With 29 aircraft (Emirates operates more than 200...), Gulf Air remains quite a confidential airline. A pioneer carrier established in 1950, much before its competitors from the Middle East, it operates quietly but surely in the shade of the giants Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar. Since we have decided to concentrate our most recent in-flight reviews on boutique airlines, we thought that after great moments in the air with Royal Jordanian and Oman Air, it was time to have fly Gulf Air. With services scheduled to 41 destinations in 23 countries across Africa, Asia, and Europe, GF features astonishingly cheap prices: less than USD 550 for a CDG-BKK return, during the peak season. In Economy; with the option to be upgraded via an easy system of a bid. It gave us the possibility to enjoy the comfort of the Falcon Gold Class for a small extra fee. We had access to the GF dedicated lounge in Bahrain, but not in Paris where the services of a commercial lounge is individually hired for each business class passengers.
We liked the departing time of GF 18, departing from CDG terminal 2C: 11 am. It didn't oblige us to wake up at dawn, leaving hotel Le Bristol at 7:00 am. Arrival time in Bahrain, at 6:10 pm, was fine too. Allowing either a business lunch downtown at 8 pm, either a fast transit to plenty of destinations worldwide.
There was no so much traffic on the Paris to Roissy highway. We reached the airport at 8 am, precisely when the check-in started operating. The first Falcon Gold class passengers, we had our luggage promptly registered, and our boarding pass in hand within less than three minutes. One of the fastest check-in in our travelers' life. One of the most courteous also; which is worth the mention in CDG, considered as one of the worst airports in the world...
We had been granted “Accès N°1”, just showing our boarding pass to the security staff. This means a much faster passport and security control. A real luxury in the over-crowded CDG.
That was not a surprise: our upgrade didn't give access to the plain Jane “Salon Paris”. In Europe, London has got a very spacious and luxury “Gulf Air Lounge” (accessible to upgraded travelers); the same option should be considered in Paris. That was not a frustration at all, as we already knew by reputation the high quality of the F&B awaiting us aboard the aircraft, and could wait a short hour before enjoying it.
The Gulf Air Airbus A320 ER (for “Extended Range”), parked in front of the gate C85, between two cyclopean Emirates and Qatar A380s, looked like a sheikh's private jet with its smart gold livery. And it was, somehow: we accessed in priority the intimate, 14 seats only cabin which, during the flight, was a haven of tranquility and comfort, totally separated from the crowded, 96 seats Y class. This is often the case with A320, whatever the airline: all passengers embarked via a unique gate, crossing the J class cabin with their oversized hand luggage... and comments on the luxury of the executive class. It always creates a very temporary discomfort. During the rest of the flight, we actually felt like in a Falcon 100 or Jetstream.
The Falcon Golf Class is amazing. We were not expecting in this small A320 fully flatbed premium leather seats, measuring 1.90 meters in length, and 22.5” width. So comfy, easy to use, with plenty of space, the cabin comes without the bling of the other airlines from the Middle East: no simili wood or gold, but everything we had been expecting for a great experience in the sky. The cabin plan is 2x2 seats per row. Definitely perfect!
There was no passenger next to us; if so, a privacy screen can be adjusted for more intimacy. The space between the seats is generous enough to accommodate a volleyball player.
Service was anticipating! From the warm welcome by the friendly flying crew in a lovely uniform, until the landing in Bahrain. We had, of course, a welcome drink of our choice (we went for some bubbles), together with the traditional “Kawa” served according to the Arabic tradition, with stuffed Medjool dates, and the charming smile of the stewardess... She was from Morocco, like lots of flying attendants working on this route frequented by French-speaking passengers: preferring this excellent airline to the dreadful and over-priced Air France, “reputed' worldwide for its repeated strikes and the arrogance of its staff...
After a soft take-off, right on time, GF 18 was silently leaving the cold rain of Paris eastbound to the sunny Middle East.
We received a black leather amenity kit. Smartly designed by Cerruti, it contained all the necessary toiletry: tooth-paste, razor, Aigner body lotion, refreshing facial spritz, etc. We found it simply elegant. Less bling than with other airlines from the Middle-East. Reflecting the cool, neutral feeling of the cabin, and the non-extravagant attitude of the flight attendants.
Once on a cruise speed, we have been courteously approached by the head-stewardess, with a second, nicely perfumed refreshing towel, introducing us the Sky Chef. Both greeted us by name, like in a Michelin star restaurant. If we remember well, our first experience with a Sky Chef was almost ten years ago, with Turkish Airlines.
Trained in the best luxury hotels and restaurants worldwide, GF employs more than 100 staffs, individually catering to the passenger's preference. Any option is open on the cooking time of the meat, seasoning of the fish, and the wine pairing.
