Gulf Air Plans To Launch Flights To United States

Gulf Air Plans To Launch Flights To United States

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For several years now, Gulf Air executives have been talking about plans for the airline to resume flights to the United States. This is now one step closer to becoming a reality.

Gulf Air is undergoing a transformation

Bahrain-based Gulf Air used to be the biggest and most global airline in the Gulf region. This was when politics in the region were different, and before we saw the development of airlines in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, etc.

Over the past decade, Gulf Air has largely struggled to compete with its peers in the region. The airline had an outdated fleet, and didn’t have a global route network. However, the airline has spent the past few years undergoing a major transformation, whereby the airline has modernized its fleet, opened a new terminal at its hub, and has focused on its core strengths.

For example, Gulf Air’s long haul fleet now consists primarily of Boeing 787-9s, featuring excellent Apex Suites in business class. The airline has seven of these in its fleet, with a further three to be delivered.

That’s not all — the airline is also taking delivery of 16 Airbus A321neos (including some “LR” variants), and some of these feature fully flat beds in business class, which is awesome for regional flights. The airline is certainly becoming a more appealing option, though as of now the carrier only flies as far West as London, and as far East as Manila.

Gulf Air is refreshing its fleet

Gulf Air wants to resume flights to the US

For some background, in 2019, former Gulf Air CEO Kresimir Kucko stated that the airline wanted to launch flights to the United States within three years:

“We will be operating in the coming years more in Europe and also the Far East. Hopefully, in the coming two, maximum three years, we would be able to open flights to the US.”

The airline flew to New York and Houston back in the day (if I recall correctly, Gulf Air actually flew from Bahrain to New York to Houston), though that route was cut over 25 years ago. Currently the airline operates flights exclusively to Europe, Asia, and Africa.

While the pandemic probably slowed down Gulf Air’s ambitions to return to the United States, this could very well become a reality again in the coming months. Recently Gulf Air filed with the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), requesting a foreign air carrier permit.

In the filing, Gulf Air stated that it “anticipates launching non-stop service from Bahrain to the United States upon receipt of all required government approvals.”

There has been speculation about whether Gulf Air would fly to New York or Houston. Logically you’d think that if Gulf Air were to resume flights, New York would be the obvious choice, given that it’s where just about every airline seems to want to fly. However, Bahrain’s oil minister has also stated that the country is looking at developing closer ties with Houston, and was looking at setting up a nonstop flight.

Gulf Air’s potential routes to the United States

We now have a pretty strong indication of where the airline will fly to, as Gulf Air has a job posting for an airport manager at New York JFK. The New York flight would cover a distance of around 6,600 miles.

Gulf Air’s Boeing 787-9 business class

I’d love to see this happen, especially with Air Canada and Gulf Air having a partnership. This would be a great way to redeem miles for travel between the United States and the Middle East (and beyond).

How does Gulf Air expect to succeed in the US?

Is Gulf Air considering resuming United States flights because the airline thinks it can actually make money flying here, or is this about prestige and business ties?

Gulf Air executives have historically recognized that the airline is more of a boutique carrier, and that’s the strength the company hopes to focus on. As the CEO at the time admitted:

“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.

We want to offer our passengers traditional Arabian hospitality. Which for that to really put true meaning into practice, you really need to offer something unique.”

I totally appreciate a CEO who wants to invest in the product, though he also acknowledged that his airline couldn’t compete in terms of schedule or price.

Keep in mind that pre-pandemic, a total of under two dozen passengers per day traveled between New York and Bahrain, so there isn’t sufficient demand for this route in terms of point-to-point traffic. So this would be all about connectivity, which also means the competition would be fierce.

The reality is that Gulf Air’s biggest competitors are also known for their excellent products, whether we’re talking about Emirates’ A380 business class or Qatar Airways’ Qsuites. I doubt Gulf Air is going to find that people are willing to pay a premium to fly Gulf Air over those airlines.

So adding service to the US doesn’t exactly seem like a money-making recipe. Then again, in many ways long haul economics are better than in the past, thanks to smaller, more fuel efficient planes, like the Dreamliner.

Gulf Air’s beautiful Boeing 787-9 business class

Bottom line

In 2019, Gulf Air announced plans to resume flights to the United States within a few years. I never take these kinds of announcements as a sure bet, since a lot can change, especially with the pandemic.

That being said, the airline has now filed with the US DOT requesting permission to launch flights to the United States, suggesting that the airline still intends to move forward with this plan. Furthermore, the airline is hiring an airport manager at New York JFK, leading me to believe that this is the airport that Gulf Air is eyeing.

If Gulf Air does resume flights to the United States, it seems like it wouldn’t be done to turn a direct profit (at least realistically) but rather to improve links between the two countries.

Do you think Gulf Air will follow through with launching flights to the United States?

Conversations (38)
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  1. Brianair Guest

    Just curious, what is there in Bahrain that would make people want to go there? Compared to, say, Dubai, Jordan, or Israel.

