TRANSFER IN BAHRAIN
We pull up on our stand at 23h40 local time. Bahrain is one hour behind Dubai. There are currently some major construction works going on at Bahrain airport for a new pier and terminal, with different parts already in an advanced state of completion. Alas, it’ll be a while before the new facility becomes available and until then, I am going to have to contend with the current facility, which is, with all due respect, a hovel. The terminal looks like something straight out of the late seventies. It’s worn and tired looking and obviously not much care has gone into maintaining the building and public areas properly. The corridors are long, narrow, with low ceilings and the smell of old socks that you only get in countries that have spent way too much time around the British and their obsessive compulsion with having carpets in really inconvenient places…
There is a security checkpoint that passengers need to go through to access the transfer area one floor up. But to be honest, I don’t quite understand what the point of it is, because clearly nobody gives a rat’s bum. The lady in front of me beeps. The male staff all look at each other and, realising there is no woman at hand to give the passenger a pat down, simply wave her through…
LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The upper level of the terminal is not much better. Of course, the duty free shop and the food outlets have been updated over the years. But apart from that, the terminal reminds me a lot of Shannon airport. And anyone who’s ever been to Shannon will know that’s not exactly a compliment.
The lounge is yet one floor further up from the duty free shopping area. Like everything else here, it also looks very old fashioned and not particularly attractive. But at least there are no carpets. The place is also very full when I arrive, which is why I refrain from taking any pictures in the lounge.
But by far the most memorable feature of the lounge, is its receptionist. Sweet baby Jesus, what is that? It’s not just that she’s laid on the makeup pretty thickly. She must also be colour blind, because the two very bright pink circles on each check are clashing badly with the green stuff she’s also pasted on to her cheeks, around the pink. Shouldn’t the green stuff go on the eye lids? She also has the most obscenely thick and obviously artificial eye lashes. I mean, she’s freakish enough to make a drag queen yearn to dress up in chinos and a polo shirt!
Fifty minutes before departure, the flight shows up on the departure screens as boarding. So I figure I might as well make my way to gate 11, from where my flight will depart. Perhaps that will keep me from going off to sleep.
There’s an additional checkpoint to enter the gate area, and for a moment I feel like I have done the Bahrainis an injustice for assuming they haven’t got their security under control. There’s even a separate queue for Business Class passengers. Only, this security check is just about as useless and ineffectual as the previous one. And so, I resign myself to accepting that it’s probably just a cultural thing. Under the guise of pluralism and inclusion it’s really quite amazing just what you can get away with these days.
There is an initial boarding call for Business Class passengers. And I mean that quite literal. Instead of using the microphone, the young male Philippino suddenly starts yelling at the top of his voice ‘only Falcon Gold, only Falcon Gold’…
Off we go…
So far, as you already might have guessed, I’m not too impressed by Gulf Air. But the Business Class cabin of this Boeing B 787-9 is just gorgeous. The dark colours give the whole cabin an elegant, subdued feel and the fact that passengers are boarding through the L2 door somehow makes the first impression just a little bit more dramatic, because from the L2 door the whole of the Business Class cabin is visible.
If I’m not mistaken, this is more or less the same gig that Japan Airlines and Oman Air have for their Business Class product. According to the Gulf Air inflight magazine, the pitch on this seat is 78 inches. And it really is quite impressive. When extended into a bed, the seat is still long enough that I still have room above my head and below for my feet. I’m about 184 cm tall.
The seats are staggered in such a way that the aisle seats are not abeam but slightly behind the window seats. As a result, every passenger has direct access to the aisle and a lot of privacy. And there is a divider which can be raised to provide more privacy. Of course, the window seat is a lot more private than the aisle seats. But from what I have seen, the shell of the seat reaches sufficiently far forward to ensure that passengers on the aisle seat are not completely exposed either.
On the down side, there is not a lot of storage space on this seat. Also, I find it quite uncomfortable trying to sleep in this seat, although that may also have to do with the fact that I currently have a slipped disc…
The vanity kit provided by Gulf Air is extensive. In addition to the obligatory toiletries, Gulf Air will also provide pyjamas on night flights as well as a pair of solid slippers. Bedding for the seat is also provided.
