Part I: Heading for Muscat
I’m on the airport train. I’m heading for Zürich again. I’m off on a business trip to Dubai, where I will spend nearly a week. It’s nearly the end of June and the temperature has picked up, the clouds have subsided – finally. And something else is different. The light. My train departs Basel’s main station at 19h40 when the low evening light casts a lovely warm glow, brilliant shades of gold across the land.
‘Are there really no direct flights between Zürich and Dubai?’ I hear you ask. Of course there are. Swiss operates a daily A330-300. The last time I was on that flight, we had a ratio of one flight attendant to every passenger in First Class.
And then of course there’s Emirates, operating two daily flights to Zürich. Both of which I believe, are operated with a Boeing B777. I chose Oman Air out of simple curiosity. That, and because I want to try their new Embraer E-175.
Getting to the Airport
Loads of leg space.
This here is the original castle Habsburg, from where the Habsburgs set out to become the most dominant political power of their day. It’s near Brugg.
A regional train in Brugg station.
I arrive at Zurich Airport just before 21h00. The place is fairly quiet. I reach check-in and here too, there are not many people. There is one couple checking in at an Economy Class counter and another, elderly couple checking in at the Business Class counter. There is a thick, lush carpet spread out before the check-in counter. As I arrive, an agent from DNATA, the handling agent, welcomes me to the flight and tags my luggage. Very friendly and polite.
From there I head through security and then on to the DNATA lounge. The lounge is located one floor up from the transit area, next to the Skyteam lounge. The offerings are more or less the same too, perhaps with the only difference is that the DNATA lounge is even smaller.
My stay is a short one. The flight will be leaving from the E dock, like most of the wide-bodies, so I assume there will be a long queue at immigration. And indeed, when I arrive, there are six lanes open and all of them look very busy. But I’m lucky and the queue of passengers moves quickly. After passport control I head downstairs to catch the Skymetro to the E dock.
A quick phone call to my mum later and I’m at my departure gate E46, where boarding for the flight has already started. Although there are two airbridges at the gate, only one is in use today. Even so, I do not have to queue and can go straight on board.
At the door I am welcomed by a friendly Asian female flight attendant and an oriental looking male. He takes my boarding pass and guides me to my seat in the first row of the cabin.
The first impression of the cabin is very good. First of all, I can’t but notice that the seat and stowage space are more like what many other airlines have on offer in First Class. The central bulkhead has two integrated small vitrines showcasing Omani craftsmanship and jewellery.
I stow away my things and sit down. Nick, the cabin manager arrives and introduces herself. She brings me a scented refreshing towel and a glass of Elder juice. While we’re chatting, one of her colleagues arrives with the vanity kit and the drinks and food menu. The vanity kit is an opulent affair in gold. Inside there are the famous Amouage cosmetics, as well as the usual shaving kit, toothbrush and tooth paste, a comb and socks. A nice big white pillow and a thick blanket are already at my seat.
The experience begins shortly before the doors close, I am served a tasty, sweet date and a cup of Arabic coffee. A nice touch, me thinks!
Departure is to the north and very smooth. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, the cabin crew start taking orders for dinner. I ask for mineral water and receive a glass of San Pellegrino with warm nuts. Something tells me I’m going to enjoy this…
Dining is à la carte and there is a rich and interesting selection of dishes.
First there is a vol-au-vent filled with a mousse of grilled aubergine, together with a shaving of Tête de Moine cheese and chives. ‘Tête de Moine’ literally translates into ‘Monk’s Head’. It’s a typically Swiss cheese. It gets its name from the fact that each serving is shaved off the top of the slab of cheese, making it look like the bald head of a monk.
After that, I have the creamy spring vegetable soup with garlic croutons and fine herbs. And it is outstanding. The taste is simply amazing, an interesting combination of pea and asparagus. The soup is served with a slice of lemon. The flight attendant explains that the idea is to squeeze the lemon in the soup. It proves an excellent combination!
The First Course
After the soup I have the tart of red pepper, goats cheese and caramelized onions with a balsamic reduction. This is served on a bed of fresh herbs: coriander, dill, estragon and mint. I am still in two minds if this or the main course was my favourite. The taste is simply outstanding and the pastry is not in the least soggy!
The Main Course
And then comes the main course: pan fried sea bass fillet with lemon-caper butter, braised Mediterranean vegetables and steamed rice with herbs. The lemon-caper butter in particular is exquisite. It is a finely balanced combination of ingredients that complement each other beautifully.
To finish off this outstanding meal, I attempt to tackle the home baked chocolate cake with whipped cream and fresh berries. It’s wicked, but in the end the chocolate cake is invincible. After getting through half of it I must admit defeat and capitulate to its sweetness and richness. A battle I tremendously enjoy losing.
