For my 2021 Christmas holiday I managed to find a last minute award availability on Emirates Game Changer First Class Suite from Dubai to Washington D.C. on Christmas Day. I then needed to find a way to position myself in Dubai. It also was a good opportunity to visit the Dubai Expo which was happening at the time. To position myself to Dubai, I found an Aeroplan redemption for Gulf Air in their “Falcon Gold” business class from Frankfurt to Dubai via Bahrain with a ~24 hour layover in Bahrain. This also allowed me to visit and do a quick exploration of Bahrain. Quick, given at the time I needed to isolate in my hotel room until my on-arrival COVID test results came back. Just have to say, I love the branding of GF business class, what a name, “Falcon Gold.”
Over all, Gulf Air offers a solid enough boutique airline experience. Service is hit or miss as I experienced 2 sets of very different crews and service flows on my 2 flights. The seats on the narrowbody aircraft are comfortable and good for the length of haul they fly. The lounge in Bahrain is nice, comfortable and probably great when there are no COVID restrictions in place. Overall for 45,000 Aeroplan miles, its a solid and comfortable redemption that I’d consider again. The experience is not WOW, amazing like Qatar, Etihad or Emirates, but its good value and its always fun to try out new airlines and products.
I had actually initially booked a London LHR to Muscat to Dubai trip on Oman Air first class using 65,000 Aeroplan points transferred from American Express. However, the layovers were long, every step required testing and at the time London was at the epicenter of Omicron, as such I opted to cancel this and rebooked on Gulf Air.
The redemption for business class from FRA-BAH-DXB, inclusive of the long layover in BAH was 45,000 miles and 166CAD in taxes and fees. A solid deal if you ask me. Aeroplan seems to have very solid availability for Gulf Air.
Frankfurt FRA to Bahrain BAH
Date: December 22, 2021
Flights: Gulf Air GF 12; Dep. 10:45AM, Arr. 18:15
Aircraft: A321NEO, A9C-NB, Retro livery
Distance and Duration: 2,762 miles, ~6 hours 30 minutes
If I am not mistaken, normally Gulf Air passengers have access to Cathay Pacific lounge at Frankfurt but that has been closed throughout COVID. As such, nowadays you access Priority Lounge in T2 E gates. It is a very basic lounge, but adequate with self-serve food and beverage choices and WiFi. Unfortunately I was unable to check-in online given the document checks needed to enter Bahrain with COVID (at the time you needed to have negative test, pre-booked on arrival and day 5 tests, hotel confirmation, e-visa and health declaration). After a 3 hour layover, the gate opened and I headed towards there. The agent arrived shortly I arrived and began setting up. It was a bit chaotic at the gate as it was a one-man show for most of the time and he had to check almost every passenger’s documents as most were connecting from Canada and the U.S., but he handled it like a champ. I was cleared and given my boarding pass.
I waited at the gate and noticed a handful of passengers get escorted by another agent on to the plane before boarding occurred, surprise, they were all seated in business class. I do not know why or who they were. Finally, it was time to board. Boarding was also chaotic as they did not have priority boarding, just everyone all at once, and when they scanned my boarding pass it error out and they had to go to the front of the gate area to clear it before I could board, so goes the process with COVID requirements. I arrived to find my seat occupied, turns out a couple somehow selected or were assigned 2 aisle seats instead of a pair, with a layout of 2-2 in business. I knew from looking at expertflyer and the app seat map that there was one empty seat in our row, but the flight attendants said we could only move once they received the final paperworks. I insisted on keeping my window seat, after all I selected it before the rest of the cabin filled up. Luckily for all of us the seatmap and expertflyer was accurate, and the seat next to me remained empty and the couple were happy.
The 4 rows of business class are have nice and understated finished with dark greys, gold/brass trims, and white tones.
Inflight entertainment selection was limited and left a bit to be desired, but better than nothing and certainly better than the likes of Uzbekistan Airways. “Noise Cancelling” headphones are also provided.
At my seat were slippers, pillow and blanket.
During boarding, I was offered pre-departure beverage, I chose champagne. This was shortly followed by Arabic Coffee service and packaged dates. The crew also came through to hand out pajamas and amenity kits. There was oddly no hot/cold towel service on this flight, while my DXB-BAH leg had it. My 2, I believe, Eastern European flight attendants were fine. Nice enough and professional enough, but were not overly engaging or proactive. The Indian purser was comical and nice, but also a tad more lax and a bit too casual. I was also given a menu. Sadly, my order was taken last and they ran out of Chicken Biriyani, so I went with the Grilled Seabass pasta.
Shortly after takeoff, post-departure beverages were served along with warm nuts, I had lemon mint, which was fantastic. I then had the Arabic mezze appetizer. I had already started eating when the crew came back offering olive oil, in a first for me, they brought the entire bottle of olive oil and poured directly over the mezze/salad, I quite liked this. Then came my seabass pasta, it was fine. They do not have a wine list, but there is simple red/white, and they just tell you which country its from, and pour in the galley so I have no clue what wine I had.
They then rolled out the dessert cart. I had Apple tart with a glass of Camus Cognac.
After the meal service, the crew did offer each passenger to make the beds with a thin mattress pad. It was a daytime flight and I was not particularly tired, so I did not ask for this. I did get about an hour’s nap though.
