As I am all ready on Friday, 06 August 2004 at 9 a.m., I go by taxi from my pied-à-terre in Lausanne to the railway station and take a train to Geneva Airport, where I check in shortly before 11 a.m. for my flights SV184 and SV766. I stand in line ten minutes only, then my luggage of 30 kg is labelled up to MAA (Chennai or former Madras) by the Swissport agent who gives me a boarding pass GVA -RUH (seat 33L in Y class), and tells me to go to the SV desk just opposite to get another boarding pass for my connecting flight RUH-MAA. At the SV desk I get on presentation of my passport and my ticket another boarding pass for the flight RUH-MAA (seat 46J in Y class). The very thoughtful SV lady proposes me to reserve at the same time seats for both my return flights MAA-RUH and RUH-JED-GVA.
Being so much ahead of time, I go up in an elevator to the GVA terrace, which is freely open to the public without any charge nor any security control, and I have a seat in the shade under a parasol , with an unobstructed view of the planes down on the tarmac (Kuwait, Swiss, Air France, TAP, Easy Jet, etc..) and a good view of the unique runway, with in the background the Jura Mountains, the whole bathed in sunlight. Having a drink, I make some calls and enjoy this absolutely unique “before departure” time.
Now I leave the terrace, walking down the many stairs and have a look at the next departure board and, as my flight is on time, I decide to go through the passport control. Once in transit zone, I enter the main tax free shop of GVA, and buy my wife’s favorite eau de parfum : Eden of Cacharel. Once I have taken note of the gate number of my flight, I seethe with impatience to go there. But before I still have to go through the security and metal detection control. My hand luggage is passing without problem. But when I am passing myself through the safety device I activate the alarm system and the security agent asks me to go through it again, but this time without my belt. Here we go again : I activate the alarm system a second time and I am asked to enter a small room. Looking at my new designs of shoes without laces the agent tells me that surely the soles must contain a small alloy of reinforcing metal, but sufficiently to be detected. And as he passes his metal detector under my both shoes, this activates the alarm. Now that the mystery is solved I am allowed to go on my way.
No travelator in the long raised and glazed passage along the tarmac to the departure lounge of my flight, which I reach after a five minutes walk. When entering I can see that the majority of the passengers are Saudi Arabians and feel it as a privilege and a delight to take my seat among people whose cultural identity is very different of mine. Discreetly I look at their faces, their dresses and enjoy looking at three small children innocently playing, climbing up and down some seats. I stand up to better see the plane I will fly for the first time : a Boeing 777-200. I must admit that the plane has a not inconsiderable look with on its tail two golden swords crossed within a golden crescent moon and topped by a golden palm tree.
As time has come for boarding, all passengers are called as a whole without distinction of classes. Once in the plane I take my window seat 33L. The guest (economy) configuration is 2-5-2.
The Muslim travel prayer is recited on the in-flight announcement system as the aircraft taxies to the runway. As I can see on a wall screen the view in front of the plane, I notice another plane (MD90) taxiing ahead of our 777-200
We are taking off . Wow ! I am stuck in my seat ! Great, powerful and steep ! Once we are flying at our cruising altitude, I slip into the aisle seat still vacant and start up a conversation with a young Saudi man seated just next to me over the aisle. At his left : his wife in an Islamic black dress, covering her from top to toe (still visible : two dark shining eyes, an two hands). At her left : their pretty seven years old daughter. Gradually I get to know that they are living within an hour flight from Jeddah, that he is a teacher in a secondary school, and that they took a holiday in Switzerland. As the couple are tenderly holding hands, I suggest they are a right pair.
As I am sitting near the middle of the right wing, I cannot see anything of the landscape. I feel no interest in using the PTV or the headphones. But a wall TV screen allows me to follow the flight, with the details of altitude, speed, tail and head winds,… in Arabic, English and French. And frequently, the direction of the Qiblah is shown in comparison with the one of the plane, so that the Muslims can be kept informed regarding their religious observance for prayer. I can notice that both the direction of the Qiblah and the one of the plane are almost the same, as we are flying south-east. And in the rear of my plane (as well as in all the 777-200 and the 747-400 of SV) there is a small prayer room. I have not been there, but I have discovered that particularity when flipping through the SV timetable (P - prayer room).
We are now served a welcome Arabic coffee in a tiny white cup together with dates picked with a wooden stick. I take one date : delicious. We receive a kit with socks, eye mask, toothbrush and paste, earplugs and a menu with a choice of three meals : lamb biryani - fish - chicken. Non-alcoholic beverages are served and I take an orange-carrot juice with ice, served generously in a big and smart light blue plastic cup.