The crew is a mix of European and Middle Eastern nationals. And all of them give the impression of really just doing their job but not much else and without discernible signs of pride or enjoyment. The whole customer experience seems rather process oriented: the boarding process takes forty minutes to complete, which is ample time for the crew to take orders for food from the passengers. But instead, the food orders are only taken once boarding is completed. Inevitably, this means that the crew don’t manage to collect all the orders before they are required to take their seats for departure.
After take-off I’m simply too tired to wait any longer. I figure I’ll manage to get something to eat at some point and I don’t want dinner. I just want to sleep. So I change into my pjs, extend the seat into a bed, and go off to sleep. Forty minutes later the crew are finally released to start the service. One hour into the flight the ‘chef’ comes to wake me up to ask me what I’d like to eat. I mean, seriously? On a flight of six hours they won’t even let a guy sleep because they need to get his order in for food?
I explain I won’t be having dinner but yes, if they’re serving breakfast, I’ll probably join.
The service on the ground starts with the welcome drinks. Given my previous experience with the mint juice, this time I try the orange juice. This is followed by the newspapers, vanity kit, pjs, the menu and the towels. Again, there is a choice between a hot towel and a cold one. This time I go with the cold towel, but it’s lukewarm – just like the hot towel I had on the previous flight.
We’re still two hours out of London when the crew start the breakfast service. Which to me seems just a tad early, given that there are only 26 seats in Business Class. The sequence in which the meal is served is odd.
First, I am brought a cup of coffee with milk, which is very weak, incidentally. Next the other flight attendant shows me a selection of preserves and marmalades to choose from. I request some apricot jam and then sit there thinking that it would be really cool to have something to smear the jam onto – a piece of bread spontaneously comes to mind. As though he can read my mind, the male crew member appears with a bread basket and asks me if I’d prefer toast or a croissant. I tell him I’ll have toast, and ask him if perhaps I might have a knife to smother the jam with and a napkin to put the bread on? To which he tells me the tray will be arriving ‘later’.
When eventually the tray arrives, the cabin crew have to first open my tray table, which is stowed in the side of the seat. Only, that’s where the coffee is standing. So I pick the saucer and cup up with my left hand, because I’m still holding my two slices of toast with the other hand, while the cabin crew juggles my tray in one hand and tries to open the table with the other.
But eventually we manage. And the tray does looks rather nice. There’s even a wire basket for me to put the toast in. But I still don’t understand why they couldn’t have brought the tray first and then the jam, bread and coffee.
The tray has on it:
A plate of fresh fruit.
A small ramekin of butter.
A glass of water.
A glass of juice.
Apparently, according to the menu, there also would have been yoghurt and Müsli. But the crew seem to be strangely unaware of any of this.
Once I have finished the fruit, the plate is removed and a short while later, my hot meal arrives. I’ve decided to go with the:
American pancakes with berries and maple syrup.
The pancakes are thick and fluffy. But to be honest, the whole thing is just a bit of a sugar overdose and could have done very well without either the maple syrup or the berries.
By the time the crew clear everything away, we still one hour out of London. I lean back in my seat and watch the world go by far below, until eventually old Blighty comes in to view. Our approach into Heathrow offers some excellent views. First ATC bring us in due north of the city, with good views of the West End and Hyde Park. Initially, we’re on a westerly track, flying parallel to the runways at Heathrow. But it looks as though they’re going to bring us in on 09R, which is more convenient because Gulf air operates out of Terminal 4 in Heathrow, which is south of the runway. So eventually we turn south and fly overhead Heathrow, with the BA maintenance facility and Concorde clearly visible.
We land on time and make the short taxi to Terminal 4. It’s good to be back in Europe! I now have 95 minutes to make my connection.
Man, what a let down. When I booked this flight, I was expecting Gulf Air to be something of a boutique carrier, if there is such a thing. I knew I couldn’t expect anything on the scale of Emirates or Qatar, but maybe a bit like Oman Air. What I certainly hadn’t expected though was the badly managed, uncoordinated mess and the total lack of consistency in the service delivery of Gulf Air.
The seat on the B 787 is gorgeous, and the 787 is a very comfortable aircraft, from a passenger’s perspective. But even so, the inconvenient flight schedule, the rather unpleasant transfer at their very unattractive hub in Bahrain and the bad service really don’t make me really ever want to try Gulf Air again.
But I’ll give them this much, their livery is one of the best out there right now…