Aircraft……………. Boeing 747-368
Registration……..HZ-AIM (27 years old, delivered to SV in 1985)
Departure time......08.00 (08.31)
LF: 100%............. Y
Distance….. …….530 miles (1hr 30 min)
Price……………. Approx. £60.00
My flight begins to board from gate 5. Boarding is fairly orderly. Some sort of infuriating queue system settles in where women cut straight to the front, and drag with them their enormous families. Boarding passes ripped, the gate descends down to ground level where buses sit ready to ferry.
On the bus a chivalrous Saudi husband ejects me off my seat so his demure wife can nestle there. I’ve eyes only for the beautiful SV
birds on the apron today. Our 747-300 is preceded by a 747-400 which we park beside as the bus in front offloads.
With a nasty scratch on her nose
Just seeing these enigmatic birds up close is such a rush; the grandness, the overriding epicness of their nose and streamlined shape is like no other. There is something of the daunting and unfathomable in these birds. With the Arabic script embossed over the curvature of the nose, and the sort of overwhelming cream color scheme reminding you of the Saudi roots.
We move up, and suddenly we’re beside my aircraft. Stubbier, with flattened out wing-tips, and a seemingly unmovable, let alone airworthy, permanence to her aura; she is clearly a 747-300. Half a dozen Sub-continental (admire; how PC
I am) are sopping away with old mops at the enormous Rolls engines, bringing out a devilish glint in the early morning sun.
Giving them a clean before the short flight, massive RRs!
What a bit of machinery – I also love the Saudi flag.
From top of stairs.
I take my sweet time to board, and am welcomed by an Egyptian male – who utters the splendid words ‘Yes sir, you are right up the stairs, welcome onboard’
. I ascend physically and in spirits. The retro functionality and shape of this upper cabin is a thrill. And quite cool to see an economy cabin squeezed in here. Two young Filipinas will take care of upper deck economy today.
In Saudi Arabia, foreign males (i.e. not in the direct family) and females will almost never mix; as a question of culture, honor and routine. It just cannot happen. Only two exceptions seem to exist; in the hospital and on air-travel (coach and train travel is strictly separated). It’s no great revelation to see a little Saudi brat sitting in my assigned ‘L’ seat. I make this known to the FA
, who attempts to move the young chap, but as she is not Saudi, the parents don’t even listen to her.
So… She looks about to play musical chairs. I let her know that I am happy with any window. As such, she finds a right hand side window for me. This is fair, and the little imp gets his window seat. I am happy to not be seated beside a female, but even having these veiled presences in front and behind me make me a little nervy about photos.
Settled; the leg room is enormous; I have laid hands on two propaganda plastered English newspapers, and begin to enjoy the surroundings. A couple more buses arrive before laborers pull away the stairs and the cabin crew begins performing their duties. No banter from the flight-deck, and I imagine with this old slag they are going through lengthy pre-take-off check-lists.
A safety video is projected onto the forward wall section, but the FA
’s are too distracted to lower the projection material. They do lower it for about the final 30 seconds of the film. Getting it roll back up without trouble causes yet more drama, as it keeps getting stuck. The second Filipina FA
steps up to apply brute force, before a Lebanese gentleman rationalizes and feeds it slowly into its holder. In all this time, no passengers have seen any of the safety video, and the FA
’s are now so stressed they perform no cabin checks, instead assuming their seats.
Squint hard enough, this is the safety video being projected.
I feel not an iota of safety-based concern, because… glancing at the falling-apart cabin, the ancient work-dog engines, the torn off seat upholstery and the 70’s icons for lights and ‘Air Hostess’, it is clear that a reclined seat is the least of the eminent risks.
We line up, and I extend my legs in preparation for the thrill of take-off. It is doled out in generously; the Rolls engines power into some mismatched symphony of the most endearing screams I have ever heard on a plane. No, they begin as thuddy moans and as more power is applied, develop into the screams of raw power that propel this jumbo down JED
’s runway. The feverish use of power see’s us soar up into the sky extravagantly, and begin a delightful climb, a few moderate turns and settle into a course for RUH
Some sort of Red Sea Riviera scene
I had warned the Filipina’s that I would be taking photos in the cabin, to which they replied “ OK sir, are you sure, because… you know-“
indicating to a sea of dappled red thobes and depth of black Abayas in the cabin “-They are quite a conservative bunch. Sir, I will just pretend you did not say anything to us”.
Fine, well, I get to taking plenty of photos, caution clearly to the wind.
The seat is so comfortable! It is roomy, grossly padded and terrifically kitsch. The appliances on the arm-rest hark to happier days in the aviation industry.
