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Saudi Arabian Airlines Karachi-Jeddah-Karachi

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  • Saudi Arabian Airlines Karachi-Jeddah-Karachi

    Other reports on the airline have prompted me to do one of my own first experience with SV, my first time on the airline, on a 777 and first visit to Saudi Arabia.

    Trip took place last September so I'll just post whatever I can recall without going into too many details.

    Arrived very, very late at the airport, for the 9.00 am flight, counter had almost closed, we were the last passengers to get there, even our hand luggage had to be checked-in unlocked to go with the rest of the baggage as security was tight and the flight was running late, new security related pre-boarding checking of the hand bags at gate would add to the delay we were told by the airlines ground personnel.

    As I waited at the counter rest of the family were told to rush off to immigration which had big lines at every booth, not that there were many flights departing at the time all seemed to be SV passengers, some dressed in the pilgramige garb others normally, women travelling to Saudi Arabia have to wear a black, ankle length jacket and head cover, there were plenty of those as well to confirm they were travelling by SV.

    For some reason the ground personnel, all males, had us rushed through immigration, ahead of the other travellers, with requets to remember them in our prayers at the holy mosques.

    The walk to departure is quite long and seems more so in a hurry, just before entering the lounge was another checking session for hand baggage and the self and yet again there were long ques every where, some of us got through fast, others were stuck, especially the women folk, kept a look out for them while slowly heading towards the gates, SV staff were gathering people and guiding them towards the aircraft, flight had been announced much earlier and was running pretty late as could be made out from their actions, most were smart middle aged men, a rarity as airlines seem more keen on hiring younger people these days.

    Finally all of us were together and headed to the aircraft, the walk from gate to plane via jetway was no less, and when we got there, another checking session was under way, more ques, male cabin crew were going through hand bags and checking males via hand held machines, females frisked the women passengers by hand inside the aircarft.

    Again we lost touch in the meelee as due to the rush everything was hap hazard, after a while I managed to get on the aircraft, only foreign aircraft were a Qatar Airways A321 and a Cargolux 744F as I looked out the windows.

    Plane seemed quite spacious, almost like a 747, Y class seating was 2-5-2 and there was plenty of room especially in the aisles, SV crew looked smart and young, especially the males some of whom were very fair almost European looking, perhaps from the Meditteranean region as its rare for Saudi's to be so white, only the purser was older and quite oriental looking.

    Females were also attractive, they all seemed to be Arab's too of different nationalities, again most were very fair, with a short, stout dark Pakistani girl as the purser, she remained in the "upper" classes throughout, strange that both male and female pursers were short and stout.

    SV crew have now got better looking uniforms compared with the conservative look they adopted in the late 80's or early 90's, the new uniforms introduced in late 2001 feature navy blue head dress with pill box hat worn throughout (previously the hat was taken off after boarding), navy blue sleeveless jacket about knee length, worn over a yellow printed shirt (green printed shirt for purser) and navy blue trousers, only the shirt sleeves and collars show through adding much needed colour to the darker ensamble, it looked nice but kind of a school girl uniform style worn in Israel-Palestine, but still better than their previous one for sure.

    Ten minutes or so after boarding we were pushed back, it all seemd so sudden, and with in seconds the aircraft was heading for the runway, flight was pretty full but still there were some empty seats here and there, in no time we were rolling down the runway and then in the air, very smoothly, the take off was shown on camera on big screen and PTV's but it wasnt very clear and not as exciting as I imagined it to be or how airlines promote this feature.

    Soon after take off entertainment was switched on, both the big screen and PTV's, variety of entertainmet was impressive for the 3 hour 45 minute flight, I didnt expect them to show anything as many pasnegrs onboard were into praying for the mini pilgrimage they were heading for, but still the airline caters to the needs of everyone, I believe PIA dont show anything on their Saudi bound flights which is a big negative for that airline.

    Since we too were praying off and on, didnt really focus on the programs but did skip through the channels to see what was on, there were four for comedy, four for English movies, one for an Indian movie, multiple Arabic song vidoes, movies, comedies, news, sports, English news, western Life style shows in English, on houses, fashion, cookery, restaurants etc. childrens shows, cartoons, video games as well as religious channels plus audio, there was plenty to keep one occupied during the flight, I watched a bit of the movie 'The Secret Window' starring Johnny Dep, some thing form life style, tried some games, something from some where else, until breakfast was served.

    It was not very appetising, the main course featured a mini spinach swiss roll, curried mince meat, spicy chickpea's, a fruit salad, sealed cup of orange juice(SV inhouse/unbranded), bun, croissant, butter, jam, cheese(SV inhouse/unbranded), sealed cup of water, tea, coffee, there was an omlette option as well but the FA' didnt bother to ask and just put whatever came first atleast for me.

    Cheese and croissant were the best, the jam I came to realise also was different to the omlette meal option (only difference was you got omlette insetad of mince meat rest was same), they got strawberry I got marmalade, everyone in the family was complaining about the food, stewardess came around with a tea pot asking every one if they wanted 'Chai' as its called in Pakistan and neighbouring countries, I passed the offer and opted for coffee much later, it was served in a paper cup and was hard to handle due to the heat, wasnt good either just like regular coffee every where, pre-packed(SV inhouse/unbranded) wet scented/prefumed towelettes given pre-takeoff were really refreshing and durable more like cloth than tissue, scent was great.

    Journey was pretty smooth, hardly felt like we were flying, kids were jumping across to empty seats, some people were praying, I never mustered up enough curiosity to walk down and check out the plane or the prayer room, toilets etc. just switched on a Quranic verses recitation and dozed off.