Pre-arrival, a cart is rolled through with small sandwiches and sweets. I was still full from lunch so instead just asked for another round of lemon mint. The purser seeing that I really liked the beverage just straight up gave me an entire bottle and went on to give me the whole backstory of the lemon mint producer and bottler. Which was very nice of him, and I thought it was hilarious and truly appreciated it.
Then we arrived in Bahrain. And I proceeded through immigration, then on-arrival testing, then entered and got my cab to the hotel. At first I tried to get an Uber, but that whole process was confusing, just use a cab when going from the airport. I Ubered the rest of my time in Bahrain. I then had to isolate in my hotel room until I got my negative result, which happened the following morning. It was all done through the government app. To be honest Bahrain had a very smooth and smart COVID entry process.
A 20 minute cab ride from the airport and I arrived at the Four Seasons Bahrain Bay, which at ~$350/night, is pretty dang good of a deal for a Four Seasons in the region, and its an AmEx Fine hotels and Resorts, and my benefit was $100 in spa credit, which came in handy. I checked-in and stayed in my room until the next morning when my negative COVID test came back at around 8AM. I ordered some room service for dinner, a solid club sandwich. I would recommend Four Seasons Bahrain Bay for sure.
The hotel also has the perfect view of Bahrain World Trade Center, which was the main thing I wanted to see given I had seen an episode of National Geographic MegaStructures covering the construction of this skyscraper. It is unique not only its shape but its the first skyscraper in the world to incorporate wind turbines to its structure to generate its own power.
The next morning, I had my complimentary breakfast in-room as my test had yet to come back. Once I was a free man I explored the hotel grounds before heading into town for a what I had hope would be lunch but the local restaurant I went to was still serving breakfast at 11AM. I Ubered to Haji’s Traditional Cafe, located next to Souq Bab Al Bahrain. For I had hoped to try some Prawn Machboos, the national dish. It was fine, I still enjoyed a second Traditional breakfast that was much better than the Four Seasons. I ordered Omellete of cheese/ pepper./ onion and
the best thing: Balaleet: sweet vermicelli of sugar/rosewater/cardamon and saffron, topped with fried egg; paired with Bahraini bread and tea.
Afterwards I returned to relax by the beach and many pools at the hotel before my early afternoon Spa treatment. The spa at the Four Seasons is exceptional. Then it was time to check-out and Uber to the airport.
Bahrain BAH to Dubai DXB and Falcon Gold Lounge
Date: December 23, 2021
Flights: Gulf Air GF 510; Dep. 18:15PM, Arr. 20:20
Aircraft: A321NEO, forget registration, and FlightRadar messed up
Distance and Duration: 303 miles, ~1 hour 5 minutes
Bahrain had just opened the new multi-million dollar terminal at the international airport during COVID. There is a dedicated Falcon Gold check-in zone. The area has ample seating, counters and even a small art gallery.
From there you proceed to priority security lane and enter the main terminal area. The terminal is beautiful, bright and very open.
I then headed to the Falcon Gold Lounge. Due to COVID services and amenities had been severely reduced, especially the food offerings. Other than some pre-packaged sandwiches/ snacks, you could order pizza from the pizza oven station, that was it. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages were served at the bars. The lounge is not small nor is it big. But there are a lot of seating options, and some random and quirky amenities such as virtual reality, an F1 racer game, TV lounge with loungers headphones and massive wall of TV on various channels, a virtual golf, a PS-5 wall, a children and family zone and a row of massage chairs. A lot of the games/virtual reality things were not operational. The golf feature was used as storage at the time. An interesting thing was that Bahrain airport plays the Call to Prayer through its PA system and the lounge’s TVs momentarily change to a montage sequence of mosques. I quite liked this.
After relaxing in the lounge with some water and wine, I headed to the gate. Once again, a bit chaotic and unclear. No clear priority lane, but everyone lined up together. They did, however, call business class and priority boarding first. I then headed on to the front and boarded.
My crew on this flight were so much better, even though it was a shorter flight. Proactive, friendly, engaging and professional. They were also far more coordinated. Shortly after being seated I was offered hot or cold towel and beverages. I went for hot towel, a glass of lemon mint and champagne. During taxi we were offered the Arabic coffee and dates service.
Soon, we were airborne on the short hop to Dubai. There is a meal service onboard. No menu. Just 2 options. I went with the mango chicken salad. It was fine. Despite the short flight, the flight attendants came through many times offering refills of water or asking if we needed anything else. The cabin was also about 95% full, the only empty seat was the one next to me. Before I knew it, we were on final approach to Dubai.
Over all, I had a good experience with Gulf Air. I was not expecting Qatar Airways or Singapore Airlines level of service. The airline delivered on a solid, boutique regional experience. I saw what it could be with fantastic crew and saw what it can also be with mediocre crew. I really liked the various amenities offered, even on a shorter 6 hour flight. The food was decent, but nothing amazing. The lounge is fun and quirky, and I quite liked it, just hope to visit post-pandemic to experience it at its fullest level.
We then arrived in Dubai Terminal 2, and with no time I was on a taxi to my hotel, where I didnt need to isolate nor did I need an on-arrival test.