Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A330 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air Business Class Lounge, MCT
Oman Air E175 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
Cathay Pacific Arrivals Lounge HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN
I realise the phrase “Worst. Airline. Ever” is thrown around with reckless abandon these days. Everyone will have their own opinion about what constitutes “worst”, and even good airlines have bad days.
So when I say Oman Air is the “worst airline ever”, I simply mean to say that based on my experience I’d never fly with them again. I’m sure other people will have great experiences with the carrier. I don’t doubt that some people have come off a flight and said “wow, best flight ever.” But that’s not me. And if you gave me a choice between Oman Air and Air India…well I’d have to think about it and get back to you.
After a long layover in Muscat, I was finally ready to board my onward flight to Dubai. The Oman Air lounge had been a complete non-event, but at least I was finally off to Dubai to enjoy all the best that man-made attractions had to offer. Or so I thought.
The initial boarding went smoothly- Muscat Airport does not have aerobridges (but the new and improved one will), so all passengers need to be bused to the plane. Priority boarding was announced and observed (although all passengers were taken on the same bus, which kind of defeats the purpose of priority boarding), and eventually the bus pulled to a stop infront of an Embraer E175 that was being refuelled and loaded. I didn’t know it at the time but my bag was one of those which, despite a 5 hour layover, would not “arrive in time” to make this flight. But more on that anon.
Oman Air’s E175s are configured 1-2 in business class and 2-2 in economy, much like the Q400 I flew on with Ethiopian Airlines. The aircraft seats 71 passengers and was completely full today.
What’s interesting is that Oman Air has 4 such aircraft up for sale, and they’ve posted some interesting technical documents about each of the aircraft right down to the brand of IFE system, ADC, Inertial Reference Unit and all other technical details that make AVGeeks have big boy feelings in their pants.
The 11 business class seats are comfortable enough for a flight that’s blocked at just over one hour. They’re standard recliner stuff, although there’s no footrest.
If you’re travelling by yourself you’ll obviously prefer the solo seat at the side, but otherwise the couple seats on the port side of the aircraft will do. Seats are manufactured by C&D Zodiac. The spec sheet I referred to earlier claims that they have in seat power but I wasn’t able to find the plug.
I was also surprised to see that Oman Air had bothered installing an IFE system on these aircraft. The Thales I4500 IFE system is used (really getting a lot of mileage off these technical docs!), with AVOD.
Each seat had a pair of headphones in plastic wrap waiting. The headphones had an on/off switch which led me to think they were noise cancelling, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t.
As we sat on the tarmac waiting for boarding to complete, the crew came around to serve drinks and cold towels. Oman doesn’t serve alcohol in the air during Ramadan, so lemonade was the next best option.
So we sat. And we waited. And waited. It was now 10 minutes past the scheduled departure time and there was no discernible progress. Finally the doors closed, and the captain came on the PA to apologise for the delay. He mentioned there was a problem with the A/C but it had been resolved.
But as we sat there waiting to taxi, the A/C unit started blowing hot desert air into the cabin. It soon got insufferably hot. The captain came on the PA again to say that they’d need more time to fix the A/C and the doors opened again. Maintenance crew came on board, paperwork was exchanged, still nothing happened.
After 30 minutes they finally made the decision to switch aircraft. But the procedure for doing this was so botched it wasn’t even funny. First, everyone had to disembark and head back to the terminal. We got dropped off at the arrivals/transit area. The problem was, there was no Oman Air rep present at the terminal to receive us, so no one had any idea where to go or what gate to wait at.
Everyone sort of adopted the herd mentality and followed the guy in front, and we all had to reclear security. Just around there is the transit counters, so we went to speak to the Oman Air staff there who had no idea what was going on. It was becoming very clear that there was no SOP for incidents like this, which you think should be foreseeable enough for an SOP to be developed. Finally one of them got on a radio and told us to go to a particular gate.
And yes, you guessed it, when we tried to get there we found the only access point was closed off. That led one particularly agitated South African man to storm to the lounge and demand that someone from Oman Air deal with this properly. More calls were made, and finally someone escorted us downstairs to the new gate where…the gate staff told us that we had the wrong gate.
Things were positively Kafkaesque by now, and many people had split off from the main group and were now wandering around the terminal aimlessly. Through some sheer force of will the flight eventually got relisted on the departure screen, and after another hour boarding started again from a different gate with an aircraft swap. I’m fairly sympathetic towards aircraft technical problems, but not so much to general incompetence which was on full display by the ground staff.
