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.
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.
These were their replies:
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.
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!
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:
So I was like:
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.