One glass of chilled Champagne Jacquart in hand, we carefully inspected the menu, featuring a selection of mouth-watering Arabic and European dishes, combined in a contemporary style.
We couldn't miss the Mezze, which came on a generous portion, with freshly baked Pita bread.
The Sky Chef recommended one glass of “Bordeaux, Sichel, 2014”, fruity and oaky.
“Seafood Thermidor”, a medley of seafood and roasted vegetable, served over creamy Linguine, was worth a Milanese trattoria. We paired it with Champagne and also a small glass of pleasantly floral “Petit Chablis, Louis Michel, 2014”.
Desserts came lavishly, from a trolley, together with tea, coffee, and spirits. “Raspberry Panna Cotta” with Mango or Fresh Fruit coulis, was so yummy. One glass of Cognac Baron Otard, one of our favorite brands, was enough to help the digestion. Besides the always slightly heavy Mezze, the rest of the dinner was light and perfectly adapted to a six hours flight. Served timely, it allowed us some well-merited rest.
As always, what does matter for us in business class is escaping the jetlag, sleeping as much as possible. We therefore only used the little bit too small (15.4'') -or too far- screen to check the AVOD. We liked the light and comfortable noise canceling headsets, providing a crystal clear sound. The choice of music, radios, TV shows, kids movies and blockbusters, is almost unlimited; featuring of course a majority of Hollywood and Arabic movies. We just noticed that the remote control is simpler, easier to use than on most of the airlines which we experienced recently.
Pillow & duvet style blanket were stored in the cubby hole under the tv monitor, with a bottle of water. We used it, and even ordered an extra on: though the atmosphere of the cabin was pleasant, with an ideal temperature, the air in A320 is drier compared with the new generation of aircraft (like A350 and B787 Dreamliner). We plugged our smartphone to the USB charging point, switched on the LED-light disposed upon our headrest, and read a little bit before transforming our seat into a full flat bed designed for an overweight 6' tall passenger. What a pleasure for a short and slim passenger! We felt like sleeping in a Pullman bed, with one bonus: there is a built-in massage feature, which facilitated our sleep.
It was 5 pm when the attendant gently woke us up with tea or coffee, and offered us a ritual hand wash with rose perfumed water. This seems to be unique to GF. We had a friendly discussion with the crew, and visited the Economy Class cabin. Crampy but clean. Totally full of course, as GF has unbeatable offers like the Wild Wednesday, with a 20% extra discount on already discounted fares! Back to our seat, we enjoyed a scenic approach, and a smooth landing in Bahrain. We didn't stay a long time taxying; a remote stand had been promptly fixed within five minutes, and a dedicated bus awaited the Falcon Gold class passengers for another two minutes ride to the immigration/transit gate.
Bahrain International Airport doesn't look particularly impressive, but we found it more than acceptable for the executive passenger. Gulf Air being a relatively small airline, its hub to the Middle-East and Asia is human-sized. We actually liked it. We noticed that Falcon Gold class passengers could use a fast track to immigration. We received the same privilege for transiting. It was a little bit chaotic for the ground staff to finally find a record of our upgrade on the second leg, but it was done with such a kindness and lots of smiles, that this was not an issue. A guest officer ever escorted us to the lounge, introduced us to the staff, and let us enjoy its supreme comfort, and a nice selection of dishes and beverage (including alcohol: this is not a dry airport). Thirty minutes before the last call to Bangkok (check our Bangkok-Bahrain review with A330-200), our final destination, the same gentleman came to guide us to the plane by a dedicated bus. We required a priority boarding to take some pictures of the empty cabin, and this was accepted with enthusiasm.
Gulf Air is a three-star airline by Skytrax. We trust this ranking, as all reviewers must produce an evidence (boarding pass or e-ticket) verifying that they actually flew the reviewed airline. Now we are talking about business class only, and can definitely compare the Falcon Gold Class to the best four star airlines. We had the same impression of injustice flying Royal Jordanian: one of our best experience ever, but only three-star also. There is no doubt that with the beautified Falcon Gold Class, no to mention the purchase of a brand new Boeing B787 Dreamliner in 2018, the ranking shall quickly improve. With modern aircraft, the sensation of safety, efficient ground staff and flying crew, clean cabin, and great F&B, Gulf Air is one of the best value for money airlines which we ever experienced in the air.
PARIS TOWN OFFICE:
9, rue de Téhéran, 75008 Paris, France
PHONE: +973 17 222 820 (sales) / +973 17 339 339 (airport)
International call centre: +973 17 373 737
E-MAIL (worldwide): email@example.com
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