This report is for a trip from Dammam in Saudi Arabia to Madrid, on two flights: Dammam-Riyadh on a brand new B787-9 and Riyadh via Jeddah to Madrid on a B777-200.
In October 2013, Saudia introduced a three-weekly non-stop flight from Spain to Saudi Arabia (before it was a one-stop via Milan, with no traffic rights between Madrid and Milan), and within months in 2014 it went to the current four-weekly frequency: Madrid-Jeddah-Riyadh. Initially planned with an Airbus A320, it was upgraded to the current B777-200. This non-stop route was introduced in part due to the business activity in Saudi Arabia, as Spanish contractors were awarded among others with two large projects going on in the country, the high-speed train from Mecca to Medina via Jeddah, and the Riyadh Metro (although I am not related to any of these).
It has to be noted that Saudi Arabia is not issuing any tourist visa and there are no visa on-arrival. The only way to get a visa is for pilgrimage (Hajj or Umrah), business or work visa, or visiting any close relative who has to be a resident. Transit visas are the closest tourists can get, valid for 72 hours and to be applied in an embassy.
Despite these limitations, Saudia will promote the airline in Spain using Jeddah or Riyadh as a connecting city. With the launch of a route to Maldives, for example, Saudia will offer the route Madrid to Maldives with a stopover in Saudi Arabia, offering competitive fares.
Dammam is located in the Eastern Province of the country which is the main area of the industry and oil production. For long-haul travel, large carriers such as Qatar Airways, Emirates, KLM or Lufthansa (and also Gulf Air from nearby Bahrain) already have their market share, but also Saudia offers long-haul routes from King Fahd airport in Dammam, especially to Asia. Dammam, as well as other airports in KSA, have seen an increase in the passenger figures, in the last 15 years it jumped from 2.5 million passengers per year to the current 9 million.
Saudia has introduced their 787-9 this year and these are being deployed on short-haul routes before their long-haul assignment: one of these routes is Dammam to Riyadh, which is just a one-hour flight. Even though, their 777-200 and their 330-300 are deployed from Jeddah to Riyadh and Dammam quite regularly, therefore the 787-9 may be used on domestic flights as well.
As good promotional fares were offered to travel on business class from Dammam to Madrid, just 6,300 SAR return (1,500 euro) I decided to take advantage of this and try their new 787-9. Currently I am resident in KSA, and it would be a good opportunity to travel to my home country.
In this report, I am travelling on HZ
-ARC from Dammam to Riyadh, a 787-9 delivered on 11 February 2016, and on HZ
-AKE from Riyadh to Madrid via Jeddah, a 772 delivered on 19 January 1998.
Boarding cards, the flight from Dammam to Riyadh would leave at 10.00 p.m., on 17 March 2016, and the connecting flight from Riyadh to Madrid at 01.10 a.m.:
Some pictures of Dammam airport
When some people see me with my Nikon D750 camera, they ask me to take a picture, as on this one. Some other pictures in this report are taken with a small Nikon Coolpix.
The flight to Riyadh departs from the domestic terminal
Stores after security check at Dammam airport, domestic terminal
Some pictures of the Alfursan lounge for domestic flights, recently renovated along with the lounge for international flights, later on the boarding was through a jetbridge. The international lounge, one floor above, has a good view of the apron, but not this one. The mentioned Alfursan name is also Saudia’s frequent flyer program.
This is the interior of the Boeing 787-9 in business class, with angled seats in business class (similar to other carriers) and an IFE easy to use, with touchscreens.
Small side screen for seat positions
Only juices were offered for this short flight, as well as dates and Arabic Coffee before take-off. Some more pictures:
After one hour flight the plane lands in King Khalid airport in Riyadh. This airport has very few gates with jetbridge, with just 8 in each of the 3 terminals (domestic, international for Saudia and foreign carriers). The reason is that the airport was constructed in the 1980s and since then it was never expanded, although there is a project for the expansion. Currently, RUH
is operating above its capacity, with currently over 22 million passengers.
The 787-9, after a while standing in front of the domestic terminal, as the assigned gate was still occupied by another plane, moved towards the nearby international terminal. In Riyadh sometimes the international gates are used for domestic flights, in case the next flight of a plane is international. Passengers would disembark on the jetbridge here and then would be bussed to the domestic terminal. No luck either in the international terminal, despite empty gates, and the 787-9 parked on a remote gate, with a total delay of almost 30 minutes.
After disembarking, I went to the international terminal, with passport check, and went to the lounge, which was quite full.
Some views of the airport and the Alfursan lounge in the international lounge
The 777-200 to Madrid was on a remote stand: The assigned boarding gate 22B, so again on a bus to the plane.
Interior of the 777-200, with the business seats are shown here, with 5 seats per row (in a 2-3-2 layout). Although it seems cramped, business class was not full, almost the entire central section with 3 seats was empty. The 777-200 also features first class, in this case it seems with fully lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 layout, with even less passengers than in business class. Maybe the airline will not consider anymore first class in at least some of their new long-haul planes, as it is not offered on the 787-900.
The in-flight entertainment system was not that easy to manage, as the screens were not touchscreens. They had to be controlled with the remote control buttons
Prayer before take-off
Dates and Arabic coffee were offered before take-off, as well as some drinks.
Dinner after take-off
The plane left on time for the short flight from Riyadh to Jeddah, slightly over hour, before landing in King Abdulaziz airport in Jeddah. The 777-200 would be on the ground for one hour to allow the boarding of passengers and of the crew. A new terminal is being built, due to be opened within 1 or 2 years, and will feature 46 jetbridges in the first phase. Currently, almost all planes are on remote stands and there are just 10 gates with jetways in the north terminal, which is also used for Hajj.
After take-off I just slept until the breakfast.
Arrival in Madrid
For my return to Saudi Arabia, the flight also on a 777-200, in this case to Jeddah, and there I took the connecting flight to Dammam on an A321.
I would highlight from this return trip that the lounge in Terminal 1 of the Madrid airport, the lounge “Cibeles” managed by AENA, has been completely remodelled, and it looks very nice now. Some pictures as well of the food offered on the flight to Jeddah. I hope you enjoyed reading the report.
Cibeles Lounge in Madrid T1 managed by AENA, completely remodelled.
Lunch on the return flight: