Flying with Saudi Airlines: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

We booked our Manila-Paris-Manila flights with Saudi Airlines because theirs were the cheapest rates. We got roundtrip tickets for a little less than USD 700 only (about Php 29k). Good deal, right? Or so we thought.

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Before finalizing our flight bookings I went to Skytrax to see the reviews about Saudi Airlines. They were mixed. Most people complained that the fleet was too old and the food wasn’t good. But some reviews were actually positive so I figured those negative reviews were just because of “First World Problems.” I was used to flying with Cebu Pacific: no food being served during the flight, no in-flight entertainment, not much leg room, etc.; so I thought Saudi Air couldn’t be much worse.

So we booked our flights even if we still didn’t have Schengen Visas because the fares will no doubt get higher if we book later. We booked our flights on July 2013, eight months before we would actually travel in March 2014. This gave us ample time to plan and save up enough money for the trip. But during those eight months of planning, our flight schedules changed several times. We kept getting email updates from Saudi Air saying so.

The latest flight schedule they sent made it difficult for us to make our connecting flight to Paris because there would only be a 90-minute layover. So I sent them an email requesting to change back our flight to the original schedule.

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These were their replies:

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Like hell was I cancelling our flights! I was already too invested in the research for this trip and also too excited to see Europe to back out.

So we went to the Saudi Air office located in Makati to talk to them directly. The office was straight out of the 90s. It was in an old building with yellowing walls and decrepit facilities. But that was the least of our concerns. We needed to change our departure flights immediately. We talked to the staff there and she was really nice about everything and understood our predicament about the connecting flight. She changed our departure flight to have a layover in Jeddah instead of Riyadh. This new flight would give us ample time to make our connecting flight to Paris. As an added courtesy, she even reserved us seats in the upper deck of the plane (Business Class seats but Economy service) for our return flight to Manila from Riyadh.

Everything was settled before the trip. There were no more flight changes until our departure. We were finally on board the plane that would take us to Europe.

The flight from Manila to Jeddah was… amusing, to say the least. There were no individual in-flight entertainment systems, only one big screen in front of the cabin. The flight took more than 11 hours, and there was only ONE movie that they kept on repeat for the entire duration of the flight. And to make matters more amusing, it was an 80s Filipino movie in Tagalog with English subtitles, starring one of the Bagets actors during his prime.

Imagine seeing something like this. Repeatedly. For 11 hours straight.

During the movie, every time a woman was shown on the screen wearing tank top or a bathing suit, her body was blurred from the neck down. This was probably because of the Saudi cultural restrictions about women hiding everything but their heads, but come on!

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Blur that shit out!

I admit it was kind of funny at first, but after the third repeat of the movie, it got old. So I slept off the rest of the flight.

The flight from Jeddah to Paris was infinitely better. The plane was newer, the seats were bigger, and the food was better. Which got me thinking: Was the flight from Manila to Jeddah bad because Saudi Air didn’t think it would matter if their service was good or not because the passengers were “just OFWs on their way to work”? Whereas the flight from Jeddah to Paris were mostly filled with European passengers, so they had to higher their standards to match First World sensibilities. Aren’t flight services supposed to be equal regardless of where your passengers are coming from?

So anyway, after more than 17 hours of flying, we finally landed in Paris!

We traveled for more than three weeks within Europe, but I still felt like it ended too quickly. I didn’t want to leave yet, but we had work (ugh!) and other obligations to get back to in Manila.

As expected, the flight from Paris to Riyadh was great. I had no complaints. We had individuals screens for entertainment and the selections were fairly recent. I watched Frozen and some episodes of Adventure Time during the flight. The food was also decent enough.

But the flight from Riyadh to Manila was a total nightmare.

We got the flights at dirt cheap rates, so I wasn’t expecting anything grand. I expected the old airplane. I expected the bad food. I expected the narrow leg room. I expected the 80s Filipino movie with blurred women body parts. These were all things I was willing to forgive. But just because we got cheap economy flights doesn’t give the airline staff the right to treat us passengers with disrespect.

