Once in a while you have a flight that is so weird you have to pinch yourself and ask whether this could possibly be real. This was one of those flights.
It all started so promising. Ben and I booked the last two business class seats on the flight and ended up with middle seats in different rows. The flight was scheduled to be operated by an old 777-200 with Saudia’s aging, angled business class product. But much to our delight, at check-in we found our flight had been upguaged to a 777-300 with new fully lie-flat business class seats.
Two rows of 2-3-2 became five rows of 2-2-2 and we had no trouble assigning seat together.
Fast-forward to boarding time. We walked down the jetbridge and were stopped by men who appeared to be working for Saudia. They had Saudia uniforms on, Saudia wings, and visible Saudi Arabian passports in their shirt pockets.
They argued with airport staff about something then retreated from the jetbridge to the plane. Meanwhile we all just stood around and watching.
Finally, we were signaled to board the aircraft where the same men stopped us, searched our carry-on bags, and performed a comprehensive pat-down. Another agent checked our passports.
This was my fifth flight on Saudia and I’ve never experienced anything like that.
But the twilight zone would continue onboard.
Colombo (CMB) – Jeddah (JED)
Monday, August 2
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 4B (Business Class)
Saudia 777-300 Regional Business Class Seat
Saudia’s regional 777-300 features only a two-cabin configuration, but at the time had better business class seats than the three-cabin longhaul 777-300. Saudia now has lie-flat beds on all its 777-300ER.
This is the same business class seat you can find on many airlines including the Qatar Airways flight we had stepped off of earlier in the day, United Airlines and American Airlines.
I find it to be a very comfortable seat for sitting and sleeping, though some complain about the constrained foot cubby.
Saudia 777-300 Business Class Service
Okay, here’s where things got weird. The service was atrocious on this flight and I’m not sure where to start or who to blame. I wrote about it at the time HERE.
First, keep in mind Saudia tends to use foreign female workers, mostly Filipinos, to staff FA roles though Saudi males also apparently occupy that position. Here’s how we experienced the service.
First, the ladies were hostile. The FA working our side of the aisle seemed angry, failed to make eye contact, failed to speak in complete sentences and just seemed very unhappy.
But perhaps this is why: the four male crew members (who had performed the security check while boarding) took business class seats toward the back of the cabin.
They spent the flight relaxing, chatting, reading newspapers, using the IFE system, eating business class meals, and playing on their cell phones.
As in the entire flight. They did not get up once unless they needed something to eat in the galley. Even worse, they were served first. Still worse, they played music and videos on their mobile phones loud enough for everyone in the cabin to hear.
The purser (he referred to himself as the “senior supervisor”) on the flight was Mohammed. He was the only male who walked around the cabin, not that he did anything. Our trays were empty when he walked by and he looked at them and continued on.
We could not resist and attempted to engage him in a conversation. He had three thick stripes and one thin stripe on his lapel and we started with that. He proudly claimed he had worked for Saudia for 30 years.
Casually, I asked if the seated crew members were actually crew members. Perhaps they were just additional staff hired to perform the pre-flight security checks?
Nope. Mohammed confirmed they were FAs.
“I gave crew a chance to rest after meal service ”
Oh, so that’s it.
He elaborated that with the equipment upgrade to a 777-300, Saudi was four crewmembers short and that “four have to work double duty today.”
Any guess as to which crew members had to work double duty?
That was so ironic considering we later spoke to two of the female FAs in the front galley and they complained (when we coaxed them to be honest) that the male FAs always do that and did the same thing on the flight to Colombo. So imagine being forced to fill in for four lazy FAs on a larger aircraft that was already short four FAs. No wonder they were in such a horrible mood.
We also asked Mohammed if he ever flies longhaul and he said doesn’t like long haul because he doesn’t like dealing with passenger complaints when the IFE doesn’t work…
I’ll speak about the poor service around the meal service below, but one other example. About 35 minutes before landing one of the female FA shook Ben’s seat and scolded him, “Get upright, we are landing.” We had not even begun our descent.
Then, while I was using the lavatory, she brought my coat back and handed it to Ben. When he said that it wasn’t his, her response was, “Well he is your friend.”
Talk about a train wreck.
One other example. About two hours into the flight Ben wanted coffee and pressed the FA call button. It was ignored. 30 minutes later, he pressed it again. Still ignored. When he pressed it a third time, it was shut off in the galley.
Saudia 777-300 Business Meal Service
The food itself was quite tasty, though the bad service continued into the meal service.
Prior to takeoff we were offered a date with Arabic coffee. Menus were also distributed and a prayer was offered.
Fresh juices (lemon, orange, or mixed juice) were offered after takeoff and quite refreshing. Hot towels as well.
A FA appeared with appetizer trays. Her only words were, “Arabic or Western.”
I was seated on the aisle and ordered first, choosing the Arabic appetizer. Ben also ordered Arabic but was told, “Sorry, only one left” and handed the western appetizer without further commnet.
We noticed the male FAs on the other side of the cabin, who had been served first, were enjoying Arabic appetizers…
The mezze was delicious. It contained hummus, baba ganoush, and mozzarella with tomatoes.
Ben’s western appetizer included salmon, shrimp, and bread with cream cheese.
The salad was also fresh, though again we encountered poor service. The FA approached us with a tray and held it out to us without explanation. At first glance, it looked like preserves or jam, not salad dressing. It was only upon closer examination that we determined this was salad dressing…
Bread was also served.
Moments later our main course appeared. Yes, we were not given time to even begin our appetizer.
I requested fish but was told there was no fish left. You guessed it…two of the male FAs received fish dishes.
I took lamb kalbi instead and enjoyed it. The food itself did not disappoint.
Ben ordered chilli chicken.
After finishing our main courses, a FA stopped and grabbed everything…the trays and tablecloth. Would there be no dessert today?
But dessert did appear: a combination of cakes and fruits. Oddly, a fresh tablecloth was offered. We also ordered cappuccinos which were powdered.
During dinner service we were not offered any beverages. It just seemed like our FA was angry and taking it out on us.
About 90 minutes before arrival a snack was offered. First juice, then a tray with sandwiches and sweets. At least this time there was a glass of still water on the tray and tea was offered. The sandwiches were stale.
Saudia 777-300 Business Class Amenity Kit
A very nice Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit was offered prior to takeoff. I appreciated the contents including a fairly good quality razor and some Ferragamo amenties.
Saudia 777-300 Business Class Lavatory
The lavatory was clean when I checked it, though that was toward the beginning of the flight.
Saudia 777-300 Business Class IFE + Wi-Fi
IFE selection was not bad, though movies are highly censored. For example, in Gone with the Wind the (clothed) chest area of woman is blurred out…
Wi-Fi was available and reasonably priced, but was so slow it was unsuable.
Saudia 777-300 Prayer Room
In the back of the aircraft is a prayer room available to Muslim passegners.
As we flew over Mecca as we neared Jeddah, the captain announced, “May Allah accept all of our good deeds.” I don’t think the flight crew earned any merits on this flight.
Honestly, this flight was a new low in terms of bad service. And though I felt bad for the female crew members, their service was horrible too.
The ironic thing is the seat was great. The food tasted great. The IFE was fine. Such wasted potential…
Check out Ben’s review here.