This was our third flight with Gulf Air in four months, familiarizing ourselves with this mid-size, pioneer airline from the Middle East founded in 1950, operating A320-800 ER and A330-200 aircraft on long-haul routes, featuring an attractive variety of destinations (41 in total) from/via Bahrain to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Not to forget some unexpected routes: to Tbilisi, for instance, meeting an increasing popularity with Thai travelers attracted by the unbeatable GF fares to visit the nearest Georgian ski resorts (Gudauri, Bakuriani...), just a few hours by air from Bangkok.
Our destination was Paris-CDG via Bahrain-BAH. That was amongst the top 5 cheapest available rates in Business Class (Falcon Gold Class), and Economy alike. This was also the fastest to CDG using a connection. GF 151 operates on Monday, Friday, and Sunday. Leaving Bangkok Suvarnabhumi-BKK at 21:30. Landing in Bahrain (BAH) at 0:15, 1 day after departure. A total of 6:45 hours relaxing in the Airbus A330-200 (332) usually used on this destination. We shall update our review when the new, flamboyant Boeing B787 “Dreamliner”, scheduled to operate first from London to Bahrain, will fly from/to Bangkok.
We were the first passengers checking in at one of the two Business Class desks. The J class cabin with GF is usually limited to a dozen of seats (more aboard A330 and B787), and the queuing time is therefore consequently shorter compared with the major airlines with a larger J class capacity.
Issuing our boarding pass and “Premium Lane” fast-track coupon was the matter of a few minutes. We could have paid a little extra to receive a Louis Tavern Lounge access (our ticket was upgraded), but we preferred wandering in one of the largest airport duty-free malls in the world.
Access to the “Priority Lane” saved us 45 minutes compared with the overcrowded Economy Class lane... and a lot of stress. At Suvarnabhumi it is fairly well organized, with kind and anticipating staff. Ways better compared with the infamous “First Class Lane” in JFK, for instance... BKK airport is still one of the most pleasant, comfy for all classes passengers, with that unique touch of Asian luxury. Restaurants are affordable, seats allow a good rest, the staff is courteous... This would be so hard to leave Thailand if we weren't flying a great airline.
We had been informed, upon check-in, that our departure would be delayed from approximately 20 minutes. It was; but we arrived on-time in BAH. We reached the departure gate D3 with the captain and flight attendants. That time, lots of them were originated from Russia and some states of the former USSR. This was due to quite a large number of Thai and Singaporean travelers on their ski holiday in Georgia. Obviously a well-exploited niche for GF. Most of the other passengers were Western and Middle-Easter tourists. At less than USD 500 return on a Paris-Bangkok (USD 200/300 cheaper than Emirates or Etihad), Economy Class, GF is well worth the try.
There is a priority lane for the J class flyers. We asked the authorization to board five minutes before everyone, to take some pictures of the empty cabin. We should use the plural, as this A330-200 configures the Business Class in two sections separated by the galley and two WC. Featuring 3 rows of 2-2-2 seats each (though the map issued by GF shows two rows only in the front cabin, where we occupied a window seat).
B/E Aerospace / Rockwell Collins, the world's leading manufacturer of aircraft cabin interior products, supplied their next generation business class seats for the A330 and A320 ER. And better has yet to come with Gulf Air’s 10 new Boeing B787-9 aircraft, featuring private cabins on the model of those experienced few months ago with Oman Air. We are already excited to experience them on the opportunity of another trip!
Our seat was similar to the ones equipping the A320 Extended Range. Again, there was plenty of space. 180°, though slightly angled, it was equipped with a massage function which deeply relaxed our muscles, stressed by some exciting yet exhausting adventures in Cambodia and Vietnam. The occupancy of the J class cabin was 75%. Boarding was made, once again with GF, from the front door. We, therefore, recommend business class passengers to wait in lounge until the last call, just to avoid seeing 184 people crossing their seat on a slow way to the always full Economy Class. Beside this reproach concerning GF and so many airlines, the rest of the experience was most satisfying.