Okay, so here’s what happened. Remember that nice lady from Saudi Air Makati office who reserved us seats in the upper deck of the plane? Yep. Guess what? We totally got bumped off those seats! Upon checking our boarding passes, I got placed in Row 63 at the very back of the plane instead of Row 18. That was the only thing I was looking forward to after the trip: the Business Class seat in the upper deck so I could rest comfortably. But they took that away from me!

Bear in mind that we had a long layover in Riyadh before boarding for Manila, 9 hours to be exact. We were tired, cranky and sleep-deprived. And they chose to fuck us over. Unacceptable.

So we looked for someone to help rectify this “mix up.” We talked to the ground crew of Saudi Air, asking why there were changes in our seats and how we can get those seats back. This guy at the Saudi Air desk said that the flight was fully booked and there was nothing he could do, with an arrogant shrug that said:

I DON’T GIVE A FUCK.

So I was like:

I may look calm, but in my head I’ve punched you in the face several times.

He was already the third Saudi Air staff we spoke to, and none of them were of any help. No one apologized. No one was nice. They were all rude, arrogant, and condescending. We had the feeling that because we were Filipinos, they thought we were all OFWs on our way home to the Philippines, and therefore beneath them, like we had no right to question their authority over us. Clearly, they were a bunch of useless idiots.

So we decided that upon boarding we would talk to the crew on board to direct us to our original seats. I expected some sympathy at least, and we got that from the Filipino crew on board. She apologized about the situation even if it wasn’t her fault. She even found out for us that our original seats were given to Arab passengers. I couldn’t even begin to understand why.

But the other Saudi Air staff were just as rude and arrogant as the ground staff. After about 15 minutes of arguing with them, they said that if we wanted to take our original seats then we would have to fly the next day. We had no choice but to take the Row 63 seats so we could finally go home.

But that’s not the end of it. On this flight, there was no in-flight entertainment AT ALL during the entire 9-hour flight to Manila, not even a bad 80s movie. Also, the small table where we ate was broken making it difficult to eat, the toilets were dirty and had no tissue, and of course, the food was dry and tasteless.

As I said, I wasn’t expecting much for the price of the airfare, but good manners and politeness shouldn’t have price tags on them. Whether you are flying First Class or Economy, airline staff have no right to treat their passengers like they are a bunch of naughty 4-year-olds. Because that’s what I felt like when I took my seat in Row 63, like I was being reprimanded for something bad and made to sit in the corner to think about what I’ve done.

So, to sum up my review for Saudi Air:

The Good: Cheap ass tickets to Europe!

The Bad: Food

The Ugly: Saudi Air staff (except for those nice Filipinos)

If you don’t mind forking over an additional 10k for flights to Europe on a different airline, please do so. It will be worth it, I promise. If you don’t mind being looked down upon by rude people, then by all means, fly with Saudi Air. It will be one hell of an experience.

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27 thoughts on “Flying with Saudi Airlines: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

  1. I remember asking you about your experience before because I was going to take the same airline for my Paris trip last April… so let me share my experience… Fortunately for me, I did not have any bad experiences during my flights with them… I’m surprised about the no individual in-flight entertainment systems on the initial flights you boarded because they had it on all my flights… so that was weird. Food was ok for me… I liked the fact that when we got off in Riyadh to go to the next terminal to wait for my connecting flight to Paris, they still gave us food for dinner at the airport! 🙂 What was bad for me was the long wait i had to do for my connecting flight back to Manila from Jeddah… the airport there sucks big time and I was so hungry I had no Rials to buy food and they didn’t have FOREX there! Also I hated the fact that we are not to be able to bring back wine from France because they don’t allow alcohol on their flights… so yeah that sucked… The worst was when they lost my bf’s luggage on our way to France… they gave us a run around on how to get it back… It was so hard to deal with their customer service… but thankfully we got it a week after and they delivered it to where we were staying, but that was because it was already under the custody of AirFrance. All in all, it wasn’t the best flights I’ve had but I guess I just got lucky it went pretty fine for me…

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    • Oo nga, you got lucky. Panget talaga ng overall experience namin. 😦 And yeah, panget pareho ng airport sa Jeddah at Riyadh. We had to talk to fellow Filipinos and asked to exchange some pesos to rials so we could buy food.

