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.
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.
Space, seating, and first impressions
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.
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.
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).
Food and beverage
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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?
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.
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!