Friday, 06 August 2004
Flight SV184 GVA-JED-RUH
Seat 33L Y/class
Dep. 1340 (GMT +2)
Arr. 2225 (GMT +3)
Friday-Saturday, 06-07 August 2004
Flight SV766 RUH-MAA
Seat 46J Y/class
Dep. 2355 (GMT +3
Arr. 0730 (GMT +5.30)
Before departure at Geneva Airport
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.
Flight SV184 (Geneva-Jeddah)
Seat 33L Y/class
Dep. 1340 (GMT +2)
Arr. 1945 (GMT +3)
Photo © Laurent FAURE
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.
Flight SV184 (Jeddah-Riyadh)
Seat 33L Y/class
Dep. 2050 (GMT +3)
Arr. 2225 (GMT +3)
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.
Flight SV766 (Riyadh-Chennai)
Seat 46J Y/class
Dep. 2355 (GMT +3)
Arr. 0730 (GMT +5.30)
Photo © Neville Murphy
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.