Flight Review: Saudia 787-9 Economy – Good But Inconsistent

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Over the Christmas/Winter Holiday period I had the chance to fly round-trip between Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) and Singapore on a Saudia Boeing 787-9. This was my first opportunity to fly a widebody jet with this airline and I was looking forward to reviewing the experience for our readers.

Boarding at a remote stand via bus and stairs was unexpected. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

So the first part of this journey was a short flight on Saudia between Kuwait and Jeddah. The transfer experience at Jeddah was smooth enough and my pre-flight time was spent at the airline’s Alfursan lounge in the old South terminal of the airport.

Getting to the aircraft

Once it was time to board, I headed to the gate only to realize that we would be getting on a bus and boarding via remote stand. I believe it was a roughly 15-minute bus ride which seemed to take us to a completely different part of the airport grounds. Below are some photos of that drawn-out process. This will change in the coming months as Saudia makes its incremental move towards the new terminal.

Boarding the bus towards the remote stand. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The bus to the remote stand. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Approaching the 787-9. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Finally boarding the aircraft. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Space, seating, and first impressions

The interior looks quite nice. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The seating of all Saudia aircraft appears to be of a beige leather type fabric. I think it’s quite nice and feels good to sink in to. The economy cabin layout of the 787 was the typical 3-3-3 configuration. This is listed in SeatGuru as 17.8-18.3 inches of seat width – but it still felt constrained, especially around the elbow and shoulder area (depending on body dimensions of yourself and your neighbor). Thankfully, however, this was better than the 16.5 inches of width in some Airbus A350s flown by Air Caraibes.

As for legroom, I was in the Exit Row and therefore had an atypical experience. The space in that row, of course, is exceptional and I could have been over seven feet tall and been fine. The only downside is not being able to keep any bags or belongings in front of you during the flight (even while cruising). On the return journey, I was in a regular row – and discovered that these aircraft have dropdown footrests – which may be of more use for shorter travelers. As for me, at six feet tall, the legroom provided was just fine.

Another shot of Saudia’s 787-9 economy class. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
All passengers have a pillow and blanket provided at their seat. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

As someone who mostly travels on Air France and KLM flights, there were some initial surprises on this Saudia service that put it above the others. First is the hot towel service that takes place before take-off. My recent experiences on Air France and KLM long-haul flights had a wet towel/wet-wipe distributed in a plastic package.

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Secondly, an amenities kit was provided for this flight which included an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, and socks. This is something you wouldn’t be given in economy class for other airlines (like Air France and KLM) of comparable flight times. But I do recognize the fact that environmentally, it creates a lot of needless waste (I gave mine back).

Hot towel service. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The Saudia Economy amenities kit. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Inseat power with (full international outlets) is a nice touch. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Food and beverage

Saudia, like Kuwait Airways, is a dry flight and so no alcoholic beverages are served. However, I did enjoy the guava and mango juices served. It’s a nice change from the standard apple or orange offerings of most airlines.
The menu for SV836 from Jeddah to Singapore. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Food was actually fantastic and the best part of the flight. The initial snack served was a hot piece of focaccia bread with a topping of tomato, olives, and melted cheese. This also came with a delicious yogurt complete with large whole cherries in it.
The flight began with an inflight snack. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Meal service preparation. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
For the main meal, I had the chicken patties. Again I have to say that the inflight meal service is quite a nice dining experience, complete with a placemat put down on top of the tray. Good quality meal service is something that I think many full service middle eastern airlines do well (even MEA and Kuwait Airways).
The main inflight meal took place near the end of the flight. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Packaged fruit and a croissant were provided with the full meal. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Inflight entertainment

The entertainment selection was decent in my opinion. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
This was one of the weakest parts of the flight. The screen was a little laggy and the menu design was borderline amateurish. In the audio section, the album titles are displayed but not the actual artists – so you would have to recognize the album cover (or name) if you are looking for something specific.
Poorly labeled audio showed the album name but not the artist. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The selection of content seemed decent- enough to be entertained for a long flight. However, while watching a movie my system would stop and “kick me out” of the film every 2-4 minutes. Thankfully there was a “resume” option so I could go directly to where I left off. But doing this every few minutes was less than ideal.

I notified the crew and they reset my system. Unfortunately, this only made things worse as I lost audio after the reset process. Resetting it again didn’t fix it and so with 6 hours left I was left without IFE. I was offered the option of relocating to a middle seat but I declined.

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Malfunctioning inflight entertainment. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

WiFi was available on this flight and I accessed the free messaging option (only WhatsApp, FB Messenger, etc) at the beginning. It was easy to access, but once you start it is only valid for 10mb. Use it wisely!

Looking at the other options I noticed the word “purchase” was spelled incorrectly as “purcahse”. It’s small, amateur mistakes like this that degrade the professional face of the airline.

A typo on the inflight WiFi access page. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Inflight service

I was identified as an elite status passenger and, even though I was in economy, the cabin crew addressed me by name. The chief purser introduced himself to me and let me know that if I needed anything he would be happy to help.

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Himself and the flight attendant covering my section were very attentive and checked in on me several times throughout the flight. I am quite sure that this is not the case for all passengers but I appreciate the effort. As a frequent flyer and SkyTeam Elite status holder, it does show customer appreciation.

This special attention, however, is inconsistent across SkyTeam and since getting to Gold level (of FlyingBlue) this is something I experience only on half the SkyTeam long haul flights I am on. I think Air France has been the best with this so far with several surprise upgrades and cabin crew recognition.

It was later explained to me at the end of the flight that this special treatment of status holders was something the airline was just starting to introduce to its economy service. It is a great concept and I would love to see it continue. This was not done at all on the return service several days later though!

However, I think near the end of the flight they overdid it by asking how the flight was for the 6th time. I had already let them know about the IFE problems and so this much repetition starts to make it feel procedural and less authentic.

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*If you’re reading this as a flight attendant what do you think of this kind of job requirement for economy passengers? Does it put too much additional stress on your job?

Flight tracker for SV836 from Jeddah to Singapore. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Other points of interest:

  • There is an 8-person-sized prayer area in the rear of the plane. The FA brought this to my attention as a feature unique to Saudia.
  • The dimmable windows of the 787 are always a nice touch!
  • Unfortunately, the toilet seat and seat cover would not stay up.

Conclusion

Dreamliner 787-9 window seat view. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

In conclusion, I thought the service and food were fantastic and the best parts of the flight. The Jeddah terminal experience was severely lacking and the IFE system malfunctioning kind of ruined the flight.

The two big negatives are certainly flight-specific as I’ve had a good experience at the Saudia terminal in Riyadh and a much better IFE system on a newer Airbus A320 from Milan to Riyadh. And as someone who doesn’t drink much, I wasn’t bothered by the lack of alcohol.

All in all, I would give this journey a 6.8/10 due to all the drawbacks. I know Saudia can do better and I look forward to giving them another try on a future trip!

Have you ever flown SAUDIA long haul? If so, how does your experience compare? If not, does this review encourage or discourage you from trying out the airline? Let us know by leaving a comment!

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