took a plate of fried rice with satay; tasted very good so I took another one after that
The TVs were tuned to Sky Sports, for the match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough.
I noticed I was the only one in the lounge drinking champagne; others were on Gin & Tonic, red wine, or soft drinks. Sometime after the football match, I finished the bottle of Piper Heidsieck
It wasn't long before flight 6 to MCT was announced. "Sir, I'm calling a cart for you, the flight will be departing from [insert a gate far from the lounge here, I think it was either 42 or 44] and I'm not letting you walk all the way there". Well alright, why not, there's a first time for everything
After a five minute "drive", me and three other pax (one of whom was also in First, the others were in Business) arrived at the gate, just as the "Final boarding call" was made. The back of the plane was already loaded with pax, but it was a delight to turn left at the door of the aircraft (we came in through the door between First and Business Class). A friendly FA escorted me to seat 1A and took my jacket. An "amenity kit" was waiting at the seat, consisting of eye shades, a pair of socks and a pair of ear plugs. Pretty appalling amenity kit, IMHO. I settled in the excellent seat, and was offered a drink immediately. "Champagne of course", I replied. Before long, a glass of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle was brought to my seat, accompanied by a ramekin with hot almonds. A newspaper was offered, and I took the Financial Times.
The SkyChef introduced himself (don't remember his name, he was arabic I think), and left a menu and a wine list with me. Shortly thereafter, the empty glass and bowl were collected, and the SkyChef offered me an arabic date and a cup of arabic coffee. Very nice! The cup was collected very shortly after, as we were about to depart. Load in First was 3 (out of 8 seats): myself in 1A, an Omani citizen in 1K and a British citizen in 2A. We had two people looking after us: the SkyChef, and an Asian FA (female).
80 inch (!!) seat pitch:
An attempt to show the overhead space in the aircraft (which was pretty impressive; no overhead bins in the center); notice yours truly on the right :
After take off, the SkyChef took orders for food. All I wanted were the Arabic mezze; after that, I wanted to take the SkyBed to the test.
Table being prepared for dinner (and another glass of Grand Siècle of course ).
The food was just excellent! After finishing, the table was emptied, and I was told I could change in the washroom behind seat 2A. In there, I found GF pyjamas, size L (apparently, Large is the largest size available on GF). BTW, first time in my life seeing a washroom with a window on an airplane
When I returned to my seat, the bed was made. (it looked just like the picture on the website)
The 180 degrees flat bed looked very comfy, and it was! Even for a tall guy like myself, the 80 inch bed provided plenty of room to sleep (I'm 1.92m, or 6'5" for y'all Americans) I managed to sleep almost five hours (not bad, on a flight of less than seven hours). After I opened my eyes, the Asian FA was standing next to me within seconds, offering me a drink. I took a 1/2 liter bottle of water. I then ordered some plain yoghurt, fresh fruits and an energy drink (consisting of yoghurt, strawberries and other ingredients). The breakfast was very good; the energy drink is highly recommended (sorry, forgot to take a picture of both the meal and the drink). Even though I didn't order them, the SkyChef included some pancakes; tasty but too much for me, I was still stuffed from the flight and the lounge.
I had to hurry to change into my normal clothing, because landing was imminent. One strange thing I noticed was that jackets were handed out BEFOFRE landing! "Why", is the question that arose?
Another thing I noticed, was the fact that GF FAs like to make very long announcements, especially in Arabic. A couple of times at the beginning and near the end of the flight, a short (maybe four-sentence) announcement was made in English, followed by a lengthy, multi-minute announcement in Arabic. I'm not a great fan of "general announcements" over the PA, so I was a bit bothered by this.
Experienced the landing through the front camera; a very cool feature!
Very quiet apron in MCT, all-white Tri-Star, 3 UK Airforce Nimrods, Oman Air Force Hercules and a couple of Oman Air 737s. No jetways in MCT, so two sets of stairs were driven to the aircraft. One for the First pax at the front left door; after thanking the crew for the flight, we (the three F pax) walked down the stairs to find an entire coach just for us! Very extravagant!
- Excellent seat / bed
- Friendly and attentive crew
- Great food and champagne
- Jacket handed back before landing in stead of after landing
- Long PA announcements
- Appalling amenity kit
(these negatives go four all four GF flights)
I was expecting a GF representative to pick me up at the terminal. As we arrived about 20 minutes early, there was no-one there. The whole terminal was deserted, so I just walked to the visa desk to buy an Oman visa, and then passed through immigration. (my mistake; in hindsight I should have gone to the transfer desk before immigration)
I walked to the GF ticketing desk to ask what I was supposed to do. The agent was clueless, and sent me to check-in. Like in most Middle Eastern countries, one has to pass security before check-in in MCT. So after passing security again (no need to pack liquids separately; apparently, one is not a terrorist here if one wants to bring some water aboard), I approached the First Class check-in desk. The agent pointed at another GF employee, who took me to the GF crew offices (!)
