Flight Report : LX 243 Muscat - Dubai
31 December 2019

Peak seasons such as Christmas, Easter, and Chinese New Year are a head-ache. Despite a trade war and ongoing pro-democracy protests, Hong Kongers' desire to travel remains strong. As usual, the typical regional destinations become super expensive and not worth the big premium.

So I was very surprised when my persistent internet scan found a super cheap deal to Dubai on Emirates 2 weeks before Christmas. Emirates flies 3x a day to Dubai, which includes multiple A380 flights. Perhaps they had a lot of seats to fill, so they need to discount heavily? At HKD $2950, it was cheaper than going to Japan, even though the flight time is more than double.

However, I've extensively covered Dubai before, so I set my eyes on another exotic destination within close range, Oman. The search engine also came up with an interesting option for Dubai - Muscat, Swiss. Not sure why this routing came up, I searched the airport and airline websites and noticed this interesting 5th freedom that I had never thought of before. The other alternatives, Emirates, Oman Air, or a low-cost carrier were all more expensive. With late evening departures for both the outbound and inbound as well as free checked luggage, the HKD $1400 ticket was a bargain and fitted right into my driving itinerary.

LX 243 Muscat - Dubai, 31 December

Satisfied with my day of dolphin watching, historical sights, and beach sunset in Muscat, I headed to the airport way too early for my midnight flight back to Oman. The trade-off for a good fare is an awful departure time, although it allows a full day of sightseeing in the city well into the evening. The drive from Al Khuwair to the airport was only about 20 minutes in good traffic. With my rental car returned, I had plenty of time left to explore the new airport which just opened in 2018.

Arriving 4 hours before my flight, check-in had not yet opened. Strolling around the departures area, I noticed a huge crowd gathering around the India flight counters, and staff needed to cordon off some areas as holding pens. The airport's size is actually quite modest with only several rows of check-in counters, but the vertical space was ample.

Notice flights to Doha are still on. Oman hasn't blockaded Qatar like much of the region.

While there were a few automated check-in kiosks, the vast majority were the traditional counters. At one end of the terminal, I noticed an automated kiosk for fines. I wonder if these are for visa overstayers?

With an hour left before check-in opens and a busy departures hall, I went to a surprisingly unknown location for some quiet time. That is one level down from departures, which the signs label as a "food court". However, don't expect much in terms of food options here. Tim Horton's is the most visible choice, and next to it are many chairs, couches, and tables with barely anyone around. What a great hidden space.

2 hours 50 minutes before departure, I saw that Swiss' check-in counters were open at row F. Heading back upstairs, I didn't see the computer screens show their logos or the flight details, but a steady stream of European travelers were lined up ready to check in. It appears their systems did not work so we waited about 20 minutes before they were able to open 2 counters to process us. The signs only started showing the airline's logo when I left 45 minutes later.

The airport experience would quickly fall underground from here on. There was a long line for immigration and with many India flights leaving at night, the crowds persisted. People tried to sneak around wide bends as the line snaked around, and it didn't help the passenger ahead of me had lice-like creatures crawling around his backpack.

Once the immigration bottleneck cleared, security was relatively faster. Emerging air-side, there were plenty of modern duty-free shops and a few fast food options. A huge children's play area was next to the food court, but the dining area's facilities didn't seem frequently cleaned.

After grabbing a quick fast food bite for dinner, I explored the other shopping options to be inspired for some souvenirs. Dates are quite popular in this part of the Middle East, and pairings with orange peels and pistachios are quite interesting.

There seem to be plenty of gates at this airport, and my flight would depart from the relatively empty A pier. The spacious design reminded me of Doha's new airport, and I relaxed quietly in the nice lounge chairs next to my gate until my delayed inbound plane arrived.

The gate's official waiting area is actually downstairs, and I needed to go through the boarding pass scanning first. The crowd looked quite thin, so I was quite reassured it would be a good short flight into Dubai tonight at the front of Economy.

More photos of Muscat's airport : click here

Swiss has a very short turnaround in Muscat of only an hour, so when the inbound arrived late, the downstream effect became more acute. Doors to the airbridge only opened shortly after midnight, but with light loading, we were pretty much all settled down quickly with many rows of empty seats. Each seat had a pillow, blanket, and headphones.

Announcements were made in English and German and we were off the gate about 15 minutes late for the short 45 minute flight to Dubai.

There wasn't enough time to do much with the IFE, so I turned my attention to the paper reading materials, noticing the duty-free catalogue had more premium items fit for this airline's image.

The CS100, or A220, joined Swiss in 2016. They were the first airline to operate this new aircraft type.

Too bad both the inbound and outbound flights were at night. The scenery would have been quite interesting during the day.

Shortly after the seat belt sign went off, the beverage cart came and I happily received a drink and a big bag of biscuits.

I wonder when will these thick duty-free catalogues be digitized, which will take a lot of weight off the plane and save plenty of fuel.

All the discussion about Switzerland offers a happy reminder of my epic 2-week trip to the country in 2017. I also transited in the UAE for that trip.

Flying is not the most environmental form of transport, but is it truly possible to make it sustainable? There has been a lot of talk of using biofuels over the years, but unfortunately not much has changed for the better. Yet it is unfathomable to think we will fly less and less as a collective group of middle class and above.

While this journey is on the A330, I hope I can get to try their A340 one day. This jet model is becoming a rarity in the skies over the Western world.

Their A220 fleet has gotten quite sizeable for regional operations.

Not long later, the flight deck announced we were descending into Dubai, finally arriving just shy of 1:20, still on-time. This qwerky fifth freedom flight would continue on from Dubai to Zurich.

Passengers continuing to Zurich were reminded by the crew to stay on board during the stopover. Surprisingly, a lot of people got off with me here, perhaps taking advantage of the bargain basement fare compared to even the low-cost carriers. I took a peek at the waiting lounge on arrival and it seemed not many were joining the next leg of the flight either. Terminal 1 was also quiet at this hour and all passengers need to take a long train ride to the main facilities. Frequencies at this hour was every 4 minutes.

Many staff were on hand at the immigration area to direct the crowds, and it seems all foreign passengers were going to 1 line regardless of VoA or not. Processing was slow even though there was nobody in line when our train's group arrived. With short stopovers in Dubai to and from my Oman trip, the officer asked a few questions, even down to the detail of which terminal I arrived from in my last visit. This bottleneck also meant that the luggage wait in the next stage wouldn't be so long.

It was a quick walk out to land-side and to the taxi stand bound for my hotel. Swiss offers a solid hard and soft product which was more than enough for such a short flight. The crew were friendly and professional although the IFE selection may not be enough for longer intercontinental flights. When heading to Oman from Dubai, keep them in mind for a good deal rather than flying low-cost.

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