This review is by regular contributor Jason. You can follow Jason on Instagram here @planejayds
In this post:
Manchester to Paris with EasyJet
Before I dive into the Oman Air review from Paris to Muscat and onwards to Dubai, I will do a quick run-through of my experience on Easyjet from Manchester to Paris CDG. This was my first time ever flying Easyjet, and the experience lived up to the name. It was just….easy. I purchased my one-way ticket to Paris only the day before travel for £54 and added a large cabin bag for £28.99.
Not being too bothered about where I would be sat for a one-hour flight, I was cheap and, instead of paying, allowed for a random assignment at check-in. I had to double-blink when I checked in on the app and was randomly assigned 1A. The flight was no frills as expected – no seat recline, no USB or Wi-Fi. Of course, I was expecting to be at the front of the aircraft being assigned row 1, but the row of seats was almost on top of the door. I had to keep my feet pulled in during boarding, or I would have tripped someone. Everyone I dealt with was polite, and most importantly, the flight left on time and arrived at the gate to the minute on time. Manchester Airport was another story.
I do not use terms like ‘national disgrace’ easily, yet MAN truly is. I avoid the airport whenever I can having learnt that it is consistently bad and just an unpleasant and stressful experience. When flying short-haul to Europe, I prefer to drive to Liverpool and depart from there. Liverpool Airport isn’t glamorous, but it is a far less stressful experience.
The biggest pain point of MAN continues to be security and the time and stress associated with
getting through it, even when it isn’t particularly busy. When I arrived for my 14:10 flight, I was
pleased to see the queues weren’t too long. In fact, I counted seven people ahead of me at my lane. And yet, when timing the experience, it took me twenty-six minutes from joining the short queue to
walking through the metal detector. I can not tell you how careful I am when packing my bags if I
am departing MAN. Things that will easily pass through other airports will just not be here. And I won’t
complain – I mean, it is security after all.
However, when the digital displays at the security checkpoint were showing a ‘reject rate’ of 63%, something cannot be right. I was travelling with both a cabin-sized wheelie bag and a small backpack. The backpack was ‘rejected’, and I stood and waited for another twenty-eight minutes before having the secondary search. Whilst waiting my turn, I was watching the security staff revelling in their finds, triumphantly waving around one of those little airplane amenity kit toothbrushes and 2ml toothpaste, for instance. My turn came, and the security officer made a beeline for my document wallet.
She had a quick look inside and said, ‘That’s fine, you can go’. I wasn’t impressed, I had now spent an hour at security. ‘Can I ask exactly why my bag was rejected’? ‘Something in your passport wallet’. And then I had my Karen moment. ‘Can I speak to a supervisor’. The Supervisor came over and I asked again – why was my bag rejected? ‘Oh, it was the highlighter pen in your passport wallet that triggered the search’. I was dumbfounded. Being a prepared traveller, I have my little document wallet with my passport, some pens, a highlighter, etc. ‘Can I ask why a highlighter is a problem here and no other airports’? The reply was, ‘Oh, I can’t talk about it in front of all these people; all I can say is that they are a problem, and you shouldn’t travel with them. Okaaaaay.
Terminal 1 is the kind of place you want to spend the bare minimum amount of time in. It is unpleasant, busy, poorly designed, and everything just seems to be bursting at the seams. I could have used my Priority Pass and gone to the Escape Lounge, but in all honesty, it isn’t worth the fee. I got myself a sandwich and Pret and tried (unsuccessfully) to log onto the free airport Wi-Fi. I couldn’t wait when boarding was called for my flight. Fast forward to Paris.
Check-in & Lounge CDG
After a pleasant flight and on-time landing with Easyjet I disembarked at CDG T2A at 16:40 so had a fair bit of time to kill before my 21:35 Oman Air flight. I was meeting a friend for a quick coffee landside, so I exited and took the automated people mover to CDG T1 which was an easy transfer. I located the Oman Air check-in and there were various desks for Business, online check-in and economy customers. The economy queue was probably about twenty people deep, but there was no wait at the Business Class counter. Check-in is handled by a third party; however, there was an Oman Air staff member on duty to oversee operations and resolve any issues.
