Right from the word go, from a VIP check-in at Bahrain International Airport to its premium lounge and the luxurious facilities on board its upgraded aircraft, Gulf Air now delivers a First Class service that is second to none.
With the delivery of the last of its six retrofitted A330s in its fleet (scheduled for mid-October), Gulf Air has completed the first phase of an initiative to ensure customer satisfaction and a best-in-class product.
Following the upgrade, each aircraft now has a total of 214 seats in a two-class configuration of 30 Falcon Gold and 184 Economy and includes a number of significant enhancements.
The revamped A330s, used primarily on the London and Bangkok routes, introduce fully-flat-bed seats in the Falcon Gold Class, an upgraded Economy Class and a state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system.
The strategy is already paying off, with business from the UK up 20 to 25 per cent on last year, says Rashid Al Gaoud, Country Manager UK, Gulf Air.
“We have exceeded our revenue targets for London for 2014,” he tells Arabian Knight. “It’s been a very, very strong year for us and customers are very happy. We have attracted a lot of business and leisure travellers as well as Hajj and Umrah traffic from the UK.”
Al Gaoud indicates that UK travel agents are “very pleased” with the upgrade, adding that they feel the airline has been “revitalised”.
“The feedback has been terrific,” he continues. “It is not just the seats, it is the fresh look of the aircraft and the onboard product. The Economy Class is more spacious and the inflight entertainment system has been updated while the inflight catering is improved. The new seats are also beneficial to us as well as they are lighter and hence more environment-friendly.”
Thanks to an aggressive refleeting and product enhancement strategy launched by the national carrier of Bahrain three years ago, Gulf Air says its fleet today is one of the youngest in the region with an average age of 5.9 years.
The A330 retrofit was supported by three key partners: Avianor served as the “turn-key provider” managing the programme with responsibility for the engineering, certification and installation of the upgrade, Zodiac Aerospace supplied the Economy Class seats and the inflight entertainment system, while BE Aerospace supplied the Falcon Gold Class seats.
The new Falcon Gold seats convert into a fully flat bed measuring 1.9 m in length, and feature more personal space between seats than the airline’s previous business class, allowing passengers to relax in 22-inch-wide armchairs that can be adjusted to suit their desired position. Another feature that comes as a surprise is a gentle in-seat massage facility offering yet another way to relax on a long flight.
Equipped with complete audio-video on demand (AVOD) features, each seat comes with an individual 15-inch touch screen and high-quality noise-cancelling headphones providing access to a suite of movies, video and audio titles in several languages, in addition to games. A USB port is available in every seat to allow passengers to easily charge electronic devices during their flight.
The A330’s Economy Class seats have also been upgraded to feature a four-inch recline, an 18-inch seat-width, adjustable head and foot rests and nine-inch seat-back video monitors.
But it’s not just making waves for its product enhancements: Gulf Air was ranked first among the Middle East’s full service carriers for on-time punctuality in 2013, having achieved a 93 per cent on-time performance during the year, Al Gaoud says.
“We are ensuring our prices are in line with the market – if not better – and we offer a better product. We are also strengthening our ties with travel agents in the UK, he adds.
This apart, its London office is working with travel partners in the UK to promote Bahrain as a destination of choice.
Gulf Air is also well positioned to tap into the appeal of Bangkok, which is one of the biggest leisure destinations from the UK. As of October this year, the airline now has six connecting flights weekly to the Thai capital from Bahrain.
Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Falcon Gold product has extended to its facilities for premium passengers on the ground with revamped lounges at Bahrain International Airport and at Terminal Four of Heathrow International Airport in London.
The 1,720-sq-m lounge Gulf Air Falcon Gold Lounge in Bahrain, which can accommodate up to 200 people, combines a traditional Arabian theme with modern amenities giving guests a sense of space. The lounge features well laid-out business, dining, lounging facilities and TV areas in addition to offering panoramic views of the runway.
Among the highlights is a “Quiet Lounge”, which holds seven private sleeping rooms featuring comfortable beds, dimming lights, and hi-definition TVs with wireless headphones.
The lounge includes a cigar room and shower rooms with luxury brand toiletries and amenities as well as separate prayer rooms and lockers. Passengers can stay connected with free wi-fi, discreet power sockets at every seat and a business centre that includes PCs, fax machines and printers.
A feature that is sure to appeal to families with young, restless children is a spacious family room with professional Sky Nannies in attendance as well as a gaming room equipped with Xbox and PlayStation units.
The modern, self-service buffet area offers a wide variety of snacks and meals, including an Italian coffee corner offering the world-famous LavAzza brand coffee varieties.
And on arrival at London Heathrow airport, Falcon Gold passengers can avail of the Fast Track service, which eliminates the hassle of negotiating long queues at immigration.
Frequent flyer members and premium passengers flying out of London Heathrow, meanwhile, can relax at Gulf Air’s 6,500-sq-ft Falcon Gold lounge. One of the largest in the terminal, it seamlessly combines contemporary design and architecture with Arabic influences, creating an environment that combines tranquillity with extensive modern-day business facilities.
The open-plan design of the lounge gives a sense of space with the central area featuring a bar surrounded by well laid-out business, dining, lounging facilities, TV areas and private rooms. The lounge, which overlooks the runway and apron through a four-m-high glass wall, has a business centre, free wi-fi, a self-service buffet, prayer room, washrooms and showers, two private family rooms that can be combined to one large room and an Illy Café counter serving a select variety of Italian coffee blends.
Open from 6 am to 10.30 pm daily, the lounge can accommodate up to 110 persons.
Gulf Air’s commitment to its passengers is not limited to comfort and food as a recent award for its inflight publication indicates. The airline was honoured at this year’s Airline Passenger Experience Association (Apex) Passenger Choice Awards ceremony in California, US, where it secured the John White Publication Award for best inflight publication.
Senior Manager Inflight and Product Mohamad El Assaad says: “The inflight publication, GulfLife, is a tool to help enhance our passengers’ onboard comfort, giving them information about various destinations across our network, in addition to updates about our airline – thereby further meeting passenger needs while at 30,000 ft.”