Review of Gulf Air flight Bangkok Singapore in Economy

Airline Gulf Air
Flight GF166
Class Economy
Seat 32K
Aircraft Boeing 787-9
Flight time 02:05
Take-off 18 Nov 23, 17:25
Arrival at 18 Nov 23, 20:30
GF 33 reviews
Proximanova
By SILVER 1228
Published on 31st March 2024

I think we’ve had quite enough ranting about Thai Airways’ 777-200ERs: they’re not going anywhere, like it or not, so we might as well move on to something more exotic. Like Gulf Air’s 787-9, which I flew immediately after that ridiculously old plane. Okay, not immediately — it was after a full day window-shopping and mall-hopping in Bangkok! Anyway, let’s get to it.

Bangkok mall photo essay at the end, as promised. Too bad I didn’t get to see the Thai Airways restaurant in its head office, though… it didn’t cross my mind, which might be a good thing, because the essay is very long as it is!


Gulf Air: The best in branding and fonts… but otherwise?


I’m conflicted. On the one hand, when I look at Gulf Air’s website, branding materials, IFE system and (now-discontinued) magazine, I get the image that this is an incredibly polished and professional airline, one that would’ve been much bigger were it not for Emirates, Qatar and Etihad stealing its thunder. In fact, font- and typography-wise, the Gulf Air brand is so perfect that I rank it to be the joint-best in the world alongside Cathay Pacific. Gulf Air introduced a new livery and brand in 2018 — the same year as Lufthansa and Austrian, for the record (also among the best out there) — when its 787-9s, including this one (A9C-FC), entered the fleet. And the execution couldn’t have been much better, especially the pair of fonts used for the brand image.

Which is why I was more than excited to be flying its fifth-freedom route from Bangkok to Singapore — GF165/166 BAH–SIN–BKK (there’s also GF150/151 BAH–BKK) — operated by the 787-9, its only widebody today after the legacy 1999/2000-built A330-200s (A9C-K* series) were retired. (Another fifth-freedom route is the popular island connector between Colombo and Malé on the A321neo, with the routing being BAH–MLE–CMB.) And yet, the professional perfection did not extend to the meal service, and while polite, the cabin crew weren’t as outwardly warm as you find on my go-to SriLankan Airlines. Still, by virtue of its immaculate cabin and branding — more so because of the 787-9 and its spacious Apex Suites — I can’t help but give the Bahraini flag carrier a more-than-respectable score, and they make for an exotic option I wouldn’t hesitate to fly again.

Bahrain’s only passenger airline has modernised quite nicely, with an all-A320/1 narrowbody and all-787-9 widebody fleet — just like Vistara, in fact, which takes it a step further and has only A320/1neos for narrowbodies, having retired A320ceos and 737-800s. It has some older A320s (A9C-A* series) and A321s (A9C-C*) to which it has added brand-new A320neos (A9C-T*) and A321neos (A9C-N* and more recently A9C-X*) to complement its 787-9s in the A9C-F* series. The big catch with the latest A9C-X* series of A321neos is that they are higher-density than the A9C-N* series, with more economy seats, and those economy seats do NOT have seatback IFE — that’s confined only to Business — with streaming IFE instead.

Having Airbus for all narrowbodies and Boeing for all widebodies is quite similar to Air New Zealand — and formerly Air India, until it took delivery of the A350 (which I flew recently) — and the opposite of Oneworld partners Malaysia Airlines and Fiji Airways with their 737s, A330s and A350s. Still, GF has only 40 aircraft, on par with fellow boutique carrier Oman Air — which has retired all its A330s, becoming an all-Boeing airline with only 737s and 787s, before it joins Oneworld where Royal Air Maroc has a very similar fleet structure. If only Gulf Air joined an alliance too — I have the Star Alliance in mind, as it is lacking a member from, well, the Gulf!


The power of fifth-freedom flights in Southeast Asia


Moreover, another important factor was that Thailand had recently become visa-free for Indian nationals (November 2023 to May 2024) and so, instead of wasting the entire day at Suvarnabhumi after the early-morning Thai Airways arrival from Bengaluru, I would now be able to spend the day fruitfully in the city before heading back to BKK in the afternoon and taking GF166 to Singapore. This was one of the biggest draws for me in planning this day-long itinerary in Bangkok. It is a different matter that TG had to ruin the first leg (TG326 BLR–BKK) by swapping or, rather, ‘TGing’ the usual A350 for the 777-200ER — my second flight on that wretched aircraft, both times leaving southern India at night and reaching Bangkok in the morning.

