With temperatures remaining perennially under zero, there was no better time to escape the winter blues than now. I was in desperate need of feeling the “burn of the sun”, and the desert oasis of Dubai seemed like the perfect winter getaway.
At $660 roundtrip, Saudia, also known as Saudi Arabian Airlines or Saudi Airlines, was easily the cheapest fare available. I was flying between Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Dubai International Airport (DXB) via Jeddah, and was both excited and nervous about going with Saudia. It was my first time flying with them.
Asian Vegetarian Meal in Saudia Economy
Saudia SV 36 IAD to Jeddah: First Leg
- Salad made of chick peas, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers
- Salad Dressing
- Cut fruits
- Bread with butter
- White Rice is served with Rajma (spicy red kidney beans) and lentil based vegetable gravy
- Tea and Coffee
Saudia SV 36 IAD to Jeddah: Second Leg
- Cut fruits
- Croissant with butter and strawberry jam
- Parathas (Indian flatbreads) are served with Aloo Fry (fried potatoes) and Mutter (Peas in a tomato gravy)
- Orange Juice
- Tea and Coffee
Saudia SV 550 Jeddah to Dubai
- Salad made of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green and red bell peppers
- Salad Dressing
- Mango cake garnished with mango mousse and pomegranate seeds
- Two Plain Parathas (Indian flatbreads) wrapped in foil
- White Rice is served with Aloo Bindi (curry made of potatoes and okra) and Rajma (spicy red kidney beans)
- Bottled Water
- Tea and Coffee
Perks Offered in Economy by Saudia
• Saudia Economy seats have plenty of legroom in contrast to other airlines. They also have leg rests with riveting pedals, excellent to keep your blood circulation going during long haul flights. I definitely used these on my Saudia flight from IAD to Jeddah!
• The in-flight entertainment options are ‘A’mazing! Saudia offers an Islamic channel, Hollywood movies, Bollywood, Indian regional, European as well as Arabic sitcoms and movies. I absolutely loved that they had sudoku in the games section! My favorite!
• Saudia crew members offer refreshing wipes at the beginning of the flight journey as well as with every meal.
• The headphones on Saudia flights are pretty cool. Feel free to take them home!
• Saudia passenger kit consists of:
- Sleeping Mask
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Ear plugs
• Saudia offers a variety of meal preferences including:
- Seafood (international flights only)
- Baby meal for infants
- Bland meal for ulcer patients
- Diabetic meal
- Low-fat meal
- Salt-free meal
- Vegetarian meal
- Asian Vegetarian meal
- Fasting meal
- Liquefied meal
- Autistic Passengers Meal
- Visually Impaired Meal (all food items are precut and served as bite size chunks using the clock concept in Braille)
• Long haul Saudia flights include two meals and a snack buffet. The latter invites passengers to snack on sandwiches and drinks as much as they want. I like! 🙂
P.S. Picture below is of a cheese sandwich and orange juice.
My Recommendations when Flying Saudia
• I wondered if the stringent rules regarding women in Saudi Arabia applied to solo female travelers in the country’s national carrier, Saudia. Would I be denied boarding because I had no male guardian to accompany me? Would I have to wear a hijab during my travel in Saudia? After going over reviews from other travelers, I found that both Saudia and Saudi Arabia’s airports are exceptions to the country’s strict interpretations of Sharia Law. They are essentially Sharia-free zones.
• Since I feel cold easily, I had on a long sleeved shirt with a sweatshirt and jacket, a scarf around my neck, and a pair of dark blue jeggings. I did not cover my head during my entire flight with Saudia, and there was no problem at all. I also took off my jacket and neck scarf. While you don’t have to exactly mimic what I wore, just don’t wear things like shorts, cut-outs or spaghetti tops.
• Saudia crew members include both men and women. However, I didn’t assume that as an automatic invitation for me to chat up male passengers. Though the gender rules are more relaxed on Saudia, I would recommend refraining from friendly interactions with the opposite sex.
• Before take-off, Saudia recites the Islamic travel prayer. Since Saudia is the only carrier to pray before travel, this might be a new experience for some passengers as it was for me. I felt it was such a wonderful gesture to ensure my journey was safe, and was profoundly touched spiritually and emotionally. I wouldn’t say I am a super religious person, but the prayer definitely struck a chord inside me. Just beautiful! While I do not expect everyone to have a positive reaction, I would encourage you to be respectful and refrain from making negative comments.
• Since Islam’s holiest city Mecca lies in Saudi Arabia, Muslims from all over the world travel to the country during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. At any given time of the year, there will be Hajj pilgrims on board Saudia. Do not take photos or videos of them.
• There is a prayer room at the back of Saudia, in the center between the last three rows of Economy. I had a pretty good view of the room given my seat 59L was located on the last row of Economy. The prayer room can accommodate up to 10 people, consists of prayer rugs, and has curtains on both sides for privacy. I did see many male and female passengers pray in the room. Do not photograph or take videos of passengers performing worship.
• I am not sure about all the toilets on Saudia, but the ones in the back of the plane were definitely spacious. No more of me doing contortions! Yea! Since Saudia provides ablution facilities, these are also the only flight toilets with floor sink holes. Despite the long journey, I never found the toilets “flooded” with water, as the crew members power-cleaned ever so often. Throughout the trip, the toilets always remained amazingly bone-dry.
• Like the rest of Saudi Arabia, Saudia and the country’s airports do not serve alcohol and pork.
King Abdulaziz International Airport
• In stark contrast to Saudia, Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport is a sea of confusion. The South Terminal caters to all Saudia flights.
• The security lines are long and inefficient.
• The transit lounge for passengers with layovers 8 hours and above is a joke, with barely space to accommodate even 20 people.
• There is only one departure area for connecting Saudia flights, and hardly enough seats. During my 5 hour layover in Jeddah on my way back to the US, even the ground space was used up. It was 1am and I was going to get no shut-eye in the airport. So I had no choice but to settle down in the Duty Free area.
• There are only 1 set of toilets for all male and female passengers, and they are simply horrendous. I literally held my pee until my connecting Saudia flight. Lesson of the day? Carry hand sanitizer, toilet paper and a small vial of soap.
• There are plenty of food options, so if you get hungry not to worry.
• Aside from the meagre Duty Free, there is nothing really to do. If you don’t want to be bored to death, bring a book or download a movie before hand.
• Do a thorough research of legal requirements before boarding Saudia. The Saudia check-in counter and flight crew can be pretty clueless about paperwork.
• I had no idea all transit passengers had to fill out a Transit Pax Form. Imagine my surprise when I was asked for one before boarding my connecting Saudia flight to Dubai. I had to wait until the agents had cleared all the other passengers, before someone got me a form to fill out. Super embarrassing and nerve wrecking! But I knew what to do on my return trip layover.
- Here’s the thing. When you disembark from Saudia, you get into a shuttle bus that transports passengers to the South Terminal. The North Terminal is for all other carriers.
- Right when you enter the South Terminal, there is a desk. There may or may not be a queue, and it can be easy to miss. In my case, I headed straight for the Transit Area and no one even bat an eyelid (hence no Transit Pax Form). People at this desk will go through your passport and your boarding pass for your connecting flight. Then they hand you a Transit Pax Form.
- You fill this form out and head upstairs to the Transit Lounge Area, where a man will check if you have filled out the form correctly. From here, you will pass security and reach the connecting departure area.
- FYI: Transit visas are required for passengers with layovers of 11 hours and more. Saudia does not arrange transit visas.