The flight eventually took off more than 2 hours behind schedule. The crew were pleasant enough and apologetic, but the fact of the matter remains that they were let down by an airline with extremely inadequate SOPs.
Once airborne, a meal was served on this very short flight. There were no menu cards, just a question of whether I wanted the Western or Non-Western option. I guess that hamburger meat with rice counts as Non- Western.
And to show that they were not entirely without a sense of humour, the crew distributed Fast Track immigration cards for Dubai.
We landed in Dubai but little did I realise my ordeal was far from over. I count myself fortunate that I have never had a bag misplaced in my many years of flying. I still think, given the systems and technology we have in place, it actually takes more effort to misplace a bag than to handle it properly.
Of course, Oman Air is especially gifted at doing the impossible, and after a 30 minute wait at the carousel it became increasingly clear that I would now have to quickly educate myself on lost luggage procedure. This is why you always keep this tag handy, kids.
Most airlines will normally station a ground services representative at the belt to deal with any luggage issues that arise. Most airlines are not Oman Air. I had to find the dnata luggage handling office and file a “property irregularity report”. The process was fairly quick, and I had the all-important PIR, a document I hope none of you will ever need to see.
Most airlines will normally disburse immediately a certain amount of compensation for passengers with misplaced luggage to buy clothes, toiletries, that sort of thing. Again, most airlines are not Oman Air. The dnata staff said that I’d have to contact the airline separately about this, and surprise surprise, no Oman Air staff were to be found in the airport.
My bag was eventually returned to me, in Dubai, about 30 hours after it was first reported missing. During this time, I spent about US$300 on clothes, shoes and toiletries. Now opinions will differ, but this was to me a reasonable amount given the high retail prices in Dubai. I mean, I bought Giordano underwear and Colgate toothpaste. I bought shoes from Payless. The most expensive item was probably a Banana Republic polo T at $50.
So began the long and arduous process of contacting Oman Air to get compensation. The first order of business was to file a claim with DirectAsia, who I always use for travel insurance. That would require a letter from the airline certifying the mishandling. After many unanswered calls and emails and the awesome intervention of the Ritz Carlton concierge in Bangalore, I finally got this-
With the wrong name and wrong flight number. I’m not quite sure how that can happen, given that they had all my details in front of them. They also wrongly stated the return time about 6 hours before the bag actually reached me. My first instinct was that it was deliberate in order to avoid having to pay out additional compensation, but after their refusal to pay out any compensation at all (see below) I concluded that I should not ascribe to malice that which could be explained by incompetence.
It took much more back and forth and talking with an Oman Air rep I swear had difficulty understanding basic English (at one point she sent me the Word doc version of the letter and asked me to make the changes myself, which I gladly obliged) but it got done.
Now, you’d imagine that for a 30 hour bag delay some compensation would be in order. But Oman Air kept insisting that since I had been issued a travel insurance letter they had no need to compensate me. I tried to explain to them the fact that a passenger having travel insurance was completely independent from the fact that the airline mishandled a bag for 30 hours, but they simply would not budge. “We are unable to do anything for you”, was the response. I told them that all other airlines would have positioned someone at the luggage claim ready to issue some emergency funds to cover clothes and toiletries should a bag not arrive. “We are unable to do anything for you” was the response.
Where it got strange, though, is that although customer service refused to pay for the clothes and toiletries, they offered to pay for one night’s hotel stay because of the flight delay. I can’t wrap my mind around why the airline thought a couple of hour’s flight delay deserved a hotel stay whereas a 30 hour bag delay deserved nothing, but in any case the hotel came up to about US$150, or half of what I’d actually spent.
Many more unanswered emails and calls failed to resolve the situation, so in the end I took what they were offering and told them they’d never see another cent of business from me.
The situation reminded me a bit of what I encountered with Air India last year, where management claimed that the hotel offered for an 11 hour flight delay counted as “compensation”. I had to explain to them that there was a difference between taking care of delayed passengers versus compensating them for the time wasted. Oman Air is much worse in this respect, because I cannot understand how they think the airline can get off scot-free for the mess they created.
So that’s my two cents on Oman Air, a carrier that I will hopefully never have to set foot on again.