Recently I had the opportunity to fly Saudia long-haul on a narrowbody Airbus A320. The flight was in economy class and took me from Milan Malpensa in Italy to Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Judging by online reviews, I wasn’t expecting much from this airline. However, after the five and a half hour flight, I was certain that this was one of my best flights in an Airbus A320.
The airport and boarding experience
I’ve flown in and out of Milan Malpensa extensively this year, both within the Schengen zone and out of it. Malpensa offers a decent airport experience but I know there are better lounge experiences out there. The ambiance of most of Malpensa’s lounges are great – but I always find the food situation lacking.
Getting on board was easy. Having lounge access, I stayed in the comfort of the lounge until it was time to board. I showed up and walked into the Sky Priority lane which was just finishing up (before moving on to general boarding).
My passport was flagged for a visa check and I had to explain that I was transferring through to Kuwait and getting a visa on arrival there. No big deal; the gate agents handled this well.
Boarding the plane was via a jetbridge. The Saudia plane was, for a little while, sandwiched between regional rivals Emirates and Turkish Airways (although Saudia is much smaller in comparison to the other two).
Walking through to the back of the cabin I could see the 2-2 configuration of the aircraft’s business class. The seats certainly looked comfortable and appear to offer lie-flat ability.
Space and seating
The seats in economy actually looked quite modern and sleek. The tan leather look gave it a bit of a luxurious feel. Sitting down in my seat, there was a blanket and pillow while headsets were distributed after boarding was complete.
The seats were indeed comfortable and I had no issues with feeling cramped or squeezed. For reference, I am six feet tall – about 182cm. I like to keep my backpack with me on flights and there was no problem having it under the seat in front of me.
The other nice thing for travelers is that there is in-seat power available. As you can see by the photo below, there is an international plug with an additional USB outlet just above it.
The IFE systems were fantastic and what I would expect of a modern and up-to-date aircraft. The touchscreen was responsive and fast and the system also offered a USB socket below it as well as accommodation for both two-prong and single-prong headsets.
The content itself was fine. Definitely a good amount of Arabic and Middle Eastern content, which is personally not my thing- but great news for a certain demographic. There was also a somewhat decent selection of Hollywood releases and TV programs.
Something I’ve noticed on some newer aircraft and IFEs is an inflight messaging system. Definitely nice to have when you are traveling with friends and family but sitting in different seats. Hopefully, no one uses it to harass strangers…
Inflight meal service
The last thing to report on was the inflight meal service. In one word it was excellent. Similar to my experiences on Air France and MEA, a menu was given ahead of time. In terms of graphic design and print quality, the menu was actually more fancy than both Air France and MEA. Not only did passengers have a choice for their main course but also a choice of appetizers. I chose the salmon over the chickpea/quinoa salad for the first course and the chicken as my main.
The one thing I love and yet find difficult are the ‘tablecloths’. They are a lovely idea and add another layer of class and refinement to the dining experience. However, the idea has a flaw in that it covers the cup-indentation of the folding seat tray.
Across the aisle, a woman spilled her juice because the cup wasn’t placed properly over the indentation and/or it was too light to fully press the cloth into the indentation… if that at all makes sense. It was fine for my heavier waterbottle (below).
Lastly, a post-meal snack is served maybe an hour after the meal. Passengers can choose between crisps or sweet biscuits (if I remember correctly) or a banana – which is the healthy option I went for.
While the inflight experience was great and the flight attendants offered service with a smile, our landing and arrival was a mess. After landing, we spent a good 20-30 minutes taxiing around and around. At one point we stopped and it seemed that we were about to deplane via stairs and shuttle bus. However, the plan was then canceled at the last minute and we had another 10 minutes of motion before heading to a jetbridge at the terminal. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen too often at Riyadh’s airport!
Other than that – and the flaw of having table cloths over the cup-holders – the flight was lovely. The service and food, as well as easy-to-use IFE, made the five-plus hour flight in a single-aisle plane quite bearable.
Have you ever flown on Saudia? What was your experience like? We’d love to know!