But I won’t get any more into that, as I’ve spilled tons of digital ink already, and I wasn’t going to let the rest of the day going to waste either. After an exciting time at grand shopping arcades like the ICONSIAM, Siam Discovery/Paragon/Center and centralwOrld, I headed right back to Suvarnabhumi to catch my fourth fifth-freedom flight in 2023 alone, including two on Ethiopian Airlines between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The best thing about fifth-freedoms: they are mostly empty (but not KLM to Denpasar, my favourite flight in 2023: that was packed!). In contrast, the last 10 flights since then (across India, Hong Kong and Vietnam) have not had a single free seat…

More fifth-freedoms in Southeast Asia are coming up. For starters, with the start of the summer schedule on 31 March, Cathay Pacific relaunches its fifth-freedom CX712/717 service on this very same route — BKK–SIN — using the A350-900, and snagging Business Class is surprisingly affordable if you use Qatar Airways Avios. Speaking of Qatar Airways, its only fifth-freedom in Southeast Asia does not, strangely, involve Singapore: instead it flies between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia (the routing is DOH–SGN–PNH, QR970/971) using the 777-300ER. And in May, Emirates will launch another 777-300ER fifth-freedom, involving both Phnom Penh and Singapore: EK348/349, DXB–SIN–PNH. All signs are pointing to a Phnom Penh mini-trip, a rare opportunity to catch both Emirates and Qatar Airways outside the Middle East — and I’m sure as heck not going to miss it!



Back to Bangkok’s airport after an afternoon of retail therapy


Saturday, 18 November, 2:30pm. It’s effortless to head from Bangkok’s city centre to Suvarnabhumi Airport, which like Singapore Changi is located east of the city centre. Mercifully not as far as Tokyo Narita (that’s too far east) or Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA, which is all the way down south. En route were a number of billboards — something that’s banned in Singapore — ranging from AirAsia X’s A330 fleet to banks like Krungsri, SCB (Siam Commercial Bank) and Singapore’s UOB.


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As you can see directly above, RP-C7776, a Philippine Airlines 777-300ER, took off overhead for Manila, while VT-IUZ, an IndiGo Airbus A321neo — I flew this exact aircraft two months prior (the one with the caring flight attendant) — was preparing to land from Mumbai. I had a look at all the planes that had recently landed, and was astounded by the diversity.

These are the airlines that do NOT fly to Singapore: Royal Jordanian, Hong Kong Airlines, MIAT Mongolian, Kuwait Airways, Ruili Airlines from China, El Al Israel Airlines. (Gulf Air itself is not that different in terms of diversity.) If Changi excels at transpacific flights to the US and Canada, Suvarnabhumi is second to none when it comes to airlines from smaller, less-important countries like Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Mongolia. Plus, there are a bunch of small Chinese airlines at BKK — Capital Airlines, Ruili Airlines, Lucky Air, 9 Air to name a few — though Changi also receives the likes of Spring Airlines, Hebei Airlines and Chongqing Airlines.


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As we zoomed closer to Suvarnabhumi, I went slack-jawed on seeing all the TG aircraft — including the 747s you see below — parked in a line, awaiting an unknown fate, before we pulled into the terminal driveway. Unlike other big airports, BKK has just the one terminal, a massive sprawl at that, with scores of airlines.


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If you squint really, really hard in the bottom right corner of the first image, you might be able to catch the tail of HS-THQ, one of two Star Alliance-liveried A350s at Thai Airways — HS-THU is yet to be delivered — and I would have got a better shot of it, if not for this car that completely took over my field of view. Luckily, though, I did get a better view when inside the terminal.

Also, at some point on the road, I spied an AirAsia ad promoting 9 destinations in India, but the car whizzed by too quickly for me to catch a picture. Compare that to VietJetAir, which has been aggressively targeting Indian travellers with multiple meal offerings, but is prohibited from serving big South Indian cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai due to Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) restrictions, so has to settle for Kochi (Cochin, COK) and Tiruchirappalli (Tiruchi, TRZ) instead.


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Anyway, I strode into the building at around 2:45 — this was my first time ever at BKK’s check-in counters, as I had only ever transited before — and the sheer ugliness of the place struck me. A far cry from Changi, KLIA, Kempegowda and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s award-winning façades, this was a sheer monstrosity — I wonder what the Thai government was thinking when it built the place in 2006.

Really, at its core, BKK is just a colossal mass of grey — one of the ugliest big airports I’ve ever seen — and, if not for its luxurious top floor, would rank near the very bottom of the airports I’ve visited. (Of course, Vietnam’s are worse, but at least those are not global hubs with big ambitions.)


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But just look at all the destinations you’ll never see at Singapore! Several were Russian: Krasnoyarsk (KJA), Vladivostok (VVO), Irkutsk (IKT); there was a second-tier Chinese city, Wenzhou (WNZ) — others like Nanjing (NKG), Shenyang (SHE) and Zhengzhou (CGO) are served from Changi by Scoot — while still others, like Amman (AMM), Kuwait City (KWI) and Tel Aviv (TLV), are Middle Eastern cities for which BKK is the only destination in Southeast Asia. BKK more than makes up for its lack of aesthetics and transpacific flights with this wild range of (especially Russian) destinations; Irkutsk, in particular, is served by both Aeroflot and S7 Airlines. Not to mention, Central Asian airlines (Air Astana, Turkmenistan Airlines, Uzbekistan Airways) fly to BKK too…

What Changi has in terms of transpacific flights* on Singapore Airlines and United Airlines, it loses out in terms of smaller cities like these that make BKK unparallelled in terms of destination diversity. Will you be able to fly nonstop from Changi to Tel Aviv, Amman, Astana, Tashkent or pretty much anywhere in Africa aside from Addis Ababa and Johannesburg? The answer, today, is a resounding NO.