Now the meals are served and I receive on a plate in separate covered containers : a cold appetizer (shrimps + vegetables), a salad (mixed), a lamb biryani with rice. A small loaf of bred with butter is on the plate too. Fork, knife and spoons are all in metal. Nothing to fear : the two big swords are still outside, crossed on the tail of the plane. The choice of desserts is served separately : cake or ice cream. Tea is then served.
After lunchtime I carry on talking with my friendly neighbor about work, family, etc. Then I decide to leave the young couple in the intimacy of their family life and let me sink into a half sleepiness, keeping an eye on the flight map. After flying over the Alps, Italy, Greece, the Mediterranean Sea, our plane reaches northern Egypt near Alexandria, then heads in the direction of the Read Sea, flying over Luxor.
Coming near the Red Sea, as I want to see it, I stand up and go to the first door behind the left wing and have a look down through a tiny window next to the door. A map on the next TV shows me that we are about to leave Egypt as we are flying close by the Red Sea. Suddenly I can see its eastern shore. As I let my eye linger on the scene, a FA comes up to speak to me. He asks me if I am well aware of the risk I am running because of my standing just near the door and he tells me that if something unexpected were bound to happen, that could mean for me a fall of 30’000 feet. Such an unexpected comment ! My God, never heard that before in a plane! I can not hold back a burst of heartily laughter. But obviously I understand straight off that it sounds like an invitation to go back to my seat, what I do.
After a bit, as the same FA is walking just near me, I stop him in the aisle and tell him that it happened to me more then one time when flying to have a look through the small window just near a door, and that for the first time I was warned against the danger of a possible fall. With much kindness he explains to me that security measures are very strict now on SV flights, especially on those coming from abroad, and that he has already got a complaint from a passenger feeling very unsafe because of my lingering near the door. I tell him that I fully understand now the situation, asks him to apologize this unforeseen event. He draws then my intention to the fact that on my next flight I should ask for a window seat behind the aisle. As I will fly the same route again in the daytime on October 1st, I will not miss to call SV who gives the possibility to reserve seats even in economy class.
Now as we are crossing the Red Sea, night is falling, and soon after we begin our descent to Jeddah. A message aimed at the passengers continuing to Riyadh comes on the in-flight announcement system just before landing, asking them to remain in the plane during the Jeddah stop. Straight after the very smooth landing another message, again aimed at the passengers continuing to Riyadh, ask them now to deplane in Jeddah with all their hand luggage and to take the bus waiting down the plane. As I am leaving the 777-200 down the stairs, I can feel the muggy heat of Jeddah in the night. I really like it, because it reminds me of the similar climate we have in southern India.
Stop in Jeddah Airport
Once inside the airport I am directed to a transfer desk with about fifteen other passengers having connecting flights with SV to Chennai, Colombo and Dhaka. I give my boarding card GVA-RUH and receive a boarding card JED-RUH with the same seat number. Now I am asked for my passport and the agent tells me that I will get it back in RUH. Then I go through a security and metal detection control, passing it with full success, and I return to the bus, waiting about 15 minutes for some passengers who are facing problems with the alcoholic beverages they have in their pieces of hand luggage.
Now that all the transit passengers are in the bus again, we get back to the same plane we took in GVA, which in the meantime has been filled for the domestic flight JED-RUH with passengers, for the most part Saudi Arabians. I notice many men wear now the thawb, an ankle length piece of clothing which is long and fits loosely, and also wear a ghutra on their heads.
As I want to take my window seat 33L, I see it is occupied by a man who should occupy the aisle seat. He is asking me if I want my window seat, but I tell him that I prefer the aisle seat , and what imports me now is that the flight is departing on time as I want to get my connecting flight RUH-MAA. To my delight the plane starts taxiing to the runway and very quickly we are airborne.
During the 75 minutes flight I am served a delicious fruit juice with ice, and two sandwiches and a piece of cake. Then some tea.
The man sitting next to me is Omar, from Sudan, 31 years old, about to marry in six months, doing some office work for a Sheik in the Emirates. He tells me that the alcohol is not that much prohibited in Dubai as it is in Saudi Arabia. He shows me a photo not bigger than a small stamp of his future wife (head) , and I have to put on my glasses to look at her face so that I can tell him that she is good looking. And she is. Omar tells me about Saudi culture, gives me, as I am interested in Arabic songs, the name of three famous Arabic singers (Mohamed Abdu, Ahlam and Nawal) and we have really a nice time together and much fun during the flight.
