Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to fly Oman Air business class, and I had an incredible experience. I loved how “local” the experience felt, along with Oman Air’s excellent business class seat (both the old seat and new seat are industry leading), their great catering, etc.
I’ve long been intrigued by Oman Air’s first class, which I’ve been tempted to try. However, I’ve wondered if there’s any differentiation between Oman Air first and business class, given that the products look very similar.
Well, reader John Spear recently flew Oman Air first class from Kuala Lumpur to Muscat to London, and shared his experience with me. I have to share the experience here, since this has to be one of the worst jobs an airline has ever done managing expectations in first class. It’s not just about the lack of differentiation between first and business class, but about the downright false advertising that Oman Air does about their first class product. The report is long, but well worth reading, in my opinion.
For now Oman Air first class is off my list of products to try.
Thanks for sharing your experience, John!
I’m very glad to have experienced Oman Air First Class. It’s been on my “to do” list for a long time. I found a great one-way fare from Kuala Lumpur to London and decided it was too good to pass up. Overall, there were some very commendable high points (very polished service, for instance), but most notably there were quite a few ways that Oman Air failed to deliver on its promises. This is a “not ready for Prime Time” airline when it comes to First Class, based on my admittedly limited experience.
PART I: From Kuala Lumpur to Muscat
7 hours 10 minutes (3,215 miles)
First Class seat 1K
Nov 6, 2016
As I expected, check-in opened right around 3 hours prior to departure. As is common for outstations of smaller airlines, the desks were staffed by contract agents. They were a bit disorganized and delayed in getting set up, but soon enough I was called over to the Business Class counter to check in (not the First Class counter, which was unstaffed).
The agent started typing away in the usual way, but it was evident early on there was a problem. She said there was no ticket number in my reservation. So I gave the agent a printout from Oman Air showing my ticket number. She said it was invalid. I told her I think I have an idea what’s going on: Just after booking this trip back in September I received an email from Oman Air requesting that I fill out and send in a credit card authorization form with copies of my passport and credit card. I did this at the time, then I got an email confirming they had received the information. Except, apparently, no one had bothered to do anything with it. Ever the Boy Scout, I was prepared with the form that I had sent in, which I gave to the agent.
She said she couldn’t do anything with the form until an Oman Air supervisor showed up. She called and there was no answer. So I waited. People continued to check in. And I waited. More people checked in. Finally an Oman Air supervisor turned up and says that the head office in Oman has to clear me for travel (he was actually very nice, and apologetic). He tried calling. It’s the middle of the night in Oman now. There was no answer. So I waited. Another Oman Air supervisor shows up and apologizes for the delay. The two supervisors are now talking animatedly with each other along with several of the agents. Several people are on the phone and radios are squawking. Finally, about 40 minutes later, I have Boarding Pass in hand and I was on my way.
Ironically, just as I stepped away from the counter, a staffer was finally rolling out the special Oman Air carpet in front of the still unstaffed First Class check-in counter. I wonder if she was aware that I was the only First Class passenger booked out of Kuala Lumpur on Oman Air that day? She certainly could have saved herself the effort.
So this check-in imbroglio was minor fail #1 of my Oman Air experience.
I should note that there was no escort at any point from the check-in desk to the lounge. That would have been a nice touch, but I wasn’t really expecting an escort, especially at an outstation where they operate one flight a day. So I made my way quite easily out to the Satellite Terminal, from which I would be departing.
Oman Air uses the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge for their premium passengers, and since the lounge is divided into First and Business Class sections, I assumed I would have access to the First Class section. Nope. I asked the lounge attendant to please check with her supervisor, and she did so quickly, but the answer was still no. Now, she and her supervisor could have both been wrong. After all, I suspect they don’t see very many Oman Air First passengers judging from the load factors I see on their flights out of KUL. But if this is actually the policy, shame on Oman Air for being so cheap here. Put your First Class passengers in a First Class lounge, especially when it should be so easy to arrange. At the end of the day, though, it wasn’t a very big deal. I’ve been to the Golden Lounge First section before and it’s not going to be on anyone’s list of best First Class Lounges – not even in the top 25. Minor fail #2.
I had a bowl of decent Laksa in the Business Class lounge, caught up on some emails and made my way to the gate. Anyone interested can find good reviews of the Malaysian Golden Lounge online, so I won’t dwell on the experience here.