I was given my boarding passes through to Dubai and directed to Fast Track immigration and security, which was not only an absolute breeze but also staffed by courteous and professional agents. I had not been in CDG T1 since the late 90’s and expected it to be the poor cousin to the newer T2. Being the original terminal of Charles De Gaulle Airport, the terminal was designed just as much as a fashion statement as a practical air travel hub.
The main check-in hall is in a circular building with a large atrium where the escalators crisscross each other up to the departure gates. Landside, the terminal has a dated vibe about it, but once airside, WOW. Now, THIS is how you refurbish an ageing terminal (MAN, take note). The terminal is airy, light, and the furnishings looked more like an actual business-class lounge than an airport terminal.
The shopping area is also extremely open and does not have that claustrophobic maze feel of so many airport shopping areas. Oman, along with Qatar, Emirates and ANA, use the Extime Lounge in T1. Being a contract lounge, my expectations were not high. Again, though, I was impressed. Despite the modest entrance and size, the lounge is impeccably maintained and decorated, and the food and beverage options were exactly what I was after, with a good selection of hot and cold items.
The lounge was incredibly quiet and calm (it does not accept any Priority Pass, etc), and the entire time I was there, I saw less than ten other customers. There were great views out over the runway, and aprons and staff were friendly and plentiful. My boarding card indicated that boarding would commence at 20:35, and as I had seen the aircraft land from Muscat a little earlier than scheduled whilst sat in the lounge, I made my way to the gate.
Oman Air uses a group system to board with customers being allocated a group number of 1 through to 4. Business Class boards with group 1 and signage was up with separate lines for each of the groups. A staff member came through and checked all of us in the group 1 line had so on our boarding pass. Boarding didn’t commence until 21:00, and the reason given to someone behind me who asked why boarding hadn’t started was ‘as the flight is not full tonight’ and indeed, I would estimate there were probably only around eighty customers in total at the gate so a comfortable night flight for everyone! Boarding was through doors two for all customers, which is pretty standard on a 787.
I turned left, and as I made my way to 12A, I was immediately approached by a crew member who invited me to show me to my seat; however, I was literally standing beside it at this stage. First impressions of the cabin were how muted the finishings are compared to other Gulf carriers and the sense of space. The palette was similar to Etihad with sand colours and browns however, Oman’s accent colour I am going to call (probably incorrectly) teal. Many of the fixtures, such as the curtains, were this colour, as well as the beautiful crew uniforms. Starting from the front at doors one, there is a galley and two bathrooms, then five rows of Apex suites occupy the forward cabin (24 in total). At doors two, there is a second galley and lavatory followed by an additional row of business class in a mini cabin of just six seats. The lavatories even had Japanese-style bidets and were kept clean during the flight.
The Apex seat is personally my favourite seat I have flown in Business Class. Few airlines choose to use the configuration as it generally isn’t favourable to floorspace – Oman Air can only fit in 24 Apex seats into the same space Etihad fits 28 Business Studio seats. It ticks every box for me –direct aisle access, a huge amount of personal space, very open in design with no cubbyholes for feet and a great deal of privacy. Yet it is probably the only direct aisle access product where you can be sat both near the window as well as next to a travel companion.
The seat controls are located on the armrest, and there are some pre-set options for sleeping, relaxing and dining as well as recline and the footrest angle able to be customised to preference. There is also a DND button and overhead lighting, ‘mood’ lighting and a reading light at shoulder level. Of course, there are charging and USB ports for keeping those devices juiced up. At my seat was the bedding, which comprised a decent-sized pillow, mattress topper and plush blanket, as well as an Oman Air-branded bottle of water and noise-cancelling headsets. I counted 17 passengers in total in business, and I detected six of them to be my fellow Aussies, which was surprising given that Oman Air has no connections onwards to Australia, although they do codeshare with Malaysia Airlines via Muscat and Kuala Lumpur.
The crew member who would take care of me for most of the flight offered me a selection of pre-flight drinks, including fresh orange juice, water, or a red-looking juice that turned out to be strawberry. I knew the crew member would be great when I asked her what the red juice was, and she replied, ‘let’s see if you can guess’. A bit of wit and humour goes a long way for me and is a trait that can be hard to find on Middle Eastern carriers.
