During a marathon run of travel, I had the opportunity to sample Gulf Air Business class on the A321LR. It’s a unique product that has lie-flat seats but is a single-aisle plane. Gulf Air had stiff competition for my good graces, as this trip also included Lufthansa First Class, Etihad Airways 787 Business Class, and Etihad Airways A350 Business Class. Despite a few bumps in the road, I did enjoy my time with the Arabian carrier.
Let’s take a look at my review of Gulf Air’s Business Class on the A321LR.
Booking Gulf Air Business Class
|Business Class||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration|
|Gulf Air 16||A321 Neo Long Range||FRA to BAH to MLE||5 hours 55 minutes|
4 hours 35 minutes
I booked our seats from Frankfurt to Male with 60,000 Aeroplan points per person. This flight was booked in November of 2022 for travel in October 2023 in order to have the best itinerary for our first wedding anniversary trip.
The Gulf Air business class cabin on the A321LR has 16 seats and is arranged in a 2-2 seating arrangement that is nice for traveling with a partner (as I was) but would have felt a bit odd sitting next to a stranger. As you can see in the seat map below, not every seat has direct aisle access.
While window seats are usually more desirable, it may be awkward if you are flying alone as you will have to climb over your neighbor’s seat if they have it in lie-flat mode.
Unfortunately for Gulf Air, our experience got off to a rocky start. They could not complete online check-in, and when we arrived at the kiosk to check our bags, a somewhat uninformed Gulf Air agent said there was a problem with our ticket. At least we had access to the priority check-in line as business class passengers.
After 30 minutes of standing around, the only Gulf Air-branded employee quickly resolved the confusion. The Frankfurt Airport branded employee may have just been having a bad day. Still, you would think an airline that competes with Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar could supply enough knowledgeable people to check in efficiently.
To make a long story short, this flight was eventually delayed overnight due to staffing issues. Little info was given for complimentary accommodations, so I decided to book a hotel on our own and claim under my Aeroplan Reserve Insurance. I have submitted a claim to Gulf Air under EU 261 and will update this review once I hear back.
The lounge in Bahrain was a highlight. It included a golf sim, racing sim, billiards, gelato bar, PS5 stations, and a children’s play area.
Once we finally got onto the plane, I was impressed with the design of the cabin. The mix of neutral tones and blue was a bit dull but classy.
My first impressions of the Gulf Air business class seat were quite good. It is comfy, has decent enough space, and has nice finishings.
The seat controls were easily located in the shared center armrest.
I always appreciate a seat having “zero g” capability, and this seat certainly did! The lumbar adjustments didn’t make much difference.
Once airborne, I explored my seat and found our universal power outlets and tray table. The tray table was quite innovative, with a design I had never seen before. It featured a third folding portion, which was maybe designed for a phone or tablet to be propped up.
The armrests on the outside of the seats are collapsable. I found this armrest significantly impacted space when the seat was in bed mode.
The privacy screen wasn’t all that effective. My wife is not a tall woman, and at the screen’s highest it didn’t do much to make the seat feel exclusive.
The space in the seat is quite large, though. We were able to move around freely compared to a traditional reverse herringbone. Each window seat had three windows at their disposal.
With the seat’s comfort when upright, I had high hopes for the bed when it was time to turn down and get some rest. Unfortunately, this is where the compact design of single-aisle lie flat beds started to show some flaws. The seat was very narrow around my shoulders.
I combatted this by lowering the aisle armrest, but even then, the “shell” of the seat was still a bit uncomfortable. Considering the departure time of 2300 hours and shorter flight time, I think the apex suites in Gulf Air’s 787 would be more comfortable and provide a better sleep experience. To Gulf Air’s credit, the bedding provided is of high quality.
The bed is the weakest link of their in-flight experience. If I were connecting overnight to Male again, I would probably choose a carrier with a widebody aircraft for greater comfort.
Not much to say here, as the amenity kit on Gulf Air business class is simply a vacuum-sealed bag!
The contents are a pair of socks and a sleeping mask. It was definitely the most underwhelming kit we’ve received.
As our flight was delayed from a noon departure to an 8 am departure the next day, the plane was only loaded with lunch and dinner foods. After the sole Gulf Air employee at the check in desk came on board to apologize to everyone for the delays, a flurry of activity ensued.
Pre-departure beverages, hot towels, dates, and Arabic tea were served in a matter of minutes. The menus were also passed out during this point.
The crew was professional during the rush of service, even though it was clear they were pressed for time.
The menus had a decent amount of selection, and weren’t lacking nor were they extravagant.
Around 60 minutes after departure, the first course was served. I chose the salmon while Marta chose the mezza. The salmon tasted fresh, and it was a nice appetizer.
The details of Gulf Air logos on the dishes were a nice touch.
After, the lamb was served with a nice presentation. Drinks were topped up with a slight delay. I finished my main course before the flight attendants returned with more champagne. But the lamb was delicious and what we consider to be the better choice versus the risotto.
Dessert was the finale of the main meal service. It was solid but nothing remarkable. We concluded with chocolate cake and ginger and lime cheesecake.
On approach to Bahrain, we were served some light sandwiches as a second meal service. They were not our favorite snacks, and I would pass if we flew Gulf Air again.
Marta was hungry for something sweet, and they found a different dessert in the form of a chocolate tart.
For our second flight, en route to the St Regis Maldives, only breakfast was served. I chose the Tandoori Chicken lattice pastry. It was a nice breakfast, but after not sleeping much due to the short flight time, I’m not sure anything would have wowed me!
Entertainment on Gulf Air business class was pretty thin for choices, with some obscure Hollywood films and Western TV shows. However, this airline is based in the Middle East and doesn’t have flights to North America.
To their credit, the new BlackBerry movie was included. I used it as a test for the audio on the headphones. The noise cancellation was decent, but the audio was a bit tinny. Another oddity was that the subtitles could not be toggled on and off. They were always on and only in Arabic.
To me, the maps seemed a bit outdated and clunky. But they did work well on the handheld controller. I was able to pinch-zoom and scroll around the map.
I have mentioned this before in my Air France business class review, but I particularly enjoy a countdown timer easily accessible on the remote.
In-flight WiFi was available for purchase. However, we did not purchase it on this occasion.
Unlike some other first class and business class products, there was no complimentary WiFi offered on Gulf Air business class. Kudos to Air Canada for giving texting for free across most of their route network!
Gulf Air business class was a unique experience not only because of the single-aisle arrangement but also because of the nearly great service.
With all of the issues we had before we got on the plane (poor communication, delays, tickets becoming “lost”), it was always going to be an uphill battle. Because there are so many carriers that fly to the Maldives, I’m not sure I would choose Gulf Air again, but I wouldn’t avoid it if it was the most convenient option.