A (mostly) class act: A review of Oman Air economy on the 787 Dreamliner from London Heathrow to Muscat
[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="85" ground-experience="1" cabin-seat="26" amens-ife="38" food-bev="11" service="9" pros="A modern plane, three seats to stretch out in and outstanding onboard service" cons="The rudest check-in agent I have ever encountered, broken headphones and a dry dessert" /]
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Though the Middle East already has three household-name airlines in Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, lesser-known Oman Air has ambitious plans to become just as well-known. When I needed to fly to Pakistan recently, I looked beyond the obvious options to try something a little different from the norm.
Although it's not a member of a global alliance, you can redeem Etihad Guest miles for Oman Air flights, and the redemption rates are reasonable (Etihad Guest has a special award chart for Oman Air). You must call to redeem miles this way, and some Etihad Guest agents can have difficulty seeing the available space. If you are able to find space through a phone agent, you can transfer your points from American Express Membership Rewards to Etihad Guest at a 1:1 ratio.
Fortunately, one-way cash fares were also reasonable, at around $555 one-way from London (LHR) to Muscat, Oman (MCT), connecting on to Lahore, Pakistan (LHE) — stay tuned for a very interesting Pakistan International Airlines review! To pay for these flights, we used The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to take advantage of the card's 5x bonus category on flights booked directly through the airline or through Amex Travel. In this case, we earned 2,775 MR points, worth about $55 according to TPG's current valuations.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Ground Experience" tpg-rating="1" tpg-rating-max="5" tail="A4O-SF" age="1" departure="21" departure-2="10" duration="6" duration-2="51" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
I arrived at Heathrow's Terminal 4 around two and a half hours before departure.
While architecturally T4 is not my favorite of the four active Heathrow terminals, what I do love about it is that it has the most eclectic mix of airlines operating from it. I enjoy watching both the flight departures board and the tarmac to see airlines and destinations I didn't even realize were possible direct from Heathrow -- Sanya, anyone? Though it's home to most SkyTeam airlines, it also seems to be the terminal most of the unaligned airlines also use.
I found Oman Air's check-in quickly, and there were a few dozen passengers queued in the economy-class check-in line, each with plenty of luggage to check. Both the first- and business-class queues were virtually empty. I had checked in online in advance but had not printed my boarding pass and also wanted to try out the Oman Air airport check-in experience.
Just to the right of the fairly long economy queue was a web check-in line, which was completely empty. I marched straight to the front of it, happy with myself for checking in online.
A ground agent directing the lines saw the business-class check-in desk was free and ushered me toward it. Here was by far the most unpleasant part of my Oman Air experience.
I approached the business-class check-in agent and explained I had checked in online but needed to print my boarding pass and handed over my passport. He scanned my passport to retrieve my reservation. As soon as he opened his mouth, I encountered the rudest, most unpleasant check-in agent I have ever had in all my travels. I was connecting in Muscat to Pakistan (also on Oman Air), and the check-in agent correctly asked to see my Pakistan e-visa, which was required to enter Pakistan.
I had this ready and quickly handed him the one-page printout of my Pakistan visa grant notice. He barely glanced at it and quickly barked, "This is an application form! You need a visa!"
I calmly explained it was a visa grant notice and pointed at three words printed in large, bold typeface at the top of the page.
He sighed and pointed midway down the page where, amongst the various details of the visa, was the application date, which was around two months prior to the day of my flight, and again barked, "This is not a visa!"
This was clearly the only part of the notice he had bothered to read.
I pointed to some of the other clearly marked details on the page, including the visa approval date (which was prior to the date on which I flew), the visa expiration date (next year) and the wording that said, 'This visa is hereby granted ...'. Defeated, he rolled his eyes, sighed again, printed my boarding pass and flung both on to the counter in front of me. I was horrified that a check-in agent at a premium, full-service airline like Oman Air would speak to an economy passenger like that (especially one who had not done anything wrong). Had I been travelling business class and received this kind of service, I think I would have lodged a complaint there and then.
The employee should not be in a customer-facing role, let alone on a premium check-in counter for passengers who have paid for a premium service.
I had earlier used ExpertFlyer to monitor both how busy the flight would be and the seat map. I selected a window seat when I checked in and noticed there were plenty of empty seats around me. On the day of the flight, I noticed the two seats next to me were showing as blocked, which I assumed was part of a weight and balance exercise. I thought about asking at check-in if those seats could remain blocked for as long as possible (knowing the flight was not very full) but the check-in agent was so unfriendly I didn't want to push my luck.
After the unpleasantness of check-in, the rest of the ground experience was smooth sailing. As usual, security was quick and efficient, and the terminal, while busy, was easy to navigate, and I quickly found my gate, Gate 14.
With no flight departing from nearby Gate 12, there was plenty of seating and a fairly relaxed mood at the gate. I was surprised to see the crew still sitting at the gate at the designated boarding time, and realized this meant it was unlikely we would have an on-time departure.
