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Sail in a Dishdasha blueberry
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 11 - 06 - 2009

Amirah Ibrahim experienced a flight with a difference onboard a new Kuwaiti premium airline which provides value for a little more
The flight
Cairo International's old terminal was the meeting point for a group of air travel writers invited by Wataniya Airways area manager Maged Shinouda. "We will be divided in two groups of seven, one will fly the first class and the other will fly the premium economy. On the return flight, the two groups will exchange seats to examine the services in both categories." A bright idea that we all welcomed.
Wataniya Airways launched services in January 2009. At present the carrier operates flights to Dubai, Bahrain, Beirut, Damascus and Cairo, which operates daily. Onboard the A320, my colleague Intsar was grateful for me giving her my window seat as I preferred the aisle seat to watch the cabin crew on service.
Quickly, I moved my fingers among the buttons to enjoy my plush leather seat with 44 pitch designed by Recaro of Germany. The seat was fitted with a comprehensive personal entertainment system with a large 10.6cm touch screen, MP3 player and iPod compatibility, which I had not the time to use. In fact, the media group enjoyed exchanging remarks and views over service all the way.
Dressed in a blueberry uniform, the young flight attendant with a beautiful Asian face attracted our glances, with a big friendly smile that lasted for the entire three- hour flight. Her smile even grew larger when she received a passenger request. Strange.
The lunch menu included canapés, appetizers, entrees, desserts and refreshments up to four courses, including one vegetarian. I decided to order a shrimp meal for lunch while my neighbour ordered chicken. "Fine, I can taste her meal, she wouldn't mind," I told myself. To my disappointment, we were offered one choice, chicken, seemingly the only one in plenty. The chicken tasted nice so I enjoyed the meal.
On picking up my luggage, I noticed the annoyance of two colleagues whose bags were broken and torn, most probably due to poor baggage handling. I watched to see how the airline staff would respond, but it seemed a familiar occurence and the two colleagues received no comment.
On the return flight, I took the preferred aisle seat in economy class. While most carriers provide 145 seats for the A320, our plane featured 122 seats, 26 for first class and 96 for economy, allowing more comforts and lots of legroom. What a happy surprise for economy passengers.
I waited till the plane reached 30,000 feet and I switched my mobile on. The airline provides OnAir technology throughout the aircraft which enables passengers to send and receive e-mails, SMSs and access the internet via mobile devices. For ten minutes, my mobile device could not respond to my attempts. "Unfortunately, the system is down on this flight," replied the flight manager who came to help.
Actually, this was not the only unpleasantry about the return flight. I missed the smiling face of the previous flight attendant, being served by two attendants with an unhappy look on their Middle Eastern faces.
Two attendants were serving the 96 passengers in economy. Perhaps this could justify their poor performance in serving lunch and responding to requests by passengers who had been locked in their seats for 60 minutes waiting for attendants to remove empty food trays.
Weather turbulences added to the problem when the plane started to shake strongly several times just as the gears were released before landing. At last the plane touched the runway and I was glad the economy experience is over. My travel advice is "Fly first class, no regrets."
The airline
The silver limos picked us from Sheikh Saad terminal to Marina Hotel; we knew later it was one of the best three hotels in Kuwait. In the early morning, we had a quick breakfast at the Marina restaurant, then rushed to the airport for a meeting with airline management to get a better understanding of its business model.
While my colleagues enjoyed a welcome drink waiting for the meeting, our nice Lebanese PR manager, Mohamed Sabsouba, invited me to attend the airline's AGM, taking place in one of the halls next door. I followed him quietly and excitedly being the only Egyptian journalist invited to the assembly during which I enjoyed watching controversial discussions between shareholders and board members. One of the shareholders insisted on asking more than ten questions over details of the annual report, while the board members, gave answers. All shareholders attending the assembly were listening respectfully, with no interruptions. So sophisticated.
The media briefing then lasted for an hour with both chairman, Abdel-Salam Al-Abahar and Executive Manager George Cooper. Al-Bahar released expansion plans of Wataniya Airways topped by increasing frequency of flights to Cairo from one to two daily flights.
Both the Cairo route and Jeddah route provoked controversial dispute between Wataniya Airways and Kuwait Airlines, the later considering itself the genuine owner of operation rights on traditional and vital routes such as Cairo. Recently, Kuwait airline protested granting the newly born Wataniya Airways the right to operate regular flights to Cairo International airport.
"The fact is that the agreed quota on the Cairo-Kuwait route is 5500 seats for each side. The Kuwaiti airline has never offered more than 2000 seats, so I can't see the reasons to complain," replied Al-Bahar to a question by Al-Ahram Weekly.
As for the global credit crunch impact on business, Al-Bahar said: "Thanks to the fact that 90 per cent of Kuwaiti employment work for the government, the major customers have not come to cut their travel plans and continue to book vacations as planned. Thus, we do not expect a serious drop in demand. Besides, we have started operation during the financial crisis, and we expect the global economy to improve soon."
.. and the terminal
As the plane approached the Kuwaiti airport, lights came out of the small terminal shining in the dark to illustrate a big glass Bedouin tent lying in the desert.
To adjust itself as a distinguished airline, Wataniya Airways allocated the private Terminal of Sheikh Saad as the base for its operation from Kuwait.
"We are dedicated to extending to our guests an extraordinary travel experience that represents the Wataniya Airways "Difference" -- the ease and convenience of the Sheikh Saad Terminal is one of the important components that will help distinguish their journey with us and define a new era of pleasurable air travel to and from Kuwait for both our First Class and Premium Economy guests," said Abdulsalam Al-Bahar, Wataniya Airways Chairman.
During the 48-hour visit, we went through the terminal three times, on arriving, departing and during a media briefing held at the terminal. The last on departing was when we toured the facility and get informed on its operation and equipping.
Constructed in May 2008, the Sheikh Saad terminal is managed by Royal Aviation Company, a subsidiary of Kuwait National Airways which also owns Wataniya Airways. "The $56 millions terminal building is designed to provide premium services to travellers in an area covering 130 thousand square meters," stated Mubarak Al-Mascati, Royal Aviation Chairman.
"Considering the fact that Kuwait airport at present is operating with an overcapacity of 30 per cent, aviation authorities permitted Wataniya Airways to operate from Sheikh Saad terminal. So far, the terminal can stand operation of up to 10 daily flights by the commercial airline in addition to 6 flights by private small jets."
Located in the Subhan area of Kuwait International Airport, Sheikh Saad Terminal brings local airport accessibility to an international destination.
"The terminal boasts comprehensive services and facilities such as valet, concierge and extended hospitality services, ample shaded parking, dedicated immigration and security plus relaxing lounges with wireless internet for all passengers," Al-Mascati explained. But by next year, when Wataniya Airways' fleet expands to 7 aircrafts, the terminal will face a problem of overcapacity.
"At present we are studying a number of alternatives to handle a problem we predict in the future. Either we add a new building to the facility, which would be too costing for a BOT terminal, or we provide four tube facilities to airside, or we apply some modifications to the arrival and departure halls. We tend to favour the third," Al-Mascati explained.


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