  2. Sudhir Kumar Guest

    Great to hear that Gulf Air is going to fly to US. This Airline was a more preferred Airline to fly to Middle East countries from Mumbai in 80’s 90’s, with direct connectivity to Abu Dhabhi. Muscat, Bahrain from Mumbai.

  3. Mohammed Guest

    I would to take a 1 month ship to New York over flying 12 hours on Gulf Air

  4. Imtiaz Agboatwala Guest

    I think it would would be a good step for the customers , as it would offer another option to travel to USA from Indian subcontinent.

  5. JB Guest

    I do actually believe Gulf Air could be competitive to JFK. They have a solid Economy and Business product, and I've typically always had excellent service with them. There are benefits to flying them in terms of service compared to bigger airlines like QR, EK. And with connections to the Indian Subcontinent, I'm sure they could make flights to JFK work. I believe they have a partnership with AA, so they can get connecting traffic there.

  6. Thomas Guest

    Direct service to Atlanta, the southeast hub, may be partnership with Delta would make sense.

  7. K.I.Raman .Ex gf staff mob 9846773120 India' Guest

    No doubt.Those who have travelled in gulf Air in golden times will definitely come back as they experienced best service

  8. Robert Guest

    The IAH flight would have oil significance, Dammam is a short drive across the causeway. I'm on the Qatar flight from Houston next month and I'd much prefer the causeway over an additional flight from DOH-DMM

    1. JB Guest

      DOH to DMM is like a 40 minute flight. But I see your point.

      I'm always surprised by the amount of flights and widebodies QR puts on that route. Probably the world's shortest A350-1000 route.

  9. Vinaykumar Guest

    I recently used gulf air and their service is pathetic. Along with new Aircraft they need to train their staff to handle passengers better.

  10. vlcnc Guest

    I think the biggest problem for Gulf Air now isn't their product but feed especially in the US and they're not part of an alliance. Not everyone flying east will be originating in New York or Houston, in fact majority will be coming from elsewhere and be booking on one ticket. This has always been Gulf Air's problem even back in the day in the UK - I remember they nominally had a partnership with...

    I think the biggest problem for Gulf Air now isn't their product but feed especially in the US and they're not part of an alliance. Not everyone flying east will be originating in New York or Houston, in fact majority will be coming from elsewhere and be booking on one ticket. This has always been Gulf Air's problem even back in the day in the UK - I remember they nominally had a partnership with BMI when they existed, which should have given them a massive advantage in terms of feed, but frequently you were unable to book one ticket and when Emirates arrived flying from so many regional airports with a better product and price, it completely obliterated them.

  11. azamaraal Guest

    Say what you want about how wonderful QR is - but first remember they do not fix any problems. They screwed up an AA Business flight by forgetting to update an e-ticket in Q Suites leaving me destitute in Male and still have refused to even discuss it.

    Flew Gulf Air for 10 years and they always provided the best service and honourable dealings for us.

    Given any choice I would fly GULF AIR before any other ME3 airline.

  12. KH Guest

    They used to fly out of AUH to JFK also nonstop .

  13. Kane Foley Guest

    The initial plan of GF was to launch 3 weekly flights to IAD-Washington DC from Bahrain using the B789 and not JFK/IAH.

    For them to hint at IAH, it would require the support of the major oil companies based out of DMM in particular who would love the idea of a nonstop service from neighboring Bahrain versus having to back track via DOH/DXB or fly via LHR/FRA.

    Regardless though of which ever U.S. city,...

    The initial plan of GF was to launch 3 weekly flights to IAD-Washington DC from Bahrain using the B789 and not JFK/IAH.

    For them to hint at IAH, it would require the support of the major oil companies based out of DMM in particular who would love the idea of a nonstop service from neighboring Bahrain versus having to back track via DOH/DXB or fly via LHR/FRA.

    Regardless though of which ever U.S. city, GF wishes to fly to, it will not make money as majority of the passengers will be from India/PAK.

    1. Srini Rao Guest

      All the ME3 are making money by catering to passengers from the Indian subcontinent. If you look at their revenues it's all coming from there.. So your assertion makes no sense.

    2. JB Guest

      Yes but tickets from India/Pakistan are very cheap and airlines typically charge basically the breakeven prices. Those tickets help to fill seats on a plane that will already fly, but they are not extremely profitable, since most of it is leisure VFR demand and not business travelers who are willing to pay more. There is also limited Premium class demand to the Indian Subcontinent, so prices are often not super high. I routinely booked $850...

      Yes but tickets from India/Pakistan are very cheap and airlines typically charge basically the breakeven prices. Those tickets help to fill seats on a plane that will already fly, but they are not extremely profitable, since most of it is leisure VFR demand and not business travelers who are willing to pay more. There is also limited Premium class demand to the Indian Subcontinent, so prices are often not super high. I routinely booked $850 round trip flights from the USA to Pakistan on jetBlue/Qatar pre covid. That is MCO-BOS-DOH-ISB. A 3hr, 12 hr, and 4hr flight on QR Economy for $400 each way. I'm sure the fuel price for my seat is more than that. Except for peak season, I can easily find $1K tickets round trip right now.

