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Gulf Air A321LR Business Class: Almost Brilliant

techsm5

Hello from Bahrain! On my current review trip, I crossed the Atlantic in Austrian 777 business class, then continued east on Gulf Air’s Airbus A321LR, flying between Rome and Bahrain. I was really looking forward to this flight – Gulf Air is reinventing itself, between a completely revamped fleet and a brand new hub airport.

So what is the Gulf Air A321LR business class experience like? There are elements that really impressed me and then some core areas where I think the airline really dropped the ball. I feel like Gulf Air is 95% of the way to having an exceptional product, but a few things are holding it back. Let me share some key points from this five hour flight.

Gulf Air A321LR business class: what I loved

Gulf Air’s Airbus A321LRs have a lot to offer. The airline offers fully flat Collins Aerospace Diamond seats, which you will find on a number of airlines. This is probably the best version of these seats I’ve seen, and I particularly liked the huge privacy divider, which I haven’t seen on other airlines.

Gulf Air Airbus A321LR Business Class Seats
Gulf Air Airbus A321LR Business Class Seats

The soft product elements were very good. For example, on this five-hour daytime flight, very nice comfort kits were proactively offered, while pajamas and slippers were even available on request. Wow!

Gulf Air Business Class Amenity Kit
Gulf Air business class pajamas

There was a made-to-order meal service offered, and the food was very good (probably at least partly because it was prepared in Italy). Service started with drinks and a mix of snacks in a remekin.

Gulf Air Business Class Lunch Service

I enjoyed the Italian antipasto as a starter, with artichoke, beef bresola, olives, parmesan, stuffed pepper, etc.

Gulf Air Business Class Lunch Service

Then, for my main course, I selected a tasty Spiedini ai Gimberi, made with prawns, grilled vegetables and potatoes.

Gulf Air Business Class Lunch Service

There was then a huge dessert trolley where you could choose from a variety of desserts and/or cheeses, and it was plated in front of each passenger according to their preferences. The dessert choices were very good, while the cheese wasn’t as outstanding.

Gulf Air Business Class Lunch Service

Beyond the main meal service, there were some very good aspects of the service that I enjoyed:

  • In addition to pre-departure drinks, Arabic coffee and dates were also served; while Oman Air also offers it, on Emirates, Etihad and Qatar you will only receive it in first class
  • When towels were offered, you could choose whether you wanted a hot or cold one
  • Before landing, the crew offered to sprinkle rose water on each passenger’s hands, as a means of cooling down; it was kind of the holy water vibe, but i really liked it
Arabic coffee and dates in Gulf Air Business Class

As for internet connectivity, I love that Gulf Air has Wi-Fi on its A321LRs, and you can purchase a full flight pass with no data limits for $15. It’s a great price and has kept me productive.

Gulf Air Airbus A321LR Wi-Fi Rates

Finally, the crew was friendly, warm and genuine.

Sounds like a great business class experience, so why am I saying Gulf Air’s A321LR is “almost great?”

Gulf Air A321LR business class: what I didn’t like

Competition in the Middle East is fierce, with a few world-class airlines serving many of the same connecting markets as Gulf Air. A few years ago, the then CEO of Gulf Air said the following about the company’s position in the market:

“You cannot compete with larger airlines in size, volume or price. You can only compete in quality. I can compete with any airline, no matter how small, with the quality of my product. This is the battle I willingly participate in with a chance of winning.

It’s fantastic, and in many ways Gulf Air has an exceptional product…but there are also areas where the product falls flat.

For one, while the service was well-meaning, it just wasn’t polite. For example, after being served the aperitif, I asked for a glass of champagne with the meal. It was never served with the starter and was only brought to me five minutes after I received my main course, despite following up on this.

Getting a drink on Gulf Air can take some effort

The service flow was also generally disabled. For example, they would start serving meals back-to-front, but then they would offer bread and drink refills front-to-back. This makes no sense, since it meant that those in the front received the serve in a logical order, while those in the back were not.

Likewise, I had ordered a starter and a soup, and the flight attendant had confirmed my order, but the soup was never brought to me.

I was happy to see cappuccinos on the menu, so I ordered one. But below is how it was served. It seemed like some sort of powdered cappuccino mix and really tasted like dishwater.

Gulf Air Business Class Cappuccino

For comparison, here’s what a cappuccino looks like on Emirates.

What does a cappuccino look like on Emirates

While the crew was friendly, they just weren’t proactive. For example, the plastic covers for toiletry bags and pajamas sat on the aisle seat next to me the entire flight, and not once did a flight attendant think to take them (while on Singapore Airlines, they’ll basically come and pick them up).

Honestly, the Gulf Air experience was very pleasant and Gulf Air is a solid airline. It’s just that if the airline tweaked their service a bit, it might be great rather than good. The competition is fierce in the region, and it just feels like there’s a lack of logic applied to the flow of services, and that’s a missed opportunity.

At the end of the line

I have watched the transformation of Gulf Air over the past few years with great interest and am glad to have finally had the chance to fly with the airline again. Gulf Air’s A321LRs offer a solid product, with flat beds, Wi-Fi and a cool cabin. The food was excellent, the amenities above average, and the service friendly and well-meaning.

Unfortunately, the service was not very attentive, which can certainly have an impact on your perception of a flight. You don’t have to wait 10 minutes after being served a dish to be offered bread, nor 20 minutes to be served a glass of wine. I hope Gulf Air can invest a little more in training their crew and their flexible product, in which case the airline could be great.

I’m curious to see how my Gulf Air Boeing 787-9 flight compares…

If you have flown with Gulf Air, what was your experience?

techsm5

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