IberiaA319
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Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Mon Apr 04, 2016 5:45 pm

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.



Security video


Prayer


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.

Disembarking:


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


Menu


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.
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:
 
whitelight44
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Mon Apr 04, 2016 8:02 pm

Great TR and great pictures. I'd love to try Saudia one day  
 
debonair
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Mon Apr 04, 2016 10:47 pm

Nice TR, always great to read from such "exotic" airlines...

Quoting IberiaA319 (Thread starter):
Only juices were offered for this short flight, as well as dates and Arabic Coffee before take-off.
Quoting IberiaA319 (Thread starter):
Dates and Arabic coffee were offered before take-off, as well as some drinks. ... Dinner after take-off

So on the domestic flight from Dammam to Riyadh no meal, but on the "domestic" connection from from Riyadh to Jeddah a full dinner? Is this flight from Riyadh to Jeddah also open and bookable as domestic flight, or only in combination with the onward flight to MAD?
 
IberiaA319
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Tue Apr 05, 2016 12:28 am

Quoting debonair (Reply 2):
So on the domestic flight from Dammam to Riyadh no meal, but on the "domestic" connection from from Riyadh to Jeddah a full dinner? Is this flight from Riyadh to Jeddah also open and bookable as domestic flight, or only in combination with the onward flight to MAD?

Yes, actually the leg Riyadh-Jeddah is in combination with the onward flight as you mention. The flight is departing from the international terminal, and passengers have to go through passport check and immigration. In the stopover in Jeddah, no passengers were disembarking, just the crew for crew change. Therefore, a full meal is already offered form Riyadh to Jeddah and is later on offered as well to the passengers joining in Jeddah on the Jeddah-Madrid leg right after take-off.

Quoting whitelight44 (Reply 1):
Great TR and great pictures. I'd love to try Saudia one day  

Thanks for your comments.
 
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Ytraveller
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Tue Apr 05, 2016 2:04 am

Nice report! We don't see many Saudia reports around here. The J seats on the 789 look nice and the entertainment system looks up to date.

Quoting IberiaA319 (Thread starter):
Prayer before take-off

Interesting! KSA is indeed quite interesting and I'd like to visit one day. How do you find it?

Thanks for sharing,
Ytraveller.
 
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hirofumi
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Tue Apr 05, 2016 6:56 am

Nice to see a Saudia report!

How did you find the food? Your returning flight meal looks good! I flew Saudia twice 2 years ago and I had one of the best meals (Business Class) in sky!

Thanks for sharing.
 
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dirktraveller
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Tue Apr 05, 2016 2:42 pm

Hi IberiaA319

Nice report on Saudia! The new J seats on the B787 looks really elegant, personally thinks the seat colors complement the wooden panels on the seat really well. Their meal service also looks good!

Best Regards,
Dirktraveller
 
IberiaA319
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Tue Apr 05, 2016 5:06 pm

Thanks a lot for your comments.

Quoting ytraveller (Reply 4):
Interesting! KSA is indeed quite interesting and I'd like to visit one day. How do you find it?

Saudi Arabia has a lot of tourism potential, but the problem or challenge is that visas are not issued for tourists. With a transit visa to be applied in an embassy and which is valid for 72 hours, you can leave the airport and although not intended for tourism it allows some sightseeing. Visas are not required if passengers are just connecting at the airport without leaving the terminal.

The tallest building is currently being constructed in Jeddah, with a height of 1 kilometer, and I guess that once it is finished, the planned viewing terrace of this tower will attract a lot of foreign tourism (as Burj Khalifa in Dubai does), but then the question is how you enter the country. The Kingdom, due to the huge oil revenue, was not interested in promoting tourism, but perhaps this changes.

Quite interesting is that the country has its own "Petra", similar to the one in Jordan: Mada 'in Saleh, a pre-Islamic archaeological site.

And then markets, forts and several landmarks are also interesting to see. The only thing is that there is not that much entertainment, with no cinemas (Saudis go to Bahrain or UAE to the cinema), no theatres, no nightclubs. But there are a lot of restaurants, with all franchises of American or European chains, so dining out is the entertainment there, along with shopping in malls.

Quoting hirofumi (Reply 5):
How did you find the food? Your returning flight meal looks good! I flew Saudia twice 2 years ago and I had one of the best meals (Business Class) in sky!

Definitely it is very good food, and I really enjoyed it. As you know, Saudia is a dry airline and no alcohol is offered (other dry airlines are Kuwait Airways and Pakistan International, for example).

There is no option to drink a wine or beer, but still I did not miss this as I am not drinking that much alcohol.
 
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mh330fc
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Tue Apr 05, 2016 5:46 pm

aAAHHH!!


What a super awesome unique report!! This is unexpected as Saudi only very recently launched their new business class on their 787s.

