Gulf Air A321LR Business Class: Almost Great

Gulf Air A321LR Business Class: Almost Great

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Hello from Bahrain! As part of my current review trip, I flew Austrian’s 777 business class across the Atlantic, and 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 overhauled fleet, and an all new hub airport.

So, what’s Gulf Air’s A321LR business class experience like? There are elements that really impressed me, and then some basic 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 some minor things are holding it back. Let me share some key takeaways from this five hour flight.

Gulf Air A321LR business class: what I loved

Gulf Air’s Airbus A321LRs have a lot going for them. The airline has fully flat Collins Aerospace Diamond seats, which you’ll find on quite a few airlines. This is probably the best version of these seats that 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

Elements of the soft product were very good. For example, on this five hour daytime flight, very nice amenity 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 dine on demand meal service offered, and the food was very good (probably at least partly because it was catered in Italy). Service began with drinks and a snack mix in a ramekin.

Gulf Air business class lunch service

I enjoyed the Italian antipasto as an appetizer, with artichoke, beef bresaola, olives, parmesan, stuffed pepper, and more.

Gulf Air business class lunch service

Then for my main, I selected a tasty Spiedini ai Gamberi, consisting of prawns, grilled vegetables, and potatoes.

Gulf Air business class lunch service

There was then a huge dessert trolley where you could select from a variety of desserts and/or cheese, and it was plated in front of each passenger based on their preferences. The dessert options were very good, while the cheese wasn’t as remarkable.

Gulf Air business class lunch service

Beyond the main meal service, there were some really nice aspects to the service that I enjoyed:

  • In addition to pre-departure beverages, Arabic coffee and dates were also served; while Oman Air also offers this, on Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, you’ll only receive this in first class
  • When towels were offered, you could choose whether you wanted one that was warm or cold
  • Before landing, the crew offered to splash some rosewater on the hands of each passenger, as a way of refreshing; it was a bit holy water vibes, but I really liked it
Gulf Air business class Arabic coffee & dates

As far as internet connectivity goes, I love that Gulf Air has Wi-Fi on its A321LRs, and you can purchase a full flight pass with no data caps for $15. That’s excellent pricing, and allowed me to stay productive.

Gulf Air Airbus A321LR Wi-Fi pricing

Lastly, the crew was friendly, warm, and genuine.

This sounds like a great business class experience, so why am I saying that 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 back, Gulf Air’s CEO at the time said the following about the company’s position in the market:

“You can’t compete with airlines that are bigger in size, volume or with prices. You can only compete in quality. I can compete with any airline, no matter the size, with the quality of my product. That’s the battle I willingly participate with a chance to win.”

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

For one, while the service was well intentioned, it simply wasn’t polished. For example, after being served the pre-meal drink, I asked for a glass of champagne with the meal. It ended up never being served with the starter, and ended up only being brought to me five minutes after I got my main course, despite following up about it.

Getting a drink on Gulf Air can take some effort

The service flow was also just generally off. For example, they’d start serving meals from back to front, but then they’d offer bread and drink refills from front to back. That makes no sense, since it meant those in the front got service in a logical order, while those in the back didn’t.

Similarly, I had ordered a starter and a soup, and the flight attendant had confirmed my order, but I never ended up being brought the soup.

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

Gulf Air business class cappuccino

As a point of comparison, below is what a cappuccino looks like on Emirates.

What a cappuccino looks like on Emirates

While the crew was friendly, they just weren’t proactive. For example, the plastic covers from the amenity kits 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 running to remove them).

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

Bottom line

I’ve been watching Gulf Air’s transformation in recent years with great interest, and am happy I 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 fresh-feeling cabin. The food was excellent, amenities were above average, and service friendly and well intentioned.

Unfortunately the service wasn’t very polished, though, which sure can impact your perception of a flight. You shouldn’t have to wait 10 minutes after being served a dish to get offered bread, or 20 minutes to be served a glass of wine. I hope Gulf Air can invest a bit more in its crew training and soft product, in which case the airline could be great.

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

If you’ve flown Gulf Air, what was your experience like?

Conversations (21)
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  1. ThetruthIs Guest

    I pretty much agree with your review. But feel Gulf Air has a very long way to go with customer service. Not Long ago I flew business from BKK-BAH-IST and requested the mileage points to be awarded to my Air Canada Aeroplan account. They were not awarded so I emailed them (no response) and called their customer service who refused to help other than to tell me to email the program's department. Again no response....

    I pretty much agree with your review. But feel Gulf Air has a very long way to go with customer service. Not Long ago I flew business from BKK-BAH-IST and requested the mileage points to be awarded to my Air Canada Aeroplan account. They were not awarded so I emailed them (no response) and called their customer service who refused to help other than to tell me to email the program's department. Again no response. Weeks before the scheduled departure date I requested information about a fly and stay hotel offer. Their email response arrived weeks after my departure date had passed. Gulf Air has terrible customer service and clumsy onboard service!

  2. Gerald Guest

    I flew BAH-FRA and vice versa last summer on the A321LR in business class. I concur with your impressions.

    Your comments on the service aspects are spot on, as I also experienced similar issues on the much longer Dreamliner flights SIN-BAH and vice versa as well. The flights were not full, and the type of service lapses should not have happened, especially in business class. In one case, I had asked for red wine...