The Fili FA
’s launch a double-pronged attack on the cabin; one from the forward, one from the center. When one arrives at me, I see they are distributing those ghastly take-away boxes, and inserting a selected hot dish in a dooket.
“Hello sir, Omelet or Fuul? “
“May I have both please?”
[Pause] “Sure sir”
I am handed the box, then separately, the two main meals… and then an afterthought of seasonings and condiments for the fuul.
Here are my feelings on the meal;
Scrappy as hell. Clearly the reputation and seeming importance of SV
offering a hot meal on the most inconsequential domestic routes has stuck firm, and as such, the quality and nature of the meal are very poor. I hypothesize that this might be to do with Saudi hospitality, which would always offer food and refreshments to a guest. Still, there is no excuse for this culinary abuse;
The omelet is revolting, totally plastic and tasting purely of undefined texture, it has clearly been made from some sort of egg powder or other processed form of egg (no amount of salt and ash-like pepper can make it edible), largely the same color as the anemic egg is an inelegant slab of haloumi cheese hidden in there. It is displeasingly freezing in the middle, and lukewarm on the outside. The cheese has ‘grilled’ striations, though I remain dubious that this happened before freezing the cheese. The potato croquet is largely satisfying and takes me back to school dinners days.
The fuul performs pretty awfuuly
too…. Boom boom! It is very cold, like eating warm baby-food, does not taste fresh or well-seasoned, and has set into a really unpleasant texture that looks closer to dog crap than a rousing breakfast. Nobody told SV
that you can’t polish a turd though, and they have sweetly included some Dukka Madiny (which is like a salty, spicy seasoning), and a sachet of Extra Virgin Olive Oil . . . along with some little pitta breads for your entertainment.
Completing the anti-climax is a pod of water that takes up a third of the unfolded meal box, some desiccated sponge cake which represents Saudi baking skills pretty fairly and a meager tub of tinned fruit. This in a kingdom which has enviable produce despite the harsh conditions.
Failed ‘fruit salad in light of window’ shot
Lukewarm coffee is splattered into a shallow plastic cup, and some milk and four sugars passed my way. There is a nice Saudia emblem pressed into the foil of the meal-cover, and that ladies and gentlemen, is the highlight of the meal service.
Coffee – poor show. Why don’t they serve simple Arabic coffee in lieu of the airlines heritage?
The real truth is that I couldn’t give a dickie-bird whether they served me a lavish 3-course, or a packet of crisps. For I am on this flight for the equipment; some of you will know this is generally not my aviation style, I take what I am given and to get giddy in-between. But this a/c is special. I get to exploring;
Upper-deck back galley with ancient equipment
Stairs from upper-deck
Down the stairs, right through into the vast economy section. The plane is totally full on today’s run; I make to the back, where out-with the gaze of the occupied FA
’s, proceed to take some nice pictures at the back of the plane. I do not see any prayer area which I feel a little let down by, but the bathrooms are fun, and rather clean.
Main Y cabin, rather nice I thought.
Heading back, I pause around the stairs where there is a good view of the two engines energetically thrumming away in the hazy Saudi sky.
Engines look great, only a shame for scruffy windows.
Directly in front of me is the elongated galley which is used to cater to J. I encroach a little into this, and get a nice photo. I go to ask an Arabic looking FA
whether I can take a photo of the galley; the reaction leaves me aghast;
“Sir, get out of the galley right now, I will not tell you once more, get out”,
is tersely stated in a most poisonous manner.
A little stunned, I saunter off, and go and fizz gently upstairs. To make matters worse, I wish to ask my Filipina FA
’s if I can visit the flight deck upon arrival. I broach the subject in that sort of round-about British fashion;
“Erm, may I ask you a quick question”
“No sir, I am busy right now”
comes the extraordinary reply. Crikey;
Well and truly silenced, I sit down feeling a little dejected. I decide not to get emotional like other Anetters might have done in the past, and rise above it to make the most of the journey (for it is too short as is). I request a second coffee and a glass of water, and admire the engines against the barren landscape, as hills succumb, and ribbon-like roads in the desert congregate, marking an imminent arrival over the Najd highlands.
Curvature gives nice storage space
Our arrival procedure commences. One of the FA
’s comes back and asks what my question was, which I choose to curtly reply “The question was relevant at the time I asked you, not now”. No reason for her response.
Riyadh approaches dowdy and dreary, simply blending out from the haze of the desert air, flat and uninspiring, hot and faceless, consistent and featureless. I am just disheartened seeing my city, my effective prison, once more. That said; we perform such a number of beautiful turns that I can’t maintain this gloom, as amazement rapidly washes over. Whilst I miss the Olaya/ CBD side of the view, she makes a turn directly over my house, which allows me to finally see what’s over that high wall opposite my apartment. We seem to make a fair amount of deviations before I feel we are finally committed to the runway.
