Tried & Tested

Oman Air A330 business class

28 May 2010 by BusinessTraveller

CHECK-IN Oman Air recently introduced online check-in, so I used this service – you can check in 24 hours before the flight – and picked seat 10K in the front row of business class. I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1915 for my 1035 flight WY102. As I was travelling with hand luggage only, I went straight to the security gate (check-in and bag drop was at zone F). I used the fast-track security lane – with a dozen or so people in front of me and only one dedicated X-ray machine, it didn't look like it was going to be any quicker than the standard queue, until an attendant suddenly waved passengers through to two new lanes. Once airside I headed straight for the airline lounges (to the right after passport control).

THE LOUNGE Oman Air currently shares the SAS “London Lounge” (aka lounge B), which is also used by passengers of ANA, Thai Airways and Air Canada, among others. At the desk the attendant asked me for my lounge pass, but as I hadn't gone to the check-in desk I didn't have one. I explained this and having perused my boarding pass she let me through.The lounge is on two levels, with the upper floor being almost empty when I visited on a Wednesday evening. The ground floor had a self-service buffet with cold meats, salads, cheeses, rolls, leek and potato soup, fruit, various snacks and hot and cold drinks. Just past this area was a dining area with high stools in front of a flatscreen TV, which was busy as a Champions League match involving Manchester United was in progress.

Other facilities on the lower level included a separate glass-walled TV area, a bank of eight Apple Mac computers with internet access, arranged in a circular fashion around a seating area, as well as further seating options and a good selection of newspapers and magazines, including The Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Express, Lonely Planet Magazine and The New Statesman.Upstairs there is a business centre with more Apple Macs and a wall adorned with orange buddha figurines, as well as a 12-seater cinema (again showing the football), a kids’ area, a relaxation room, another self-service buffet, and a central circular seating area decked out with green carpets and sofas. There are departure boards on both levels, and free wifi internet access throughout. At 0945 I saw that my 1035 flight was showing as boarding, so I made my way to gate 25.

BOARDING There was no queue at the gate and I was invited to board at my leisure. Once in my seat, my coat was taken and I was offered a drink, followed by dates and Arabic coffee. My dinner order was also taken prior to take off, and I was pointed in the direction of the breakfast card, enabling passengers to pre-order to get the most sleep possible on this night flight. The crew were attentive and friendly, and remained so throughout the flight. Impressive amenity kits were handed out, which included Amouage-branded lip balm, hand and body lotion, eye gel and facial moisturiser, as well as toothbush and paste, mouthwash, mints, ear plugs, hairbrush, shaving kit, shoehorn, sewing kit and socks, but no eye mask.

THE SEAT Oman Air took delivery of its new two- and three-class A330 aircraft last year, and the three-class model (economy, business and first class) features on the London route. There are a total of 20 seats in business class, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration and all facing forward, with two rows in a cabin directly behind first class, and another three rows after the galley.

My first impression of the seat was how sturdy and well-built it felt, with the exception of the armrest, which lowers to create more sleeping space and was a bit tricky to work. The seat converts into a 82-inch fully flat bed by sliding electronically to meet an ottoman underneath the 23-inch TV screen, which also serves as a companion seat for dining (it has a seatbelt to allow your guest to stay in the seat during turbulence). I was travelling alone but tried out the “buddy seat” for a few seconds – in my opinion it would suffice for eating a quick meal, but you wouldn't want to sit in it for any length of time as it is fairly small and it is difficult to sit upright as the TV juts out slightly above it.Other features include a large, sturdy table that slides back and forth to make it easy to get out of your seat, and a long drinks tray. There is a multi-directional reading lamp, a coat hook next to the TV screen, a small storage space underneath the fixed armrest, in-seat power with a UK socket, a host of other input sockets for USBs, iPods, and so on, which are explained on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, and a storage space underneath the ottoman, which contained a blanket and sheet for the bed when I boarded.

Those in window seats also enjoy the benefit of two side storage bins, which took my laptop case easily, but not my carry-on bag, which went in the overhead locker. Décor is light brown and beige, and I found the overall look of the seating to be traditional but classy.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The front cabin of the two business class areas is slightly more exclusive as it has only eight seats, as opposed to 12 in the second cabin, but there’s not much in it. All the seats seem to be the same in length, so it comes down to personal preference and whether you are travelling with a companion, in which case you will probably want to take two middle seats. I found the extra storage bins at the window seats useful, and was glad to be sitting in the front row of the first business cabin as it meant I was away from the toilets and galley. 