A choice between a hot or cold towel followed, as well as an amenity kit, which came in a small box. Two other crew came through the cabin with the Arabic coffee and date service, which I can never turn down as I love the cardamon spice taste of it, and it is just something different and ceremonial almost. Norah the lovely crew member, formally introduced herself and took my drink order for after take off. I only had a few sips of the strawberry juice, and I remarked it was delicious but too sweet for me. She immediately offered an alternative (including champagne), but I declined.
The Menu and separate wine list for the flight was presented, which had an extensive selection. I was curious what the food offering would be on this fairly short overnight flight and was expecting a simplified selection; however, I was wrong. The menu featured an amuse bouche followed by a multicourse offering with several options of each course. The menu is dine-on-demand, but on such a short overnight flight, everyone that was eating seemed to do so after take-off and then bedded down for the remainder. An announcement was made that boarding was complete at 21:20, and the door was closed ten minutes before scheduled departure time. We pushed back from the gate at 21:33 and was airborne ten minutes later.
After take-off, the senior crew member did the rounds of Business Class, introducing herself, and within fifteen minutes of take-off a wine glass and ramekin of mixed nuts was brought to my table. The wine bottle was then presented and poured at my seat, which makes the service feel a little more restaurant-style. Meal orders were taken while enjoying the glass of wine, and I opted for my DIY express version of the salmon starter and cheese plate.
Drink orders were also taken, and although Port was suggested, I stuck with water (I am a lightweight). My empty glass of red was, however, topped up without having to ask. I only really engaged with the one crew member looking after the side of the aircraft I was sat, and I cannot say enough good things about her. Norah had that perfect balance between being warm, genuine and engaging whilst also being professional and efficient.
I found this with all the Oman Air staff I met along the way during my trip. A tablecloth was laid as we were crossing the border from Switzerland into Italy, and the table was laid restaurant style. An amuse bouche was served, as well as an individual breadbasket with four varieties of bread. Nearly everything was branded, from the napkins to the plates, although in a very muted and classy way. The salmon starter was served, and it was both plentiful and delicious, a perfect light meal before trying to get some shut-eye. The starter was cleared and a yummy cheese plate consisting of four varieties as well as a sweet compote was served as we were passing over the coast of Croatia.
The pace of the service was perfect for a short night flight, and at 1:35 am Muscat time, I popped my seat into bed mode. I often do not see the point of mattress covers on some airlines as they are usually so thin they do not really add much to the level of comfort. On Oman Air, however, this was the thickest mattress I have experienced in Business Class, and it really did enhance the sleep proposition, and I got a good four hours shut-eye. I woke up just as the lights were coming on at 5:30 am Muscat time, and although my sleep had been short, I felt refreshed.
Norah was checking in on me within a minute or two of waking up, and after asking how I slept, she suggested a juice or coffee before landing, and I gratefully accepted a double espresso, which was served alongside a pastry. Hot towels were again offered as the cabin was being prepared for landing. I was glad I got some snaps of the menu and wine list earlier in the flight as the crew members collected these in, and at 6:35 am, we landed into sunny Muscat.
Transit & Lounge MUSCAT
New airport terminals seem all the rage in the Middle East, with Muscat, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi all opening new billion-dollar-plus terminals recently. Muscat opened its current terminal in 2018, and it is very user-friendly and modern. Muscat is certainly not Dubai or Abu Dhabi, although personally, I find this to be a benefit. The terminal is a modest side and is completely geared up to be an efficient transit hub without trapsing vast distances or getting on and off people movers. It was a quick few minutes walk to the well-signposted transit point where you pass through security.
As nothing needed to be removed from bags, this was a swift process, and within minutes, I was again airside. As I began to navigate my way to the lounge, I noticed some queues at machines, which I thought at first were ATM’s. These were, in fact machines where you need to register for Wi-Fi with your passport if you want to use the free airport network. It seems a bit of a faff, and I would estimate you would be waiting, on average, about fifteen minutes to be able to access the Wi-Fi registration machines. I followed the signs for the Oman Air lounge, which is located one level up from the main terminal. You cannot miss the huge gold embossed doors, and as they slide open, and you pass through and have your boarding pass scanned, the feeling of Middle Eastern lux is evident.