Boarding began on time and I was the first passenger to board after the kiddies and grannies (they boarded First and Business class passengers together). I was very warmly welcomed at door L2 and shown to my seat, 1K. I was visited a few minutes later by the Senior Flight Supervisor, Ayeub, and the flight attendant, Shivani, who would be taking care of me.
Oman air has a unique and somewhat bizarre First Class cabin consisting of six partially-open suites and a large common area in the center front section consisting of a sofa, a couple of (presumably) padded butt-rests and a large counter that looks like it could support a nice display of drinks and nibbles, although in practice it never did.
This area was clearly designed to serve as a lounge of sorts for First Class passengers to gather and socialize, but with only six seats in the cabin it’s hard to imagine it gets used much for that purpose. It certainly would not be used that way on this flight, as I was the only First Class passenger.
The seats themselves look like an older variety of semi-private suite. It’s not the newest, nor the most stylish, nor the widest seat out there by any means, but it’s comfortable and of course it converts to a flat bed. One aspect I appreciate is the copious storage next to the seat. There’s a very narrow open closet, which can probably accommodate a blazer and a shirt, tops. It’s even too narrow to place your shoes in the bottom. Here are some photos.
Despite the large capacity storage areas next to the window seats, there was no obvious place for me to store my roller bag, given there were no overhead bins. I was directed to a cabinet behind the center sofa area. There were four such cabinets, so if First is at capacity with six passengers I’m not sure where everyone would store their carry-ons.
One really odd aspect of the seat was the lighting, or lack thereof. Above my left shoulder were two lights integrated into one fixture, one a fairly standard focused reading light with four different brightness levels and another light that seemed intended to bathe the seat in an ambient glow but instead served only to illuminate the left side of my face to a sufficient level for facial reconstructive surgery. Notably, there was not a single light from above that illuminated the dining table, an irritant that will become obvious when you look at some of my photos of the meal a bit later on.
A standard bevy of amenities were provided in short order, including noise-reducing headphones, dates and Arabic coffee (I don’t like dates, so no date photo), a very, very, very hot towel, a bottle of water, and an amenity kit.
Sorry, no dissection of the amenity kit available. I keep my kits unopened to add to my collection. I’m aware that’s uber-nerdy but there it is.
I’m not as captivated by flight safety videos as some, so I barely paid attention to Oman Air’s version as I started nesting into my seat. One aspect, however, caught my attention. Does this not look like a very unflattering caricature of an Omani man?
The entertainment system was very responsive, intuitive, and had a good number of movies and TV shows. But most importantly, it was equipped with two exterior cameras, which I love. In addition to staring at the cameras and the moving map, on this flight I watched the Ab Fab movie (amusing, but it was a shameless rehash of all their old gags, with precious little new) and the newest Star Trek, Beyond (love).
Here are some photos of the menu pages. I’m sorry for the poor quality of the photos – I hope the menu pages are somewhat legible.
As you can see, the service begins with a light continental breakfast. This was fine with me as I had eaten a bit in the Golden Lounge earlier. Everything was fresh and tasty.
The second meal was the main attraction, but I was very disappointed to see that there was no caviar on the menu. Oman Air’s web site specifically lists caviar as a menu item offered in First Class.
Appetizers first, followed by very good soup. I love soup on airplanes – holds up well at altitude better than anything.
Three varieties of seeded bread, butter and olive oil.
A very small salad with vinaigrette. Uninspiring and the hardest most unripe tomato I’ve ever tasted.
Okay beef with tasty gravy, completely raw vegetables and yummy crispy potato croquettes.
A decent lemon tart with raspberry sauce for dessert.
Overall, the meal was a disappointment, and not up to the standards of International First Class on most major carriers. I love caviar, and was particularly irked that it was not served, especially since it’s advertised as a component of Oman Air’s First Class service. And it’s not as if this was a one-off catering mistake. Clearly the airline had no intention of serving it as it was not listed on the menu. This is fail #4 and I don’t consider it minor.
After the meal I asked Shivani for a wifi coupon, as Oman Air provides complimentary wifi to its First Class passengers, or at least they do according to their web site they do:
It was a few minutes before Shivani returned. She apologized, saying that the crew was not given any certificates before take-off. I subsequently confirmed with Ayeub that if I wanted to access wifi I would have no choice but to pay now and follow up with Oman Air after the flight. So I paid $30 USD for 3 hours and 100MB (that’s right, wifi was both time and data limited) for a very, very slow connection that didn’t work over any of India. Welcome to fail #5 of the Oman Air experience. Not providing something you advertise is just not cool.