Between them, Changi and Suvarnabhumi account for the lion’s share of international destinations in Southeast Asia. Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta (the other two most well-known metros in ASEAN) are nowhere in comparison — barely any European airlines other than KLM and Turkish fly there — never mind Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or Manila, which only just manage to be served by Emirates, Qatar and Turkish.

*That said, Air Canada does serve Bangkok from Vancouver, making it BKK’s only transpacific flight.


Singapore is a place for the globally wealthy and famous — as the Taylor Swift Eras Tour was proof, which ensured that it visited nowhere in Asia except Singapore and Tokyo — and the extensive North American destinations (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Houston, Vancouver) reflect that. Manila is the only other Southeast Asian city with any service to the US*, but that’s only because the Philippines is physically closer to the US — not because it’s anywhere as fabulously rich as Singapore, or even near Thailand. The above cities, in contrast, are from poorer, off-the-beaten path countries, and Bangkok has been far more welcome to them, much more egalitarian than the deep-pocketed Singapore.

*Not counting Vietnam Airlines’ Ho Chi Minh City–San Francisco flight — the only flight from an ASEAN airport other than SIN or MNL to the US.


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Now I went down to the basement, past the Suvarnabhumi train station, and showed my receipt to the staff of the luggage-storage stall — called AIRPORTELs, with only the final S lowercase — and put the lot on a heavy trolley.


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My 787-9 was on course for landing, in addition to a Lufthansa A380, another superjumbo that has preferred BKK to SIN — though it at least did serve Changi in the past, unlike Qatar Airways, Korean Air and Asiana’s A380s, which all shunned SIN in favour of BKK. There was also a SriLankan Airlines A320; now the CMB–BKK route is often served by a leased Air Belgium A330, which has a much better product.


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Diversity of check-in rows — and diversity within each row


Gulf Air was departing from Row M, which also hosted (take a deep breath): Air India; local carrier Thai AirAsia X; Australia and Singapore’s Jetstar; Star Alliance member Ethiopian Airlines, which I flew twice in 2023 between KUL and SIN; Air Astana and Turkmenistan Airlines from Central Asia; Myanmar National Airlines; Korean budget carrier Eastar Jet; and, from China alone, China Southern Airlines (whose ad I mentioned in the previous instalment, proclaiming itself as Asia’s largest airline), SkyTeam-member subsidiary Xiamen Air, and also Kunming Airlines, which is owned by Star Alliance member Shenzhen Airlines, itself a subsidiary of alliance partner Air China. WHEW!

The other rows were no different, with a minimum of four Chinese-speaking airlines — from the Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau — in each: Row N had (in alphabetical order) Air China; Capital Airlines (China); Cebu Pacific Air (Philippines); Finnair; Greater Bay Airlines (Hong Kong); Jeju Air (South Korea); Lao Airlines; Myanmar Airways International; Philippine Airlines; Qantas Airways (Australia); Ruili Airlines (China); and Turkish Airlines.

Row Q had no fewer than four airlines from Mainland China — Hainan Airlines, subsidiary West Air, plus Sichuan Airlines and GX Airlines — in addition to Cathay Pacific’s subsidiary HK Express, and Oneworld partners Qatar Airways (for which BKK is a major A380 destination) and Royal Jordanian, and lastly Saudia and South Korea’s Air Premia.


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Heading to the M counters, no fewer than three airlines from the People’s Republic — Capital, Xiamen and Shenzhen — were accepting check-in, in addition to another Chinese-speaking airline, Starlux Airlines. (Don’t tell them that — the last thing an airline from Taiwan wants to be called is Chinese! But, for my untrained ears, it’s Chinese all the same.)


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Forget all the Chinese airlines and return to this Arabic one, because this is the one we’ll be sticking through with. Astonishingly, Gulf Air has the most generous economy baggage policy I’ve ever seen: two pieces weighing up to 23 kg each, which is far more than the 20–25 kg (often 30) you’ll find on other airlines. I was handed my elegant charcoal-blue boarding pass, plus sassy tags for cabin baggage.


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Now came two airlines from Oneworld, the alliance with zero Mainland Chinese members: Qantas (first four pictures below) and Malaysia Airlines (third row, left) — only to be overtaken by another airline with China in its name, but not from the Mainland. This was of course China Airlines, the SkyTeam member from Taiwan, as the remaining three pictures show.


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One last Chinese aircraft for now: an ancient 757 of cargo startup North-Western Cargo Airlines, which uses the CO code previously used by Continental Airlines from the US — which merged with United in 2010 — and later by short-lived Cypriot startup Cobalt, which went bust in late 2018. Another Star Alliance member — a European one this time — had landed barely minutes before my 787-9: Austrian Airlines, which does not fly to Changi either, and which also rebranded in 2018 like Lufthansa and Gulf Air.