Boarding lanes were clearly marked, and there were plenty of gate staff preparing for boarding. Around 30 minutes before departure, boarding commenced, which would usually be late for a wide-body Boeing 787 Dreamliner. However, with a lightly loaded flight, boarding was completed quickly.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="26" tpg-rating-max="30" configuration="3" configuration-2="3" configuration-3="3" width="18" pitch="32" lavs="3" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
All passengers boarded through the same door. I walked through the business-class cabin, which featured Oman Air's excellent Apex Suites.
I continued down to Row 25, where my window seat was.
First impressions of the cabin were good: The plane felt new and fresh, and I liked the teal color scheme. Legroom was a respectable 32 inches.
The tray table folded down into two sizes.
There were power points and USB charging at each seat.
As boarding completed, the two seats next to me remained empty.
For an overnight flight, this was a godsend and allowed me to actually lie down and sleep flat, making a surprisingly comfortable poor man's business class. Frustratingly, the armrest at the window would not be raised, but the three pillows left on my three seats were able to cover this up.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="38" tpg-rating-max="40" screen="9" live-tv="No" tailcam="Yes" headphones="Yes" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Waiting for me on my seat was a thin, Oman Air-branded pillow and a similarly thin blanket.
There was also the standard safety card, inflight magazine, duty-free guide and sick bag.
I really liked the large, crisp touchscreens on the back of each seat, which could be used from gate to gate.
There were dozens of both movies and television shows -- plenty to keep me entertained on this relatively short overnight flight.
One slight hiccup: The headphones I was provided with were broken. I could have asked for a replacement but preferred to use my own, higher-quality earbuds, so this wasn't a big issue.
Crew came through the cabin shortly after takeoff and handed out small amenity kits to all economy-class passengers. This is a real sign of a premium airline.
Inside were sleep socks, a high-quality eye mask, comb/brush and headphones.
I checked our the bathrooms, which were a standard size and layout for a 787 Dreamliner and kept clean and well-stocked throughout the flight.
Wi-Fi was also available on this flight but as sleep was the top priority, I didn't try it out.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="11" tpg-rating-max="15" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-meal="2" meals-purchase="No" comp-alcohol="Yes" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
There were two meal services on this overnight flight of under seven hours. There was a full dinner service immediately after takeoff and a light snack before landing.
Crew first came around with a drinks and snacks run and happily served me both wine and water at the same time.
Within an hour of take-off there was a choice of three main courses for dinner: roasted fillet of coal fish with lemon sauce, served with sauteed vegetables, steamed white and wild rice; seared chicken with kapsa sauce, served with yellow basmati rice, sauteed green beans and onion; or paneer in tomato gravy and moon dal masala with green pea pulao.
I chose the seared chicken.
The cling film on the starter bean salad did look a little messy, but it tasted great, as did the chicken, which had some nice spice to it. The only disappointing part of dinner was the dessert -- the apple crumble did not contain the advertised vanilla sauce, which meant it was quite dry and dense.
Another drinks round was offered with the main meal, with tea and coffee offered afterward.
Around 90 minutes before landing (and barely four hours after departure) came a snack of a chicken pastry and a small muffin.
While I wasn't particularly hungry, I tried both, and they tasted great.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="9" tpg-rating-max="10" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" blurb="After a rough start at check-in, the crew on-board crew were fantastic." /]
The crew were absolutely fantastic on this flight. I was addressed as "sir" in every single interaction, and nothing was too much trouble. They seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs and were smiling the entire flight.
I laid my bed across the three seats and tried to get some sleep as quickly as possible after the meal service had concluded, as most other passengers did. I slept fairly well but awoke once or twice feeling quite thirsty. I looked around and saw that while I was sleeping the crew had lowered half of the tray table near my feet and placed two bottles of water on there for me.
I drank one of the bottles and went back to sleep. I woke again a few hours later for the second meal service and saw they had replaced the bottle I drank with another bottle, without even being asked. This is the sort of service I would hope for in business class but wouldn't expect in economy.
We landed a few minutes early and disembarked to the beautiful new Muscat Airport terminal.
I really liked Oman Air. Though its not as well-known as its Middle Eastern neighbors, it provided a really excellent economy-class experience. Had the check-in agent not been so unpleasant, the overall experience would have been much better
I realize it's not typical to have three economy seats to yourself and be able to lie down properly even in an upright position, but the Oman Air economy experience was about as good as economy class gets. Short overnight flights can be tricky and uncomfortable, but I arrived feeling rested, comfortable and satisfied.
Oman Air has a very limited route network, mostly connecting Europe with Asia via its hub in Muscat. Given that its Dreamliner planes have the range to fly much, much farther than this, I would love to see the airline expand its route network to North America and Australia.
All photos by the author.