Monday, October 30, 2006
Gulf Air Will Always Be A Second Grade Airline
We're just back from a short break in Bangkok. It was the first time traveling with the baby so we decided to fly on Gulf Air since they have the only direct flight between Muscat and Bangkok. The only other choice was Thai Air which costs just about the same but stops over in Karachi. On other airlines we would have had to change planes in a hub like Dubai.
Gulf Air's flight is brilliantly timed. It takes off from Muscat at 10.40pm and gets you into Bangkok by 8am. So you get on the plane, sleep 5 hours and land in Thailand with the whole day ahead of you. Excellent timing. Except that when we got to the airport at 8.45pm we were told that the flight got delayed to 1.30am. And then later it got delayed again to 3am. Why? Because while we were checking in the plane still hadn't taken off from Frankfurt. This is what happens when you fly with a bankrupt airline that doesn't have enough planes to serve its routes and hence uses the same plane for both east and west routes on the same day.
Because of Gulf Air's massive delay, we ended up taking off from Muscat at 3.30am and arriving in Bangkok at noon. By the time we got to the hotel it was closer to 2pm and more than half the day had been wasted. We were too drained to do anything other than a walk to a nearby department store for lunch. I was asleep by 7pm. Our 4 day holiday essentially got cut down to just 3 days.
Yesterday we showed up at Bangkok's brilliant new airport at 7.30am for our 9.45am flight back and whatdyaknow, the flight's been delayed to 12.20pm. But guess what, Gulf Air is kind enough to offer you a voucher for a free meal at Burger King. Needless to say, the flight was delayed again and we didn't take off till 1.
Thing is, this wasn't a unique situation. Apparently this happens quite often on the Muscat-Bangkok route.
Gulf Air will never be a world class airline. Period. It had one chance under the management of James Hogan, and he has recently quit his job. He's given up on Gulf Air and joined Etihad. Can you blame him? There's only so much you can do with an aging fleet like Gulf Air's. You can have the best food and service in the air (and they actually do), but the fact remains that until last year even first class didn't have sleeper seats (and even those aren't on all the planes). In economy class they still don't have seatback entertainment screens. Everyone watches the same entertainment on the shared hanging screens.
It doesn't matter how good the crew are, and honestly Gulf Air's crews are generally some of the best (trust me I've had my share of encounters with Emirates uber-bitch air hostesses). To be a world class airline you have to be able to present a total package, which Gulf Air has consistently failed to achieve. An airline that can never run its flights on time is second class. When the planes are old and decrepit and don't have facilities that are now offered even by budget airlines these days, that's second class. It doesn't matter if you have a sky chef cooking meals on flight for first class passengers, because even though it's a brilliant service (I tried it on a flight from London two years ago), the fact remains that you can't recline your seat all the way to the back, and for just about the same price that you paid for your ticket you could have flown on BA, Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways and had a private compartment. of your own. The only advantage Gulf Air has for anyone flying out from Oman is the direct non-stop connection, and with our delay the other day we actually arrived in Bangkok after the Thai Air that took off before us and stopped in Karachi.