The lounge is really beautifully decorated with not TOO much bling – although bling is definitely there. The lounge is not huge but still has plenty of room to cater for the number of customers it needs to. There was a main dining area which offered the usual array of hot and cold breakfast items including some Middle Eastern choices also. I do not think breakfast is a meal for airlines to showcase the best they have to offer with similar items replicated the world over.
There was also a full-tended bar that had barista-made coffee, and I had an omelette and a cortado at one of the high tables overlooking the tarmac activity outside of the huge windows that offered wonderful views for the avgeek. Wi-Fi was easy to access in the lounge and had decent speeds. I only spent around thirty minutes in the lounge and then made my way to the gate for my connecting flight to Dubai, which was around five minutes’ walk away.
Muscat – Dubai
I arrived at a very quiet gate area where there were only around fifty fellow passengers waiting to board. I was looking forward to this flight; it would be my first ever on a 737MAX after a couple of other failed attempts to fly this aircraft type. I had been scheduled to fly an MAX on both AA and United, and both swapped jets to older 737 types. So, would I be third-time lucky? No! I looked out the window, and that was not a MAX parked at the gate; instead, it looked like Oman Air had subbed the timetabled MAX for an A330. The A330 is probably one of the aircraft types I have flown on most and get the least excited by, but I was also looking forward to seeing what the onboard product would be like on this jet as it usually assigned long haul routes mainly to Asia but also some to Europe (Geneva for example).
There was no actual boarding call; the door from the gate to the jetty was simply opened, and people started making their way down. I guess with the light load today (there was only four passengers in Business and around forty in economy), there was no need for group boarding, and it was all a very civilised affair. I entered through the second door and was directed to the first row of business class on the right. Oman fitted a custom seating product to its A330’s which is in a 1 x 2 1 configuration.
Whilst immediately evident that this was an older product compared to the 787 the sense of space and openness was immediately apparent. The seats are massive and well-padded, and I had one of the solo A seats. Of course, the seats convert to a fully flat bed, and interestingly, there were side bins on this A330, like you would find on the upper deck of the 747 or A380. There is little in terms of privacy, however which there are oodles of on their Apex suite fitted 787’s.
I was offered a pre-departure beverage (lemon-mint juice or OJ), a menu, an audio headset and a bottle of water. Interestingly, the entire crew were male and nearly all of them Omani nationals. This is something I like about Middle Eastern carriers such as Oman and Gulf Air; they bring a little more of their home country to the experience than, say, the very international feel of Emirates or Etihad. This doesn’t always work from the customer service perspective; anyone that has flown Saudia, who also recruit predominantly males from the local population, will know what I mean. All the crew I interacted with on this Oman Air flight were extremely polite, accommodating, professional and helpful. The door was closed at 8:22 am, and we pushed back five minutes early for the 52-minute hop to Dubai.
There were two choices for breakfast: a quiche with some scallops or a sandwich with halloumi cheese.
Quiche with scallops sounded like a bit of an odd combination, but anything seafood, I am all over it, so I opted for that. The tray was presented with the main course, a side of fruit as well as an offering from the bakery basket. By this stage, I wasn’t particularly hungry but enjoyed the fruit and scallops. In no time at all, the captain announced we would be landing in Dubai in ten minutes’ time, and despite the five-minute early pushback, we arrived on stand five minutes late due mainly to a large amount of traffic on the taxiways at Dubai. I made my way to the immigration e-gates and was about to scan my passport before noticing that the e-gate machine already knew who I was, I guess from advance APIS information and biometrics held on file? Immigration took seconds, and I was in an Uber within fifteen minutes of stepping off the aircraft.
I absolutely loved my Oman Airlines experience, and overall, it was definitely my favourite Gulf airline to fly with (sorry, Qatar). It ticked every box for me, from the Apex seat, which is my personal favourite, to fantastic catering, friendly staff, a great little transit hub and a wonderful flagship lounge, not to mention all flights were on time. It would 100% be my first choice when travelling from the UK to Asia, and they regularly offer attractive fares to the region.
Its network obviously is not on the scale as most of its neighbours, but it seems to have extensive codeshare agreements, for example with Malaysia Airlines providing onward codeshare flights to Australia from KUL. Of course, Oman Air will become an even more attractive option once it joins OneWorld with the potential to earn 840 tier points on one of its joint Malaysia Airlines flight from Europe to Australia.
Catch up with the other reviews you may have missed.