THE FLIGHT I noticed that I was able to turn on the audio-video on-demand IFE and start watching a film before we took off – I'm not sure if this was strictly allowed, but nobody questioned it. There are noise-reducing headphones and the TV screen was large enough to watch action films without that feeling that you're missing out. I don't know if it was simply the right time of year, being shortly after the Oscars, but there were a lot of good films that I wanted to watch, including Crazy Heart, The Blind Side and The Informant, but I settled for the enjoyable Inglourious Basterds. 

After the seatbelt signs were turned off, the crew dressed the tables and served an amuse bouche of some sort of white meat (I asked a couple of times but didn't understand the response and was too embarrassed to ask again – it tasted like chicken) on a creamy chive sauce, with a sweet jelly cube. There was only one starter choice, which was soup of the day, and as I wasn't that hungry, I opted to go straight to the main course. Western choices were lemon chicken in a herb and citrus cream sauce with roasted root vegetables and pomegranate rice; warm toasted ciabatta with pan-roasted lamb fillet, charred vegetables, spicy potato wedges, mixed pickles and sour cream; or Loch Fyne gravadlax, seasonal herbs and leaves, celeriac Waldorf salad and orange fillets, which I chose. The Arabic choice was a spiced lamb cutlet with okra and spinach saloona, saffron and pistachio rice, fresh lemon, coriander leaves and minted yoghurt. After I had finished my main, I was offered cheese and biscuits, but instead went for a dessert of American pancakes, stewed rhubarb and vanilla mascarpone, which was lovely. The other choices were seasonal fresh fruit with a wild berry coulis, and vanilla bean ice cream with pistachios and chocolate flakes.

There was no wine list with the menu, and while I was offered champagne or wine, I was never actually informed what the choices were, although that's probably because I opted for a soft drink.About 30 minutes into the film, a short ad came on plugging Oman Air's in-flight mobile phone and internet services. The carrier says it is the first carrier to offer both of these services onboard a commercial flight. As it was a night flight I wasn't too bothered about using the internet, but thought I would send a text back home along the lines of “Greetings from 30,000ft…” - I wonder how much the operators make out of silly fools like me doing just such a thing. Having turned on my phone, however, it would not pick up a signal – I tried sending a text but it didn’t get through, and this was the case for the duration of the flight. Interestingly, the sign of a mobile phone with a cross through it (positioned next to the seatbelt sign) was lit for the whole journey, although this was also the case on the return flight, when the mobile access worked fine.

I found the bed comfortable, and long enough to stretch out properly, but in the end decided to forgo sleep for another film, halfway through which I was offered breakfast. I had a plate of fresh fruit, a choice of rolls with butter and jam, followed by a hot English breakfast of poached egg, sausage, sauteed spinach, tomato ragout and grilled halloumi. Other choices were: goats cheese and forest mushroom frittata with sun-dried couscous, warm capsicum and tomato salsa; cheese and chives omelette with beef sausage, sauteed onion, roast potatoes and pesto tomato; Arabic pancake with creamy yoghurt, pine nuts and date syrup; a mezze of tabouleh, hummus, stuffed vine leaves, lamb kofta, potato kofta, lemon and coriander leaves; or an “Arabian festival combination dish” of ful medames, shankshuka Arabic scrambled eggs, grilled halloumi, parsley, onion, tomato, coriander leaves and lemon.

ARRIVAL We arrived about ten minutes early at 0855, and having quickly disembarked, we were bussed the short distance to the terminal building. UK visitors need to obtain a visa on arrival by visiting the Travelex-branded counter and paying the six rial (£10) fee, then taking the receipt to immigration to have your passport stamped. The whole process took no more than ten minutes. It's difficult to say how far Muscat International airport is from the city centre as Muscat is so spread out along the coast, but it’s about 20 minutes’ drive from the popular beachfront hotels including the Grand Hyatt and Intercontinental properties.

VERDICT An impressive business class seat that has been well thought-out and converts into a comfortable bed. Service was impeccable throughout – my only gripe was the failure to pick up a mobile signal, although it worked fine on the return journey.



SEAT LENGTH 82 inches

SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees, fully flat

IFE SCREEN 23 inches

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Muscat in July started from £1,662


Mark Caswell

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