On detecting my Indian passport, the machine showed a bon-voyage message in Hindi — aapki yatra surakshit ho — along with a girl in traditional attire doing a namaskar. When entering Thailand earlier that morning, the message had been Thailand mein aapka swagat hai: welcome to Thailand. And now I would be leaving the ‘Land of Smiles’ after only eight hours! (Not pictured: the constrained security area above the departure gates, one of the few where you must remove even your shoes.)


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Ugliness gives way to luxury on Suvarnabhumi’s top-floor paradise


At last, the dungeon-like grey atmosphere gave way to the row of luxury boutiques on the top floor, and Suvarnabhumi could learn a thing or two from the perennially award-winning Changi, which places its Armanis, Balenciagas, Chanels and Diors up front and centre even before check-in (never mind after it), making no bones about the fact that it is first and foremost a playground for LUXURY brands.

Before that, there was a big installation depicting the Hindu mythological scene of the Churning of the Milk Ocean (Amrit Manthan): despite being a Buddhist-majority country today, Thailand has a long Hindu tradition, which is reflected in the name of the airport.


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Before the Louis Vuitton started the procession of four-dollar-figure-price shops, I barely managed to catch sight of some planes on the apron, including an ordinary Thai VietJetAir A320.


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Here we go! Bulgari, Panerai, Dior, Loewe, Bottega Veneta, Salvatore Ferragamo, Balenciaga, MCM… if only the rest of the airport were half as luxurious.


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This was followed by endless King Power duty-free shops, one after the other, followed by a bunch of eateries, and I kept clicking and clicking until my iPhone battery fell below 5%.


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At the other end of the terminal from my gate, I managed to catch HS-THQ, the Thai Airways Star Alliance-liveried A350, at a much better angle than was possible from the road with another car obstructing it!


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Returning to the Amrit Manthan installation, I went in another direction — nowhere near my flight (departing from the F gates)…


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…in the hopes of catching some special aircraft, a bit more special than HS-TTB, this 777-300ER with first class. And I was richly rewarded!


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Another cute little elephant bag… and a round of Russian visitors


But first I popped into one of innumerable King Power shops, in search for a new cute elephant bag to replace my previous violet one — the one I bought on my first layover here in June 2022 — as that one had badly faded due to rigorous washing. Sadly, they were out of the violet version, so I had to make do with the yellow one, which had a different design, but it was still so adorable!


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After grabbing a bite from Taco Bell — which is completely absent from Singapore — I took a look at the apron, and was amazed at the number of visitors, in particular the lime-green 737 (RA-73672 as S76309 from Irkutsk) from Russian Oneworld carrier (now suspended) S7 Airlines. There was also an Aeroflot 777-300ER on the other side, RA-73144 as SU644 from Vladivostok.

Below I’ve marked most of the aircraft that I managed to spot, as the windows made it difficult to see clearly, and the small resolution on this page makes it even harder. The one aircraft you don’t need to squint your eyes for remains that S7 737, which still had the previous livery with silhouettes of people, instead of the newer one with two shades of green. (Full resolution here.)


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The planespotting done, I dashed towards gate F5, where it was already Final Call — I have this bad habit of leaving boarding until the very end — and barely managed to snap the A380s from Emirates and Lufthansa. Indeed, I barely got a good view of my own bird, which is a shame.


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This was about the best thing I could manage by way of a great shot — but the interiors would more than make up for it! (Fun fact: Gulf Air planes aren’t actually white — they’re painted in a light beige shade, lighter than Etihad, and a bit like Virgin Atlantic.)


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The flight: Boarding and departure


Flight: Gulf Air GF166/GFA166
Date: Saturday, 18 November 2023
Route: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (VTBS/BKK) to Singapore Changi (WSSS/SIN)
Aircraft: A9C-FC, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Age: 5 years 4 months at the time (built: 21 July 2018, delivered: 27 July 2018)
Seat: 32K (starboard side, window)
Boarding: 4:40pm Indochina Time (ICT), UTC +7 (5:40pm SGT, UTC +8)
Departure: 5:25pm ICT (6:25pm SGT)
Arrival: 8:30pm SGT (7:30pm ICT)
Duration: 2 hours 5 minutes

Notes:
• First 787 outside the Star Alliance, having previously flown the 787-8 on Air India (twice) and Ethiopian Airlines, the 787-9 on Ethiopian and Thai Airways and the 787-10 on Singapore Airlines (twice). This would be followed the next month by VN-A879 — a Vietnam Airlines 787-10 from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi — and this SkyTeam flight would be my last of a record-breaking 27 flights in 2023.
• First widebody of a non-alliance airline besides Emirates. As far as narrowbodies go, however, I’ve flown quite a few non-alliance full-service carriers: A320/1neos on Vistara and, pre-COVID, 737s of the erstwhile Jet Airways and an A320 of SilkAir in January 2020, my first time on a 9V-registered aircraft.


