In May, I had the privilege of flying Gulf Air between Bahrain and London with their latest 787-9 business class product. Spoiler alert: it’s superb and criminally underrated by many people.
I had arrived in Bahrain from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and had a lengthy layover. This was my choice – an earlier flight was available with a sub-2hr connection but I wanted plenty of time to film and take in the experience for my YouTube channel:
The Falcon Gold lounge in Bahrain is well-appointed and understated. The buffet food selection had a wide range of hot and cold options and I was able to eat a delicious biryani from here; you’d never have guessed it was buffet food.
I vastly prefer quiet elegance or simple comfort to the over-the-top bling exhibited by Gulf Air’s noisy neighbours, Qatar, Etihad and Emirates (the latter two being particularly guilty!).
The lounge has quiet suites with lockable doors in a darkened room available for 15 Bahraini dinars for up to four hours – about 40 USD. It was Ramadan when I travelled and not busy at all; the staff said I may have one for free. Thank you Gulf Air!
I should clarify that while I am sometimes recognised these days, I wasn’t here. I think it’s unlikely they were doing me a special favour and simply took pity on a traveller with a nine-hour stopover!
The sofa bed was comfy and fresh packaged bedding was provided.
I remember being taken to Terminal 2 at Heathrow when I was young. Gulf Air was at that time the premier Arabian carrier. I didn’t travel much as a young child other than holidays in Britain and Spain.
Seeing the old colourful Gulf Air Tristars at Heathrow evoked feelings of Bahrain being very far away – an exotic land full of mystery. How times change – long overshadowed by the Middle East 3, Gulf Air is quietly making a comeback with a new fleet of 787 aircraft. The latest livery is beautiful.
The rest of the airport is jaded and significantly in need of a facelift; there is little to do beyond the lounge.
We were required to be at the gate a little early for an additional security check. I’m not sure if this was a one-off or if it is a regular practice here.
Onboard, I got my first look at Apex suites in the flesh, and boy are they good.
There are 30 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Window seats are slightly staggered which enables the suite to offer direct aisle access for everyone without angling the seat away from the window. It’s not the most space-efficient layout, but it provides for a brilliant passenger experience.
Each seat has a full-length privacy divider, controlled by a button.
Amenities and pyjamas were handed out on the ground.
Arabic coffee was also served with a date.
Departure was prompt, at 02:10 local time. This is a short redeye flight of just six hours to London; there was no queue for takeoff.
The only thing I don’t like about the seat is the armrest placement of buttons, which make it a little too easy to accidentally press them while seated.
Storage is good, with plenty of room under the ottoman for my shoes – you could fit a small rucksack under here too if you wanted.
There are two USB ports and one universal charger socket in the sidewell.
The reading lamp is over one’s shoulder (look at the lovely colours of the finishes here).
The table is sturdy and can be swivelled when in use to allow you to exit the seat. The build quality of these suites was noticeably high. Everything worked well, nothing felt loose or fragile, and each fitting seemed solid and well-made.
Headphones were provided to go with the IFE, which is on a big screen.
This late flight has an abbreviated light evening meal and full breakfast. Here is the menu and wine list:
I went for the salad with the salmon quiche – you can mix and match. It was delicious. Orders had been taken on the ground and service was whirlwind-fast without feeling rushed, in order to provide maximum sleep time on this short flight.
I finished my meal with fruit.
The amenity kit features the Portuguese Fort on its side.
It’s reasonably well stocked and contains everything you’d need.
The toilets on these 787s come with a bidet function – fancy!
I also love the pyjamas which feature a big Gulf Air falcon motif on the front. Yes, you can keep the PJs.
Turn down service is offered by the crew, and a mattress topper complements the already comfortable seat. The bed was wide and will accommodate side or back sleepers.
I managed nearly four hours’ sleep and was woken to receive breakfast. More fruit – to start:
I chose the waffles for my main dish, which were excellent. Gulf Air is known for employing Sky Chefs to prepare food. These waffles had been freshly prepared and could have passed muster in most good hotel restaurants. Impressive.
We had made good time and by the time my dish had been cleared, it was already time to descend over the North Sea.
Non-UK and non-EU passport holders will appreciate the expedited immigration invites provided. I just used the E-gates.
Arrival into London was punctual at just before 06:30 local time.
In short, a memorable experience. I was blown away by the speed, thought and efficiency of service which turned an otherwise awkward redeye into a flight where I’d been well fed and rested. The only big downside was the lack of WiFi (Gulf Air doesn’t currently provide any!), which I barely noticed on this flight given the urgency to sleep. I hope they will rectify this.
I paid £909 one way Dhaka-Bahrain-London, which was ridiculously cheap and only because of the depressed market for premium airfares out of Bangladesh. Expect to pay double this if you start in Bahrain…
I’ll happily fly Gulf Air again and look forward to seeing the carrier expand once more.