Flying on a new airline for the first time is always fun. There’s a bit of apprehension—will the service be good? How about the IFE? And the food? You can eliminate a lot of the guesswork through Google, Flyertalk, and blogs like mine, but uncertainty persists. I like long flights—the ideal flight length for me is 12hrs, allowing for two meals, a movie or two, and enough time to sleep. My Saudia flight from New York to Jeddah was 12hr, so flight length was ideal.
But I was in economy class—the fare was only $557 after all. Still, with the right seat at the right time sleep is possible and the late departure from New York would presumably help matters. With all that in mind, I was optimistic about the flight as I arrived at JFK on the AirTrain from Jamaica.
Although I used the record locator to pull up the reservation on Saudia’s site and was able to access a seat map and assign seats for all four flights (two 777-200s, one 777-300, and one A330-300) when I booked the ticket, the seat assignments did not stick and I found myself with no seat assignment when I checked in. The flight would be full, but the check-in agent found me an aisle seat near the back of the aircraft.
Agents were nice and I asked them to enter my Delta number into the reservation (there is no way to do that online) before printing my boarding passes. They obliged and my Skymiles number was present on the bottom of each of my boarding passes. Three months later, sadly, the miles have not posted and Delta does not have an electronic request form for Saudia—I’ll have to mail the boarding passes in.
With no lounge access (I do not have SkyTeam elite status), I saw no reason to arrive at the airport early and actually cut it rather close, checking in just 10 minutes before the cutoff. Security lines were long and my United 1K card did allow me to access the priority security line, but it still took about 20 minutes to get through security.
I made my way to the gate and not only had boarding already begun, it was almost complete! Oddly, there was no visa check at check-in or at the gate, an oversight by the contract staff I am sure, and I soon found myself walking down an empty jetway and onto the 777-200 that would take me to Jeddah.
With the exception of the purser, a Saudi man, and a couple female FAs that looked (and spoke) Arab(ic), the crew was composed of young Filipino women. They wore head covers and scarves and were quite friendly, welcoming passengers aboard and directing them to their seats.
Keep in mind that Suadia is what I would label an Islamic airline, conceding that airlines cannot be Muslim, only people. The airline is dry. Three rows have been ripped out in the back of each aircraft to create a prayer area. Prior to departure, a date and small ramekin (for lack of a better word—thimble perhaps) of Arabic coffee was served. That was followed by a prayer for the journey, a recitation of a prayer supposedly uttered by the Prophet Mohammed before he would travel. I tried to record as much of it as I could, but with FAs walking up and down the aisle, I did not want to blatantly violate the airlines’ electronics policy.
please forgive the blurry picture
Prayer area (newspapers removed after takeoff of course)
A moist towellete, packaged headset, and small amenity kit was also distributed prior to takeoff.
With the formalities done, we pushed back for takeoff and a safety demonstration played in Arabic then again in English on the seatback monitor.
The Panasonic IFE system was brand new and high-tech—it had an easy-to-navigate touch-screen interface with a separate passenger service unit, like a remote control.
Humorously, the IFE was very much edited for content—but the censors did not seem to be after violence: a number of violent movies including the Bourne series, Die Hard series, and The Dark Knight were available with no apparent editing other than language. But Scarlett O’Hara’s dress in Gone with the Wind? Far too revealing…it had to be blurred. And kissing?
I ended up watching Gone with the Wind, one of my all time favorite movies. But the story becomes a bit harder to follow when every kiss is edited out—yes, just cut. And it wasn’t just the top of Scarlet’s dress that was blurred out—most dresses were.
I just found that sort of ironic…
After takeoff, a printed menu was handed out. It is always nice to receive a menu in economy class: it hearkens back to the golden age of aviation in which all passengers were treated as valued guests, not merely customers.
But the food wasn’t good. I ordered chicken and rice and the entrée was almost entirely rice, with a just a few chunks of chicken thigh. The green salad was fine, but I did not touch the baby shrimp salad. Eli’s cheesecake for dessert—reminding me of desserts I used to enjoy on United Airlines.
Though it was not the Hajj season, there were many pilgrims on their way to Mecca and I loved how the commonality of their faith moved many strangers around me into conversation with each other. The flight was full of children—a lot of babies—but thankfully after a raucous cry-around early in the flight everyone quieted down.
I went to sleep and managed to sleep for the next seven hours. I wouldn’t call it a sound sleep—I awoke numerous times to re-adjust my position, but I got a good rest—I did not need a nap in Jeddah (or for the whole trip for that matter, very unlike my usual jet-lagged travels…).
90-minutes out of Jeddah, breakfast was served and there were again three choices on the menu—an omelet, pancakes, or foul. I had the omelet—served with a cooked tomato, tater tots, a side of fruit in a sugary syrup, and a hot croissant. Juices, coffee, and tea were available.
We landed on time and if you cannot tell already, I was very satisfied with the flight. Economy class is still economy class, but the airline exceeded my expectations and (also based on my upcoming review of three additional flights) I recommend Saudia for SkyTeam travel to the Middle East and beyond.
Saudia is a member of SkyTeam and therefore you have several ways to book travel using American Express points. With the 50,000-point sign-up bonus for the AMEX gold card, you will be well on your way to a Saudia redemption via partner Delta, Air France/KLM, or Alitalia—AMEX transfer partners all. Saudia releases generous amounts of award space in all three cabins of service (no first class redemptions on Delta) and there is no surcharge, a welcome alternative to Air France or KLM flights if redeeming with Flying Blue.
Read more of my Saudi Arabia + Afghanistan Trip Report–
Introduction: A Journey to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan
How to Obtain a Saudi Arabian Transit Visa
New York JFK to Jeddah in Saudia Economy Class
Review: Park Hyatt Jeddah
Pictures from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Jeddah to Dubai in Saudia Economy Class
Dubai to Kabul on Ariana Afghan Airlines
Arrival in Afghanistan
The Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan
My Hotel, er Compound, in Kabul, Afghanistan
Kabul – TV Tower Hill and Darul Aman Palace
Kabul – National Museum of Afghanistan
Kabul – Gardens of Babur and Kart-e Sakhi Mosque
Kabul – The Green Zone and British Cemetery
Kabul International Airport and Departing Afghanistan
The Afghanistan Dilemma
Kabul to Dubai on flydubai
Dubai to New York via Jeddah in Saudia Economy Class