I landed at Muscat rather frustrated, but of course I thanked Shivani and Ayeub for their excellent service. None of the failures were even remotely their fault. Shivani was friendly, polished, responsive and just all-around lovely.
OMAN AIR PART II: On the Ground in Oman
The Omani government is building a new airport to serve Muscat, but it’s not quite ready yet, so they’re still using their old airport which does not have any jet bridges. As a result, all aircraft park on the apron and passengers are bussed to the terminal. Except for First Class passengers, who receive luxury sedan service, er, theoretically. I think you can guess what’s coming next.
Shortly after we parked, and I saw both Shivani and Ayeub looking out the window intently. I asked them if anything was wrong and they said they didn’t see my car. A few minutes later the stairs were pulled up, the door opened and the Business Class passengers started to deplane. Shivani ran in front to talk to the ground agent and asked him where my car was. He could not have been less concerned if his life depended on it and he barked at me to just get on the bus. Shivani tried to protest but I told her it was fine. What was the alternative? I could have hung out in my First Class seat and waited while they radioed for my car and that would have taken who knows how long. I would have ended up last in the immigration line instead of first. Fail #6.
The arrival experience at Muscat airport is not modern, polished or convenient. The Government of Oman’s web site instructs visitors to go to the Visa desk to obtain visas-on-arrival (which I had prepaid in advance). But the gruff burly man behind the Visa desk snorted and told me I needed to stand in the queue and one of the regular immigration officers would process my visa, which they eventually did. But the queue was frustrating. There were at least two officials whose job was evidently to keep the queues in order and let folks know when it was their turn to visit one of the immigration desks. But these officials were far more interested in looking at their phones and talking amongst themselves, so the end result was that the more moxie you had to cut in line, the faster you got through. I do not possess much moxie in this regard, so it took me a while. This was not an Oman Air fail, of course. It is what it is.
I had allowed myself half a day in Oman. I rented a car to drive down the southeast coast. I stopped at quite a few places along the way, some quite scenic. I didn’t really have enough time to venture into the mountains, but I would like to do that on a future trip. Fast forward to about 9pm. I wanted some time to relax in the First Class Lounge in Muscat prior to my flight to London.
I already had my boarding pass for the next flight, which I had received in Kuala Lumpur, but I decided to visit the combined First/Business Oman Air check-in desk anyway, just to say hello, see if I needed a First Class Lounge pass, check on the flight, etc. I was quickly helped and given directions to the lounge (no printed invitation necessary, and, interestingly for their hub, no dedicated First Class desk). Just after check-in, there was a First/Business immigration desk, but there was no one there – no one behind the desk, no one in line. Ghost Town. So I spent a few minutes trying to figure out if I could use the automatic gate next to the desk. No luck. A few minutes later the immigration officer suddenly appeared and quickly stamped my passport. Maybe he had to pee? I was through security quickly after that.
Right after security I spotted the Plaza Premium lounge (accessible via Priority Pass) and decided to pop in, just for shifts and giggles, since I had so much time. Lounge was crowded, food looked okay, wifi was unusable, so I left after 5 minutes.
Oman Air operates separate First and Business Class lounges as part of the same complex, as is common. Upon entering I was immediately escorted a few feet down the hall to the First Class lounge. I was given the code to the keypad for the lounge so I could come and go as I pleased, and I was introduced to Zeena, the attendant responsible for me, my personal chef (name not understood), and Hasan, my bartender. For the next four hours I would be the only passenger in the lounge. Nice.
Dining Area. I would take a seat here later in the evening to sample a very tasty local lamb dish recommended by my chef. Unfortunately there was no printed menu to consult, but the chef described a great many things that were available. I was saving my appetite for the dishes I would have on board my flight to London, custom-ordered in advance, so I didn’t have anything else. More on that soon.
I settled down in this area near an outlet to do some work. Hasan brought me some water and quite a few nibbles, both sweet and salty. It was clear he wanted to be of service and I think my lack of desire for fancy, complicated drinks disappointed him.
At one point I wandered out to the terminal to pick up some trinkets and collect some small Omani coins. Interestingly, the Omani rial is worth quite a bit more than the dollar (1 OMR = $2.60) and is subdivided not into 100 subunits but 1,000, the baisa. I also took a walk around the Business Class Lounge. It’s quite a nice space and was not overcrowded. The buffet looked very good.