Everybody was very friendly; one lady took my tickets to issue a boarding pass for my evening flight to BKK, while another lady went searching for her transfer desk colleague. Amazing to see the GF flight schedules, especially to see that a grand total of literally a handful of F pax was to travel on no less than 14 flights. (it's possible that some or more of those flights were A320 flights, on which GF only offers Business and Economy class)
After a while, a lady came in. "There you are, I was missing the transfering F class passenger!" Apparently, she missed me because of the early arrival (just as I suspected). After another 30 (!!) minutes in the crew room, I was handed a boarding pass for the MCT-BKK flight. "Why did everything take so long?" I asked. "I'm giving you the good hotel, sir" was the answer. The lady took me to the taxi stand, and instructed a taxi driver (who looked like the brother of Jean Reno) to take me to the Radisson SAS hotel. At the hotel check-in, there appeared to be a problem. The lady behind the counter had to get a manager, who installed me in the hotel bar area whilst he was calling Gulf Air. I was offered a cup of tea in the meantime. After some time, the manager came back and handed me his mobile phone; some Gulf Air rep on the other end who told me everything will be sorted. About 45 minutes after arriving at the Radisson SAS, I was finally in my room. Thumbs down to Gulf Air for not arranging things beforehand!
Standard room, Radisson SAS hotel MCT
Boarding pass MCT-BKK
Hotel room, lunch and dinner in the hotel were all courtesy of GF. Excellent food, should have taken photos of the brilliant dinner buffet.
OK, next flight.
April 22st, 2007
A340-312 A4O-LB (new colors)
Photo © JKSC
STA: 0830 +1
ATD: 0020 +1
ATA: About on time
Sadly, this flight was on an A340 with the old-style First Class seats.
I refer to these two excellent trip reports for photos of the interior of the old A340s:
GF Air F Class Extravaganza BOM-LHR-MNL-BOM [Pics] (by Karan69 Apr 14 2007 in Trip Reports)
Gulf Air First Class - GF 150 BKK-HKG (by Lufthansa747 Feb 14 2007 in Trip Reports)
The Radisson SAS courtesy van dropped me off at the airport about two hours before the flight was supposed to leave. Wow, very busy all of a sudden, quite the contrast with my early morning arrival! Lots of international flights leave in the nighttime (BA and LX, to name but a few). Fast track security was a breeze, no hassle about liquids (and rightly so! I won't put toothpaste in the flight attendents' eyes ever again, I promise!). The lady "guarding" the lounge door bowed almost to the ground when she saw my F Class boarding pass, and even took time to show me around the (shared Business and First Class) lounge. Pretty big lounge here in MCT, very comfy seats and pretty decent food on offer. Didn't take any though, apart from some fruits, because I was still stuffed from dinner at the Radisson SAS. Luckily, there was champagne (though it was just "ordinary" Piper Heidsieck Brut (call me a cheap wh*re, but I actually like it very much)). After a while, the same agent who showed me 'round the lounge approached me to say: "Sir, I'm very sorry, but your flight is delayed by about an hour. I'll let you know when it's time to board." Some time later, an arabic man entered the lounge, escorted by two police officers who were carrying his carry-on luggage (believe me, two very large bags, very heavy judging by the efforts of the police officers). Obviously an important man, as he was ordering the police officers what to do. (I'll just call him "Mr. Carry-on" next)
The thing I liked about this lounge was that all flights which had premium pax on it were announced in the lounge over the PA system. So no need to worry about missing your flight because of lounge personnel unable to locate you.
At about midnight, I was getting really sleepy To stay awake, I left the lounge and started wandering around the airport. As MCT has just a small terminal, I soon walked past the BKK gate, and entered the small queue which had already formed. The agent at the door was (literally!) pushing the passengers into a coach. When he saw my boarding pass, he took his walkie-talkie and called another coach. Ah, this one looked much more First Class, even though I had to share it with a couple of lowly Business class passengers . Mr. Carry-on also entered the bus, and was swearing at the GF agent because he had to carry his bags himself. I chatted a bit with Mr. Carry-on; to me, he was very friendly.
After a nice tour over the now busy MCT apron I was delighted to see that Mr. Carry-On was "only" in Business. I was to be the only passenger in First (so 12 seats for myself!).
Entering the aircraft, the SkyChef welcomed the First and Business Class passengers. The Business pax were just sent on their way, whilst I was escorted to seat 1A. Again, the same appalling amenity kit as on the LHR-MCT flight.
The SkyChef immediately introduced himself (can't remember his name, but he was definitely of Indian descent) and offered me a drink. "Champagne, of course", I replied. This time, it was the lovely Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque, accompanied by hot almonds. After that, he came with the menu. I immediately told him I wasn't planning to have dinner because of the time of night. The SkyChef was visibly disappointed with my choice. "What can I get you for breakfast then?" he asked. "Just a plain yoghurt, some fruits and the energy drink [listed on the menu]". "Just that?" "Yep, just that, I'm not a breakfast-type of guy". Again, I noticed the SkyChef was disappointed with my choice. Well, sometimes it be that way...
