I’ve written about how easy it is to find award availability on Saudia using Delta miles. I’ve even walked through making a booking on Saudia live, in front of hundreds of people.
There’s a reasonable question that comes up, objection even, Saudia? What is that like to fly?
A co-worker flew Saudia on miles — the fruits of her signup bonus for an American Express Platinum card and a small amount of additional spending — and I asked her to share her experience. The trip was to Lahore, Pakistan to visit her family — departing from New York, and returning to Washington DC. She prefers to remain anonymous, but she provided a great trip report that I think is a fascinating window into an airline that isn’t frequently written about. We’ll call her my Pakistani Correspondent or P.C. for short.
Probably the biggest challenge in putting together the award is Saudia’s non-daily schedules. Their flying bounces back and forth between the US and Riyadh and Jeddah, and from each of those cities to many destinations. Most days there are 7 or more award seats available between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Award availability isn’t the problem. It’s that the flight to Jeddah may arrive on a day when the flight to your final destination leaves from Riyadh, or vice versa. So we made her trip work by leaving out of New York, and she found a sub-$80 ticket to get there that she purchased separately.
At Washington National she tried to through check her bag all the way to Lahore, but the American Airlines agent had difficulty doing it because of the length of the trip, and long layover in Saudi Arabia. It was a legal layover, mind you — transit without visa is permitted for up to 18 hours. She wouldn’t have been eligible for a transit visa however as an unaccompanied female.
[Visa Information – Transit] Saudi Arabia (SA)
[Information For Normal Passports]
TWOV (Transit Without Visa):
Visa required, except for Holders of onward tickets for a max.
transit [[TIRULES/R32]] time of 18 hours when inbound flight is
operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines; or
Visa required, except for Holders of onward tickets for a max.
transit [[TIRULES/R32]] time of 8 hours when inbound flight is
not operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines.
– Only one transit stop-over in Saudi Arabia is permitted.
– Except when flying on Saudi Arabian Airlines, where a
second transit point is permitted.
– Visitors holding passports containing any Israeli visa or
stamp could be refused entry.
In the attempt to through check the bag on separate tickets, the agent forgot to charge her for the checked bag (she has no airline status and was not on a business class ticket for this leg).
I now turn it over to P.C. to report on her lounge-hopping at JFK prior to her Saudia flight, and then her journey to Jeddah:
The Oasis lounge had an open bar so it was definitely my favorite. However, all the food there was cold, there was no butter for bagels, and the place was a zoo during lunch time. Eventually, someone was kind enough to let me know that there was designated space to “safely store” my luggage, which perhaps was a tripping hazard lying in the middle of the sitting area.
Next up, was the KAL lounge, which was definitely my least favorite. It was quiet and had a lot more space but there hardly any food besides some newton figs and Milano cookies.
Either way, it was time to finally board my first business class!
Boarding was a breeze, and the 777-300ER was brand new and shiny. First up was a Ferragamo goodie bag waiting in my chair! The socks kept slipping off but everything else was quite useful.
Next up: several women changed into long drapes! I had the bulkhead seat in the cabin. An Italian lady sat next to me who was flying over to do evening makeup for a princess. We had tons of legroom.
The Saudi fashion magazine that I was flipping through was a sharp contrast to the conservative clientele in business class.
All the air hostesses are foreign (Saudi women are not allowed) but spoke fluent Arabic. Generally, I found the service to be very rushed and a little haphazard. The cabin was full.
Most of the other foreign passengers were connecting onward to Asia. As soon as people started settling in, they got hot towels, dates (with no plates or napkins), and shot glasses of delicious mint tea right away.
I didn’t really know where to put the date pit so I just held it in my hand till someone came to get it. We eventually had the Islamic prayer and took off.
The seat was roomy but a bit too high even after I adjusted it, resulting in my legs (I’m 5.4) hanging most of the time. The seat folded in to a perfect (Gary: angled) flat bed with lots of options for adjustments.
Sadly, I didn’t get the oulet to work (unless I am mildly incompetent, and didn’t figure out how to). I tried my Ipod USB, my laptop USB, and all my electronic chargers but no dice with any of the outlets.
Generally, entertainment was sufficient with lots of new movies, interactive games, tons of music and they had new episodes from Parks and Rec and Modern Family. However, there were tons of bleeps in most songs, and the words “pork dumpling” and “bacon” were censored (including in children’s cartoons).
Saudia is a dry airline, but we did get tons of rounds of chilled carrot juice, mocha latte, and passion fruit juice, usually way before the food came out.
Here are the menus from the flight:
Dinner was the first meal served. I got the shrimp starter which was perfectly cooked, and butternut squash for soup but was sad to know they didn’t have any crackers or bread sticks. They just had pita bread that came with the starter dish.
For the main dish, I opted for the grilled beef fillet, which was delicious.
But the raspberry tart for dessert was even better, and Arabia coffee was fresh and strong. Food coma overtook the caffeine booster, and the seats unfolded to a flat bad so I didn’t wake up till it was time to land (missed any further flight service).
Stay tuned for the rest of P.C.’s report, because the lounges in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are… interesting
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