I recently got some unexpected free time off in the form of an extended public holiday for the Eid holiday at the end of Ramadan. Initially, I was thinking Sri Lanka on the advice of a friend, but other friends recommended Bangkok as having much more to do, and being livelier overall.
Eid holiday travel is analogous to Thanksgiving weekend travel back home in the states, but just one day shorter (3 vs. 4). Literally everything is going to be full or crowded. I experienced it firsthand last year on my first trip to Thailand (Phuket).
Doing some shopping around and Gulf Air had the best combination of fare and schedule for a J ticket. Sri Lankan Airlines was slightly cheaper, but it involved a long, 8-hour layover in Colombo versus a 2-hour stop in Bahrain. Etihad was just priced way over what I wanted to pay as not to be stuck in Y. I didn’t consider Emirates because of the 90-minute drive to get to DXB, whereas I can see AUH from my balcony. I hadn’t flown Gulf in a few years, but it wasn’t an unpleasant experience at the time. I made my reservations on line, but had to call the day after to have my seat assignment processed. On-line seat selection is only available starting 24 hours before departure.
I got to the airport right around 1700 for a 19:20 departure on a Saturday afternoon, the day before Eid started. The airport was surprisingly quiet. Unless I missed it on my last trip, non-Etihad F&J passengers have their own dedicated check in desk. I already knew about the dedicated F&J security screening, where the gatekeeper duteously made sure I was indeed traveling on a J ticket. After proving my worthiness, I advanced to the empty check in counter, and then to the manned passport control desk (versus the eye & passport scan machine like last month), and finally to the airside security screening. All that took less then 10 minutes, the place was that empty. Right turn after security into the renamed lounge (Aerotel Lounge now), and up to the second floor.
Once again, the place was deserted, but given most of the international flights don’t leave till around midnight, I wasn’t surprised given it was only 5:15 in the afternoon. It was still the last day of Ramadan, so the bar wasn’t open until 8pm. I just help myself to some lamb & rice, and some chocolate for desert and chilled till it was time to head for the gate.
It was a short walk to the gate for the 1840 boarding call. When the call came, it ended up one agent alternatingly checking the boarding passes for both J & Y from the two lines called for by the signage. I was greeted warmly at door 1L on the A320, turned right like everyone else, and took seat 2A. I had no issues with the seat or legroom, and will let the photos finish the narrative.
There were only 2 other J folks for this short flight, and it took a little while to load all the Y folks. I received a glass of water and a hot towel shortly after sitting down. Noteworthy is that the hot towel was a proper towel, not the gauze-like towels I’ve encountered on other airlines, and were mildly pleasingly scented. Arabic coffee and dates were offered.
Pushback was at 1915, and with a dogleg taxi path due to ongoing construction, we were wheels up with an intersection take off at 1927. A light snack of grilled chicken was served 20 minutes into the flight. An interesting effect of flying westward during sunset is that the light outside stopped changing for a good part of the flight, and it really didn’t get noticeably darker until we really slowed down or the approach.
Thirty-five minutes elapsed into the flight, the engines were noticeably throttled back and our decent into Bahrain had begun. Touchdown was at 45 minutes elapsed for this 301-mile flight. Parking was at a remote stand, and the first bus headed to the terminal with a grand total of the three J passengers. Up the escalator, through the security screening, and since I already had my next boarding pass, I headed right to the Falcon Gold Lounge for the next two hours. Bahrain is only 1 hour behind Abu Dhabi, so it was almost the same time local as when I left. The lounge wasn’t too full, given it was early evening, but the number of folks did increase the closer it got to the typical late night international departures from this part of the world. Comfy chairs, free fast wi-fi, individual stalls with showers made for a mostly pleasant time, but for a period of time, the a/c wasn’t on, and the desert heat did creep in and make it noticeably warm. The food and beverage selection was decent, and I’ll have a more detailed review as part of the trip report back from Bangkok because it was pretty empty and daylight outside, which made for better photographs. Gulf Air actually makes flight announcements in the lounge to go along with the monitors.
I didn’t stick around to hear my flight because I wanted to explore the terminal and duty free shops.
After I did all the eye shopping I could stand, I headed for gate 11, which was the very last gate in the terminal on that end. Boarding started at 2140 as advertised, and there were two gate agents there to process folks. I didn’t get a real good look at the bird on the jet bridge, but when I got to the door, I immediately knew it was the specially marked Bahrain F1 A330-200 from the portion of the checkerboard stipe visible next to the door (2L this time). Left turn, Clyde, and it was seat 2A again. The FA was there with the beverage tray almost as soon as I sat down. These seats were the same style as on the A320. The FA then distributed the Thai immigration forms. A word on the forms, fill out both pages, as the passport control officer will check and stamp both pages, but he will only take the arrival form portion. Hold on to the departure form until, well, you depart.
The chef took our orders for starter and main course selection, and asked if we would like to be awoken for breakfast (menus were collected, so no souvenirs to be had there). Yet another FA distributed the warm scented towels. The bird didn’t have individual air vents, and the desert heat made its presence known again. IFE was available from the time you boarded.
There was about a 30-minute ground delay while connecting passengers luggage was loaded. In that time, Arabic coffee and dates were offered, & a call came to disarm the doors, and re-arm the doors 5 minutes later. Pushback finally came at 2300, 40 minutes late. Cabin lights were out completely by 2305 as we taxied down the closed runway (12R-30L), and the take off roll started at 2313.
Thirty minutes elapsed, and the cabin lights came back on for meal service, which was completed and cleared in about an hour fifteen after takeoff.
So the seat is pretty comfy, with adjustable lumbar support, and a massage feature where rollers or inflatable bladders roll up and down your lower back.
General notes, the lav on the left behind row 2 has a window, and is much larger than the lav on the right in front of row one. The AC plug located underneath the handset charged my iPhone from 64 to 70 percent in about 10 minutes, and the USB outlet over my shoulder charged the phone to 74 percent in about the same amount of time. IFE had fairly recent movies like “Triple 9”, and some older movies, and 4 of the X-men movies available. At some point into the flight, the IFE froze up, and my hand controller stopped working. Other people’s screens had frozen also. Rather than bother the FA since we were well past the halfway point of the flight, I just went to sleep like the majority of the cabin.
There was light turbulence for the majority of the flight, and the seat belt light stayed on for hours at a time. About 5 hours into the flight, the turbulence became moderate. I looked out the window to see nothing but solid white, and we were getting bounced around pretty good. How bouncy? It was bouncy enough to where the breakfast meal service never happened.
Arrival was 45 minutes late, and then we still had to wait for our gate to open. Block to block was 6 hours, 56 minutes. Before deplaning, we were given immigration fast passes. It was a good walk from the gate to the passport control desk, and the signage was easy to follow for the most part. I passed the fastback point, and had to ask for directions back to it. I also noticed a line of people at a pair of those self-service photo booths right outside immigration, so check to see what type of visa you require for entry, because those folks didn’t look like they were taking their photos for fun.
The baggage pick up area is right behind immigration, so its just a matter of reading the signs to find which belt to wait at. Once you collect your bags, just pass through the exit control point, and you are free to run wild. There are a bunch of telelcom, tours, and rental car counters just past the control point. If I wasn’t already late and didn’t have the hotel car waiting for me, I would of stopped and gotten a local pre-paid SIM card and by credits at the numerous 7-11s .
Hope you find it helpful. The return trip report should be posted tomorrow.