Transit in King Khalid International Airport Riyadh
Unlike in Jeddah, in Riyadh we leave the plane through an air bridge, and once in the airport I am immediately given back my passport taken in Jeddah and I am requested to go to the gate of my flight SV766 departing at 23:55 p.m. to Chennai (Madras). Now I have only a glimpse of Riyadh Airport, a real masterpiece of architecture, but I will have more than enough time to discover it later on, as I will have to stay here about eleven hours in transit when flying from India to Switzerland at the end of August.
Almost all the passengers waiting for boarding the flight to MAA are Indian workers between 25-45. Now the flight is called for boarding and here I am now in the SV 747-100, an old bird with very low capacity overhead racks, where I can easily put my laptop bag, but where many passengers find it very difficult or practically impossible to put their big pieces of hand luggage. No PTV and very basic seats in this 747-100, which must have been built a very long time ago. The plane is about 60 % full and I have now got my aisle seat 46J. Configuration in economy is 3-5-3. The window seat is occupied by a young veiled lady dressed all in black and it takes up to her more than ten minutes before departure to arrange and push down under her legs her two pieces of hand luggage. Just next to me comes a young Indian living in Paris and going just like me in Pondicherry, a former French colonial trading post located 160 km south of Chennai (Madras) at the Bay of Bengal. We begin to speak French together and he tells me that he is flying with his son, but could not manage to sit together with him. I assure him that he will be able to sit near his son once we are at our cruising altitude as the plane is no full. As his flight PAR-RUH on SV departed almost three hours late due to security reasons ( he tells me that a smoking luggage has been detected just before departure in a baggage hold and had to be unloaded), he was very lucky not to have missed his connecting flight. And I think deep down inside that above he was very lucky to have flown with a smoking luggage in the plane.
Now the old bird is taxiing, running, taking off and flying, just like a young one ! Once we are at our cruising altitude, the passenger sitting next to me meets again his son in the front of the plane. We have a choice of three meals : vegetarian, beef or chicken. I take beef and inadvertently swallow a green chilli, but as my esophagus is already armoured by the hot food I use to eat in southern India, I do not suffer too much. Fork, knife and spoons are on this flight all in plastic. A film is projected on a big screen, but the picture is very fuzzy. I prefer to have a look at the many FAs, males and females with their Arabic uniforms, doing their job in the aisles. Their dynamism and motivation make me quick forget that we are flying on a old bird. I doze off a bit and now I find myself already flying over the Indian subcontinent, and the 747-100 begins to rock gently, but at a steady rate, as I am served a tea.
Now begins the descent to Chennai(MAA). Just before landing I am stunned by the h u g e and l o n g clanging noise the undercarriage is doing when coming out, something like a very painful metallic delivery. But the landing is OK, nevertheless not followed by the usual reversing noise I am used to hear on other planes.
Arrival at Chennai (former Madras)
Now I am in International Chennai Airport and it takes me about fifteen minutes to go through immigration and thirty minutes to find back my luggage of 30 kg on the carousel. I go through the green channel and see again my usual taxi driver who brings me in a three hours drive on the new East Coast Road to my house in Pondicherry, where I meet again my wife, my two daughters, and my Dalmatian dog Bengalo .
It is the first time I am flying with Saudi Arabian Airlines. I acknowledge that I have been delighted by the nice service on ground and on board, by the kindness and the dynamism of the flight attendants and by all the three flights on time and the allowance of 30 kg luggage in economy class.
Shookran Lakom Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Thank you to everyone for your reading and your comments.
Chepos From Puerto Rico, joined Dec 2000, 5972 posts, RR: 12 Reply 4, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 9145 times:
Very interesting trip report, I enjoyed it very much. I have a friend who was on his way to Thailand from Greece with a connection in RUH flying SV, hence this was on september 11. 2001 and he got stuck in RUH airport. He warned me never to fly SV but apparently they are a prety good airline from what I read.
OB1783P From United States of America, joined Sep 2003, 325 posts, RR: 0 Reply 7, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 9062 times:
Kilavoud: This is a great report. I especially enjoyed learning about your seatmates. I will remember not to stand by the little window in the door if I ever fly Saudi. It is often my favorite spot with other carriers!
I've flown thousands of miles and I can tell you it's a lot safer than crossing the street!
Kilavoud From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 10, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 8906 times:
Loadsheet, you are quite right.
In Y class, the seating is 3-4-3 of course, with the exception of the 6-7 first rows, just behind the first class, where the sitting is 3-3 because there is on the right of these Y seats a long wall, and behind the wall a long galley occupying the right part of the plane at this aerea.
The total seating is 18 seats in first class and 399 seats in Y (guest) class, and the upperdeck looks like a living aerea reserved for the first class passengers seating in the front of the lower deck.
