Aircraft Type: 787-9
Class: Business Class
Date: March 2019
After our outbound trip in Oman Air’s outstanding First Class product, it was time to return home and give the equally impressive Business Class a run for its money. While the Apex Suite is a seasoned favourite for many travellers, it is interesting to see how this seat and the airline’s cabin had been brought to life by Seattle-based design studio Teague.
Positioned as a boutique carrier based in the Middle East, Oman Air continues to push the envelope when it comes to the passenger experience. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to experience this intimate 787-9 business class cabin. After all, Teague took inspiration from Oman’s rich heritage and modern hospitality, and with the smallest of details, elevated the experience beyond just a comfortable hard product. You could see the meticulous detail with virtually every element, and the result… a residential feel to each suite, designed in collaboration with Collins Aerospace.
On the Ground
While we will go in to the lounge in greater detail in a later post, it is suffice to say the carrier has benefitted hugely from the new terminal it operates from in Muscat.
In the terminal, there is a dedicated check in zone, separated from the rest of the check in area, exclusive to Business Class and First Class passengers with Oman Air. Situated behind some very discreet glass doors is a huge check in area that features armchairs, dedicated personnel and a fast track access to the security channel, but considering so many passengers connect through the airport, the whole area was deserted.
The whole check-in process was effortless and very discreet, matching the demographic of First Class & Business Class passengers who value their privacy. We were escorted to the lounge, which took all of 5 minutes from arrival to walking in the terminal.
Stay tuned for our report on the lounge, which was in itself a wonderland of ornate gold fretwork, fine champagnes and luxurious rich finishes. It’s the perfect way to start a flight, with the First Class lounge being both incredibly quiet, and perfectly private.
While our first class experience ended in the lounge this time, 45 minutes before departure we were able to enjoy priority boarding and quickly boarded their latest aircraft’s 787-9 Business Class cabin. It’s split in to two mini cabins each only two seats deep. One to the forward of the entry door, and the other behind.
On entry, you can see the similar ornate detailing that adorns the First Class cabin, but in a more understated, utilitarian approach. The most impressive first impression of the cabin is its intimacy. Unlike its ME3 competitors which features A380s with a sea of business class seats, this small cabin feels exclusive and perfectly formed. It’s a psychological result, but you feel a lot more valued in a smaller business class cabin than in those larger never-ending cabins.
The entrance way features a similar graphic motif of the Omani arches that decorate in the First Class in a 3D relief. It’s a subtle detail, but the walls, monuments and bulkheads all feature a unique intricate interwoven pattern that softens the physical walls and adds texture.
The only splash of colour can be found in the curtains that conceal the galley. There’s an intricate fabric, which features 3D weaving to increase depth and texture, which offsets the often plastic feel to these cabins.
The seats feature in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, although realistically, they are 2 x 2 x 2, but due to the staggered nature of the suites on the window sides of the cabin, every seat features aisle-access.
The suite features a very sophisticated sandy-grey and rich leather brown colour scheme for the seat, offset with a simple cream and deep grey finish on the shell that adds a visual weight to the cabin, drawing the eye down, and away from the dividing walls between the seat, and focussing the attention to the seat and TV screens.
The Apex Suites is one of our favourites for good reason. They are forward facing, incredibly wide, don’t feature a restrictive footwell and allow for every passenger to access the aisle. While either enjoying privacy due to an electronic divider or virtually sitting next to a travelling companion, it’s a versatile product too.
Its versatility is one of the reasons it scores so highly with us, however, it does have a couple of small flaws. Firstly, from a LOPA perspective, it takes up a large footprint in the cabin, reducing the amount of seats a carrier could fit in to a similar space, and from a passenger’s perspective, it lacks the storage and table surface area that makes for a practical business class seat (although the aisle seats – excluding the middle pair – feature a mini side table storage by the shoulder).
However, these are just minor gripes, mostly offset by Oman Air’s often bargain fares in the business class cabin, far undercutting its neighbouring competitors on certain routes at certain times of the year.
The seat is well padded, and the diamond stitch pattern is incredibly attractive. The ergonomically positioned seat controls, huge screen and forward facing nature makes these luxuriously appointed seats, so much so most refer to them as suites.
