Sunday, September 16, 2012

The best beef tapsilog in the sky on Gulf Air

Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
Exactly two Fridays ago, I was at this airport, pictured above. I was in Israel and on my way back to the Philippines just in time to host a dinner for some overseas visitors.

My 27-hour journey from Tel Aviv to Manila via three countries began in this lovely airport with interesting photos and posters on the wall: Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.

It's not normally this long a journey to Israel from the Philippines, by the way. From Bangkok, for example, there's a direct El Al flight to Israel in just over ten hours.

But before getting to Israel, I wanted to pass by Jordan to finally see Petra, and to take a great flat bed flight to the Middle East on Gulf Air.

THE LONG ROAD HOME


Everything was fine on the way to Israel from the Philippines, as I broke my trip in Amman. But it certainly took way longer on the way back.

From Tel Aviv, I took one of the world's most expensive flights on a per-minute basis to Amman, Jordan. It's a 20-minute flight on Royal Jordanian Airlines that cost me about the same price as a flight from Manila to Tokyo.

THE SAME COST 
AS A BARGAIN EUROPE TICKET

If I was really bargain-hunting and lucky, I could have found a ticket from Manila to Europe for about the same price. That's how expensive it was. But that's what happens when consumers have few choices. In this case, this is about the only flight to Tel Aviv originating in the Middle East.



NO LUCK IN JORDAN

In Amman, I was hoping to get out of the airport as I had a really long wait. But no such luck as the original visa I was given was a single-entry, and so I was stuck in the Royal Jordanian Airlines lounge for nine whole hours.

I was on business class on Gulf Air for my next flight, but I was only entitled to use the lounge three hours in advance, even if I had arrived in Amman on a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight -- and I had a pretty high frequent flier status on One World Alliance to boot. Royal Jordanian Airlines is a member of the One World Alliance.

But none of these mattered. So, to use the lounge in advance of my three-hour entitlement, I had to pay something like US$45 extra to the Royal Jordanian lounge guys.

NINE HOURS OF CUCUMBERS



The lounge infrastructure itself isn't too bad, but I was surprised that there wasn't any decent food all throughout lunch and dinner. Just some light snacks and nothing filling and hot. No sign of rice, pasta or something to keep hunger at bay. So all I had were cucumber slices and cups of peppermint tea for nine hours.



OTHER OPTIONS

Of course, there are always the fastfood joints in the departure terminal itself. But if you're like me, once you've set yourself up in a corner of the lounge with the computer plugged in and all, you don't exactly want to walk down to the crowded terminal just to get a greasy chicken or a burger with extenders at a fastfood joint.



LINKING UP ON TWITTER

As a consumer going hungry in the home base lounge of an airline of decent repute, I was sufficiently incensed to look Royal Jordanian Airlines up on Twitter and to complain about the food in the lounge. "You should have better food in your lounge," I tweeted them.



They answered me with apologies in a matter of minutes -- that was impressive -- but still no changes in the food: greasy chicken, tasteless fried potato balls, and bowls of cut-up vegetables with a bottle of olive oil on the side. The latter was supposed to be a salad bar.

Scroll down to read about some pretty good food in the sky...



NO EXCUSES

I usually put up with most things in airline lounges because I don't eat or drink much in them. I just use them for the WiFi and the comfortable seats vis-a-vis the hard plastic chairs elsewhere in the public areas.

But when the lounge is in the home base of an airline, there really is no excuse to have at least a couple of decent things to eat. Or maybe it's just me and my aversion to greasy chicken and potato balls.

I love Jordan. But their national airline can sure spruce up their lounge catering.

FINALLY, SOME REAL FOOD

Gulf Air
Anyway, not soon enough, I boarded my 9 PM Gulf Air flight from Amman to Bahrain. I wasn't as lucky as on the way over (Bahrain-Amman), as my jet this time didn't have the flat beds in business class for the 2.5 hour flight.

Still, I was in Seat 1A of a short-haul so I was really just being spoiled and tired from waiting nine hours in an airport lounge. It was perfectly okay not to have a flat bed on the 2.5 hour flight.

On most flights, everyone in business is given a device similar to an iPad
to watch movies and play games on.
This is in addition to the WiFi in the sky.


And dinner on board Gulf Air made up for the lack of flat beds. I was too busy eating to sleep.

As I've already written on this blog, the meal on Gulf Air from Manila to the Middle East was okay but I wouldn't call it among my favorites. But everything I ate originating out of Gulf Air's Middle East catering facilities was just plain delicious.

GREAT ARABIC DINNERS

Gulf Air's flat bed infrastructure on Manila-Bahrain
I'm posting the photos here.

The Arabic mezze samplers to start were all very good, and the main courses were excellent as well.

And from Bahrain to Manila, I was just so knocked out by the long wait in Amman and all, that I drank a glass of sparkling water and then I got into my pajamas, pushed the buttons for the flat bed, and slept for seven straight hours.

Yup, very uncharacteristic of me -- but, this time, not even the thought of WiFi in the sky could keep me awake.

Gulf Air's Falcon Lounge in Bahrain
Besides, I'd already had a proper dinner at the Gulf Air lounge in Bahrain. As in real food, finally. A very decent choice of rice and chicken stew, pasta, other Middle Eastern dishes and a really good salad bar. It wasn't Michelin-star food, but I had absolutely no complaints here.

Scroll down to read more...



So instead I'd ordered my dinner on the Bahrain-Manila flight for when I woke up, and the British butler on board -- if you can call him a butler -- promptly brought me my dinner-breakfast as soon as I stirred from the bed. Again, delicious Arabic mezze as a starter.

Arabic mezze to start on every Gulf Air flight in the Middle East.
This was Amman-Bahrain.
This was the Arabic mezze starter from Bahrain to Manila.
And then midway I changed my mind about the fish main course for dinner and decided to go ahead to a breakfast main course of Filipino fare.

Everyone in business class had had dinner and then breakfast, you see, and it was only I who had skipped dinner in favor of sleep.

THE BEST BEEF TAPSILOG
IN THE SKY

The best beef tapsilog
Wow. This was just about the best beef tapsilog I had had in a very long time. Excellent. I would have had two servings if I could. But pretty soon, we were landing and I realized I had just effortlessly and deliciously made the crossing to Manila from the Middle East.

My main course, Amman to Bahrain

Dessert, Amman to Bahrain

My plane landed on time, and two hours later, I was dressed up for a night out and at a restaurant hosting a dinner for friends, exactly as scheduled. A pretty eventful 27 hours through four countries for most people, but just another day in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




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