Tony worked across Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, Al-Khobar and Jeddah, where he met his wife who has worked there for twelve years.
Traveling in Saudi Arabia
Saudia or Saudi Arabian Airlines is the main operator of aircraft in Saudi Arabia, this Saudi Arabian Airlines review will give my opinions on this airline and the many online booking problems I have had.If you are working in Saudi Arabia and want to get anywhere quickly then flying is your best option. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is mainly desert, and the cities are separated by many hundreds of miles (or Kilometers if you like these newfangled measures.) Traveling in the Kingdom therefore is best done by air, the countries main operator being Saudi Arabian Airlines or Saudia as most people call them here. I hope that this review of Saudi Airlines (Saudia) is helpful for you.
However at peak times it can be difficult to get a flight and you may have to drive, the following hubs can give you more information regarding this option; Saudi Arabia Travel, Saudi Arabia Driving, and Long Distance drives in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Airlines safety video
The main airports, Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam are quite modern and well maintained with all of the usual facilities. Smoking is not allowed, however the Saudis ignore this and smoke everywhere!
Internet access is on the whole not available, not even where they say it is in my experience. Food and drink is “OK”, but nothing to write home about either, price wise it is a little more expensive than outside but not as inflated as in some airports.
Duty free shopping is generally more expensive than the shops outside, with no tax this is really just last minute shopping! But don’t expect to find a nice bottle of Gin for your favorite aunt!
Main International Airports in Saudi Arabia
Buy Saudia Ticket Online
Online Booking your Ticket for Saudia
There are many agents scattered around from which to buy your ticket without any difficulty, most employ someone who has enough English to help you if you speak no Arabic.
Buying a ticket direct from Saudi Airlines on their website is recommended, however I still have never once been able to do so as the website has always failed whenever I have tried to book. I have asked other people and some can book without problem but many cannot manage to complete the booking process through the Saudi Airlines website. Online booking although recommended is not always possible!
Saudi Airlines are now trying to cut out the agents by charging them a fee which they have to pass on to the customer, therefore it is cheaper to book online, I just hope that they improve their system enough for me to book next time I need them!
I have also had problems with using the machines in the airports to book onto the flight when not having to check my luggage, when the tickets have been bought online by my company the machines do not recognize the codes on the tickets and I still have to queue to get my seat on the plane.
Landing in Riyadh
Check In - Saudi Arabia Airlines
Each airport is quite well built and designed, however check in can be a pain in the posterior regions, especially in Riyadh.
In Riyadh they are far too slow and there are not enough check in desks, they suggest that you use the electronic check in machines to get your boarding pass if you don’t have any luggage to check but I have yet to make this to work for me, I am advised this is something to do with having used an agent rather than booking direct through Saudi Airlines.
The Saudis use their usual method of walking directly to the front of the queue to argue with the guys issuing boarding passes in an attempt to get seen quicker, in some cases this works for them, especially if they have a friend that works there or a friend of a friend of a friend.. Most of the time it just makes things even slower and more difficult for everyone! In Jeddah I now go one better as I really do have friends (Saudi drinking buddies) working there and get my boarding passes and luggage checked without being in a queue at all, as long as they are on duty!
The electronic signboards are more often than not wrong, they will tell you which gate to depart from and you will depart from another, it can be quite confusing as they sometimes “forget” to make announcements in English and everyone else starts running toward a different gate!
The security checks are generally quite relaxed, people are friendly and things move quite rapidly just like any other airport. However please note that the ladies will have a separate route through all of their own to prevent embarrassment in front of the men.
Saudi Arabian Airlines Fleet
Onboard Saudi Arabian Airlines
The planes are reasonable, a few minor maintenance issues such as TV’s that don’t work or have no sound for long haul flights. Recliners that fail on the seats that mean you either cannot recline or you have no choice but to! I have even found incorrect cushions on the seats meaning that you are sat on an incline (I used to work for a seat manufacturer, I spent a few minutes on one flight swapping all of the cushions in my row on the plane until everyone was sat “flat” and comfortably!)
The food is OK, nothing special but it is at least edible and identifiable as being food. Most Saudis are quite demanding to say the least so they have to make sure that things are passable at least as they will complain quite bitterly.
Being seated on a Saudi plane can become interesting, some Saudis will just take any seat as it is “their” airline, they will try to take the best locations even if they have not been allocated them on their boarding pass, a long suffering Indian or such like will have no chance of moving them if it is their seat! Otherwise minor arguments can arise between Saudi’s the displaced one insiting to be moved to business class rather than having the other moved and so on – I am glad that I don’t work on these planes!
