Gulf Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Bahrain to London Heathrow

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!

BOARDING

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…

CABIN

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…

VANITY KIT

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.

CREW

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.

SERVICE

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.

THE MEAL

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.

ARRIVAL

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.

CONCLUSION

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…

Oman Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Zürich to Muscat

Oman Air Logo

Date: 12. April 2017.
Departure: 21:50.
Arrival: 05:57.
Flight time: 6 hours 7 minutes.
Seat: 15A, window.

map

INTRODUCTION
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. In Switzerland Good Friday and Easter Monday are bank holidays so all public services and most offices and shops will be closed. Many people take advantage of the long weekend to go away. And so I’m expecting Zürich Airport to be rather busy when I arrive by train. Much to my surprise though, the place is really quiet. In fact, it’s a lot quieter than usual.

CHECK-IN
Oman Air has its check-in counters on row 1 of terminal 2 at Zürich Airport. There is one counter for Business Class passengers and four counters for Economy Class passengers. And there’s loads of staff milling about. What on earth do they need all these people for? Some of them are check-in agents from Swissport that are just wearing an Oman Air tie or a scarf. Others however, look as though they’re employed by Oman Air and are wearing the airline’s full uniform.

IMG_0001.jpg

I step onto the plush, soft carpet in front of the Business Class counter. The young lady behind the desk issues my boarding passes straight away and has already prepared for me the lounge invitation for my transit in Muscat. If you’ve already checked in online, Oman Air will hand you a ‘proper’ boarding pass at the gate and will hand you your lounge invitation for Muscat at the gate.

The young lady informs me that an Oman Air rep will come to the lounge to collect me once boarding begins. So far I’m quite impressed by the operation here in Zürich.

LOUNGE
Oman Air uses the Swissport Aspire Lounge in the E dock. My flight will be departing form gate E46.

The stairs leading up to the Aspire lounge are located right in front of the Starbucks Café on the E concourse. The selection of food and beverages in the lounge is limited to small cold and warm snacks, things like greasy spring rolls and very sweet cakes.

IMG_0012

The design of the lounge is nice, bright and airy. However, there are no toilets or showers on the premises. Despite all this, I very much like this lounge for its one redeeming feature which really is a major selling point in my view: it has an outdoor deck. It’s a good thing it’s already getting dark, otherwise I think I’d seriously be at risk of missing my flight for all the plane spotting you can do here. As it happens, runway 28 is in use for arrivals this evening, which means I get to see Emirates’ evening A 380 service to Zürich applying some pretty serious braking action on the relatively short runway.

IMG_0013.jpg

IMG_0016.jpg

IMG_0014.jpg

BOARDING
Boarding is from gate E46 and start about forty minutes before departure. I’m guessing that with the very strict curfew in place at Zürich Airport the airline is keen the make sure to get away without any major delays.

IMG_0009.jpg

IMG_0017

IMG_0017

Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first.

CABIN & SEAT
Today’s flight is being operated by a brand spanking new Boeing B 787-9 which has only been in revenue service for six weeks. After the short hop last month from Heathrow to Paris CDG on Air Frances’ B 787-9, this will be my second journey on this type. Yes, I know I’m a nerd but that’s still no reason to be sloppy with the details. Yeah?

IMG_0019.jpg

IMG_0034.jpg

Seat numbering is rather strange on Oman Air. The airline is in the process of abolishing its First Class product and refitting all aircraft with a Business Class/Economy Class seating configuration. Even so, Business Class has retained the original numbering, so that the first row in this cabin is row 11. On the Boeing B 787-9 the main Business Class cabin is located between the L/R1 and L/R2 doors. In addition, there is a single row in a mini cabin located behind the galley before the Economy Class cabin starts. This is row 15 and is where I am sitting today.

I really like the colours in the Oman Air cabin. Everything is kept in earthy tones, with light and dark brown colours and a bit of turquoise thrown in for good measure.