After this epic meal, the flight attendant brings me a pair of slippers and pjs. I head for one of the very clean toilets to change. When I return to my seat, it has already been extended into a bed. Over and out!
The Second Service
My only grippe with this flight is really that it is too short for a good night’s sleep. You depart Zürich at 22h30 and arrive in Muscat at 06h30, which is two hours ahead of Zürich. About 80 minutes before we arrive, I awake and immediately one of the attendants asks me if I’d like breakfast. I say yes, but in actual fact I am still full from dinner. I just have the fruit, a brioche, coffee and orange juice. It is worth pointing out that the milk for the coffee is warmed.
And then all too soon we start our descent through the heat haze for our arrival into Muscat.
There is a separate coach bus ready to take the 14 Business Class passengers to the terminal. There are no airbridges yet in Muscat, although construction of the new airport is already quite advanced.
Deplaning via the stairs gives me some excellent photo opportunities. But in actual fact I am too close to capture all of the mighty A330 in one shot.
Part II: Connecting to Dubai
Transfer in Muscat
Transfer in Muscat is an efficient and painless affair. The lounge is very full when I arrive. But a short while later, the Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Frankfurt flights are called and the place quickly empties.
Date: 23. June 2012
Airline: Oman Air (WY)
Aircraft: Embraer 175
Seat: 2A, first row of Business Class, window
By the time the lounge empties, I’m starting to feel hungry again. The food selection in the lounge is an absolute delight. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. So I treat myself to an Arabic breakfast to revive the spirits. I have a hard time choosing from all the lovely dishes there are.
After the meal I decide to leave the lounge and have a walk about around the terminal. There has been a recent extension to the facility with additional gates. It has a modern feel to it, with an Arabic twist. And the effect is rather nice, with a reoccurring intricate mashrabiya theme.
On my way to my gate I stop at a shop selling Amouage perfume. It is one of the most expensive perfumes that exist today. The young lady there strikes up a conversation with me. Out of curiosity I ask her which is the famous ‘original’ scent. Before I know it she grabs my arm and sprays some of the stuff on my wrist. The smell is, I must confess, quite exquisite. It smells expensive. It also gives me a headache straight away and I am somewhat alarmed when the young lady assures me that it lasts up to two weeks on the skin. As it turns out, that is perhaps a tad overstated. I head downstairs to the ground level of the building extension, where the gates are.
First all Economy Class passengers are boarded, again with a bus, while the Business Class passengers are boarded last, using their own dedicated bus. And again I’m too close for any decent pictures of the whole aircraft, even if it’s a little mini like the E-175.
The cabin of the aircraft seems new and has a dedicated and very spacious Business Class cabin in a 1 + 2 configuration. I am on 2A, the bulkhead row, which is on the row of single seats.
Service begins while we are still on the ground with the distribution of the very welcome and very refreshing cold towels. Right after this, the male cabin attendant makes a drinks round. I choose a glass of fresh lemonade with mint.
Everything is cleared away as we start our taxi to the runway. The ramp is quite busy at this time of the day. We stop at the holding point for a company E-175 to make its arrival. I can’t help noticing just how dry it looks outside, a vast expanse of desert.
We take off in an easterly direction. Shortly after departure we make a wide left 180 degree turn over a beautiful green blue sea. Our flight time is announced as 45 minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the cabin crew spring in to action. The cabin is full, with 12 passengers in Business Class. Even so, the cabin crew ask every passenger individually what they would like to eat and drink.
I order a Perrier and a coffee. A short while later, the cabin attendant returns with this. Quite impressive for such a short flight:
A mixed platter of (from left to right) pumpernickel with cheese, grilled apple, smoked salmon on a brioche filled with cream cheese, falafel with humus and garlic.
Grilled peppers and olives drizzled in pesto and olive oil.
And for dessert a slice of tasty carrot cake. The size of the meal is perfectly adequate for the duration of the flight and the quality of the food is excellent. Just as I wash down the last of the carrot cake with the coffee, the fasten seatbelt sign comes on again and we start our approach to Dubai.
The approach is quite bumpy. It’s very hazy outside so I can’t really see anything much until we are only a few hundred metres above the ground. Fortunately the airport is deserted at this time of the day, unlike the evenings when most of the European carriers arrive in the city. I make my way to immigration and there is next to no queue at all. The immigration officer is a friendly, chatty guy. He checks my visa and passport, and I’m good to go. I pass through customs and then from there head outside to grab a taxi. And I nearly keel over with the heat!
So what did I think of Oman Air? From what I understand, Oman Air does and always has run at a loss. To be honest, I’m really not surprised. Their product is outstanding in terms of hardware, the quality of the food and the friendliness of their crews. Basically they offer a First Class product at Business Class prices. Would I fly them again? Certainly! I just hope they will last long enough at Zürich for me to try them again.