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Best of Airways — Oman Bliss: From Muscat to Milan in Economy Class

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Best of Airways — Oman Bliss: From Muscat to Milan in Economy Class

Fabrizio Capenti

Best of Airways — Oman Bliss: From Muscat to Milan in Economy Class
April 20
10:00 2018

Reported by Matteo Legnani. Photos by Matteo Legnani unless noted. • Airways Magazine, September 2014.

Oman Air (WY/OMA) was officially launched in 1993 with a modest fleet of white-and-red Boeing 737-300 serving a handful of destinations in the Gulf Region and in the Indian subcontinent. A major development occurred in 2007 when the Omani government decided to pull out of Gulf Air while recapitalizing the national airline. Long-haul equipment (consisting of four Airbus A330-200 and three -300 aircraft) was acquired and the airline launched flights to the Far East and European markets, with routes linking Muscat with Bangkok and London-Heathrow.

In addition to its long-haul network, Oman Air has a fleet of 17 Boeing 737, chosen for the medium-range with a mix of fifteen -800 and two -700 series aircraft. Two ATR 42-500 and four Embraer 175 aircraft serve the airline’s domestic and short-range network, maximizing efficiency in every area. From 2015, its Boeing 737 fleet will be expanded with the addition of six 737-900ER and six brand-new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft for its long-haul network.

Oman Air began non-stop services to Italy’s financial capital, Milan, in December 2010, with the aim of getting high-budget tourists to the hotels, pristine beaches, and natural beauties of Oman – a country still far away from the exuberance of the United Arab Emirates with its stunning skyscrapers and six-lane highways. So far, the response to these flights has been quite satisfying, with Business and Economy class load factors averaging 81.7% in the January-May 2014 period.

Having enjoyed a full week of sun and rest at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, at 13.45, I left the five-star hotel for the 45-minute journey to Muscat’s Seeb Airport. The 1980’s vintage terminal is strikingly different from those at neighboring Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but it is well lit and very clean.  At peak times it can be very crowded but at this hour of the afternoon, it is much more relaxing than those other aviation cathedrals.

Upon arriving in the international terminal, I was surprised by its quiet and relaxed ambiance. The majority of departures to Europe and Asia are scheduled late at night, so the Oman Air check-in area was almost deserted when I approached. Flight WY141 to Milan-Malpensa (MXP/LIMF) is an exception in the airline’s timetable, with a scheduled departure time of 16.00.

The quiet and relaxed check-in area in the International Terminal at Muscat.

With nobody in line ahead, I quickly checked-in my bag and went through security and passport control, then through the vast duty-free shopping area to reach the C gates pier.

A nice view of the departures area at Muscat’s C Gates pier.

Opened in 2009, the 183,000sqf (17,000sqm) building is the newest part of the terminal and features big windows that allow a 180° view of the apron and the new terminal being built on the northern side of the existing runway. Once it is inaugurated by the end of 2014, the US $1.8 billion 3,713,000sqf (345,000sqm) building will have a capacity of 12 million passengers/year with 96 check-in counters, 29 boarding bridges (much appreciated in a place where, during the summer season, temperatures exceed 50°C) and a 90-room airside hotel for connecting passengers.

Upon reaching the gate, I realized that the quiet interior of this interesting airport was replicated on the outside where there were only an Airbus A330-200 to MXP, two Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Oman Air and flydubai, and a Pakistan International Airways Airbus A310-300. The two-level pier has a variety of shops, cafes and ample seating on the first floor while the departure gates are downstairs.

Interestingly, at the time of this flight, the Hajj pilgrimage was at its peak, so the gate next to ours was brimming with Muslim pilgrims headed to Jeddah for one of the world’s biggest religious celebrations.

Since the present airport has no air bridges, passengers are bussed from the gate to the awaiting aircraft. Priority was given to the 20 premium cabin passengers present on our flight, while the rest of us followed with two additional buses.

Boarding Oman’s Airbus A330-243 (A4O-DG • MSN 1227) through the L2 door.

After boarding through door 2L, I walked through the smaller section of the airline’s signature Business Class cabin (which has a comfortable a 1-2-1 layout) and reached my assigned seat, 28K. To my surprise and enjoyment, Oman Air offers a comfortable 34-inch pitch between seats, being one of the largest in economy class around the globe. The much more celebrated Gulf country carriers, namely Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, feature 32, 33, and 32 inches respectively on similar aircraft.

Each of the 196 coach seats is equipped with a 10.6-inch-wide LCD screen, a PC power port, a seatback-mounted IFE handset for easy accessibility, and a pair of USB/RCA video ports. The comfort is significantly increased by a three-position aft-mounted footrest.