    I flew BAH-FRA and vice versa last summer on the A321LR in business class. I concur with your impressions.

    Your comments on the service aspects are spot on, as I also experienced similar issues on the much longer Dreamliner flights SIN-BAH and vice versa as well. The flights were not full, and the type of service lapses should not have happened, especially in business class. In one case, I had asked for red wine with my meal, which arrived only after I had almost finished my main course, despite a reminder earlier during the meal. Another time, I was served something other than what I had ordered.

    This was typical of the service quality on 3 of the 4 sectors I flew on Gulf Air. There was something just a bit off to make the experience less than great.

  3. Roundtree New Member

    Like you, I value good coffee, and wow does that cappuccino look bad.

  4. LarryInNYC Diamond

    Remekin? Bresola? Gimberi? Gulf Air are not the only ones having an off day.

  5. Jennifer Heaton Guest

    I love Gulf Air and would rather travel Gulf than any other airline in this region. I love the friendliness and hospitality. Food has always being good and there is always good variety. I have had a few horrendous flights on Emirates with rude crew which is why I am a Gulf Air fan.

  6. John Guest

    Ben, is it possible you just had a bad crew? All the bad things you mention seem to be the fault of the crew -- not necessarily a policy or decision by the airline as such. Like if you had an attentive crew it seems basically all your criticisms would go away.

    1. Motion to Dismiss Gold

      That was my thought too. But I suspect airlines like Emirates and Qatar provide more concrete direction to crew about service flow.

    2. Super Gold

      If my mother had wheels she'd be a bicycle.

      If Ben had a better crew, he'd have a different review, but he didn't, so this is his review.

    3. Dexter Guest

      Dear John!

      It’s airline faulty not grooming employees/Crew no excuses & Operation part ! flights regularly basis rescheduled/baggage mishandling ect!

    4. Fiona Guest

      It seems consistently like this nowadays. Having flown them several times the past year, the service is not up to scratch and takes a long time. From London it took an hour to receive a drink, and lunch much longer after that. The crew were sitting in the front galley eating. We took off with me holding the arabic coffee cup and towel. Pyjamas offered but no blankets. No menus, just the crew holding a...

      It seems consistently like this nowadays. Having flown them several times the past year, the service is not up to scratch and takes a long time. From London it took an hour to receive a drink, and lunch much longer after that. The crew were sitting in the front galley eating. We took off with me holding the arabic coffee cup and towel. Pyjamas offered but no blankets. No menus, just the crew holding a piece of paper with a photo of the meal. No tablecloths. My wine was not served until I had actually finished the main course. Ben is right, getting a drink on Gulf Air is a nightmare. And they do not actively top up, just remove the glass. Flight was 6 hours - after 4 hours 20 the dessert trolley showed up and asked if cheese and dessert could be served on the same plate, which looks like what happened to Ben. It should be separate. And with a selection of cheeses, she gave one cracker as it was all that was left and she obviously couldnt be bothered going to the galley to refresh. If you were in the bathroom during tea and coffee or the afternoon tea service, forget it, no one asked if you would like anything. I try to avoid Gulf Air now because it doesnt seem to be getting any better.

    5. TheTruthIs Guest

      It all comes back to management.

  7. Abidjan Gold

    Enjoying this new review approach.

    1. John T Guest

      It's a lot of unecessary duplication for both author and reader. Ben basically writes the same thing twice (the teaser and then the full review).
      The reader is then less likely to read the full review both because they already read a neat summary of the flight previously and they feel like they are rereading some of what they have already read.

    2. Colin Guest

      From a reader perspective, what's the duplication? Nobody makes you read this, nor the full review - so if you don't want read both, don't?

      As a reader I like having the option to read both, or one or the other.

    3. AA70 Diamond

      I personally have always liked this, back to when he used to to "_____ in ten pictures" as a teaser then posts a detailed review later on. I do read both, but nobody is forcing you to read both or any of them.

    4. Hodor Guest

      100% agree with John T.

  8. Rick doogle Guest

    Are gay men allowed in Bahrain ? I hear they are not so friendly towards them

    1. Eve Guest

      As someone who lived in Abu Dhabi for several years, I know several LGBT expats who lived in the region.

      Even friends from my country Sweden, who are gay, travels to Dubai and Doha time to time

      It is off course illegal there but as long as you keep it private and not show publicly, nobody is gonna chase after you

    2. John T Guest

      Bahrain is one of the more liberal Middle Eastern countries.

    3. Eve Guest

      “Liberal” is an overstatement

    4. henare Diamond

      It is like this in many places: if it's not seen then it didn't happen. Since you can't really identify most of us on the street we don't exist. What goes on behind *private doors* is private ... but only if you keep it that way.

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John Guest

Ben, is it possible you just had a bad crew? All the bad things you mention seem to be the fault of the crew -- not necessarily a policy or decision by the airline as such. Like if you had an attentive crew it seems basically all your criticisms would go away.

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AA70 Diamond

I personally have always liked this, back to when he used to to "_____ in ten pictures" as a teaser then posts a detailed review later on. I do read both, but nobody is forcing you to read both or any of them.

2
Colin Guest

From a reader perspective, what's the duplication? Nobody makes you read this, nor the full review - so if you don't want read both, don't? As a reader I like having the option to read both, or one or the other.

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