Airline review: Gulf Air

The original Middle East based airline, Gulf Air pioneered the concept of pampering in the skies that regional airlines have made something of a specialisation of. Going from being a leading international airline providing unparalleled connectivity between Asia and the west, to being mired in bankruptcy rumours in the mid 2000’s, Gulf Air underwent massive restructuring a few years ago to reemerge as an airline worth reckoning with, boasting a compact and efficient fleet and route map. It flies an A320ER to Paris CDG airport, which is one of its main European capital destinations.

I was on a short haul one-hour flight from Dubai International Airport (Terminal 1) to Bahrain, with an onward connection to Paris CDG airport, with just about 90 minutes worth of a layover in Bahrain. I was checked through at Dubai airport, where the staff was helpful, the process quick and seamless, and I was soon walking towards Gulf Air’s dedicated lounge in Dubai International. (Online check-in is available.)

Featuring the airline’s signature matte gold colour, the overall décor of the lounge is clean and contemporary, with blue and beige sofas, and table lamps offering a warm inviting glow. A buffet serves up the usual suspects when it comes to lounge cuisine, while wi-fi and shower facilities ensure you can make the most of your time here.

The lounge at Bahrain airport is the flagship, complete with a Majlis-style seating area near the entrance. The food is also surprisingly good – don’t miss the kibbeh! The selection of reading material in the lounge was surprisingly small, however, with little more than the airline magazine on offer. The Bahrain lounge also features a separate ‘Quiet Room’ – which I didn’t need to use on such a short layover, but definitely would have done if I had more time to kill at the airport – plus family-friendly facilities such as a gaming room, and their unique ‘Sky Nannies’ service available to those who need it.

Boarding announcements are made throughout, and with Bahrain airport being refreshingly compact (while offering all the conveniences of a modern airport), the gate is but a short walk away.

On-board, the airline continues to impress. With a 2-2 configuration, the flat-bed seats are wide and comfortable. The seat dividers are large enough to allow for privacy for those who crave it. There’s convenient armrest and table space around each seat, and a surprisingly roomy laptop stowaway area next to the seat; a bottle of water and the Chopard amenity kit are placed here in advance.

The seat controls are easy to manoeuvre, with pre-set options for reclining. Storage space is aplenty, with a shoe compartment in the front, alongside another cubby where the blankets – which were some of the nicest, plushest in-flight blankets I’ve ever seen, bar none – were kept. The seat also boasts an in-built massage system; quite popular these days on many aircraft, but I’m not sure how effective they are. What would definitely be game-changing is if an airline introduced an on-board masseuse… is anyone listening?!

Once seated, the welcome drink options include fresh orange juice, a refreshing mint lemonade or champagne (Jacquart Brut), followed by dates and Arabic coffee, served with a smile, and hot and cold towels.

This is the airline that also pioneered the Sky Chef concept (now a key feature with other leading airlines), thanks to which, the food on-board feels truly gourmet. Restaurant-trained staff are available to take your order and personalise your meal, and they seem genuinely friendly and hospitable. Expect dishes such as carrot and cumin soup; pan-fried lamb fillet with pilaf rice, French beans, red onion confit and rosemary sauce; and saffron risotto with broccoli, babycorn and buttered carrots. Not only does all the food sound delicious – as many airplane menus are prone to do – but the taste and presentation are excellent too.

Dessert is served off a trolley that is wheeled by – think fruit tiramisu; lemon meringue; and opera cake with crème Anglaise – as is a cheese platter. The wine list features two each of white and red, plus bubbly. The food menu includes a recipe (plus a profile of one of their Sky chefs), and the wine list contained tips and info on wine glasses; a nice little touch that practically costs nothing to add on, but which I appreciated.
It’s interesting to note here that even on the one-hour Dubai-Bahrain flight, hot food is served – a delicious kebab platter, served with a rather dry potato rosti, in my case – that is perfect to stave off the late night hunger pangs.

The on-demand entertainment, enjoyed with noise-cancelling headphones on 15-inch screens, provides the expected selection of movies, TV shows and music; while it may not be on par with the high quality of entertainment provided on similar airlines, it provides a reasonable selection of hits to make the seven odd hours of flying whiz by.

Gulf Air prides itself on its on-time performance (89 per cent in 2014), and true to promise, all the flights on my route left on time. This includes my return flight on the 14th of November, 2015, the day after the Paris attacks; needless to say, I was very impressed with their timeliness, and indeed, their extreme professionalism at CDG airport on a stressful day such as that.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of product and service, and with the highly competitive pricing they offer, I’d gladly fly them again. It certainly looks like the airline is quietly but steadily upping its game to reclaim its share of the sky pie.

A version of this feature was previously published in Benchmark Live magazine.
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