A head-turning cabin, that’s for sure


The business-class cabin consisted of the famed Apex Suites product, which is present on only three other airlines: Oman Air, Japan Airlines and Korean Air. It provides oodles of space and tons of privacy for both window and aisle passengers, and, combined with the opulent dark wood finishes, made for an especially striking product.

I settled into my seat, 32K; sadly 787-9s don’t usually tend to have row numbers exceeding 50, something that I always look out for when I can. Besides English and Arabic, the welcome screen — snazzy, spiffy and sexy — was also available in Deutsch and Français.


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The safety card and airsickness bag were the first signs of Gulf Air getting its branding and typography on point, as many other airlines — my beloved SriLankan included — completely sh*t the bed when it comes to it. (However, like so many Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian carriers, the Gulf Life magazine did NOT make a postpandemic comeback — and, I’m sorry to say, there wasn’t even a duty-free magazine either. At least SriLankan, Singapore and Thai have that much, if not an actual inflight magazine.)


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The difference between this and the preceding 777-200ER was night and day, and I told my parents as much — along with all the aircraft that I identified, particularly S7 and Starlux. My mom was amazed at my ability to identify airlines from different parts of the world, and provide commentary on their background. (Her first comment in the first picture was regarding the Amrit Manthan installation in the terminal.)


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Yet another European Star Alliance member (besides Austrian) that doesn’t fly to Singapore!* Scandinavian Airlines had resumed its Bangkok service earlier that month — its only other Asian destinations being Shanghai (Pudong) and Tokyo (Narita) — and it has only four A350-900s in its fleet (SE-RSC–RSD) today, having given SE-RSA to China Airlines (B-18919) and SE-RSB to Malaysia Airlines (9M-MAH) recently.

This shows just how popular Thailand, specifically, is with Scandinavians — which shows the number of flights Thai Airways has to Stockholm and Copenhagen, in addition to Finnair’s services from Helsinki to both Bangkok and Phuket. Now that SAS is leaving the Star Alliance — which it co-founded with Thai Airways and three others — and joining its new owners Air France–KLM in SkyTeam, TG will be left without any feed for its flights to ARN and CPH. Though I didn’t manage to catch the plane as it landed, I felt it was noteworthy to talk about SAS anyway.

This aside, there were a whole bunch of other interesting arrivals, ranging from Chinese airlines (mother-and-daughter Star Alliance members Air China and Shenzhen among them) to some from closer by, like Myanmar Airways International, which I’ll talk about in just a bit.

*Sadly, LOT Polish Airlines — another European Star Alliance member with a decent Asian network — has resumed neither Bangkok nor Singapore after COVID.


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Now Gulf Air’s animated safety video played, and unlike SriLankan’s diverse cast of passengers (especially children), GF’s characters tended to be a bit more boisterous and naughty!


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I felt it was a rather generic approach to take, if a family-friendly one, as it could have showcased so much of the Bahraini hospitality that sets the island apart from other Gulf countries. That said, I wouldn’t be disappointed by the promotional videos shown shortly after takeoff!


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Meanwhile a Starlux A321neo (B-58206) took off for Taipei as JX746, with a Sichuan A321 (B-6718) having squeezed itself into the space, having arrived as 3U3935 from Chengdu (Tianfu). (No, you won’t find it in the Flightradar24 screenshots above, but you will in the one further down.)


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At a quarter past five, we pulled out of the terminal, affording me majestic views of a Lufthansa A380, Shanghai Airlines 737 and Aeroflot 777-300ER. In fact, I was THIS close to captuing XY-ALT, Myanmar Airways International’s A320 with a pretty grey tail and polka-dot pattern at the back, but a pillar got in the way and I could only get the nose!

Meanwhile a China Airlines 737-800 (B-18662) had arrived from Kaohsiung (KHH) as CI839, slotting in beside the Sichuan A321, whose livery looks like a red version of ANA’s, with the swooshing red and the grey belly. We also passed the Emirates A380 (A6-EEG as EK376) and, as we got closer to the runway, witnessed a Thai Smile A320 bathed in the evening sun’s glow.


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The Thai widebody graveyard on takeoff


I decided to greedily tuck in to my Taco Bell meal, as nobody was going to catch me eating non-airline food during takeoff anyway!


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I decided to peek at the Gulf Air IFE system, and a five-second introductory video greeted me. The menu option was a downer: instead of even rudimentary details (as on the SriLankan A330 from Singapore to Colombo) it straightaway asked passengers to consult the cabin crew.


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My dad showed me pictures of some sweets he’d bought — kaju katli (silver) and Mysore pak (yellow), popular Indian sweets — and both parents wished me a safe flight back home to Singapore. I replied cheekily, saying that my parents’ home in Bengaluru was not my real home, and instead Singapore was my home and place of work.

Meanwhile the Aeroflot 777-300ER prepared to take off for Vladivostok — I have some cool pictures of it below — and I briefly switched to flight mode, only to turn it off moments later…


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… as a Thai VietJetAir A321 (HS-VKL) in the WOW air livery landed. I’d seen HS-VKM in the morning, and this was HS-VKL: the WOW air colours were almost identical on both, save for the purple tail and the word ‘Thailand’ on this one’s tail, whereas HS-VKM has a red and yellow tail with no ‘Thailand’.