After a few hours I was feeling pretty tired and I asked Zeena if there was somewhere I could take a nap. There is a nap room in the Business Class lounge but it was full, so I made due with one of the chaise longes in the First Lounge. As nice as the lounge is, the lack of a dedicated First Class rest area is a bit of an oversight. Nonetheless, I dozed off for quite a while.
The shower suite. I had intended to use it, but my nap lasted a bit longer than expected and I ran out of time:
At around 12:30am Zeena collected me and handed me off to the fellow that would be taking me to my car, for the drive to the plane.
OMAN AIR PART III: From Muscat to London
8 hours 30 minutes (3,629 miles)
First Class seat 1A
Nov 7, 2016
Fortunately, this time, my car was ready and waiting. Boarding had not yet started, so my escort helped me maneuver through the throngs at the gate, my boarding pass was scanned and I was helped into my shiny new white Mercedes S Class. The drive took just a few minutes. We pulled up to the stairs leading to door 1L and I was the first to board. I was welcomed aboard by Adam, the Senior Flight Supervisor as well as several different flight attendants, whose names I did not record.
More than anything else, I was looking forward to the custom-designed meal that Oman Air encouraged me to select in advance. They tout this during the reservation process, and they send you a reminder email several days before the flight. I have pre-ordered meals on quite a few airlines in the past (Singapore Airlines is probably best known for this, with their “Book The Cook” option, but quite a few airlines offer it). Even on SQ you only get to choose your main course; everything else is off the on-board menu. With Oman Air’s “Service By Design” concept, you get to choose every course from appetizer to soup to salad, etc., etc. There are several choices for some courses and dozens for some. It is unique among airlines. Here were my choices:
When I was presented with the menus for this flight I asked the flight attendant to please make sure that my requested courses had been catered. She immediately got a funny look on her face and disappeared for quite a while. She came back with Adam and they informed me that none of my courses had been catered; not a single one. They didn’t even have a record of me confirming an order. Again, I was prepared with a printout of my confirmation email (shown above) and was able to show them, but of course that didn’t solve anything at this point. They were very sweet, and very apologetic, and Adam said that he would speak with his supervisor about this as soon as we got to London. I was pissed. Really pissed. The Oman Air failures just kept piling up. This was fail #7, and it was a big deal. This was one of the main reasons I booked these flights – the opportunity to try something that no other airline in the world was doing. In actual fact, maybe Oman Air isn’t really doing it either?
I’m in the hospitality industry. I manage a hotel. And every single day one of my core principles in everything I do is to under-promise and over-deliver. Based on my experience, Oman Air has got that exactly backwards.
So, on to the regular menu. I apologize for my lack of photos, but I was in a pretty sour mood at this point. Because this flight departs in the wee hours of the morning, the first meal is not large. In fact, it is miniscule. The photo here depicts absolutely everything on the menu: a tiny beef sandwich, two pieces of lettuce and a small slice of strawberry cake. Oh, and you can see some mixed nuts in the background. Unless I wanted to order a breakfast item at this point, there was nothing else available.
After completing my First Class dining experience in four minutes flat, I asked Adam for the wifi code. You guessed it – no free wifi codes. Adam said that Oman Air was doing that for a while as a promotion but not any more. I politely informed him that free wifi is still advertised on Oman Air’s web site as part of the First Class service. He said he would talk to his boss about that as well. At this point I had nothing terribly urgent to do so I did not pay to use the wifi. Fail #8.
Here’s a photo of the bar/counter area at night. I don’t know if they didn’t deck it out because I was the only First Class passenger, or if they always leave it so bare. There were some magazines piled up there at one point but then they took those away. Just a small box of dates and chocolates and some napkins.
I asked for my bed to be made and got a few hours’ sleep. The bedding is very nice. The sleeping surface is quite narrow, but I slept fairly well. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the PJs. They look nice, but – and this is really weird – they smell strongly of petroleum. You know the way your hand smells after pumping gas? That’s it. I thought it might have been a one-off issue so I asked for another set of PJs. Same thing. I’m not even going to count that as a fail because, well, I’m tired of counting.
Breakfast time. The menu was extensive for the morning meal, and I ordered the traditional Arabic breakfast. It was good.
We landed in London on time, but Fast Track security took over an hour. All the electronic gates were closed in T4 for some reason. Nice little exclamation point for the end of my largely disappointing two flights with Oman Air.
After all this, I’m actually willing to fly Oman Air again at some point in the future, probably after they take delivery of their first 787-9s and after the new Muscat airport opens. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.