    Half an hour or so before landing we flew by Makkah this is from where you are actually supposed to start reciting the special pilgrimage prayer and an announcement was duly made to inform everyone, after about 45 minutes we started preparing for landing, PTV's were turned off, except the air show and camera which started showing the land scape below, again the reception was not good, but there also wasnt much to see as its sits miles away from Jeddah, as we came in to land the surrounding became more deserted, touch down was fast and a bit rough, perhaps prependicular.

    Taxiing towards the terminal saw countelss SV aircraft parked every where, from small biz jets to the Royal fleet SP's to MD11 freighters to the MD90's, 744's, A300's and multiple 777's, the only foreign airlines there were an Air Arabia A320, PIA 747 new colours, Egypt Air A300 which arrived as we were getting off, while leaving the terminal saw a Royal Jordanian A340 coming in to land and it looked beautiful in their livery.

    Jeddah airport was very disappointing, they dont have jetways and you have to be bussed there, old ware house looking terminal building with 70's architecture serves as arrivals, inside a oriental woman was handing out anti-biotic tablets for people who were innoculated against diseases which can be caught while performing pilgrimage from being in very close proximity with people from all regions of the world, those who hadnt had their injections at home, needed to get them at the airport, I think every one including our group opted for the tablets instead.

    The airport interior featured brown (colour of the 70's) counter's, signage etc. a real mis-match wih the brilliant white all around and flourescent lighting, after getting through immigrantion collected our luggage, which was already off the belt and waiting for us, handed our tickets to our state designated sponsor, who makes sure we leave after performing the pilgrimage, but he was a sweet, loud, black Arab (yes there are black Arabs as well mainly of African origin), our hotel car and driver were there to take us on a one hour or more road trip to Makkah.

    Return flight was at 1.00am but more relaxed as we were made to sit in J class minus the service though, seats were big and cushy with adjustable back and leg supports, the leg support on mine was malfunctioning, flight took off one hour late as they were having some problems with air conditioning, SV terminall at Jeddah airport was as disappointing as it was when we arrived, although its being re-furbished they seem to focus only on the domestic section which wore new SV colours, logos, and a modern look at counters etc. but the international side was mid 70's, same depressing brown fixtures, old announcement boards wearing old SV logo's old names and spellings for destinations, flights for each region scheduled together, like ours was with those to other Pakistani cities, and ones to India and Bangladesh, middle east bound flights, European flights, east Asian flights were all with others of their own region.

    Had enough money to grab a nice meal at the tiny cafe, but missed out on an opportunity to by a plastic SV 777 model onboard for the same price of the meal, after checking in we headed for immigration and departure lounge, there were only two foreign looking passenger sin there, one caucasian male and an oriental boy,, all the other passengers were Indo-Pak, the Bangladesh flight was also not there.

    Duty free inside the departure lounge was well stocked with almost every necessity but some of the edibles seeemd to have expired, didnt buy anything place was as dull as the rest of the terminal and apron, no action at all what so ever, it was dark outside depaite millions of lights you couldnt see a thing except sirens flashing on the service vehicles.

    From the departure lounge you can look out onto the drive way outside the Terminal and even wave out to freinds and relatives before boarding the bus, which is parked one floor below the departure lounge, oddly the lounge was rather dimly lit, while another section of it was flooded with bright white flourescent lights, what a contrast, I wonder why? small cafe inside the lounge carried half of what was avilable in its outlet oustide.

    Boarding call was made via a fake sounding computer generated voice, in American English and Urdu, both saying "have a pleasent flight with SV" very 1970's to me.

    Not very airport-ish buses took us to our plane, after an hour on the ground we started taxiing to the runway, this time on the opposite side, second runway, saw the rare SV 732 in new colours, Kuwait Airways A300, Qatar Airways A320, Air Algerie 738, Emirates 777, Turkish A310 were the other foreign aircraft there, as was an ex-delta Airlines L1011 in partial DL livery, we took to the skies after a quick take off roll, again the flight was very smooth and it was great to be in the J class seats, I finally got to see three of the sitcoms 'Mad about you', 'King of queens' and 'Everybody loves Raymond' plus all the life style shows, a little bit of the movie 'Standing Tall' starring the Rock, a bit of 'Shreck 2' (by which time we were getting ready to land).

    Food was served right after take off, main dish contained rice, chicken bits with spicy tikka curry, a bean and diced pototao curry, we were also given pre-take off juices, which was basically the entire fruit whipped into pulp, I chose pineapple, but would have preferred the "Juice" version, they also had apple, orange which looked most normal and mango, again pulped fruit version.

    Extras were the ususal jam, water, bun, butter, salad, tea, coffee, no soft drinks Ckoe, Mirinda etc. of any kind were offered or served on either, or had to be asked for, as they werent even on the trolleys.

    An FA who bore a striking resemblence to the female in 'King of queens' (but fairer), asked me what option I wantedd in my meal, chicken or vegetable, I chose chicken, she seemd annoyed that I didnt hear her out the first time and she had to repeat herself, not my fault I had barely taken off the headphones when she enquired.

    After the meal service ended, everyone settled into their seats for a good sleep or to watch something, lights were dimmed, no more than 10 seconds later the lights came on all at once overly bright, stunning everyone out of their relaxed states, turned out the crew decided to do duty free sales, everyone looked so annoyed even the crew must have relalised as they went around the aisles with sheepish grins on their faces announcing "duty free sales" doubt anyone bought anything, lights were put out again, I asked for a blanket as it was getting cold, what they gave me was more like a flannel sheet, it did the job but just barely, two would have been right for it to really work.

    The Sun was out and we started descending towards Karachi, it had rained there so everything was shiny and the skies were clear, we glided really low and gently the aircraft aligned to head for the runway, touch down was smooth, Karachi was as ususal not busy, with the same Cragolux 744F, same Qatar Airways A321 and multiple PIA and other local airlines aircraft.