Segregation of the Sexes on Saudi Airlines
The other problem on board is women, Saudi women will only want to be sat next to their family or other women, anything else is unacceptable. This can lead to a lot of seat shuffling before departure as no allowance for this is made when allocating the boarding passes.
Thankfully this can be a short process as on many of the flights the number of women travelling is very small, however I have seen women leave the aircraft as they cannot sit alone!
In one incident, there was a woman that was made to stand for some time while they tried to find a seat on a full plane, the air stewardess spotted a row with a Filipina woman with a small child sat on a seat and ordered the Filipina to sit the child on her lap so that the other woman could sit. The Filipina started to complain that the child was entitled to a seat but was unable to produce a boarding pass to show as such, the stewardess was very rude to her and made her take the child, sitting the lone woman there. A phone call later, the real mother of the child appeared, the Filipina only being the maid; the mother having been sitting in peace with her husband at the other end of the plane. At this point it seemed that all out war erupted as this woman screamed and shouted at the stewardess and the poor woman that had been seated in her child’s place!
Dammam Airport Saudi Arabia
The worst airport in my mind was Dammam airport, the first time I arrived there was for an international flight, my internal flight was delayed by over an hour due to a storm, which we bounced around in to the tune of people throwing up for an hour before being allowed to land. I guessed that our ongoing flight would also be delayed by the same storm but time was still going to be short, so we looked on the board and headed straight for the indicated gate.
We arrived there at the opposite side of the airport and it was deserted! So we asked, the person we asked looked at the board and said it was right, wait there, so we asked someone else, they took us back to where we had started and pushed us through an entrance next to where we had come in, the security check and passport control area which was totally packed with people queuing.
We were asked which flight and were directed into a queue that was neither moving nor had anyone in the kiosk to check the passports! We stood here for a few minutes reassured by the fact that others in this queue were on the same flight. Until someone started asking in Arabic for all of the people that were on our flight to move to a different queue, which we all promptly did. The first person went to the kiosk to have their passport checked, there was a problem so the guy in the kiosk disappeared, minutes passed, more minutes passed, our old queue was now open and moving – rapidly! Our flight was now “boarding” and no one was letting us through, so I asked, they looked confused, they wandered off!
Eventually they called us to yet another kiosk and split the line to move us quickly through but it was a farce!
Saudi Arabian Airlines Landing in Jeddah
Jeddah Airport in Saudi Arabia
I love flying from Jeddah, I now have a number of friends that work at the airport so I find myself with a number of privileges such as not queuing for check in and frequent up grades, all of the things that I used to complain about with the Saudis! If you can’t beat them as the saying goes, join them!
Even before these privileges I always found Jeddah to be the quickest and most reliable with regard to the information provided.
The only thing that I don't like about Jeddah is the Bus ride to and from the planes, I can't wait for the improvements to be done to cut this out.
Jeddah on the Red Sea
What is your Review of Saudi Airlines?
More help when traveling in Saudi Arabia
Before boarding that Saudi Airlines flight to Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam you had better be sure that you know what you are letting yourself in for! Going to Saudi Arabia either by plane or even by road is a decision that should never be taken lightly.
Saudi Arabia really is like arriving on a different planet, the weather is unbelievably hot and the culture completely different. This is the birthplace of Islam one of the most restrictive religions on earth and as such you may find the rules which are based on both their culture and the Muslim religion far too restrictive.
Before you travel read this guide to surviving as an expatriate in KSA so that you can fully understand about living and working in the Kingdom.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on November 11, 2013:
Hi Wejden, I have seen and met many women traveling alone on Saudi airlines, at least on internal flights. Flying alone out of the country however requires your husband or male guardians consent.
Wejden on November 11, 2013:
Today I couldn't buy a ticket with Saudiairlines because "I'm a woman travelling alone"...
Arlyn on December 19, 2012:
Can someone give me a phone number of Saudia, Landline number,. coz i don't want to talk to an operated machine. :(
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on December 17, 2012:
Saudi Airlines do not charge any different online to what they charge the agent, but the agent will generally add a handling fee to what they charge as they no longer get anything from Saudia for your booking.
Adelina on December 16, 2012:
And if I buy the ticket from the agent is considerably more expensive? or what are the differences? Thank you for the answer :)
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on December 16, 2012:
Call or visit an agent in your country is about all the advice I can offer. I have always had problems with them with regards to booking - or not being able to book Saudia at all. Always I have had to go through an agent.