Of course in comparison to the airlines’ First Class cabin, the seats are a little narrower, and certainly don’t feature doors, but its not to detract from what is one of the best business class hard products in the sky. Regarding which seat to choose, it really doesn’t matter, they are all equally good, although the front row will benefit from the most privacy due to lack of footfall, and being furthest away from the galley.
The Food and Drink
The service follows a similar style to that of First Class, with a warm nut and drink service to start with including Laurent-Perrier champagne, one of our all-time favourite pours, which is served waiter-style, at the seat.
Being a late night departure, many guests had already eaten in the lounge, so many guests were already asleep. What’s nice is that the cabin lights aren’t raised for the food service, meaning that for those sleeping, it’s not disrupted by bright lights on a fairly short red-eye.
The dinner is also a relatively light dish, with a toasted steak sandwich being my option, but there were kebabs and sweet potato soup that could also be chosen from. Being a ‘dine any time’ concept, these could also have been served at any time during the flight.
The main meal was breakfast which included a full, proper service including starter, main course and teas, coffees, hot towels etc.
What is truly amazing about the service is the tableware, it’s some of the finest plates and most stylish cutlery I’ve ever seen. The geometric salt and pepper shakers are also little works of art in their own right, and the linens used are beautifully pressed. The attention to detail is exceptional.
The service started with warmed selection of breads, which were full of flavour, not soggy or too hard from being left in the aircraft atmosphere too long which dries out bread super fast.
What followed was a breakfast appetiser. I went for the smoked salmon and kingfish, which was delightfully rich and to be honest, huge. This would have been enough it its own right, however, we also selected the main course of scrambled eggs and chicken kofta, which was so moreish we ended up stuffed just before landing.
The service was relatively quick, maximising sleep time, and served about 1.45 before landing. It truly was an exceptional food service, and the airline offered a wide range of wines and champagne too which reflect’s the carrier’s ambition to truly excel throughout the passenger experience touch-points.
Considering the galley was directly in front of us, we never heard any commotion, talking, or crashing of plates, which showcases the airline’s training, although the end result was in the courteous, always smiling staff who brought the hard product to life. Even after heading to the toilet between courses to change, I returned to a perfectly re-folded napkin. It’s elements like this which are hard to replicate when catering for 70+ business class passengers.
Like the First Class trip, Aria serves a wealth of movies and TV shows, and while they might not have the biggest library, there’s certainly enough to keep you entertained on a 6-7 hour flight. Their longest flights are sub 10 hours, so there’s not the need to provide a huge catalogue.
The screen itself was large, and as you are sat so far back from it, it ends up being a respectful size to view, although an extra couple of inches wouldn’t hurt. The whole system is powered by a handheld controller that is akin to a smartphone.
The GUI (user interface) is beautiful too, with sweeping landscapes reflecting the physical incarnation of the rolling mountains of Oman and desert tones. It’s a symbiotic digital and hard product relationship that is executed perfectly.
The airline also offers a range of printed materials, including the somewhat dated Wings of Oman magazine, although this still needs a lift to bring it up to the same level of the rest of the branded environment.
There are also decent headphones which are noise cancelling, but nothing really to write home about.
The airline offers substantial pillows, a large comfortable thick blanket (but no separate bedding) slippers, pyjamas – which are becoming more and more a rarity in business class – and a great Amouage amenity kit.
The amenity kit included a range of Amouage lotions, lip balms etc, a dental kit, hairbrush/comb, socks, eye mask, and even a shaving kit.
Throughout the flight, there were hot towels pre and post each meal, which were a levelly addition, which reflects Oman Air’s intricate but perfectly formed service concept.
Oman Air Business Class is one of the world’s leading products, sure it’s easier to be able to provide a more personal attentive product when the cabins feature just 24 seats, but its this smaller boutique approach that it the airline’s winning formula. The hard product is hard to beat, with spacious, non-restrictive seats, long comfortable beds and privacy. But it’s the dining and soft product that makes this airline one of the top carriers when it comes to selecting a one-stop carrier through the Middle East. It’s hard to fault the product, and with business class being this good, it does question whether you’d ever need to pay for First Class, but then again, if you have the money…. why not.