The configuration in Business Class is 2 + 2 + 2. The seat is based on a similar principle as the Japan Airlines seat in that the two seats on every pair are staggered. There is also a privacy screen that can be raised after take-off in case you don’t fancy staring at your neighbour’s ugly mug for six hours. The best feature though, is that the staggered seating configuration enables that passengers seated by the window to also have aisle access without the embarrassment of having to climb over the person sitting on the aisle seat. Storage space is good. Being a night flight, a blanket and pillow have already been placed at every seat.

IMG_0045.jpg

CREW & SERVICE
The crew are the usual mix of nationalities that you find on all the Middle East carriers. I’m guessing some of the crew are form the Philippines, some from Thailand and a few from India.

The service starts with a welcome drink, hot towel and the distributions of the menus and vanity kits. Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the traditional Omani welcome of dates and saffron scented Arabic coffee.

VANITY KIT
The vanity kit has a good toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, eye shades, earplugs and a range of cosmetics from Oman’s Amouage perfume, which is, admittedly, an acquired taste and very strong.

IFE
The IFE screen is fairly big and can be operated either using the remote control or via touchscreen, although the latter is somewhat inconvenient given the distance between the seat and the screen.

FIRST SERVICE
There is a choice of four options to choose from for the first course, main course and dessert and there is usually a vegetarian option included on the menu. Given that it’s already late and the flight is not that long, I decide to go with just the Arabic mezze.

The meal service does not start until more than an hour after take-off and it is quite obvious that the crew are unprepared for passengers like me that just want a light meal in order to give them some time to sleep. So instead of dishing out the food straight away, the crew go all out and start serving the aperitifs and an amuse bouche. By this time it’s become quite apparent that it’ll be a while longer until they finally start serving the meal. So the next time a member of the crew walks by, I tell them I’m tired and that I’ve decided not to have dinner after all.

IMG_0035.jpg

SECOND SERVICE
I awake about eighty minutes out of Muscat. As soon as the crew notice I’m awake, they bring me the breakfast, which consists of:

  • coffee
  • a bowl with different rolls and pastries
  • a bowl of yoghurt with some green unidentifiable fruity stuff in it
  • a bowl of fruit salad

IMG_0036.jpg

According to the menu there should also have been some cheese, but none of the passengers seem to get any of that. What’s more, there is no jam and if you want a juice you have to request it specifically.

ARRIVAL
The new terminal in Muscat has yet to open. But I ain’t complaining because as long as the old facility is still in use, all passengers will need to deplane via stairs and journey to arrivals by bus.

IMG_0043.jpg

IMG_0044.jpg

IMG_0046.jpg

IMG_0047.jpg

IMG_0048.jpg

IMG_0049.jpg

IMG_0050.jpg

There is a separate, dedicated Business Class bus to bring passengers to the terminal.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I think Oman Air’s performance can only be described as an epic fail. First of all, I think their service concept on this flight is highly unsuitable for the flight time and schedule. On a flight that leaves fairly late in the evening, it should be expected that many passengers will want to get to sleep as quickly as possible and there should be an appropriate meal option for them.

Other than that though, I also found today’s crew somewhat unprofessional and inattentive. For example, my coffee cup was not collected prior to take-off and the passenger seated next to me did not eat one of the canapés that was served as an amuse bouche. When I woke up for breakfast a few hours later, the small plate had still not been removed and the amuse bouche looked decidedly unappealing.

 

Air France, Economy Class Extra – Boeing B 787-9: Heathrow to Roissy

logo-airfrance

Date: 25 March 2017.
Departure: 10:30.
Arrival: 12:04.
Flight time: 30 minutes.
Aircraft: Boeing B 787-9
Seat: 10B, aisle seat in the second row of the Economy Class Extra cabin.

map.gif

INTRODUCTION
It’s 07:30 on a Saturday morning as I step off my British Airways flight from Basel. We actually arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule and we weren’t even penalised by ATC for it!

IMG_0004.jpg

I have no particular business in London today and in fact I’m only here now to make a connection from T4. Air France recently received its first Boeing B787-9 and is deploying the aircraft on the Roissy to Heathrow route for training purposes. This will be my first flight on the larger B787-9.

CHECK-IN
In Heathrow Air France and the entire SkyTeam alliance use Terminal 4, which used to be British Airways’ long-haul hub until Terminal 5 opened. I have checked in for the flight using the Air France app.

