CHECK-IN As with the outbound leg (click here for the review), I checked in online, although on this occasion it was simply to choose a good seat rather than to obtain my boarding pass, as I was not in the vicinity of a printer. I checked in almost exactly 24 hours before the flight (the limit for online check-in) but there were only a handful of seats available, and being fairly tall I chose an aisle seat as close to the front of the economy section as possible, which was seat 23B. I arrived at Muscat International airport in good time for my 1400 flight WY101.
The current terminal is a fairly modest affair, although there are big plans for the airport, including a new terminal building and a second runway, with the first phase of the expansion due for completion in 2014. On entering the terminal building, I passed through a security check (no request for laptops to be removed or liquids shown), then headed to the check-in desks to collect my boarding pass, where I was seen immediately at one of about ten open counters. From here I went through a second security check (again, laptops and liquids stayed in my bag), and was airside within ten minutes of arriving at the airport.
THE LOUNGE I was travelling in economy but had been granted access to Oman Air's business class lounge so I could have a look around. It is located just after security but a brand new lounge will open in July. Until then the facility offers a business centre with half a dozen PCs and internet access, seating, and a self-service buffet with hot and cold snacks, including mini quiches and beef burgers, and a Nescafe coffee machine. There are several departure boards in the lounge, and flights are also called by an attendant, with boarding beginning at 1320.
BOARDING Having gone up an escalator and past duty-free, I headed to gate 18, which was back down an escalator and in a new-looking section of the airport. Boarding commenced almost immediately, and we were bussed to the aircraft.
THE SEAT Oman Air's recently delivered A330-300 aircraft offers new seating in all three classes, with economy class featuring a 2-4-2 layout. The seat has a pitch of 34 inches, and features adjustable head and footrests, a 10.6-inch seat-back TV screen, a USB port, one power socket for every two seats, a coat hook, a fold-down/fold-out table, and a seat pan which moves forward as the seat-back reclines. The in-flight entertainment (IFE) offering is the same in all classes, with a good selection of box office films and classics, plus TV programmes, music, games and a flight map. The décor of the seat is a pleasant turquoise and beige striped pattern, and unsurprisingly both the seat and the cabin felt new and spotlessly clean.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I was sat in 23B in the fourth row of a completely full economy cabin. There are ten rows behind the second business class cabin, followed by toilets and a galley, and then a further 16 rows. If you are after extra legroom then the front rows of either cabin are the ones to choose, but bear in mind that you may get stuck next to a family with a baby in the bassinet, and also note that the front row of the second economy cabin is right next to the toilets. Personally I would go for the front of the two cabins as it has less passengers in it, and as far forward as possible to be away from the toilets.
THE FLIGHT As soon as the seatbelts signs were switched off I was offered headphones and a wet towel, followed by a drink, and I started to watch The Blind Side. I also noticed that unlike on the outbound flight, I had reception for Onair (Oman Air's in-flight mobile phone and internet service) on my mobile phone almost immediately after take-off, although confusingly the sign of a mobile phone with a cross through it (next to the seatbelt sign) was on for the whole journey. Reception disappeared for a while when the plane was over Iran (the provider has apparently not yet negotiated rights with the country), but apart from that it worked flawlessly and I was able to send and receive several texts in the same way as if I had been on the ground (The cost of sending messages depends on the international roaming tariffs set by your network.)
About halfway through the flight the meal service came around, consisting of an Arabian mezze salad to start, and a choice of grilled hamour kebab with saffron rice and green beans in a tomato sauce, chicken and mushroom ragout with herb mashed potatoes, steamed carrots and peas, or vegetarian tortellini in a creamy cheese and herb sauce with broccoli and peppers. I had mistakenly thought that the kebab dish would be meat, but it was in fact a type of fish – nevertheless, it was very tasty and one of the better meals I have had in economy. Dessert was banana cake with crackers and soft cheese. No further drinks were offered with the meal, but there was a carton of water on the tray, and tea and coffee was served after the meal. The table was pretty good for an economy offering, and I liked the fact that you could slide it in or out and fold it in half, as it meant I could place drinks and a book on it and still get in and out of the seat easily. About half an hour after the meal service, tubs of chocolate or vanilla ice cream were handed out, along with large cookies.When the film had finished, I took out my laptop and did some work, using the in-seat power, which kept my computer charged at 100 per cent.
Oman Air is the first carrier to offer both mobile phone access and in-flight internet on its new aircraft, so I thought I would try out the wifi service. My laptop recognised the Onair network immediately, and showed it as having a “very good” signal. There were three choices for connection – US$30 for full internet access, US$10 for access to a web email account, or US$5 for access to an instant messaging service. I paid for the full service, and found the speed to be acceptable, although not quite as quick as I would expect at work or through my home broadband connection. I spent the time checking emails on my work Microsoft Exchange account, and updating the Business Traveller Twitter page (twitter.com/btuk) with tweets from the flight.About two hours before landing, hot towels were brought round, before an afternoon tea service with a choice of sandwiches – roast chicken, tomato and lettuce on black olive focaccia; beef pastrami dijon mustard and lettuce on tomato bread; or grilled vegetables, cheddar cheese and lettuce on herb focaccia. There was also a carton of orange juice, tea or coffee, and a cake, although on inspection it was identical to the banana cake served a couple of hours before, which I thought was a little uninventive.
ARRIVAL We arrived at 1850, 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and quickly disembarked. IRIS was working with no queue, and I had no baggage to collect, so I was out of the airport within about 20 minutes of landing.
VERDICT An excellent economy product, with the latest IFE system and a good food offering. I can see the mobile phone service being popular, particularly for passengers sending text messages to confirm flight arrival times. Passengers may balk at a charge of US$30 for internet access, although time will tell.
SEAT PITCH 34 inches
IFE SCREEN 10.6 inches
PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class flight from London to Muscat in July started from £446