The Captain came on the PA, and apologized for the delay. Flight time was announced as just 5 hours and 5 minutes (i.s.o. 6h10, as appears in the flight schedules). After departure and again some very long PA announcements, the cabin lights were dimmed, the First Class washroom was made ready for me to change into GF pyjamas again. The First Class washroom in the A340 is really tiny, I doubt it's any bigger than the Economy washroom. When I returned to my seat, I found a blanket and pillow waiting for me. I reclined into the full flat (well, almost full flat) position, and slept for about three hours. During my sleep, I noticed a lot of walking through the First Class cabin. As the curtains between cabins were closed, I suspect that GF FAs were walking up and down the aisles. Many times, people were walking through the aisle closest to my seat, and not making any effort to reduce noise because of the sleeping passenger. Please, guys, next time, at least be quiet(er)!!!
After about three hours, I woke up. As I didn't want to create a fuss, I thought "Let's wait until an FA shows up". Two people passed my seat, noticed I was awake, and... nothing! I decided to press the call button. After a while, the curtain between Business and First opened, and an FA entered First Class. He walked right past me! Nothing happened for the next 30 seconds, so I turned off the call light, and pressed the call button again. The same FA who just walked to the front came back again, noticed I was awake and... again nothing!!! Hey, guys, I'd like to have some attention please! About 10 seconds later, another FA entered the First cabin from the back (she came from Business), switched off my call button light, and... walked to the front galley! Finally, some 30 seconds later, the SkyChef entered the First cabin and said "Good morning, what can I do for you?" I asked for a bottle of water and for my breakfast to be served. The bottle came immediately, and then my table was being set for breakfast. (sorry guys, no picture, completely forgot to take one )
Breakfast consisted of the stuff I ordered (plain yoghurt, fresh fruits and the energy drink, which tasted like a strawberry shake with mint; highly recommended!), as well as a small stack of pancakes. Again, very good food, even though it was pretty basic (but hey, I didn't order the full English brekkie, so I only have myself to blame!)
It was announced that the ground staff in MCT "forgot" to bring Thailand immigration forms; shame on GF for that. My jacket was again handed to me before landing, after I changed back into my normal clothing. Again, a long PA announcement.
Approach to BKK was over the main highway to the city center, crossing the new SkyTrain link (under construction) to central Bangkok and landing on the runway to the right of the terminal building, which meant a long taxi around the terminal to the international part. BKK was very quiet, and immigration was relatively quick. My checked bag didn't make it though, which (obviously) sucked badly! The GF baggage agent handed me 2000 Baht and promised to keep me up to date as to when the bag would be with me again. She blamed BD for losing the bag.
- Great food and champagne
- Pretty poor seat, even though I managed to sleep for a couple of hours
- The crew ignoring their own First passenger for some time after he woke up
- No immigration forms for Thailand on board
- Jacket handed back before landing in stead of after landing
- Long PA announcements
- Appalling amenity kit
- Losing my bag
Of course, the GF baggage agent never called to update me on my bag status. After many phone calls to BKK, I was told (two days later) that they had sent the bag to USM (the airport of Koh Samui island), and I should go there myself to pick it up. "No way", I said. By then, I was on the island of Koh Tao, which is pretty nearby when you look at a map, but because of boat schedules it would mean a two-day trip to USM to pick up my bag. A day later, my dive resort informed me that my bag would arrive that day on one of the ferries from Koh Samui. It didn't, but another day later (four days after arrival!!!), I was finally re-united with my beloved bag. Thumbs down to GF baggage "service" in Thailand. But at least it was intact, so it could have been worse (like "lost forever" or something).
Still with me? Good. While in Thailand and Cambodia, we (me & my mate) had three flights with PG: USM-BKK, BKK-REP and REP-BKK. The USM-BKK and BKK-REP flights were on a B717-200 and an A320-200 respectively, and had very low load factors. I was impressed that PG serves a meal and drink service on all flights, even very short ones like BKK-REP (maybe 30 minutes of cruise time). Above that, we were assigned exit row seats on two of three PG flights, without even having to ask (or beg :P) for them. So thumbs up to PG, I'm looking forward to flying them again. By the way, the REP-BKK flight was near 100% full, I counted 3 empty seats in our B717-200. Also, these PG flights were my first flight on the 717, and I was impressed with this aircraft. Very passenger-friendly interior, with hand rails on the overhead bins, so people didn't have to grab headrests to find support whilst walking through the aisle. Also, the 2-3 seating meant plenty of shoulder room. Thumbs up to Boeing aircraft designers for the 717 interior!
As you may or may not know, our Dutch national holiday Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) is on the 30st of April. Of course, we went to the party organised by the Royal Dutch Embassy, and met some nice Dutch girls there (I'm not particularly fond of Asian girls, so it was nice to mingle with some of our fine countrywomen ). I discovered that the Q Bar in Bangkok has prices which are comparable to the Q Bar in other cities worldwide, so it turned out to be quite an expensive night (at least, by Thai standards )
View from room 7001 in the Baiyoke Sky Hotel ("Space Zone"):
Apart from the view, the hotel was pretty unimpressive.