Adelina on December 15, 2012:
I am also trying to purchase an online ticket from the saudiairlines website...I want to go from Singapore to Istanbul with a layover in Riyadh (1hour) and one in Jeddah (11 hours), but I want to use a friends credit card to pay online. They have the option to choose that the credit card owner is not travelling, but in a note just before, it writes that for security reasons, the credit card and the owner must be present at the time of check-in...
This is my main problem and now I see that most of those who try to book online cannot...and it quites scares me....so what can I do, what options do I have?
I must say that now I live in Indonesia and I am from Europe, non-muslim, girl and alone, which seems to be problematic in this particular case...oh almighty.
I tried to call todat, but being Sunday, is closed. Tomorrow I try again.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on December 03, 2012:
It is a real disappointment that any company leaves problems such as this running for so long without dealing with them. Yet Saudi Airlines seems to be completely incapable with dealing with the problems with online booking.
As to sitting next to women I have on only one occasion been left sitting next to a Saudi woman and she chatted with me all the way from Jeddah to Riyadh despite the stares of a few of the other passengers. More often than not however you will see delays as women request to be moved.
Yasir on December 03, 2012:
I just don't understand why they don't fix the website problem so we can reserve the flight online by ourselves. I've been trying to reserve a flight online for few days using different cards. No luck. Even spoke to the card company and they don't even see an attempt being made towards the card. My cousin was doing the same about a week ago with no luck.
As far as Men and women sitting together on the plane. Just couple of days ago I was on a local flight in Saudi Arabia and my seat was next to a Saudi Women all covered. I had no idea what the proper way of dealing with it without offending anyone. Hesitantly, I asked the stewardess to translate if the lady has any problem with me sitting right next to her. To my surprise i heard, No Broblem and I sat right there.
Ahmed on April 08, 2012:
booking online is like dating a camal
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on December 14, 2011:
Hi mona, I think that was what I said the last time I tried to book a flight with Saudi Airlines online and had problems!
mona on December 14, 2011:
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on November 30, 2011:
Hi Soso, I am glad that you are one of the more liberated women in the kingdom, I have only ever sat next to a woman once on a Saudi Airlines flight and she chatted with me all the way from Jeddah to Riyadh.
My usual experience is to watch 10 to 15 minutes of rearrangement of seating as women request to be moved or are stood waiting refusing to sit next to men, and even men requesting to be moved if the woman has not done so.
Soso on November 30, 2011:
Actually Iam a woman ,and I travel a lot through Saudi Airlines , but if I travel a lone , there is no problem if I set near any person
BODHISATTWA on November 15, 2011:
Thanks a lot for your prompt reply. As soon as I will complete my flight, I would surely add my experience here.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on November 15, 2011:
Thanks for reading Bothisattwa,
If you are a transit passenger you do not need to worry about anything. You will not be checked.
I have heard rumors of people having hard drives and computers checked when they arrive in Saudi Arabia via Saudi Airlines but this always a friend of a friend and you are not entering the country so don't worry.
I am not sure about billing and so on, you would have to check that with your agent.
Bodhisattwa on November 15, 2011:
Nice information all throughout. Thanks for the same.
I am travelling on Saudi Arabian airlines this month end from Milan to Delhi via Riyadh (in transit).
Could you please help me with some doubts I am having in my mind:
1) What about the Transit Experience? Do I have to go through Custom's check even if I do not leave the International area. I am only having 4 hours time in between both the flights. Is there any issues with the laptop or external hard drive I will be carrying with me? Somewhere I read that, they check all of the stuff and sometimes keeps the disks or so. Is it true?
2) I bought the ticket from the local agent (mentioned on the site of the airlines) on 24th October and paid through my credit card in Lisbon. When I am checking information on the airlines website, I have the ticket there with all confirmations and stating that the ticket was already paid, but there is no transaction recorded on my Credit card statement. Is this usual to have such a long time for the transaction details to arrive on the statement (I am asking this, because other flights which I booked later is already there. So it is some thing dependent on the airlines).
Thanks in advance
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on November 10, 2011:
Sorry to here of your poor experience with Saudia airlines Vadim.. I hope you have better experiences in the future.
Vadim on November 08, 2011:
Better to avoid traveling with Saudi Airlines, because you are under risk to have your baggage stolen and no chance to get compensation unless you provide timely insurance coverage.
In Aug 2010 I traveled Istanbul-Jeddah-Dammam in business class and my siut case was stolen in Jeddah during transfer.