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Now I passed Thai Airways’ infamous graveyard of widebodies, starting with non-ER 777-300s (HS-TK* series) built in 1998–2000, proceeding to non-ER 777-200s (HS-TJ*) built in 1996–1999, and then four* out of six A380s (HS-TUA–TUD) built in 2012–13, and lastly HS-TJU, the only 777-200ER out of six not to have returned to active service. I do wish HS-TJR — my previous plane earlier in the day, and TG’s oldest aircraft today — had just stayed here forever like HS-TJU and never returned to service, but that was not to be… (Full resolution here.)

*HS-TUE and TUF are instead parked at the U-Tapao/Pattaya (UTP) airport. Rest assured, none of those A380s are ever flying again!


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Now the Aeroflot 777-300ER took off for Vladivostok, and I was lucky to catch a good view of her as the wheels went up.


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At 5:25 it was our own turn, after endless taxiing and turning, to lift off into the skies above amid a golden sunset, bringing an end to a memorable day in Bangkok which started bitterly with a 777-200ER but ended fondly with this majestic 787-9. The sprawl of the Thai capital laid itself out before us as the magical evening hue coloured the horizon, demarcating earth from sky.


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Bahraini tourism, international entertainment


Minutes after takeoff, a Bahraini tourism video was screened, showcasing just how different the island is — with tradition and culture seamlessly blending with understated modernity — in stark contrast to the billions, if not trillions, of dollars that the UAE, Qatar and more recently Saudi Arabia have been throwing behind tourism, as projects like the Burj Khalifa, Neom and The Line are proof of.


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From museums to beaches, skyscrapers to F1 races, it’s clear that Bahrain is the Middle Eastern country — and Gulf Air the Middle Eastern airline — that most people tend to overlook, but  more than rewards those who go the extra mile to get there.


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Speaking of the F1 itself, there was another short, 20-second ad promoting the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix in 2024, sponsored by Gulf Air. It’s impressive that Bahrain was the first Middle Eastern country to have a Grand Prix, and continues to maintain it, despite Abu Dhabi, Qatar and now Saudi Arabia all having their own Grands Prix.


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Now I turned to the About Us screen, and I love it when an airline takes the effort to fill its About Us screen properly. From the Kingdom of Bahrain, to the airline’s own storied history as the once-premier airline of the Middle East, to the Sky Nanny service — a first on any airline (Etihad too had one) — every section was beautifully presented. (Full resolution here — the text is way too small to be visible below.)


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But other parts of the IFE weren’t as well-structured: the survey was rather simplistic; the inflight menu (as stated above) was rather non-existent; the ‘Your Crew Member’ page (which I never expected to see) was rather blank; and only the maps were rather, um, decent — but nothing compared to the detail-filled ‘Arc’ map by Panasonic Avionics, found on such aircraft as the Vistara A321neo and 787-9 and now the Air India A350.


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This was the rather basic offering from Thales, which cannot hold a candle to the more advanced system on Singapore Airlines’ medium-haul A350s, which even shows the registration of the aircraft! Neither did the plane sport the Gulf Air livery, which showed how generic it was, without any customisation — unlike the highly personalised IFE, which looks like no other airline out there.


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Moving on to the actual entertainment selection, there was quite an extensive offering of Hollywood movies and Western TV shows — including for kids — but the Islamic section was blank.


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I checked out the Indian movie list; these were the ones (mostly Hindi) that were on offer, and I expanded on them closer to landing, as I’ve posted further below.


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Catering: A real letdown (if not for the sunset view)


Some 30 minutes into the flight, a female flight attendant rolled out the evening snacks, and while others got a chicken sandwich, I instead got the Hindu vegetarian meal in the form of three very dry samosas. No, no tangy chutney on the side — this was as plain and bare-bones as could be. Yup, that was the extent of the meal service. (And, of course, drinks — which meant just water on this sector, as there were none of the typical juices and colas.) At least there was a grand sunset outside the wing to make up for it.

At least I loved the striped packaging of the paper cup, which had quite a bit of personality as it said ‘Enjoy your drink’, as well as the salt and pepper sachets, and the embossed Gulf Air logo on the cutlery. However, as far as snacks on an evening flight went, this was downright disappointing. In stark contrast, my Air India A319 flight in March 2023 from Mumbai to Chennai had the most scrumptious chaat I’ve had in ages, plus a chocolate, plus smiling service — and all this on an old little plane without IFE!


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My captions were self-explanatory. ’No tray, only a small dish and no drinks service? Shockingly cheap!’ ‘And only chicken sandwiches for the others?’ To say that I was disappointed is a total understatement.


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Anyway, after that was done, I filled up my travel-plans document, and with my Apple Pencil scribbled rather imaginatively: ‘Something old’ (the Thai Airways 777-200ER earlier that morning, HS-TJR), ‘Something new’ (this Gulf Air 787-9, A9C-FC), ‘Something borrowed’ (SriLankan’s now-retired A321, 4R-ABQ) and ‘Something blue’ (SriLankan’s A330-300, 4R-ALO): my favourite flight of these four by far, despite this 787-9 having the most modern cabin.

And then I looked at the typography review I’d written for GF, where I gave it 99 out of a possible 100, tied only with Cathay Pacific — so perfect, so impeccable was its typography image. But then I added a rider at the end: ’Now, if only the service flow were this flawless…’ For comparison, Qatar Airways has a unique, distinctive font (Jotia) and mostly uses it consistently, but then it mixes it up with other fonts — which means it scores less than many other Oneworld members, not only CX but also Qantas, Finnair, Iberia and Malaysia Airlines. (Full resolution here.)


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Then, with nearly an hour to go for landing, I proceeded to fill the right-hand page of the day’s journal in my trademark colourful, loud style with plenty of highlighters. (Kind of misspelled — should have been Thai-denfreude — but, yeah, whatever. That flight wasn’t one for great attention to detail; the focus was on getting the heck out of the plane at the earliest.)


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A closer peek at entertainment during descent


As we neared descent over Changi, I briefly glanced at the OnAir Wi-Fi offering, not that I’d need it in any way today — and certainly not after paying US$10!


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Bored stiff, I played the intro theme music of the ongoing ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, where hosts India were having a magnificent unbeaten run — only for it to be brutally vanquished the following night, when Australia under Pat Cummins snatched a sixth title, as opener Travis Head made a mockery of a small total. (Four months later, in March–April 2024, Head and Cummins are teammates again — but in the orange jersey of Indian Premier League team Sunrisers Hyderabad!)


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With little else to do as we approached landing, I looked at the descriptions of a few recent Hindi movies for the heck of it. (Full resolution here.)


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And some older Hindi movies, both from the 2000s — the family-saga drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001) for example — and the 1970s, including the classic comedy Bombay to Goa (1972). (Full resolution here.


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And, just to see how well GF had skinned the UI when a movie played, I picked a random movie — the horror-comedy Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 — and played it for ony a few seconds. And, indeed, GF had excelled in this department as well, with a tastefully designed parental-guidance disclaimer!


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Finally, a bit of the music selection on offer, and the games with only 1 minute left in the flight.


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Home at last, at Changi T3 — plus the food court


At 8:35pm SGT, some two hours after departure, A9C-FC made a smooth landing at Changi T3, bypassing a SriLankan A330-200 (4R-ALH in the Oneworld livery, mistakenly labelled below as an A330-300) before pulling into the terminal.


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One last bit of Gulf Air’s striped branding came in the form of the landing announcement, before I stepped down without so much as saying goodbye to the cabin crew — not that they were in any way paying attention, as they had to prepare for the return leg to Bahrain! The lovely Apex Suites were the last I saw of the plane as I disembarked.


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Besides us and the SriLankan A330-200, the lion’s share of the arrivees were 9V-/9M-registered, as you’d expect, but there were a few standouts like V8-RBD, a Royal Brunei Airlines A320neo in a Brunei tourism livery; A5-JKW, Drukair Royal Bhutan Airlines’ sole A320neo; two from Finnair — A330-300 OH-LTR (operating for Qantas) and A350-900 OH-LWI; and DQ-FJV, a Fiji Airways A330-200.


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As I made my way down the travelators, people lined up to board GF166 to Bahrain, with the gate being thankfully a low-ceilinged one compared to the towering Suvarnabhumi-like Gate B7 the previous week when departing on SriLankan!


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Soon, however, the high ceilings made an appearance next to Gate B7 itself, and before long I found myself at the sprawling T3 Immigration counters. Above them, the bank du jour was OCBC, one of Singapore’s three local banks (alongside DBS and UOB) which had recently rebranded while shortening its name from the previous OCBC Bank. In the past I’ve seen Standard Chartered, UOB, HSBC and DBS here; Citibank is yet to have its turn, but it’ll come soon enough!

And now I picked up my heavy suitcases from Belt 48, which stood right next to UL308 from Colombo and SQ831 from Shanghai at Belt 47.


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UL308 had codeshares with Oneworld partners JAL and Finnair, as well as Myanmar Airways International (8M5308) and Etihad, while mine, being a non-alliance airline, had nothing of the kind. I turned towards the food court in the basement instead of heading straight for the exit, as I might as well satiate my hunger then and there, dismayed as I was by the onboard offering.


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I would have gone to Tandoori Delights, North Indian being the safest choice, but it was closed for the night, so instead I headed to Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart first…


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…before proceeding to Saap Saap Thai with its bento-box meal, with my huge bags and suitcases keeping me company.


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Only around 10, after spending an hour there, did I head homeward, the week-long Diwali trip being concluded — but at least the following day was a Sunday I could laze around in!


