This is a guest post from my friend Kat Collins who is currently working as an engineer in Kuwait and has flown Saudi Airlines a few times to come and see her family back in Los Angeles. There wasn’t much information online about Saudia so I thought this would be a good place to
start for those considering those cheap air tickets they always offer. Is it worth it or not? well, see for yourself….
You fell for the affordable ticket price and the promise of a short layover at King Abdulaziz Airport…Oh boy! Well, let’s see what you are in for and if flying Saudi is a good option for you!
Saudia has 3 main Airports. Their largest hub is King Adulaziz in Jeddah, and then there’s King Khalid in Riyadh and King Fahd in Dammam. I have only been to King Adulaziz in Jeddah so i’ll give you a rundown of the layout and what it’s like. First of all this is the most bare bones basic airport I’ve ever been in. There is very little amenities and very little space and consists of a duty free shop that’s mostly perfumes, a Baskin Robbins and 3 small cafes serving sodas, sandwiches and coffee. There is no tobacco or alcohol sales and no smoking rooms! The layout is open with only 3-4 terminals. When you arrive the men will be shuffled in one line and women will be taken through a private room and patted down by female attendants.
There is a prayer room, but people use it to sleep in at night. The toilets are very inadequate and there’s only one facility for hundreds of passengers. It might not be a problem at some times of the day but at others its a nightmare with people waiting a long time and floors covered in paper, water and urine. I have heard rumors that there is going to be a big airport renovation project starting soon and I really hope that it’s completed and contains more amenities to cater for the increasing number of Saudia passengers.
Also, there is no gangway/tunnel walk though onto the planes. You are picked up downstairs by a bus and ferried to the plane where you have to walk up stairs to board. It’s old school and dated. I felt like a 1960’s housewife on vacation for the first time.
Before writing this article I looked extensively at Saudia’s accident track record in comparison to other popular airlines and it’s actually quite good. The accidents reported in the last 20 years have been very minor and have resulted in very few casualties. There was one huge accident over India in 1996, but it really wasn’t Saudi’s fault and they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everything else since then has been small technical difficulties that happen to all airlines at one time or another. They are at the bottom of the list for the JACDEC Airlines safety ranking, but in all fairness, so are some of the well known American Airlines so….Take that for what it is. I never felt unsafe or in danger at any time.
I’m not an expert on aviation but in my opinion the pilots are quite good. On several occasions the landings were so smooth I didn’t even realize we had landed yet, and that’s always a positive indication of a skilled well-trained pilot.
Nice enough but most are a little dated. They use the Boeing 777 fleet for their long hauls and an Airbus 330/A320 for their short hauls around the middle east. 777’s have only 2 engines compared to 4 engines on the 747’s. The seating is 3 x 3 x 3 with first and business class up front but on the same level. Also, don’t bother trying to get a pre-allocated seat, every time I get moved to another seat anyway.
Another feature that might be an eye opener to western travelers is the prayer area at the back of the plane. That’s right, a whole area allocated for prayer time. Out of respect for other religions don’t walk through there, especially with shoes on. They also play a special travel prayer wishing everyone a safe flight and make an announcement when going over the top of Mecca.
Plane bathrooms were always clean and maintained on long hauls. Paper, Soap and even cologne was provided for free. Short hauls are packed with people and I never bother going to the toilet then, I know it’s going to be crowded and smelly.
The In-Flight Services
I was actually quite surprised by the vast collection of movies, music, games and entertainment on the 777’s. The movie selection contained everything from American classics to Chinese kung fu and Bollywood, to a huge selection of Arabic movies, Quran readings and modern and classical music. They also offer games like space invaders and solitaire, and in-flight WIFI for a price, but I don’t know if it is working.
They hand out a care package filled with an eye mask, ear plugs (u will need these), socks and a toothbrush/toothpaste. This is a really nice touch considering most airlines only offer this to their business class passengers. You will also get the customary wet towels and head phone set.
The Food And Drink
This is going to be a bummer to some people but there is absolutely no alcohol...AT ALL! If you are like me and usually use airline alcohol as a free sleeping aid forget it and bring sleeping pills instead.
As for the food, it was quite decent but nowhere near as good as the Asian airlines. If you like chicken and rice, then you’re in luck! I had that at least 4 times in one form or another. This is served with a salad, bread and some kind of cake or dessert. It’s all halal and perfectly edible. Nothing caused me any intestinal issues.
Breakfast is usually a cheese plate, omelette, waffles or Ful Medames, and here’s something us westerners haven’t seen since 9/11…Real metal cutlery! On long flights a drink and snack table is set up in the very back of the plane and I was quite surprised at how regular and professional the meals service was. I was never hungry and you even get fed dinner on a short 2-hour flight. That doesn’t happen in America anymore…
The Cabin Crew
I’ve saved the worst for last and unfortunately this issue takes away all the positives for me, and it stops me from ever booking another flight with Saudi Airlines again. The flight attendants are horrid, lazy, selfish wench’s that make everyone’s flight an absolute mystery. I wish this was an exaggeration and these issues only happened to me, but after reading many online reviews, it’s unfortunately a very common complaint and it’s seriously something Saudia needs to take action against if it wishes to complete with the top airlines in the middle east.
So this is what happens on the long haul flights. The flight attendants get knowledge ahead of time how many seats have been purchased, and then they come in and take over WHOLE ROWS! I’m not kidding. On every long haul flight they take most of rows in the middle of the plane while the paying customers are squashed in like sardines all around the edges. It’s unbelievable and I’ve never seen anything like it on any airline. Not only is this inappropriate and unprofessional, the cabin crew turn away paying passengers when they ask if they can lay down on the center rows and sleep. So we are all made to sleep sitting up in a single seat, while they recline in the lap of luxury on a whole row.
The ironic thing was these flight attendants weren’t even on duty, they were just getting a free trip to Los Angeles and Dubai on my dollar, that’s what upsets me the most. We’re just paying for an expensive shuttle service for Saudi Airline employees, and NOBODY cares about passenger comfort or satisfaction. This is why I’ve never bothered to complain directly, several other people have over the years and nothing has been done.
So there you have it, the good, the bad and the really ugly. I’ve tried my best to provide you with a fair, unbiased and reasonable review, and it’s up to you if you decide to take the risk, or pay the extra few hundred and go with a more professional and customer service focused carrier. If you want my personal advice, Saudia is ok for short trips under 4 hours, but for long hauls, save yourself the abuse and book with someone else.
thanks for reading!
Kat Collins. xx