Tuesday Trip Report: Gulf Air

 

It has been over a decade since I last flew Gulf Air.  Australia was a Gulf Air destination in those days. James Hogan (now at Etihad) was CEO  and the airline had new A330s and new uniforms. It was in the middle of a major transformation.  Its crews were very international and the airline felt like it was going places. A lot has happened to Gulf since with its major shareholders all setting up rival carriers including Etihad.

Booking- 10 out of 10

I cannot fault the Gulf Air booking webpage. Worked quickly and logically with a minimum of clicks and page scrolls. I like that! A quick glance at prices showed Gulf are undercutting their competitors on every sector including Etihad -who I find normally seem to be a loss leader. Clearly Gulf are trying to get passengers or cash or both.  Knowing their cash position is precarious that would make sense.

Check In – 5 out of 10

I loved the Gulf Air check in. It worked very smoothly. I also loved the fact I was offered a mobile boarding pass. I also printed a boarding pass so I had both.

The love continued until I got to the airport. At the security checkpoint, I was gruffly informed that I could not use the mobile boarding pass as it was not accepted at that airport. I smiled and handed the security guard, my home printed boarding pass. He refused that as well! Why does Gulf air offer an option at its hub airport that is not accepted? It even says on their website that Bahrain is one of the airports that allows the home printed boarding passes.

I trekked over to the check in counter. The scene there was of chaos with people everywhere. It was hard to know who was in line where. I got waved up very quickly by a friendly agent who didn’t want to see my existing check in documentation. I was given a standard airline boarding card which allowed me through security. The agent could not explain to me why they issued but did not accept web check in boarding passes at Bahrain airport. I assumed it was because of the security  situation in Bahrain.

The airport itself had more security outside but inside things seemed very normal.

Boarding- 6 out of 10

A bus took us from the gate to the aeroplane; An Embraer E170 where we climbed stairs onto the craft. It was a stunningly beautiful outside with stars and the moon shining over us. I love boarding planes via the tarmac but am conscious it does not suit families with children, the elderly or disabled.

We were greeted individually  by two friendly flight attendants in Arabic, English or both if they were not sure!  There was  a third flight attendant who was Surly and made a  point of ignoring us. He disappeared immediately after take off for the whole flight.

 

On Board- 8 out of 10

There were a mere 17 passengers on the Embraer 170 (a 67 seat  plane).16 were in the 60 seat economy cabin and one was in the seven seat business (known as Falcon Gold Class). The business class passenger was a Gulf  Air Flight attendant on staff travel. Not exactly a good revenue situation.It was an early morning flight out of Bahrain in the middle of a troubled time in the kingdom – I wonder if this was the reason for the very low load on the plane. Interestingly, I had flown into Bahrain in a near empty Etihad 777, a week earlier. so my arrival and departure experiences were similar in that regard.

The Embraer 170 is a twin-engine, jet airliner produced by a Brazilian company.  Gulf Air has two E170s and two E190s. They moved in the regional jet direction in 2010 as part of a strategy to revive the struggling carrier. The aim is to use the Embraers as a cost effective means of getting service into as many middle eastern cities as possible.

I am a fan of the Embraers and this one felt great. The cabin on this one looks very spacious and clean. Seating in Business class was 1/2 and in Economy 2/2. Seat width is 20″ in both cabins. Economy seat pitch is 31″ and Business is 36″.  I was in the bulkhead row so I had even more leg room. Each seat is leather upholstered. Mine was  very comfortable.

Safety Briefing- 3 out of 10

Mr Surly stood at the front of the main cabin looked and acted as if he didn’t care. Wearing a crumpled shirt with a packet of cigarettes prominent in it, he kept interrupting the presentation to shout at the Flight attendant who was doing the briefing in the business class cabin. As I don’t speak Arabic, I could not tell if it was  a friendly or angry discussion! Whatever it was, it was unprofessional and off putting. In an emergency, I wondered what use he would have been? This was not a reassuring thought.

He also ignored the couple with the bag between the  legs in the bulkhead row. The male passenger of the couple was also using his mobile phone through the safety briefing, long after the door had closer, long after the announcement not to use electronics had been made and long after the no electronic items light had been illuminated.

Meal – 5 out of 10

We were offered a “cheese sandwich” in a very attractive box.  The box included chocolate bar and water. An extra water was served by the crew.    If the sandwich was cheese, then I need new tastebuds.  I have no idea what was inside as it looked like a light curried egg but was tasteless. The bread roll was dry. After the meal, the crew disappeared. Reading Skytrax, this seems to be a common complaint.

Flight – 10 out of 10

A four minute taxi had us on the runway. Then the pilot really gunned us out of there. We accelerated very very quickly and took off into the morning sky. Not sure why there was such an urgency as it is a long runway and traffic didn’t appear to be heavy.   The flight was very short, and we soon started our descent early into Abu Dhabi. There was some slight turbulence as we came in for landing.

 

Entertainment – 6 out of 10

Each seat has an individual entertainment unit. This was not in use. Not sure whether it was a once off or r a regular occurrence  on this  short flight . We saw a screening of Just for Laughs, the Canadian TV show which seems t be broadcast in almost every airline I have been on. It probably was enough for this early morning flight.

 

The Verdict

My rating: 63% (3 out of 5).

Skytrax rating:  3 star airline

Positives:   Two thirds of Cabin crew, Roomy plane

Negatives: Check in, Safety briefing, meal

Would I fly them again?  Not in a hurry. Okay performance but not enticing.

My last Trip Report: March 6: Etihad’s Wireless Internet

 

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