There is an airside bus transfer from Heathrow’s T5 to T4 which runs every ten minutes and takes roughly 15 minutes to complete the journey. There are only two of us on the bus making the trip.

Transferring between terminals at Heathrow really is the best and by the time we eventually pull up at the bus stop for Terminal 4 I’ve all but drooled all down my front at the sight of so many A 380s of so many different carriers on the ground in the same place at one time.

LOUNGE
The SkyTeam lounge is located opposite gate 10 and I must say, the entrance is rather stylish. Inside, the lounge looks clean and modern and features these walls with greenery growing out of them. I know there’s probably some more appropriate and totally hip description or term for the thing. But if there is, I don’t know it. But it sure looks nice.

Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. I do not try the shower but the toilets are in very good condition. On a side note, it strikes me that in England the pissoirs tend to be mounted much lower on the wall than they normally are on the continent, which kind of forfeits the purpose – unless you’ve been very disciplined with your target practice…

Moving along swiftly before this blog starts listing precariously towards the bottomless pit that is toilet humour, have I mentioned the food in the lounge at all? I don’t think so, which is a pity because it’s brilliant. I live in Switzerland, where people tend to be awfully health conscious and start ‘tsk-tsking’ with disapproval if you so much as confess that you occasionally enjoy a good old English fry up.

Which is why my wee little hearts starts beating just a little faster to a gentle pitter-patter at the sight of the breakfast spread in the SkyTeam lounge! Although the pitter-patter might also be from the cholesterol invoked semi-coma I lapse into after demolishing three sausages… But there are healthy options too, things like fruit salad, yoghurt or doughnuts.

IMG_0008

BOARDING
Boarding is from gate 9, which is awful for so many reasons that you start to suspect they did it on purpose. First of all, it’s impossible for me to take a decent photo of the aircraft taking me to Paris today. Which was sort of the point of coming to London in the first place. And secondly, it’s awfully cramped and once boarding starts, it’s really just a complete mess. There is a SkyPriority queue, but trying to reach it is not so easy.

IMG_0011.jpg

IMG_0012.jpg

CABIN & SEAT
Air France still knows how to treat its passengers. As a Platinum member of the Flying Blue frequent flyer programme I am able to select any seat in both Economy cabins free of charge. And so I park myself on 10B, which is an aisle seat on the second row of the Economy Extra cabin.

The Economy Extra cabin on the Boeing B 787-9 consists of three rows in a 2 + 3 + 2 configuration, for a total of 21 seats. Much to my surprise, Air France seems to be fairly confident about the B 787’s reliability because they’ve sold most of the seats on the flight today.

The seat itself is very nice. In fact I think if I really had to, I could well imagine doing a daytime long-haul flight in this seat. Recline is good and the padding seems adequate enough to remain comfortable even on long flights. There is also ample storage space.

The inflight entertainment system is very good and has an extensive selection of media available to while away the time on long flights. The system is touch-screen operated and is very responsive. More over, the moving map is pretty cool and the transition between the different types of views on the map is smooth.

Wifi is available on board the aircraft, which I don’t try out on this flight, and there are individual A/C power ports and USB plugs at every seat.

IMG_0013.jpg

SERVICE & CREW
The crew are rather nondescript on this flight, although to be fair, with a flight time of only 30 minutes, it’s not as though they’re given much of a chance to shine!

IMG_0023.jpg

THE MEAL
Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, pretty much as soon as the main lading gear doors have closed, the service begins. There is a choice of hot chocolate, tea, coffee or cappuccino. To eat every passenger is given a rather large and tasty croissant.

ARRIVAL
No sooner have I taken my last bite of croissant, the captain comes on again to advise the cabin crew about the ‘début de descente’ and down we go. It’s a nice sunny day in the Paris area today and we’re lucky to be given a straight in arrival. Presumably to make up for the forty minutes delay we picked up leaving Heathrow.

IMG_0036.jpg

IMG_0037

IMG_0038

Our flight arrives in terminal 2E, which is the non-Schengen terminal. My next flight will leave from 2F.