As I settled in to explore my surroundings, the cabin crew surprised me with offerings of hot towels – a nice and rare touch for an economy class. The safety briefing followed in Arabic, English, and Italian.

One advantage of having no air bridges in Muscat is that there is no need for pushback. After our crew started up the two Rolls-Royce Trent 772B-60 engines of our Airbus A330-200, we began taxiing to the airport’s Runway 08 for an eastbound departure. We held short of the threshold to give way to a landing Air Blue Airbus A320, and then rolled down the strip of concrete. Given the 40°C (104°F) outside temperature and the almost-full load of passengers, it took much of the 11,758ft (3.584m) long runway to get airborne. Immediately after take-off, we made a 180° left turn over the Indian Ocean and headed toward Dubai.

Our 7 hour, 11 minute-long journey took us north over Dubai, Kuwait City, Basra, and Mosul in Iraq. Then, where the Syrian, Turkish and Iraqi borders meet, we banked westward to Diyarbakir, Ankara, and Istanbul in Turkey, to then proceed to Sofia in Bulgaria and Sarajevo in Bosnia before crossing the Adriatic Sea over Pula toward our descent into MXP just above Venice. The wall-mounted video screens showed the progress of the flight all the way to Milan.

Twenty minutes after departure, cabin service began with the smart-looking, blue-dressed flight attendants distributing elegant menu cards which presented three choices of main course meals. The options included: kingfish with potato and fennel gratin, herb and cheese béchamel and mixed vegetables; traditional beef koftas with Omani herbs and spices, steamed rice and vegetable medley; or mini orecchiette pasta shells, with fragrant tomato and vegetable sauce, herb and parmesan crumble.

I chose the koftas (sort of big meatballs) as the last taste of Arabic flavors before returning to the usual pasta, pizza, and risotto at home. The dessert was a date-and-almond mousse cake. To drink, I opted for red wine, a 2012 French merlot. The food portions were generous and tasty, but the presentation was quite poor as if the food had been “slammed” into the plastic bowls on the tray.

Traditional beef koftas, steamed rice and vegetable medley.

At the end of the dinner, a bottle of mineral water was given to each passenger. With the plane progressing at 40,000 feet in the skies of Iraq, I took advantage of my window seat to have a bird’s eye view of this much-troubled country, but a thick layer of clouds made it almost impossible.

I turned to discovering the wonders of the IFE. Apart from the usual music, games and flight maps, the most impressive part of it was the 98-title video library, including American, European, Arabic and “Bollywood” movies. There was also a small section dedicated to Italian cinema. All the movies are “on demand,” starting when the passenger wishes. To select the various options one can use either the remote control or the touchscreen. The video offer was complemented by 107 TV documentaries and videos, though “Live TV” was inoperative.

Wings of Oman inflight magazine was redesigned in March 2014, having two headline features aptly named with the travel themes “Check Out” and “Check In” and a “Must See: Oman” page. The April edition takes the reader to the discovery of Mount Everest (Oman Air flies daily to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, from Muscat) and illustrates the “tentative list” of Omani heritage sites that are shortlisted for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. The month’s “Must See” location is the Musandam Peninsula, the Omani enclave located at the northern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirate of Al Fujairah. In the shopping section of the magazine, I found the company’s Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 scale models (the two sell for 13 Oman Rials, corresponding to US $33), the perfect present for my 8-year-old, aviation-fanatic son. I tried to purchase through the IFE using my credit card, but the system failed. I then asked one of the flight attendants, who handed me the box with the models an hour before landing.

As the sun set in front of the Airbus while we flew over Turkey, mood lighting swathed the passengers in business class – an amenity not extended to the economy cabin. One hour before landing, the cabin crew served a small snack consisting of a cheese or turkey sandwich with orange juice or water.

The descent into MXP was made crossing the entire Pianura Padana from east to west, passing a few miles south of Milan before turning right to align with the two 350°-oriented runways. For this flight, landing was on 35L – the one nearest to Terminal 1 – where we touched down at 21.32 twenty-two minutes after scheduled arrival time. We quickly proceeded to the B (non-Schengen) pier and docked at gate B12. Twenty minutes later, I was out of the terminal searching for my car in the parking lot.

An Oman Air A330-200 in Milan-MXP. PHOTO: FABRIZIO CAPENTI.

Facing the competition of much bigger carriers in the Gulf region, Oman Air developed its business within a niche. Promoting itself as a “boutique airline,” it configured its airplanes in a low-density layout, delivering attentive and personalized service to its passengers. The new terminal at Seeb will add further comfort to the traveling experience. – ML

PHOTO: Peter Hulse.


About Author

Matteo Legnani

Matteo Legnani

Milan-Based Aviation Journalist. I work for a news website, but In my spare time I do what I like the most: flying and writing about flying.

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