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

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

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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.

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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.

The 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.

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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.

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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.

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Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first.

The Cabin

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?

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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.

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The Crew

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.

Amenities

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.

The Meal

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.

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The 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:

  1. coffee
  2. a bowl with different rolls and pastries
  3. a bowl of yoghurt with some green unidentifiable fruity stuff in it
  4. a bowl of fruit salad
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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.

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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, Premium Economy – Boeing B 787-9: Heathrow to Roissy

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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.

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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!

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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.

The 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.

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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.

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The Cabin

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.

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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!

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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.

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

Oman Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-8: Muscat to Zürich

Oman Air Logo

Date: 23. December 2016
Departure: 14:30
Arrival: 18:10
Flight time: 6 hours 40 minutes
Seat: 5A, window

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Transfer in Muscat

I have two hours to make my connection to Zürich. From arrivals I head one floor up to the transit and departures area, which is also where the security checkpoint is located. In Oman laptops and liquids do not need to be removed from your bag at security.

The Lounge

Location: Behind the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge:
Oman Air First and Business Class lounge.
Toilets:
Available in the lounge.
Showers:
Available in the lounge.
Food & Beverages: The lounge has a large buffet with hot and cold food, with a selection of Western, Indian and Omani dishes. Seeing as I have only just had lunch and will probably be eating again on the next flight, I do not have anything to eat in the lounge.
Connectivity:
Wifi is available, password required.
Comment:
With the increase of traffic to Oman and the expansion of Oman Air, the lounge in Muscat is seriously at the limit of its capacity. Since I was last here, the area has been extended, but even so, the lounge was simply never designed to handle so much traffic.

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Boarding

On my previous flights with Oman Air there was always a dedicated bus service to the aircraft for Business Class passengers in Muscat. This may or may not still be the case, because today by the time I arrive at the gate, most of the passengers have already boarded, so I just step on the first bus that comes along.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2.
Seat Layout: Much to my surprise, the Boeing 787 has a different cabin layout to the Airbus A 330-200 I just arrived in Muscat with. This aircraft has a more traditional, if not to say old fashioned, configuration. I believe it is the same seat that LOT Polish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines have installed on the Boeing 787. The cabin definitely looks more spacious than that of the Airbus, but it is also a lot less private. Later on the cabin crew tells me that this particular aircraft in on a long-term lease from Kenya Airways. From what I know, as part of the same deal that saw Oman Air taking over this aircraft from Kenya Airways, they also source a further slot pair in Heathrow from Kenya Airways – allowing Oman Air to operate a second daily flight.
Capacity:

  1. Business Class – 30 seats.
  2. Economy Class – 204.

Pitch: 74 inches.
Width: 31 inches.
AC Power: There is a AC 110V power port and a USB port at every seat in Business Class.
Audio and Video: The aircraft has the same IFE system as the Airbus A 330-200 on the previous flight, which is very responsive and fast.
Connectivity: Wifi is also available on the Boeing 787-8, with the same price plan as on the Airbus A 330.
Comment:
The one thing I really do not like at all on the Boeing 787 are those bloody electric window shades. In particular, what I dislike is the fact that it allows the crew to dictate what you do with your window shades. When I enter the aircraft, the shades are fully dark and I cannot see anything outside. For take-off, the shades are then brightened. However, after take-off I have the sun shining fully in my face and on the video screen, but I have no means of making the shades any darker until the crew release the shade controls.

Other than that, I find the cabin very noisy.

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Configuration of Oman Air’s own Dreamliner
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Configuration of the aircraft leased from Kenya Airways
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The Crew

The crew on this flight are friendly. More over, it is interesting that there are even a few females in the crew too. On the previous flight from KL there was only one female cabin attendant.

The process is the same. I take my seat and then receive the hot towel, the menu, the earphones and a welcome drink. This time I go with the lemon and lime juice, which is very refreshing.

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Amenities

  1. Shaver with shaving cream.
  2. Colgate toothbrush and toothpaste.
  3. Eye shades.
  4. Earplugs.
  5. A comb.
  6. More useless Amouage cosmetics…

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Lemon and lime juice.
Towel before the meal:
Scented hot towel served while still on the ground.
Pre-meal drink:
Diet Coke.
Choice: There are three choices each for the starter, main course and dessert.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Beverages:
Diet Coke and still water.
Comment:
The quality and quantity of the food is good. The crew’s timing and pace of the meal is excellent. There are no long waits in between courses and drinks are constantly replenished.

Amuse Bouche

A canapé with cream cheese and another with smoked salmon.

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The First Course

Selection of Arabic mezze – chicken ball skewer, labneh with a lot of garlic, something with puréed aubergine and parsley, black and green olives, lemon.

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The Main Course

Penne pasta with vegetables and parmesan.

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Dessert

Buttermilk panna cotta with poached dates and caramel sauce.

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The Second Service

Choice: There are two choices for the savoury item.
Delivery:
Individual service.
Type of meal:
Light snack.
Main course:
Grilled vegetable sandwich, served warm.
Dessert:
Chocolate fudge cake.
Beverages:
Diet Coke.
Comment:
The meal hits the spot nicely. To be honest I am still full from the lunch, so I just have half of the sandwich and the chocolate cake, which is very rich and sticky.

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Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Zürich. When we departed Muscat earlier in the day, the temperature was a balmy 28 degrees Celsius. By the time we land in Zürich it is dark, the notorious fog is already starting to gather on the ground and the temperature is a mere chilly 4 degrees Celsius. The flight arrives 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

It is nice to be home.

Conclusion

On The Airbus A 330 from KL to Muscat I was surprised in a good way with the new seat. I was kind of expecting it to be a sort of anti-climax in comparison to the old First Class type seat. All in all though, I think Oman Air has done a good job refurbishing the A 330.

As for the Boeing 787, I really have to say I do not like this plane. I found it rather noisy and the cabin design and layout is old fashioned and drab.

As far as the service is concerned, I found the crew to be very professional, friendly and competent, although perhaps not quite as polished as the Qatar Airways crews.

The transfer in Muscat is always an experience I enjoy. It is not just the deplaning via stairs, which is very cool, but the old terminal, which reminds me a lot of the old facility there used to be in Malta. I am curious to see what things will be like once the new airport opens.

Without a doubt there is a lot to be said for a nonstop connection between Europe and Asia, like the Cathay Pacific flight I took from Frankfurt to Hong Kong at the start of the week. However, I am starting to appreciate the benefits of a stop on the way, either in Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha. It is kind of nice to be able to get off the plane after a few hours, if only just to stretch your legs a bit.

All that is left now, is for me to wish everyone…

Merry Christmas!