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    • Hi Nina.

      I could not help but post this reply after reading your experience with Saudi Airlines. Whatever, you have stated about them is spot on and I experienced the same thing when I flew with Saudi Airlines “Business Class” to Jordan from India to visit my uncle who lives there.

      I would say they not only treat filipinos badly but they treat anybody from a third world nation as bad as they can. I am a muslim; you would think they would be nice to me but one would be wrong if they thought so that way. I usually do not stereotype people/races etc but I have to say the first contact I had with Arabs was bad! They have that vibe when they meet you that they think you are inferior to them.

      Also, when I was enquiring about my connecting flight terminal from Riyadh to Amman, the Saudi Airlines crew was let me put it this way, did not give you know what. I also believe they understand english quite well but act like they do not when you have queries. Anyway, I had to run around and find the terminal myself. Luckily, there were some Indian/Pakistani/Filipino workers on the ground there who guided me to the right way after checking my ticket.

      I am well educated and it was then I understood how our less fortunate brothers and sisters suffer working in these countries. If we are treated this way, I cannot imagine how the workers are coping there. It makes me sad.

      However, I would like to add I found the general Jordanian people welcoming. It’s just those Arabs who hold good jobs are the ones who are arrogant and have a superiority complex.

      Salaam.

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      • Hello! Thank you for your comment. I agree with everything you said. I have never been treated as badly as how they did. They should be taught good manners and hospitality because they are the people whom travelers encounter first. I don’t think they will change their attitude towards us, so I guess the best way is to just avoid that airport/airline altogether. 🙂

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  2. I flew kuwait airways dxb-kw-mnl, 4 to 6 hours layover making it total approx 18 hours including the immig and check in processes. Got it around 1k AED (12k php) less than a straight flight. Flight changes did happen, the remote call centre staff were not helpful considering she was filipina too. And of course I was transferred to the filipina call centre agent because the first agent who took my call abruptly assumed that I will be able to articulate better in my own language than English. Haha way to insult passengers.
    Old aircrafts…no wifi at the airport. Imagine a layover of 4 – 6 hours with no connectivity, super traumatic. I wish I paid a few dirhams more for a better connecting flight.

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    • I agree with everything you said! Super bulok ng airport nila sa Jeddah and Riyadh. At super bulok ng ugali ng staff!! At least ang NAIA may WiFi haha!

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      • I’m travelling to NY this coming November and I came across flights from Saudia. Buti nlang I researched first for reviews before booking. To think to, Saudi is one of the wealthiest countries in the world yet their airport is this BAD.

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  3. Oh my!! Your story about the 80s movie was hilarious! (I can’t imagine myself watching that repeatedly! Hahaha) 😁 Anyway, that’s why when I choose an airline I make sure to book the best one esp when traveling to far places (think loooong hours) But what an experience you got there. Well, on the positive side: you were able to see Europe and was safe! 😊👍 Here’s to more traveling!! ❤️

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  4. Hey there, sorry for hear about your flight but TQ so much for sharing with such details. I was told that this airline has one of the best rate (Kuala Lumpur to New York) which is still in the stage of planning for my future trip. I have read few reviews online and mostly negative.

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  5. Am very tempted by the low price (Singapore to London) but after reading your review, I’m not prepared to take the risk on such a long flight. Reckon that the extra £100 to fly eithiad or Qatar has to be worth it.
    Thank you for the warning.