It's probably only a year after they launched their new first class which looks very cool but unfortunately already dated since first class passengers will no longer tolerate climbing over another passenger to get to the isle.
I personally like the fact that they and kuwait airlines still have first class on their new jets. Even if it's a below international standard.

I've always admired the "first" cabin   There's just something about the name.

Interestingly, I worked out that the saudi first class on their 777s actually takes the same amount of space as the angled to the window (herringbone) layouts. It puzzled me as to why they would opt for a layout that doesn't offer direct isle access to one that does for the same space.

You do however get more foot-room in their current first class layout.

Very very enjoyable read. Thank you for posting  

Regards,

mh330fc
 
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newbief1yer
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Wed Apr 06, 2016 9:55 am

Interesting TR, thanks for posting it.

Quite a difference between the 777-200 and the brand new 787-9.

I like the understated tones of the interiors. No bling. The 787-9 interiors looks a lot more modern than i imagined it to be, perhaps due to the perception of Saudia that I have.
 
directorguy
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Mon Apr 11, 2016 2:03 pm

Thanks very much for sharing this trip report.
Not very often that we see DMM featured on here!
I really enjoyed it as DMM was my former home airport, so your pictures bring back fond memories. The pictures of DMM show that the airport hasn't changed that much since the 1990s. The maroon check-in counters were there when the facility opened.
DMM when it opened was huge in comparison to the small DHA facility that it replaced. It was massively under-utilized. This was before LCCs had arrived in the country, and the majority of routes and flights were sub-daily. Glad to see that traffic has picked up. Many people (including myself) preferred to go through BAH, which had more options and better airport procedures (immigration wait times in the KSA are a disaster). Is this still the case?
 
IberiaA319
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Mon Apr 11, 2016 2:35 pm

Thanks a lot for all your comments

Quoting directorguy (Reply 10):
Many people (including myself) preferred to go through BAH, which had more options and better airport procedures (immigration wait times in the KSA are a disaster). Is this still the case?

Immigration wait times have improved a lot in Saudi Arabia since 2014, overall offering a friendly attitude. The main change is that passport officers at the Kingdom’s international airports now wear their traditional (white) attire instead of green uniforms on an Interior Ministry directive. The Passport Department appointed trained graduates at the departure and arrival lounges at the main airports of the Kingdom. Even in Riyadh immigration counters have been replaced with attractive counters to serve a larger number of incoming passengers.

You can read more details on it in this article:

http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/news/634366

Immigration wait times were one of the reasons I previously tried to avoid DMM airport when I was in the Kingdom, but now with the improvement, it is more convenient than driving at peak-hours on the causeway bridge that links Saudi Arabia with Bahrain. Once I almost missed a flight at Bahrain airport due to the traffic jams on the King Fahd Causeway.

In Dammam air traffic has increased a lot and you would not consider anymore that the airport is underused, now it has the correct size. However, Jeddah really needs a new airport, now under construction due to be opened in one or two years, as the air traffic exceeds by far the capacity in the current terminal.

Regarding Gulf Air from Bahrain airport, the airline still features convenient flights within the Gulf region, especially to Dubai, with more options and flights than the ones offered in Dammam. Therefore even being a resident in KSA I fly a lot on Gulf Air (I am a Gulf Air Gold Falconflyer member), mainly to Dubai which probably is the most popular route out of Bahrain. But then the causeway has to be crossed at off-peak times in order to avoid the driving hassle.

To sum up, Dammam has improved a lot (immigration wait times and also the remodelled lounges) and now I use this airport more often, but I will still use Bahrain if the timing or the flights are more convenient.

[Edited 2016-04-11 07:37:23]
 
rockyracoon
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Wed Apr 13, 2016 3:09 pm

Interesting report, my first glimpse of Saudia. Thanks for the post.
Airports I've flown from: CVG PIT MWO PHL PHX ORD DCA IAD MIA TPA MCO FLL ATL DTW DFW SJC LAX DEN SLC LAS HNL LIH OGG YVR MUC ICN NRT PVG SHA SZX MNL PPS CRK BKK DMK KBV EOH MDE CLO CTG SMR BOG ACD MEX CUN MID AUA SAL RTB
 
directorguy
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:00 pm

Quoting IberiaA319 (Reply 11):

Thank you for your detailed response.
I remember the King Fahd Causeway jams-we used to plan our weekends around it-but that being said, they generally were okay (unless you decided to travel to Bahrain at 5pm on a Wednesday or Thursday-nightmare). Since I left, I hear the peak-hours are longer, and worse.
Very nice to hear the developments taking place in the Kingdom. One other development major development since I left Saudi-traffic has diversified, and it's no longer JED/RUH/DMM centric. From Egypt, SV and MS had a duopoly. Now there are a bunch of small obscure Egyptian airlines operating from secondary Egyptian cities to secondary Saudi cities (places like Yanbu, Jizan). Flynas is also establishing itself in Egypt.
Am traveling there myself next week, arriving in MED and leaving from JED. Will be interesting to see the new MED terminal which opened last year.
 
