Served splendidly on the ground

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Gulf Air has unveiled its brand new “Falcon Gold” lounge at London Heathrow Airport – the first of three such lounges in which the airline is investing as part of the delivery of its promise. The new lounge illustrates just how important service on the ground has become to the airline. It also features the airline’s new branding and is generally a very pleasing experience. Jo Murray was there

Gulf Air, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, has officially opened its new, premium “Falcon Gold” lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 4. The expansive 6,500ft2 lounge combines contemporary design and architecture with Arabic influences given is Bahraini heritage.

The open plan design of the lounge’s architecture gives a sense of space and freedom with the central area featuring a bar surrounded by business, dining and lounging facilities. There are also TV areas and private rooms.

What is important, says John Tighe, Senior Manager Product at Gulf Air, is that the Heathrow lounge makes a statement on the ground. To this end, there are features throughout the lounge that subtly whisper the new Gulf Air branding which is being rolled out throughout the ground services aspect of the airline into the aircraft interiors themselves. What the lounge does not do is bombard the passenger with logos and advertising that perpetually “sell” the airline’s services to the passenger.

The Heathrow lounge is a subtle experience that cleverly achieves its aim of making Gulf Air’s statement to premium passengers on the ground. This statement – through branding – is gradually being rolled out throughout the fleet as new aircraft and new interiors come on stream, After all, let’s not forget that a lounge takes shape relatively quickly – in this case three or four months from commencement of the work – whereas rebranding a fleet through new interiors is a highly expensive and ongoing business.

At present, Gulf Air operates twice daily into London Heathrow – once in the morning and again in the evening. This leaves plenty of scope for exploring revenue-earning opportunities for the lounge. For the first month of operation, Gulf Air has reserved exclusive use of the lounge for its own premium passengers. After this period of exclusivity, other airline’s premium passengers are likely to be invited in. Tighe confirms that meetings with other airlines are taking place to explore ways in which the lounge can be enjoyed to the maximum. Again, the light touch of the branding exercise will assist in encouraging in other airlines’ clientele.

Tighe concedes that the original intention of the lounge was to create the right environment for Gulf Air passengers but the revenue-earning potential of the lounge is clear and is likely to be explored.

The lounge at London Heathrow is “a joy”, as Tighe puts it. This is largely a consequence of what is outside the lounge as what is inside it. The view from the lounge is magnificent. There are superb views over the runway and apron through a 4m high glass wall. The lounge also offers a fully equipped business centre comprising computers, printers, fax and other office support functions. There is wi-fi throughout the lounge, plush furniture, a central area lit with moonlighting that changes with the light of the day and a self-service buffet. A prayer room, wash rooms and showers, private, family rooms, baby change facilities, secure lockers and Illy Café counter complete the line up of facilities.

Gulf Air Chief Executive Office, Samer Majal, says: “The opening of the lounge is further an example of our commitment to invest in the UK market and our focus on improving our products and services.

“Passengers these days, particularly premium passengers, have become more discerning. With time increasingly at a premium, lounges are no longer just a place to wait for flights or transit spots between connections; premium passengers look for functionality as well as comfort. The new lounge caters to this.”

He continues: “As we keep improving ourselves in our customer service on the ground, we will continue to add more features and facilities in the air as well so that our premium customers enjoy a consistently enhanced experience throughout their journey.”

But the Heathrow lounge is one of three new facilities being established by the airline. The new Bahrain lounge will be larger although it will not have the same magnificent views as the Heathrow one. The Dubai lounge is a light and airy space but smaller than the other two. However, all three will deliver the same ambience and Arabian hospitality.

The three lounges are very much part of Gulf Air’s overall strategy in terms of organisation, fleet and routes. One of the prime objectives of Gulf Air is to connect Bahrain to Middle East countries and the rest of the world. As such, the airline operates one of the largest networks in the Middle East with non-stop flights, while providing seamless onward connections to other international destinations. The airline’s network stretches from Europe to Asia, connecting 47 cities in 30 countries, with a fleet of 34 aircraft.

In tune with the Kingdom’s economic blue print, “Vision 2030”, Gulf Air’s strategy is to build an efficient, commercially sustainable and dynamic airline. The strategy focuses on three core areas: a targeted, more focused international network; a superior, more consistent product; and a modern, more efficient fleet that will optimise value.

As Majal points out, everyone is interested in a more prosperous and stronger Bahrain and Gulf Air is part of that. The keys to this are commercial stability and high levels of service quality, he says. That is why, Gulf Air has invested significant in human resources training as well as in hardware – that is fleet renewal.

Majal talks of his pride in everyone who has brought the lounge projects to fruition. This includes John Park Associates (JPA), the design consultancy responsible for the look and feel of the lounge. The consultancy explains that the design of the Heathrow lounge has been inspired by Bahrain’s long history of pearl fishing and the Kingdom’s reputation as the “Pearl of the Gulf”. JPA also reiterates that the lounge reflects and reinforces Gulf Air’s corporate identity, providing continuity with the interior design of the airline’s aircraft.

Whatever might be said of the lounge in terms of concepts and design imperatives, the result is that Gulf Air – under guidance from JPA – has achieved what might seem impossible: an oasis of calm at one of the world’s busiest hub airports. Instead of hiding the activity on the ramp, the designer has brought the apron inside and yet distilled it into something therapeutic and charming. A true feat of  engineering.