by Andreas Rohde
PHOTO: KOK CHWEE SIM
Flights: GF151, GF017
Route: Hong Kong (IATA: HKG/ICAO: VHHH)–Bangkok (BKK/VTBD)–Bahrain (BAH/OBBI), Bahrain–Frankfurt (FRA/EDDF)
Aircraft: Airbus A340-300
Seats: 44K & 54K
Passenger: Andreas Rohde
With the boom in the Chinese and Hong Kong economies, flights from the former British Crown Colony to Europe are notoriously oversold. The ticket for this one-way flight from Hong Kong to Frankfurt was purchased only two-and-a-half weeks in advance and Gulf Air was chosen for availability and price. At 455 € ($600), GF charged less than half that of its closest competitor.
Arriving at Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok Airport three hours in advance, a long line had already formed in front of the Gulf Air counters. But with seven positions open for economy class check-in, the wait was only about 15 minutes.
Passport control and security worked very efficiently and were passed in a matter of minutes. A nice gesture was the candies offered to departing (and also arriving) passengers at immigration. Shopping and dining possibilities at HKG are excellent and it is easy to lose track of time; however, everyone arrived at the gate and pushback was two minutes ahead of schedule.
On this one-stop service to Bahrain, Gulf Air operates the Airbus A340-300 in a F12C24Y257 layout, with 2-4-2 economy class seating. At 32in (81cm), the seat pitch was comfortable.
PHOTOS: ANDREAS ROHDE
The fully occupied cabin on the HKG—BKK sector
Like other airlines from Arab countries, Gulf Air mostly draws its flight attendants from non-Arab countries and the crewmembers spoke the following languages: Arabic, Cantonese, English, French, Indonesian, Mandarin, Polish, Suaheli, and Thai.
Gulf Air takes pride in its ‘Sky Nanny’ service for families travelling with children. Designated flight attendants are specially trained in child management and psychology, and kids receive select menus—featuring ice cream—as well as books and games. As part of this service the youngsters on board were served first, about 20 minutes after take off.
Main cabin service began 20 minutes later, allowing parents to help feed their children before having their own meals.
The entree (main course) choices were beef or fish, but only beef was left when the flight attendants reached our seats, 15 rows from the tail. While the portions were generous, the rice that made up the bulk of the meal was extremely spicy for Western palates. The rest of the meal consisted of Asian-style noodle salad and pineapple cake. Beverages on offer were the usual assortment of soft drinks, plus beer and wine. Coffee and tea were served after the meal.
After a flight time of 2hr 25min, GF151 made a perfectly soft landing at Bangkok, where most passengers disembarked, leaving only about 30 on board. During the stop, we could not leave the aircraft and were asked to remain seated. Neither could we use the lavatories, allegedly due to lack of water. The facilities were not the cleanest, and two lavs could best be described as in urgent need of repair. After a scheduled crew change, the new passengers boarded, again filling almost every seat, and after 55 minutes GF151 was on its way to Bahrain.
Service on the second leg started with drinks and a snack, followed by dinner, served two hours after departure. The choice of meals was the same, but this time the fish held out, and proved tasty. During the night flight an ice-cream snack was offered, together with water and juices. Before landing, catering was concluded with a light meal of a Chinese-style cheese-filled roll and fruit salad.
IFE consisted of two movies shown on the cabin monitors plus ten different, albeit poor quality, audio channels. Gulf Air’s in-flight magazine, however, is well above the average standard, with interesting reading and good photography. The Arabic music played over the PA for extensive periods of time, during the entire stop at Bangkok until 30 minutes after departure and again from the start of descent until leaving the aircraft at Bahrain, was—at least for Westerners—unwelcome at those hours.
Following another smooth landing at Bahrain, we reached the gate for a block time of 6hr 50min. BAH is relatively small with only about a dozen gates, and the transit lounge offers only a basic assortment of duty free items plus limited dining opportunities. What really made the four-hour stopover uncomfortable, however, was the super-cooled air conditioning, leaving everyone throughout the terminal shivering, including fellow passengers that had winter jackets.
BAH's terminal has little to entice the traveller.
The A340-300 employed to Frankfurt had a F10C30Y225 layout and obviously was newer than the one on the previous stages, featuring in-seat video with 14 different movie programs (plus Airshow) and 21 audio channels.
Cabin service included another hot meal with a choice of lamb or pasta, served with mixed salad, a roll and some delicious ice cream for dessert.
Extra requests were always responded to immediately, but never with a smile. Generally, none of the three crews we experienced seemed overly motivated. The captain’s announcement on the last flight was particularly short, informing us only about the weather at FRA, without a single word of appreciation for our custom.
Safety-wise, the cabin light was not dimmed for the nighttime landing at FRA, and on the second sector several passengers were sleeping on the floor between the center seat rows (thus being unable to reach an oxygen mask in the event of a decompression), which went either unnoticed or at least uncommented by the crew.
The largest disappointment, however, came during our disembarkation at Frankfurt, when the crewmembers gathered in the front and rear galleys, without wishing goodbye to those leaving the aircraft through the second door. After flying on almost 200 different airlines, so far this was the first time this traveller has left a passenger aircraft without a single crewmember available at the door or in the galley area.
At Frankfurt, Gulf Air uses Terminal 2, and within 30 minutes of our on-time arrival, we were reunited with our baggage and had passed immigration and customs.
Despite the competitive price, disappointing. Gulf Air offers good seating, plenty of food—of variable quality —and an innovative approach toward its youngest customers, but service can best be described as indifferent. The entire experience fell far short of the company’s much-touted Arab hospitality and Gulf Air’s hub at BAH is to be avoided.
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