Gulf Air hit by boycott after minister denied prized seat

Foreign minister allegedly orders travel ban after losing 1A spot in business class to another passenger
Gulf Air hit by boycott after minister denied prized seat
Bahrain foreign ministerSheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa
By Claire Ferris-Lay
Thu 19 Jan 2012 11:37 AM

Bahrain foreign minister has reportedly ordered government workers to boycott national carrier Gulf Air after he was refused his preferred seat, 1A, in business class during a recent flight.

The flag carrier, which has struggled to keep pace with rival Gulf airlines, said it was unable to give Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa his favourite spot as a full-paying customer had already booked the seat.

The incident followed the cancellation of the minister’s flight from Malaysia to Bahrain, Gulf Air said in a statement.

“Priority was given to the minister on the next available flight… [but] passengers had already been checked in. Therefore, the minister’s request for the specific seats could not be accommodated,” a spokesperson for Gulf Air said. “It is unfortunate that we were not able to meet the minister's request.”

The foreign ministry has denied the ban on travel with Gulf Air was a result of the seating dispute, instead blaming unsatisfactory service and ongoing flight delays for the boycott.

Bahrain’s US media attaché, Saqer al-Khalifa, took to Twitter to back the foreign minister.

 “I take it seriously when anyone insults a falcon, but with Gulf Air, about time someone stands up to them. Go MOFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs]!” he tweeted.

The dispute is all the more awkward coming in the wake of a recent ruling that said all government employees should use the state airline when travelling at the country’s expense.

Members of Parliament in the Gulf state said on Jan 17 that staff should only use a rival carrier if Gulf Air does not fly to the required destination.  

The bill is seen as a means of supporting the loss-hit airline. Gulf Air last year offered foreign ministry staff a discount of up to 50 percent in a bid to encourage them to travel with the airline more frequently.

Gulf Air, one of the Middle East’s oldest airlines with roots dating back to 1950, is the midst of a three-year reorganisation to restore profit as it confronts newer rivals such as Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

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