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  6. Booked this airline thru an online booking company for our friends and family living in France to attend our wedding ceremony in Manila.
    1- Baby bed, as well as two seats were broken!
    2- They do not warned on the online booking company that women will have to wear pants during the stop over!!!
    3- One luggage was lost for three days and we had to send someone to collect it and bring it back to our wedding place. Not i.d. requested to pick it up, no apology for the troubles caused, no follow up from the airline… no nothing!!!!!
    4- For the return flight, I finally obtained from the country manager, to upgrade my parents. Indeed he did, but only up to Saudi. From Saudi to Paris, my parents were so squeezed in economy class with poor service, my father fainted and had to receive a medical emergency in Paris airport. The staffs of the airport had to face poor cooperation with the airline staff and my parents were told that this is typical behavior from this airline company.
    Of course, the online booking company denied any responsibility and the country manager, as well as the customer service never answered any of my emails…

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    • Hi Steven, I am not a Saudia employee, rather, a former employee of a European airline. Allow me to explain. The country manager was able to upgrade your parents from Manila to Saudi, correct? Unfortunately the Saudi to Paris leg of the trip was not upgraded because the Manila country manager has no control over the load of this flight. I’m guessing the country manager was not able to explain this properly. Hope this helps (despite my late reply).

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      • PS: It was upon the discretion of the Saudi country manager to make the “upgrade” decision since it is his/her responsibility (flight coming out of Saudi) and they have the control over the load of that flight. My apologies, I can’t simplify these airline terms.

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  7. I wish i read this before i flew saudia. This airline is horrendous…I booked a round trip to Dubai via this airline due to the cheap price. They delayed the trip several times and it never left the lot…it was impossible to get a refund from Expedia because saudia claimed to have flown but it never left…I’m still shocked of the whole ordeal. The staff are pompous and 90% of them either scoff at non Arabs or ignore them. I clearly saw about a dozen total workers sitting around dojng nothing b/w thw scanners and “help” desk. There are a few helpful ppl but in general if you’re non Arab inshallah good luck…the lines are disorganized…wouldnt be surprised if many ppl lose luggage too.

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    • Oh my, reading comments like this makes me sad. Please do not book with Expedia again. Book directly with the airline. It’s hard to deal with Expedia agents over the phone (call center agents from India – not being racist, but they are not well trained nor well versed in airline fares/rebookings/reissues/refunds, etc). There were many cases wherein they’d call the airline directly (I was a former airline employee) and when we have to inform them “The fare that was booked is nonrefundable/nonrebookable/etc”, the Expedia agents will say “Ok I will call the passenger and will put you on a conference call” without giving us the chance to respond, they will put us on long hold. Very annoying. Most of the time I drop the call because THEY should be the one relaying the info DIRECTLY to the passenger. The airline is not involved in rebooking nor refunding a passenger’s ticket, because the booking was done via Expedia. I’ve also tried calling Expedia once to make an airline booking and they were VERY aggressive. They would say, “But ma’am there are few seats left for this fare/let me book this for you/I cannot guarantee the fare, etc etc”. I understand why they act this way. I think they have a quota to meet. So I told them in a nice way “I work for an airline company. I know how this works. Thank you for assisting me” then they shut up. Anyway, apologies for my long explanation. It might not be related to your comment and I just wanted to share how Expedia works.

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  8. I wish i read this before i flew saudia. This airline is horrendous…I booked a round trip to Dubai via this airline due to the cheap price. They delayed the trip several times and it never left the lot…it was impossible to get a refund from Expedia because saudia claimed to have flown but it never left…I’m still shocked of the whole ordeal. The staff are pompous and 90% of them either scoff at non Arabs or ignore them. I clearly saw about a dozen total workers sitting around dojng nothing b/w thw scanners and “help” desk. There are a few helpful ppl but in general if you’re non Arab inshallah good luck…the lines are disorganized…wouldnt be surprised if many ppl lose luggage too. Unless you’re desperate take your chances elsewhere.

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  9. Worst airline I wish I read your review before I booked with them. It’s all true…horrendous/unorganized lines…95% of the staff are pompous or lazy (I saw at least 8 Arab workers idling at the x-rays and “help’desk…inshallah you’ll encounter the helpful 5% who try to help. Unless you’re desperate take your business elsewhere.

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  10. never never never fly SAUDIA. They simply run this airline their own way, with no respect for international standards. They are not in it for the business, they serve only pilgrims to Mekkah, the service is awful, they cancel flight, they run the company in a totally amateur way because they can do it. If you book a flight with them, you are basically in their hands and you have no protection, no right, nothing, since they dont care about surviving in the market.

    Never fly SAUDIA

    Liked by 1 person

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