The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an almost complete withdrawal of international flights for many carriers serving the Asia Pacific region due to the strict border restrictions in force for close to a year, decimating travel demand and giving airlines no choice but to cut schedules.
One interesting impact of the pandemic though is that as we move towards a situation where travel can potentially restart this year, airlines are taking advantage of opportunities where they identify potential future markets and possibilities for growth.
That could lead to some interesting new route announcements in the coming months and years, as carriers look to make a ‘first mover’ advantage, and it’s fair to say the latest newly announced entrant to the Singapore market is not one we were expecting.
Gulf Air to restart Singapore flights
Despite serving Singapore from the mid-1990s through to 2008, Gulf Air has been absent from Changi for the last 13 years, but now plans to return to the city in just over a month’s time.
Gulf Air, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, announces the addition of Singapore to its growing network with 1 weekly flight starting April 2021.Gulf Air
The service will in fact link Bahrain with Bangkok, a longstanding Gulf Air destination, with Singapore acting as an intermediate stop in both directions.
Gulf Air last served Singapore using Airbus A340-300s, a type long since retired by the carrier. It will deploy much more modern three-class Boeing 787-9s on the route this time round, operating the following schedule once weekly from 3rd April 2021.
Gulf Air Singapore / Bangkok Schedule
From 3rd April 2021
* Next day
Gulf Air will be the sole operator between Singapore and Bahrain.
These flights are initially loaded for two months, until 30th May 2021, pending further schedule confirmation.
Singapore will serve as another boutique destination of the only boutique airline in the Middle East. Gulf Air’s newest destination will further enhance the connectivity of the airline’s destinations in Europe and GCC, with a convenient departure and arrival timing to/from Singapore.Gulf Air
GF166’s 00:15 arrival in Bahrain from Singapore meets the airline’s midnight ‘connection bank’, offering continued service (under normal schedules) to destinations including:
Similarly a 23:50 departure from Bahrain to Singapore on GF165 offers connections from the same cities in the opposite direction, assuming a return to pre-COVID schedules for the carrier in due course.
Singapore joins Bangkok and Manila as Gulf Air’s third destination in the region.
Gulf Air Boeing 787 cabins
The Gulf Air Boeing 787-9 is configured to seat 282 passengers in the following configuration:
- 26 Business Class
- 256 Economy Class
The airline uses the (excellent) Apex Suite in its Business Class (Falcon Gold) cabin, a product also found on Oman Air and Japan Airlines.
On paper, with a 2-2-2 layout, it seems strange that the design wins such praise, but the key to this one is a clever ‘staggered’ arrangement at the window seats.
This allows direct aisle access for the window passenger (and no one climbing over the aisle passenger at the window pairs), the primary drawback for older 2-2-2 configurations.
Gulf Air Boeing 787 flights also include a ‘Sky Chef’, dedicated to the F&B service.
While Japan Airlines occasionally substitutes its Apex Suite-fitted aircraft on Singapore – Tokyo flights, we believe this will be the first time the product has been consistently offered from Changi.
We’ve got a comprehensive review of our experience in the Apex Suite on board Oman Air between Muscat and Jakarta, in a very similar configuration used by Gulf Air.
In Economy Class, Gulf Air has a standard 3-3-3 layout, with a 32″ seat pitch and on-demand entertainment via 11.6″ seat-back IFE screens.
All Boeing 787 aircraft are Wi-Fi equipped, as are the carrier’s Airbus A320neo and Airbus A321neo aircraft.
Speaking of the narrow-body fleet, if you find yourself on one of Gulf Air’s new Airbus A321neos for your connecting flight to or from Bahrain, these feature the Collins Aerospace Diamond Business Class seats in a 2-2 configuration.
What about Singapore – Bangkok?
Gulf Air does not have fifth freedom passenger traffic rights between Singapore and Bangkok, so unless those can be secured at a later date this won’t be an option for a nice afternoon / evening Thailand timing for our local readers.
That’s a shame because Gulf Air’s Apex Suite Business Class would be a great product for the short journey, and fares would likely have to be competitive if the airline (as a relative unknown in the market) was permitted to sell seats on the route.
Instead those on board the Singapore – Bangkok sectors and vice-versa will be originating or continuing their journey all the way from or to Bahrain.
In any event, the airline’s future plan post-COVID may be for Singapore and Bangkok to each receive their own dedicated flights, removing this intra-Asia sector in due course.
Miles and points
Gulf Air has its own frequent flyer programme, Falconflyer, but unfortunately it is not part of any major airline alliance, so earning and redemption options using more common frequent flyer programmes is limited.
On the plus side for most of our readers, you can earn and redeem miles on Gulf Air flights using the following partner FFPs:
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Etihad Guest
While these are useful programmes to credit paid Gulf Air flights to, unfortunately they mostly don’t represent good value when redeeming on the airline.
Redemption rates on Gulf Air
|Singapore – Bahrain||27,000||61,000||47,000||94,000|
|Singapore – London||35,000||70,000||94,000||188,000|
|Singapore – Bangkok*||15,000||30,000||10,000||20,000|
* Only applicable if fifth-freedom rights are granted in future
One exception is using Asia Miles in Business Class to or from Europe (e.g. London / Frankfurt), which comes in at a competitive 70,000 miles one-way in Business Class.
Bear in mind that Gulf Air does impose fuel surcharges, adding around S$280 to a one-way Singapore – London redemption in addition to your miles outlay and the compulsory airport taxes.
In both cases (Asia Miles and Etihad Guest), you’ll have to call to check Gulf Air award availability and to book.
We haven’t included Gulf Air’s Falconflyer award rates for redemptions and upgrades, given that most of our readers aren’t members of the programme, but you can check the applicable rates at the airline’s Mileage Calculator.
Bahrain Airport revamp
Most of our readers probably haven’t experienced an aircraft transit in Bahrain before, but take it from us – it was never anything to particularly look forward to!
That’s all changed recently, however, with the opening of a brand new terminal just a few weeks ago, in late January 2021.
This also includes a brand new Falcon Lounge for those flying from Bahrain in Business Class, including transit passengers. Among the usual facilities, the new lounge features live cooking stations and a pool table!
Overall this should significantly improve the transit experience when flying with the carrier.
We would not have put Gulf Air returning to Changi Airport at the top of our predictions for 2021, following a 13-year absence.
This once weekly service initially seems to be a way for the carrier to tap into demand to two Asian cities at once during a period of low passenger numbers, in order to make the service justifiable, but it will certainly be interesting to see whether this Singapore – Bahrain option remains long-term.
Given the airline’s positive marketing of the new route, it does seem like this one is here to stay.
Gulf Air has excellent cabin products on its Boeing 787-9 aircraft and while it’s not part of one of the major alliances, redemptions using Asia Miles and Etihad Guest miles are possible.
With travel restrictions hopefully easing from later this year, it will be great to have this additional option for flights between Singapore and Europe, with Gulf Air becoming Changi’s fifth Middle East carrier.
(Cover Image: Gulf Air)