Value of content wasa abt $5000.00 Company agreed to
compensate $1750.00 but instead of remit honestly amount
to my bank they started kind of a game forgeting to indicated in remitance a/c number and ignoring all
requests from me, my bank and company lawers to make properly payment order.
Be very careful with those guys!!!
SA in Saudi on September 22, 2011:
I did find your article interesting,I have to say your comments to Karen is very true, not only will some men ask you to move, but even in Saudi when we went apartment hunting some of the men actually refused to talk with us woman we would have to wait in the car and when my husband came back after seeing the place with the agent, only then were we aloud to go in and have a look. We have been lucky on some flights,when me and my daughter flew home we sat next to a man after take off, he got up and went to sit somewhere else,More space for us;-)But other than that I have not had any bad experience flying with Saudi Airlines..(Yet!!)
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on May 31, 2011:
Hi Iva, yes Saudi Airlines has female staff on the planes, however I have only seen non-Saudi women. Most are Filipinas, Indonesians, and other Arab nationals. There may be actual Saudi women working as stewardesses but I don't know of them; I will have to ask a few of my friends who work there when I next meet with them.
Iva on May 30, 2011:
You are mentioning the stewardess? Saudia has female flight attendants? I didn't know that
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on March 28, 2011:
Hi Karen, you should not have too many problems, however you will need your husband or fathers permission to leave Saudi Arabia if you are traveling out.
The main issues you may find on the flight are that many men will not allow you to sit beside them so you may find yourself being moved around to sit beside other women, the airline not being able to do this when they allocate the seats initially..
karen on March 22, 2011:
Your article caught my attention about "the thing about women on flight", will it be a problem if I was traveling alone? Im a woman but Im not from Saudi or a Saudi local
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on March 10, 2011:
Hi Julia, it seems to me that a lot of people have the same problems with Saudi Airlines' website.. I have never been able to buy online. But now they charge an agent an extra fee to discourage you from going to the agents and make you use the websites...
Julia on March 07, 2011:
I can't believe they wouldn't let me to buy the tickets online! there's nothing wrong with my card,its the website itself, now i have no idea how to buy those tickets! so annoying! is there any other way?
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on January 27, 2011:
Leoni, still have never managed to book online and now they add a surcharge to the agents if you use them!
Leoni on January 18, 2011:
Tried many times to booked on line, still they said they have difficulty problems after all the details and all my bank card details. And when we tried to booked by phone, they add 400 USD. Think, this on line website bullshit.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on August 30, 2010:
Thanks for the idea Pro-Design, I think with all of the Saudi Arabian hubs I have written on here I have enough content.
Pro Design Source on August 30, 2010:
I can't help but think that with your knowledge of Saudi Arabia, you should write a Travel Book.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on August 29, 2010:
I have yet to be able to book successfully online, but maybe it will work next time, thanks for your comments PDH.
prettydarkhorse from US on August 29, 2010:
Nice review Tony, but Internet isn't available oh no. It is good to have friends too,
Good luck, Maita
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on August 29, 2010:
Thanks for your comments BillyA.. Glad to see that you survived your airlines ordeal..
billyaustindillon on August 29, 2010:
Thanks for a very helpful review on Saudi Arabian Airlines - I did fly on Air Jordanian years ago - that was some experience.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on August 27, 2010:
Humagaia, I do my best to preempt my readers questions, glad I could be of help.
Charles Fox from United Kingdom on August 27, 2010:
Ah, it was here all along. I asked in your hub where I could book a flight and lo and behold you had pre-empted the question. Such aforethought is commendable!
kaltopsyd from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA on August 26, 2010:
Haha. Okay. Sounds like a plan.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on August 26, 2010:
Hi Kaltopsyd, thanks for reading and commenting. I would be happy to have you come visit me here anytime..
kaltopsyd from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA on August 26, 2010:
You know, I've never thought of travelling to Saudi Arabia. Maybe I'll consider it some day.
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on August 25, 2010:
Thank you for your comments Viking, maybe I will see you on a saudi airlines flight one day.
L M Reid from Ireland on August 25, 2010:
I certainly wouldn't want to be on one of those planes with all that going on lol. But I bet those other passengers were delighted with you for fixing their seats. Nothing worse than been stuck in an uncomfortable seat on an airplane for hours on end.
Nice hub and a very enjoyable read
Tony (author) from At the Gemba on August 25, 2010:
Jjexon, thanks for coming by and leaving a comment.
jjexon on August 25, 2010: