A Passage to Bangkok on the Gulf’s Golden Falcon

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In the eighties my uncle had a job. No-one really understood what it was he did, but it was in a place called Bahrain. It’s airline was and is still called Gulf Air. The Tristars may have gone but the Golden Falcon remains its emblem. Now in a year in which I’ve surprised even myself with the amount of travel I’ve undertaken (please understand that the nomadic writer is seldom at home because there isn’t one!) it was my turn to fly the Falcon. My research gave no conclusive answers to their air worthiness; some loathed them and others sung their praises.

My experience as always, began online. No problems there; snazzy website, a generous 30kg baggage allowance, though ominously there’s no sign of in flight entertainment unless you download the magazine and read the back pages. No, the problems unforeseen and unexpected begin at the airport. The check in staff were at best pretty abysmal – ‘you’ll have to book an onward ticket sir, we can’t check you in otherwise.’ I didn’t need to but was held to ransom by these idiots who stared at me as if I could do anything about THEIR decision. The staff on-board fared little better, I’d go as far to say sarcastic. When I asked if the toilet was the only one, all I got was ‘well, it is a small plane sir.’ It’s almost as if we passengers are an inconvenience to them.

Istanbul to Bahrain was an Embraer 190 – very nice but equally pokey – I could feel every bump on the runway and shortly after some serious and unsettling turbulence! I’ve never been so scared on a flight in my life. It was more like flying a golden Budgie than a Falcon. A magic carpet would have been as bumpy and presumably as freezing as the staff had set the air con to Arctic ice mode. Both reclining seat person and squealing baby were in attendance, the former I think mistook his seat for one in first class. It wasn’t. Fortunately I found another seat further up the fuselage cue baby with lungs. Another annoyance was that the headphones didn’t work so I gave up on them pretty early on.

My second leg (Bahrain to Bangkok) was on an A330 – I can’t help but be impressed by these planes – easily the best of the Airbus family in my opinion (though I’ve yet to travel on the A380). GA’s are turned out in beautiful Green and Grey seats. Once again the Stepford staff seemed a touch frosty; all gloss, no soul save for one steward who was their saving grace. Food wise, no real complaints – pretty reasonable for the price paid but what happened to tea/coffee after dinner? In the end the inflight entertainment was good but were films I’d already seen and as it was a night flight I opted for some much needed sleep. For the Falcon eyed among you – there was no Rush on the stereo channel either. It seemed this passage to Bangkok was devoid of guitars and all the more sombre for it.

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