Jeddah-based Saudia Airlines is now only flying fully vaccinated passengers on its domestic flights. The airline first publicized the policy shift on August 26. But with the rule coming into effect on Wednesday, September 1, Saudi Arabia’s national airline did not give its passengers a lot of notice.
The double vax decision coincides with Saudi Arabia relaxing some border restrictions
The decision coincides with Saudi Arabia relaxing entry requirements for fully vaccinated Saudis returning from 20 red-listed countries.
“Dear Guests, we would like to draw your attention that you will not be allowed to travel on our domestic flights starting from September 1, except for those who have completed two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Saudia Airlines posted on their Twitter account last Thursday.
The airline says children under 12 years and those with Saudi Government approved exemptions are excluded from the double vaccination requirement. Passengers on domestic Saudia flights will have to prove their vaccination status via Tawakkalna, the official Saudi contact tracing app.
Saudia already enforces a tough line on vaccinations on its international services. “The transport of Saudi Citizens on international flights is allowed to the permitted countries with the condition of receiving the full doses of the approved vaccines in the Kingdom,” the airline’s website advises.
For now, Saudi Arabia is ahead of the wave requiring its domestic flyers to prove their vaccination status. Few other airlines or jurisdictions require this. After a second wave of COVID-19 peaked in June, infection rates are declining and tracking just above 200 a day.
— السعودية | SAUDIA (@Saudi_Airlines) August 25, 2021
Saudi Arabia welcomes home stranded expats
The country has now administered enough vaccination to have vaccinated over half the adult population. It is expected over 60% of all adult Saudi’s will be fully vaccinated in about three weeks.
Last week, Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on expats returning home from 20 red-listed countries. The Saudi Government had banned travel from those countries since earlier this year. That’s welcome news for Saudi expats in countries like India, Pakistan, and South Africa. Until now, Saudi citizens returning from those countries had to spend two weeks in transit in a green list country.
Passengers, Saudi citizens or otherwise, coming in from green list countries can now enter Saudi Arabia provided they are fully vaccinated with vaccines approved by Saudi’s Ministry of Health. This includes tourists.
With Saudi Arabia reopening its borders, keeping COVID-19 infection rates down becomes more of a challenge. It goes some way to explaining the unusual vaccination requirement for domestic flying.
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Social distancing rules on Saudia domestic flights loosened
But at the same time, Saudia will start packing more passengers onto their domestic flights. In a busy week for travel-related announcements in Saudi Arabia, it was also confirmed that Saudia Airlines would loosen onboard social distancing requirements on domestic flights, increasing passenger capacity by 52%.
Under the previous social distancing guidelines, Saudia’s domestic services could carry a total of 245,000 passengers each week. That’s now increasing to 372,000 weekly passengers on the same number of flights.
The decision is part of a shift back to normal flying conditions and reportedly follows a request from Saudi Arabia-based airlines. The spate of decisions and activity regarding flying within Saudi Arabia and crossing its borders is part of a broader push at government level to reboot Saudi Arabia’s airline sector and broaden revenue sources.