The dull city of Riyadh in all it’s glory.
My house is down there somewhere, I will edit it and add it to the end of the report.
The landing is very smooth in this stable heat, and we decelerate gradually, the whine of the Roll’s rising just above the shaking and vibrating of the cabin interior. An EK
A340 is taxiing out, confirming my suspicion that EK
simply puts whatever’s going
on the RUH
route. That after seeing an A330, 777, A380 (unverified).
The same EK
flight as last visit, and a flyDubai.
Parked next to the baby-buses
We taxi into RUH
’s domestic Terminal 1 stands. I was keen for an apron parking, but the policy is the opposite of JED
’s here. I allow all the females and brattish families to collect their various designed baggage from the retro-bins (and side panel bins), and dawdle out. A flight deck crew emerges and stands close to the FAs which I seize to ask the question.
“Would it be possible to pay a quick visit to the flight deck”
with enough volume for the pilot to here.
She looks keen to refuse, but seeing the crewmember, asks him. He is more than happy, and delightfully, I am permitted entrance.
I feel rather like a gatecrasher into this antique cockpit. It’s terrifically retro, and I am impressed by the sheep-fur shag cushion covers over retro upholstered seats. Clearly, the flight engineers control panels are a sight in itself. Three kindly men greet me; A Sri-Lankan flight engineer (sheepish, but welcoming), the Filipino captain (a true gentleman) and the young Saudi captain. A regular little meeting of nations to bring this great bird into the sky.
The Filipino captain makes a quip about “no it is forbidden by Saudi law” when I ask for a photo, but breaks into a smile and invites me to lavish in the experience. I am offered to take their photos, but my camera is playing silly buggers. He states it is a delight to fly, before slipping off for his breakfast in the main cabin. Poor man if it is the same as Y.
Flight engineer panel
Meanwhile, the young Saudi pilot invites me into his seat for a gormy photo. This is amazing, especially staring down the elongated nose onto RUH
’s terraced terminal. The divine.
Your man is a bit downbeat about being taken off the 747-300 “I am not really excited about these new aircraft, I love the Jumbo Jet!”
As I am typing this, SV
’s remaining 743’s should have been removed from service. No-one can doubt it is the end of an era.
I sagely disembark, thanking them for this crowning experience. Economy is still filing out downstairs, and I see a familiar face and decide to confront it;
“Excuse me, where you the person that gave me in trouble in the galley?”
“Ohh, sir, hello”
“Yes, was it you that shouted at me earlier”
“ooh, no sir! I was not shouting, only, you could see I was in the middle of service, and you kept on coming into the galley despite me asking “
“You did not ask me once, you snapped at me. Let me say that I have never been spoken to so rudely by an airline in all my life”
“No, spoken, you do not speak to passengers like that ever”
“I am sooooo sorry sir, I was very busy, really I am honestly very sorry”
“What is your name please?”
“I am Sara. Really I am truly sorry, I hope you are OK”
And off I traipsed, pleased at least that she had to answer for the way she had spoken to me. I was so at being spoken to like that, especially as I was tiptoeing around with extreme decorum. The apology was a million miles from genuine, but at least should teach her to mind the way she talks to passengers.
One last view of the beautiful HZ
clearly can’t handle this sort of A/C. With Saudi families checking in half their households, the baggage claim was awash with families, escaping brats, stressed shakalas (maids, usually young Filipina, Indonesian or Somali), harried mothers and cool thobed fathers. Enter into the fray the overenthusiastic porters clinging onto every potential 10 Riyal welding customer, it was a chaotic scene. My bag never appeared, and after 30 minutes and a little snooping around, I found it resting beside a pillar.
Through into the unhelpful arrivals; a bus clearly wasn’t an option, my rat of a Bangladeshi driver wasn’t picking up his phone, and the taxi drivers were behaving like pack animals. Airport Taxis are reserved almost exclusively for Arab drivers, and accordingly they have an indifference to haggle, instead staying strong and referring you to a bogus ‘pre-paid’ destination list around Riyadh city. In the land of $00.14 a liter fuel, this sort of greed can be a bit annoying.
I await my friend to arrive on NAS
, which is slightly delayed. The unionized taxi drivers won’t hear our pleas, so I hatch a plan to catch a taxi dropping off at the departures area. High risk, but works a treat, and we bundle into a cab with a Pakistani driver (panicked at the thought of a fine) and within 20 minutes are at our door front.