IberiaA319
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:31 pm

Thanks for your reply!

Quoting directorguy (Reply 13):
Since I left, I hear the peak-hours are longer, and worse.

Traffic jams indeed really are getting worse at peak times on the causeway bridge that links Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Now with the improvement at the immigration counters at Dammam airport now I am travelling much more through this airport than through nearby Bahrain airport.

Quoting directorguy (Reply 13):
Very nice to hear the developments taking place in the Kingdom.

Definitely, I have been travelling to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2009 and these developments at airports are noticeable.

Quoting directorguy (Reply 13):
Now there are a bunch of small obscure Egyptian airlines operating from secondary Egyptian cities to secondary Saudi cities (places like Yanbu, Jizan). Flynas is also establishing itself in Egypt.

These are small airlines with a small fleet of no more than four planes each (Al Masria, Nesma, Nile Air), but for sure the demand and traffic is there, as the cities of Yanbu and Jizan are being developed as major industrial cities.

Quoting directorguy (Reply 13):
Am traveling there myself next week, arriving in MED and leaving from JED. Will be interesting to see the new MED terminal which opened last year.

Hope you enjoy your stay in Medina and Jeddah, and on pictures the new Medina airport looks really nice and large (which by the way Jeddah needs as well, thankfully the new terminal in JED will be opened within the next 1 or 2 years).
Enjoy your stay in KSA.



[Edited 2016-04-15 11:40:07]
 
9w748capt
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Fri Apr 15, 2016 8:49 pm

Quoting IberiaA319 (Reply 7):
The only thing is that there is not that much entertainment, with no cinemas

Isn't it hypocritical of SV to have IFE? Even their own citizens are banned from watching movies? I cannot imagine living in such a place. This is 2016 for crying out loud.

Must be an interesting experience living there. Thanks for the report!
 
IberiaA319
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RE: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Sat Apr 16, 2016 6:44 am

Quoting 9w748capt (Reply 15):
Isn't it hypocritical of SV to have IFE? Even their own citizens are banned from watching movies? I cannot imagine living in such a place. This is 2016 for crying out loud.

Well, that's the reason why pay-per-view TV, cable and satellite TV are a big business in Saudi Arabia.

Actually in the Kingdom there were cinemas in the 1960s and 1970s, but the situation changed with the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979: the mosque was taken over when extremist insurgents were calling for the overthrow of the House of Saud.

Saudi King Khaled did not react to the upheaval by cracking down on religious puritans in general, but by giving the religious conservatives more power. He thought that "the solution to the religious upheaval was simple: more religion." Among others, cinemas and music shops were shut down.

Private housing compounds for expats do actually offer cinemas, and yes, currently there is one public cinema in the country: It is an IMAX dome in the city of Khobar offering usually American educational movies and documentaries, but not Hollywood movies.

As for Saudia Airlines, in order to remain competitive with other airlines, it needs to offer an updated IFE with the latest Hollywood movies, as Saudis would get it anyway on satellite or cable TV at home.
 
owflyer
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Re: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Wed Jun 15, 2016 8:30 pm

Just a quick question, I would be flying in J from FRA-JED on Friday and was wondering; would I be able to consume F&B onboard since it is Ramadan?
 
IberiaA319
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Re: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Fri Jun 17, 2016 2:34 pm

owflyer wrote:
Just a quick question, I would be flying in J from FRA-JED on Friday and was wondering; would I be able to consume F&B onboard since it is Ramadan?


Hi, I have just seen your post right now. Fasting during Ramadan does not apply for muslims while you are travelling, as it it usually mentioned: "A traveller, who happens to be observing the fast, may break it any time he feels like doing."

Therefore F & B is offered as usual during Ramadan and on any flight you will see muslims having their meal.
 
anjin
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Re: Saudia 787-9 And 777-200 In J Dammam-Riyadh-Madrid

Fri Jun 17, 2016 8:05 pm

I flew into JED recently from LHR on SV777. Great flight only 5.40hrs! Getting through immigration was another matter however. No signs any queue is pot luck. immigration officers wondered off all the time, shouted at other and at pax. Habit of waving pax though out of sequence when you've waited ninety mins on a quiet day you need your sense of humoiur. I guess LHR can be just as bad so you take it with a pinch of salt. Only there for a couple of days. One return JED terminsal is well third world . No piers , two security checks , interesting pax - great experience. SV no issues OK not in same league as QR/EK etc but really enjoyed booth flights .

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