A Blonde Eastern European Travels to Saudi Arabia

It was early in the morning when I got on the plane in Budapest.  Excited, but already tired, knowing that I have a twelve hour of journey ahead of me.  I was traveling alone(like usual), which generally does not make me feel worried or anxious.  However this time it was a completly different story.

I am an Eastern-European blonde and blue eyed women looking forward to be reunited with her American husband in the Kindom of Saudi Arabia, where he worked instructing new Saudi firefighters.

I had to change planes at Frankfurt airport, where the culture difference became crystal clear. It was amazing how different the crowd getting on the plane was from my last flight. This was my first time seeing a man in a thobe, the traditional Saudi attire, and women wearing the abaja, covering their whole body and head in black fabric, though not all were dressed like this.

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During boarding I found my assigned seat occupied by a Saudi man. No problem I thought, it is alright and happens fairly often. I will just ask him to move.

Oh if I had only known…

The man immediately called a hard-working Philippino stewardess to his rescue, explaining to her that he wanted that seat and refuses to sit next to me so they will have to find me another seat. I felt a bit embarrassed, but was ready to find myself a new seat and avoid this rude man. Here I came across some more difficulties and learned a bit about their culture, as more and more Saudis refused to sit next to me, regardless of their gender or age. At the end, as the outcast of the plane, i found peace next to an old Indian man who was more than delighted to have me as his traveling companion for the hours to come.

After listening to the “Prayer of the Travelers” from the Holy Koran, which played on the monitors, the plane took off and I was finally on my way to the amazing Kingdom of sand, camels and terrible coffee…which all deserve their own story.

Saudia Airlines

Saudia most likely will not be on your radar of flight options if you are not a Muslim.  This is simply because Saudi Arabia is not a big tourist destination for non-Muslims and there are much better and more convenient connecting flights through Istanbul, Dubai,  and other Middle East gateways. But if you are a Muslim or contract worker there is a good chance you will fly on Saudia.

Their fleet consists of small Airbuses for domestic routes and Boeing 747s and Airbus A330s for long haul.  They have also received new 787 Dreamliners.  Domestic flights are quite disgusting.  The planes are beat up with broken arm rests and tray tables,  disgusting carpet, filth everywhere, and no entertainment system. The cabin crews are excellent foreign workers but appear burned out as most of the customers do not listen to them.  So on some flights they just hang out in the galley chatting with each other.  I don’t blame them.

Food is good but only if you like rice and chicken.  I believe I have gotten the same chicken and rice every single time.  Orange drink is in unlimited supplies and is what most people have.  Not orange juice mind you, orange drink. Juices are also available.

I detest mobile phones for many reasons but in public spaces and especially the confined space of an airplane cabin I hate how people share everything they do.  Headphones are a rarity on these flights and phones only have one volume, maximum.  So you will have to listen to everybody’s conversations, Youtube videos, and children playing games.  Noise cancelling headphones are a life saver on these flights.

If you are a male traveling alone be prepared to move from you assigned seat if a Muslim woman has a seat in the same row.  A Non-Muslim is not allowed to be close to a Muslim women.  This might mean losing your nice window seat and instead settling into a middle seat between two big sweaty blokes.

The larger aircraft are slightly better.  They are just a faction cleaner and in better repair plus they include an entertainment system.  Be warned that any films you watch will be shortened quite a bit as the Saudis censor very liberally.  Anything that hints of sex is gone.  Violence is fine, but not sex.  So enjoy John Wick but not any women being anything less than fully clothed.  Kissing and touching are also out.

I have gotten to fly the new Dreamliner a few times and it is fabulous.  Clean and perfect.  I do not expect this to last much longer though.

Saudia does have one benefit over other airlines and that is its baggage allowance.  Two large heavy bags for International flights and sometimes three.  This is because Saudis shop like mad on vacation and bring back luggage stuffed to the point of blowing off a zipper.  So the airline does have one thing going for it.

But here we end with the biggest reason to not fly Saudia.  No alcohol.  Not a drop on any flight anywhere.  So if you enjoy a twelve hour flight without even a glass of wine with your dinner go right ahead.  But if you enjoy a little taste on your flights stay well back.