Gulf Air began as an air taxi service linking Bahrain with other Persian Gulf cities in 1950, making it the oldest running Arab Gulf carrier. The airline was founded by British entrepreneur Freddie Bosworth but quickly attracted the interest of bigger players. British Airways predecessor BOAC, purchased a 22% stake in 1951 which they sold to the governments of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Abu Dhabi in 1973. In 1974 they acquired the entire airline holding 25% each and Gulf Air became the flag carrier for all four states. The airline grew steadily acquiring larger aircraft and adding far flung destinations to its network. During James Hogan’s tenure as CEO between 2002-6 the airline peaked before a spectacle tumble in 2007. Boeing grounded the airlines 767’s for justified safety concerns and the Gulf Air dramatically withdrew from many long distance routes practically overnight. The airline struggles hard to compete with shinier newer Middle Eastern carriers and Bahrain’s political upheavals in 2011 have given the Kingdom and its airline an image problem.
Many first time passengers who are attracted to Gulf Air because of the airlines price tag are surprised at the high level of on board service. The attractively attired crew are cosmopolitan, friendly, young, attractive and diligent. Crew answer call bells swiftly, circulate the aircraft offering water constantly and in constantly smiling. One drawback, is aircraft can be noisy and some routes are packed with over excited children. Gulf Air even provide a Sky Nanny for mothers with infants.
Gulf Air has a dramatically smaller network than it did in 2007 when it spectacular slashed long distance routes. The airline has retreated to its Bahrain hub from which it provides extensive links to the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. The airline also serves many leading European cities as well as some Asian capitals. Before the political turmoils in 2011 took Bahrain off the tourist map, Bahrain made a great stopover destination and despite current troubles, the country’s airport continues to function smoothly.
Gulf Air provides excellent value for money, especially for premium travellers who might be needing to save on travel expenses. The airline typically seeks to fill planes by offering cheaper fares and many first time passengers may be unaware of just how pleasant a Gulf Air flight will be. Not only are fares usually cheaper than competitors, passengers receive extra baggage, better meals, nicer service and a more enjoyable experience than airlines like British Airways or Lufthansa.
Without exaggeration Gulf Air provides some of the best catering in the sky today. While premium passengers have their own Sky Chef who can whip together whatever the passenger wants, economy passengers receive generously served attractive and tasty meals with a smile. European and US passengers accustomed to minimal or no catering on flights are in for a pleasant surprise. As well as delicious meals, crew offer passengers snacks, ice creams and cocktails between meals.
Gulf Air has two types of entertainment products and they basically depend on the age of the plane. Their new Boeing 777’s have an entertainment system that is a match for any in the sky with individual seat back video screens in all classes of travel and a large number of multi lingual audio channels. The airline also has a mediocre inflight magazine. In older aircraft the airline shows a single movie from a large screen or smaller drop screens. They generally show Hollywood or Bollywood blockbusters in several languages.
Gulf Air provides its passengers with excellent ground services and is generous in its baggage allowance. While most European and Asian carriers provide Economy passengers with 20 or 23kg of baggage, Gulf’s receive 30kg and on top of this, most check in staff turn a blind eye to several more kilos. And of course premium passengers get even more. So if you’re planning to travel with the kitchen sink, Gulf Air is for you. Check in staff are pleasant, efficient and bags are handled efficiently, especially at Bahrain’s hub.
Gulf Air has lost many of premium passengers to Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways in recent years, but the airline is giving up without a fight. The airlines new Boeing 777 product is pure luxury in its Falcon Gold, First class with each passenger enjoying their own private suite with flat bed, massive TV monitor and exquisite dining prepared by a Sky Chef. Business Class is similarly luxurious with generous seating, dining and entertainment; far superior to European or US carriers. Gulf Air’s London and Bahrain lounges match the airlines interiors while in other airports they typically use the best available.
Economy tickets are sold cheap yet the airline provides one of the best services available. Baggage allowance is generous, meals are large and tasty, service is good and the available entertainment is more than adequate. The only drawback can be the large numbers of noisy passengers which the airline seems to attract, so if you’re booking Gulf, bring some earmuffs.
Gulf Air does not belong to any of the main airline groupings, yet has partnered with several individual airlines so their frequent flyer programme can earn points on some other airlines as well, however is limited. Joining members start at Blue then progress to Silver and Gold. In the past Blue members received 10kg extra baggage which encouraged many one time flyers to join purely for extra baggage, but this ‘loophole’ has now closed. Unless you plan multiple flights on Gulf, it is difficult to see any reason for joining.
Gulf Air has faced more than its fair share of problems over the last decade. The airline was once the most prestigious in the Gulf region but has lost its place to others. Current Etihad CEO James Hogan, formerly of bankrupt Australian airline Ansett; James Hogan helped shape the present airline during his four years in office, yet departed just before its spectacular safety related grounding in 2007. Does he bear any responsibility for these events which must have been going on during his tenure? The airline has been handling its decline gracefully and continues to treat its customers and staff with a level of respect, long gone from European, American and Australian carriers.
Gulf Air does not have an enviable safety reputation. In 1983 and 2000 the airline suffered aircraft losses while in 2007 major safety concerns forced Boeing to ground much of the airlines fleet while aircraft were checked. Airbus followed soon after. Clearly while the airline provided the highest levels of service for its premium passengers, the airline was penny pinching in maintenance. During this time in Sydney alone on three successive nights the same Airbus A340 aircraft had to abandon takeoff following engine problems. Each night the plane was declared safe, yet take off was aborted due to engine problems as it was racing down the runway. That aircraft was eventually flown back to Bahrain empty for maintenance. Since 2007, safety has dramatically improved throughout the airline.
Gulf Air tries hard to provide an excellent service at a very attractive price.
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