A splendid and anticipating Slovakian stewardess pampered us during the whole flight. Assisted by a mustached steward, reminding us of Omar Sharif, and a friendly Flying Chef. The chief flight attendan,t in his tailored made striped suit, defied in elegance the other passengers: mostly holidaymakers from the Middle East. We were two or three Westerners flying J Class that night, to our astonishment, as FalconFlyer Miles or last minute bid permits an upgrade for a most affordable extra fee.
We were offered our first glass of Champagne Jacquart Brut with an immaculate Slovakian smile, while the Flying Chef poured “Kawa” from a shining gold-plated coffee pot. It came with dates and cashew nuts. Iced and hot perfumed towels were repeatedly presented before and after takeoff, after dinner, and before landing. The choice of magazines and newspapers was limited to local, English and Arabic languages media.
The RR T772B-60 engines (most of GF aircraft are powered by Rolls Royce) were silently roaring close to our window, and we reached our cruise altitude and speed (540 MPH) within less than 15 minutes. We had already the elegant menu in hand. It featured a convenient choice of dishes, and a good selection of wine, liquors, and soft drinks.
We paired the ultra-fresh Mezze, on which the mustached attendant poured fragrant olive oil, with “Bordeaux Sichel”, kindly recommended by Miss Slovakia... We already tasted this fine wine on the Paris to Bahrain route, and liked it. The offer of freshly baked Oriental and Western bread was worth a posh restaurant.
We observed that three staff, supervised by the chief flight attendant, timely and carefully catered the passengers, with always some time for a short inquiry about our gastronomic feedback and eventual requests. We appreciated such a spontaneously smiling, happy and involved staff, indeed! We liked being taken care of by human beings, not stressed robots, aboard all the GF flights.
We had “Asian Sea Bass over a Bed of Spinach, with Pilaf Rice” as a main dish. Paired with one more glass of Champagne. Like the rest of the dinner, it was served in elegant porcelain bearing the gold engraved Gulf Air logo.
All dishes were stylishly presented by the trolley. Though we ordered first from the menu, it was possible to amend our choice at the last minute, or ask for an extra portion. There were plenty of Thai sweets, tropical fruits, oriental and western pastries (yummy Lemon Pie and Chocolate Brownie!), served with tea, Espresso coffee, or digestive.
One of our readers reacted from our previous GF review, considering that the quality of the F&B with GF was topped by Emirates. Certainly, if you prefer Laurent Perrier to Jacquart, or a Graves Premier Cru to Bordeaux Sichel. But the quality of the cuisine, and the presentation of the dishes wasn't better than Emirates. Only Oman Air distinguishes itself from the other airlines from the Middle East for its J class catering. But the fare with those airlines tends to be much higher...
We received a thick and sweet green blanket, request an extra pillow, and converted our seat into a real bed in 30 seconds just pushing one button. We had no neighbour, and didn't need to slide the separation panel allowing more intimacy. We extracted ear plugs and one eye mask from the elegant Cerruti toiletry kit offered by GF, and slept as well as at home. The only frustration was the shortness of the flight, allowing only a four hours sleep after dinner. But that wasn't a problem, as we slept another five hours on the BAH-CDG leg.
We landed in BAH without any delay. The fast track allowed us a quick transfer to the Falcon Gold executive lounge, the time of one glass of wine and a few pictures, as our transit time was less than one hour. We noticed that this is an average for most of GF flights to/from Europe. This explains why BAH Manama International Airport is never crowded (except in the period of Ramadan, of course), and actually so pleasant. It has not the bling of Dubai, but it is easier to orientate oneself, and the security line is ways shorter. We provide more information about the Gulf Air Falcon Gold executive lounge in our CDG-BAH review.
We actually liked our experience with this quality airline, underestimated by Skytrax, with only Three-Star. We shall definitely fly GF again due to, by order: its great value, quality of the seats, good treatment to executive travelers, short transfers, pleasant BAH hub, satisfying catering. Not to forget GF excellent security records.
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