Loadsheet From Saudi Arabia, joined Jul 2004, 49 posts, RR: 0 Reply 11, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 1 day 5 hours ago) and read 8866 times:
Thanks Kilavoud !
I remember three flights very well.
One from Riyadh to Jeddah on B747SP HZ-AIF, there were First Class seats on the Upper Deck iso of this special area for first class passengers.
On two flights HZ-AID from IST to JED and HZ-AIH from CMB via DHA to JED ) there was this lounge, how would i call it. There were permantly two stewardesses serving the invited guests. But on both flights there were no First Class Pax at all, except on the DHA JED sector.
Have somebody ever seen the First Class installed on the Lockheed Tristar ? I am searching for a photo cause these aircrafts had the First seats at the window, in the middle of the cabin they had small tables and you could turn the seats 360° to make your meetings or just have a talk. I am looking for a photo, so if anybody can help pls ctc me !
Sabena332 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 12, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 8846 times:
Very good and interesting report, I can't wait for part two. You are a lucky guy that you got the 741, a rare aircraft nowadays. I will also try to get this aircraft type on an Orient-Thai flight next month, hopefully I have luck.
SR 103 From United States of America, joined Sep 2000, 1702 posts, RR: 42 Reply 13, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 8838 times:
Excellent trip report. Glad to hear SV was good. I have often wondered what their service is like as there are so many conflicting reports. Your trip report had some excellent details on the airline and the airports. Look forward to the return portion.
MEA-707 From Netherlands, joined Nov 1999, 4117 posts, RR: 37 Reply 14, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 8835 times:
Great report of one of the more 'mysterious' airlines... Can you tell something about the visa situation, people from 'western' countries can hardly get a visa for Saudi Arabia. Would a trip transiting in S.A. be possible though? Any hassle concerning that? Did Saudi Arabian have fares competitive with the other choices you had starting in Geneve (like Lufthansa, Alitalia and so) ?
nobody has ever died from hard work, but why take the risk?
Kilavoud From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 17, posted (8 years 9 months 1 week 12 hours ago) and read 8747 times:
Thank you everyone for your reading and your interesting comments.
I surely enjoy my stay in India, as the subcontinent has become another home for me, due to family reasons. But I feel well in both countries, India and Switzerland, in which I live alternately.
I must tell you that flying for the first time with SV, I was a bit afraid that I would arrive too late in RUD to get my connecting flight for MAA, and get stuck a bit in RUH. But I had no problem.
As I am living alternately one month in Switzerland (work) and one month in India (family) throughout the year, I will have the opportunity to fly again every month with SV. Thanks to your judicious comment making me realize the luck I have got to fly a 741, I will surely appreciate it more next time and will tell more about it in my next report about SV. All the best for your next Orient-Thai flight.
As I like mysteries I hope SV will keep some of them unrevealed for me. Visa
A long as I stay in the airport of RUD or JED, when transiting in Saudi Arabia, I do not need any visa, as a Swiss citizen.
But on October 28-29 when flying from India to Switzerland again, I like to go out of the Airport in Riyadh, and have a look at the city, and make some shopping. Then I will need a visa. And I have been told by the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Geneva that this visa can be granted to me only by the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Chennai (Madras)/ India. And my travel Agency told me that it is difficult to have a visa delivered in Switzerland. I will know more about it in future. competitive fare
I got my ticket for my first flight on SV in a small and private agency in Lausanne. For my previous frequent flights between Switzerland and India during the last six years, I have been flying always with LH or SQ (within Star Alliance). Now for economic reasons and the pleasure to fly with an Arabic Airline, I will fly frequently with SV, and am joining Alfursan miles program.
To give you and idea of the different fares (taxes included) :
LH : GVA-FRA-MAA-FRA-GVA between Swiss francs 1500.- and 1600.-
SQ : ZRH-SIN-MAA-SIN-ZRH : about Swiss francs 2000.-
SV : GVA-RUH-MAA-RUH-GVA: between Swiss francs 820.- and 950.-(high season only) (the transit during the return flight is in JED instead of RUH during the winter schedule)
The flight SV184 is flying FRA-GVA-JED-RUH. In GVA, a part of the passengers already boarded the plane in FRA. In economy class the flight between GVA and JED was full, and same between JED and RUH. Two weeks before departure I have asked my agency if one seat was still available from GVA on this flight for a friend, and they told me that it was already full.
As mentioned to MEA- when transiting in Saudi Arabia, I do not need any visa, as a Swiss citizen, as long as I stay in the airport, in the transit zone. I will need a visa only if I go outside the airport.