  14. Julia Guest

    "The reality is that Gulf Air’s biggest competitors are also known for their excellent products"

    The reality also is that Gulf Air's biggest competitors can prop up their airlines via revenues generated from their countries vast natural oil and gas reserves. Bahrain, no so much.

  15. Alvin Guest

    (1) Serve IAD & EWR
    (2) Get Fly America contracts via United to the giant naval base in Bahrain
    (3) Pocket Virginia subsidies for new transcon service
    (4) Join Star Alliance.

  16. D3kingg Guest

    JFK LHR would be phenomenal.

  17. Vish Guest

    They need lots of improvement with there crew and staff it’s not easy to fly with them ,

  18. Mohammad Munir Guest

    Yes GF can manage and capable but fly separately from BAH to JFK and IAH
    Daily!!!!!!!

  19. Luke Guest

    Besides heavy competition from ME3 and TK, looks like Saudi is gonna launch not one but TWO mega airlines that'll saturate the competition. Besides soon to launch RIA airlines to be based out of Riyadh, just learned the planned city of Neom is getting its own dedicated airline which is quite crazy, previously thought Neom and Riyadh could be co-hubs for Ria:

    https://simpleflying.com/neom-saudi-arabia-own-airline/

  20. Y S Guest

    Gulf air don’t have aircraft. Plus manegment all don’t know how to operate airlines

    1. Max Guest

      What don’t u joint and take over operations

  21. shoeguy Guest

    Gulf Air also operated to JFK in the 1980s. It had a partnership with TWA, where the route operated as BAH-LHR (Gulf Air), then LHR-JFK on a mixture of TWA and Gulf Air L1011 aircraft.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      @Shoeguy

      I flew the L-1011 gulf air operated by TWA around 1989 in F from JFK to LHR RT. I was only a kid but remember the food was better than what TWA had on offer.

  22. Sarthak Guest

    What would we say about the economy product comparison though?

  23. globetrotter Guest

    How will we book award tickets on Gulf Air when it becomes official, except via Aeroplan? Will Gulf Air allow a free stopover like Qatar and Emirates?

  24. Jason Guest

    i went to boarding school in Connecticut n the mid 1990s when this flight flew. There were several US expat kids who lived in Saudi Araba whose parents worked for Aramco - they took Gulf Air a few times when coming to the States for school. Dhahran (now Dammam) - Bahrain- JFK. Good times.

  25. wpr8e Guest

    Gulf Air tried a few different routings from the US to the Gulf. I distinctly remember the flights flew IAH-JFK-LCA-BAH/AUH/DOH depending on the day.

    Of course this was before EY and QR

    1. JH Guest

      Correct.

      Some days they did BAH-LCA-JFK-IAH and some days it was BAH-JFK-IAH.

      At one point they even did BHA-GVA-JFK with a 767.

      They were definitely an interesting airline to work with and I have a few fun stories (emergency landings, delays, a/c damage).

      If I remember correctly the main reason they left the US was related to a kick back scam involving one of the royals and ground handling companies.

    2. SM Guest

      I don't remember an IAH route but I do recall the BAH-LCA-JFK route, I think it operated between 1994 and 1997 or something like that.

      GF flew the A340-300 on the route and had fifth freedom rights between LCA and JFK. They codeshared with CY at the time and it was also the only (ever, to this day, IIRC) direct connection between Cyprus and the USA.

    3. JH Guest

      Oh...they definitely did JFK-IAH-JFK.

      The flights used to show up in some travel agents GDS' as bookable (which was cabotage) and when the pax would show up at JFK for the IAH flight they wouldn't be happy that they couldn't fly.

      Like I said...fun times working with them

  26. Sel_D Member

    Unrelated….but Waldorf Tahoe incoming.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Sel_D -- Thanks for the heads up! Ugh, 2027 though?!?

  27. keitherson Guest

    It's not just competing with the ME3 from IAH but any traffic to South Asia and Africa is also covered by Star Alliance via FRA and Skyteam via CDG.

    Back in the peak times there used to be SAS 737 charters from IAH to.. was it Trondheim?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ keitherson -- Totally forgot about that flight, that was a fun one. It was to Stavanger.

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azamaraal Guest

Say what you want about how wonderful QR is - but first remember they do not fix any problems. They screwed up an AA Business flight by forgetting to update an e-ticket in Q Suites leaving me destitute in Male and still have refused to even discuss it. Flew Gulf Air for 10 years and they always provided the best service and honourable dealings for us. Given any choice I would fly GULF AIR before any other ME3 airline.

1
Max Guest

What don’t u joint and take over operations

1
SM Guest

I don't remember an IAH route but I do recall the BAH-LCA-JFK route, I think it operated between 1994 and 1997 or something like that. GF flew the A340-300 on the route and had fifth freedom rights between LCA and JFK. They codeshared with CY at the time and it was also the only (ever, to this day, IIRC) direct connection between Cyprus and the USA.

1
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