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An older Toyota Corolla Fielder MPV turned up, and before long I shot through the Crowne Plaza and out into the night, making the short 15-minute journey home that was a far cry from the two-hour trek from my parents’ home in Bengaluru to Kempegowda Airport.


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Home sweet home, indeed — the teddy bear atop the wardrobe was waiting for me, as was the Asiana Airlines hand-fan and the cast of other colourful characters above and within my bookshelf.


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Before hitting the sack, my parents texted me and complimented me for being an international traveller — something that would only be accentuated further the following month as the year ended, in the form of a crazy trip involving the Singapore Airlines A380, the Cathay Pacific A350 and A321neo and the Vietnam Airlines 787-10, among others!


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Verdict

Gulf Air

7.5/10
Cabin9.0
Cabin crew6.0
Entertainment/wifi9.5
Meal/catering5.5

Bangkok - BKK

7.1/10
Efficiency8.5
Access6.5
Services8.0
Cleanliness5.5

Singapore - SIN

9.1/10
Efficiency9.0
Access9.5
Services8.5
Cleanliness9.5

Conclusion

Gulf Air left me in two minds: the pitch-perfect typography and branding and the sublime cabin finishes on the one hand, the underwhelming meal service and the indifferent crew on the other. Suffice it to say that while I enjoyed the modern plane as such — anything would be a treat after the wretched 777-200ER on the previous leg — the overall onboard experience left a lot to be desired in many other departments. While I loved the stylish striped branding, the Bahrain tourism videos and the professional air around the brand identity, I felt completely let down by the apology of the snack I received, though I trust those flying to and from Bahrain should have a better meal experience. Heck, even Ethiopian Airlines, with its slightly more dated 787s, made me feel more welcome on the one-hour sectors to and from Kuala Lumpur!

That said, flying between the two premier airports of Southeast Asia was a study in contrasts. Suvarnabhumi reserves its luxury for the top floor, while the rest of the place is a dreary, ugly sea of grey; Changi, on the other hand, is by all means an airport for Dior and Vuitton aficionados, plastering every available corridor from check-in to boarding with four-dollar-figure marques. (That’s in stark contrast to my favourite Indian airports, Kempegowda (BLR) and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (BOM), which are opulent and affordable at the same time, with regal finishes coupled with pocket-friendly bistros.) Destination-wise, while both are huge regional hubs, the egalitarian BKK has all manner of offbeat destinations from Vienna to Nairobi to Tel Aviv to Tashkent at its disposal, while the snobbish SIN is very much the rich person’s airport, trading the above down-to-earth cities for the glamour of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

That concludes this Diwali trip, with two excellent sectors on SriLankan Airlines, one outright abominable TG 777-200ER and one great-but-could-have-been-better Gulf Air 787-9. And now we have finally come to the start of the biggest journey of them all — across India and Hong Kong, and a week in Vietnam — to conclude 2023. On the menu for April and May 2024: a Singapore Airlines A380 (a year as record-breaking as 2023 would be incomplete without the one and only superjumbo); an exciting, sleepless night at Mumbai Airport including the ever-crowded Adani Lounge; a Vistara A320neo with a surprise upgrade to premium economy; a Cathay Pacific A350 from Bengaluru to Hong Kong; the splendour of HKG, including the Sky Bridge and Chase Sapphire Lounge; and finally a CX A321neo, with razor-sharp 4K IFE screens, to Hanoi.

And that’s nothing to say of the Vietnam portion of the trip: a cheery VietJetAir A320 (swapped from the intended A330-300) from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City with HOT MEALS — did you hear that, IndiGo? — and a Vietnam Airlines 787-10 (swapped from the intended A350-900) in the other direction, with pretty cabin crew and glossy magazines, to wrap up 2023. Finally, to start 2024, a very mundane Singapore Airlines regional A350 — on the very same day as the JAL A350 crash in Haneda, where everyone miraculously survived (barring two pets), but sadly those on the smaller plane weren’t so lucky, as only the captain survived. All this, and more, will shape my reports over the summer months of 2024, and these 7 flights for Christmas/New Year 2023–24 are the crowning glory of my travels so far.

TL;DR: SriLankan Airlines is second to none, in terms of friendliness, hospitality and sincerity — its typographical inconsistency aside — but that won’t stop me from flying exotic airlines like Gulf Air, no matter how great or poor they are going to turn out!

Information on the route Bangkok (BKK) Singapore (SIN)

Les contributeurs de Flight-Report ont posté 67 avis concernant 10 compagnies sur la ligne Bangkok (BKK) → Singapore (SIN).


Useful

La compagnie qui obtient la meilleure moyenne est Singapore Airlines avec 8.7/10.

La durée moyenne des vols est de 2 heures et 17 minutes.

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1 Comments

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  • Comment 648199 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 6718 Comments
    Always cool to be able to fly on one of these exotic 5th freedom routes! The cabin is gorgeous indeed. I understand that by Asian standard, the meal is disappointing, but by western standard, a hot snack like that is unheard of on a 2h flight in Economy haha. Good thing you had your Taco Bell from the terminal I guess haha.

    Thanks for sharing!

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