Saudia: Unbeatable value for money in Business

Last March, I had the pleasure of being able to benefit from a very advantageous fare to travel on Saudia, a Middle Eastern airline offering very good business class fares throughout Asia.

As a member of the SkyTeam alliance for a few years now, Saudia is currently undergoing a significant increase in the level of service in all its cabins: I wanted to experience this for myself.

So, last April, I made a trip to CDG-RUH-MNL-RUH-CDG which allowed me to test the cabin configuration: first a 2-3-2 configuration on the CDH-RUH-CDG segments, and a 2-2-2 configuration on the RUH-MNL-RUH segments.

Booking

I made my reservation on the ebookers.frwebsite, because the rate was only offered on this site. The airline’s website only offers fares equivalent to twice what I paid. The total fare of the ticket was 1060 €.
Even though I couldn’t make the reservation on their website, I was able to access it through their very comprehensive reservation management interface, and was able to choose my seat as I wished.

Ground experience at Paris CDG

At CDG, Saudia is located in terminal 2C. The online check-in works perfectly, but I still stopped by one of the two (deserted) SkyPriority counters to pick up the Access n1 card, which allows access to the emigration and security controls in priority, as well as the invitation to access the Paris lounge operated by CityOne.
Sky Priority lane at CDG for check-in

After a very smooth passage of the various controls, and after the mandatory passage in the Duty Free area, I go to the Paris lounge, formerly the Air France lounge when the airline still operated this terminal 2C, not so long ago.
Entrance of the Paris Lounge at CDG

In fact, you will recognize the furniture and decoration that remain in some of the lounges of the national company.
Decoration of the Paris lounge at CDG

The food offer is quite basic and limited to cold snacks. The very good salmon sandwiches will be gone very quickly.
Cold offer of the Paris lounge at CDG 1/2
Cold offer of the Paris lounge at CDG 2/2

The drink offer is, on the other hand, quite complete, with good quality wines and in particular a very good Sauternes of which I will taste several glasses.
The drink offer at Paris Lounge at CDG
After a few drinks to make up for the lack of alcohol served on board, I reach the boarding gate.

Two aircraft embarked at a few minutes interval: one for Riyadh and the other for Jeddah.
But the operations are well enough organized that there is no possible confusion.
Boarding screen of the Saudia flight at Paris CDG
The SkyPriority boarding is perfectly respected, and I enter the cabin among the first passengers.

The in-flight experience on older generation 777-200 aircraft

Saudia, from Riyadh, is deploying its old-generation 777-200 three-classes cabin to Paris, with Recliner seats including in First, the difference with Business being the number of seats in front: 6 in First and 7 in Business.
Nevertheless, the IFE seems quite engaging, even though the seat is quite old generation.
IFE on Saudia's 772

A rather basic pillow and a wrapped blanket are already available on the seat.
Saudia seat on non-renovated 777-200

The complete comfort kit is provided for a day flight, very qualitative:
Saudia comfort kit and its contents

The service starts after take-off. No welcome drink was offered on the ground. A hot oshibori of excellent quality is distributed, as well as an Arabic coffee and a date of very good quality.
First oshibori service on Saudia

The proposed menu is appealing:
Saudia menu on CDG flights 1/4
Saudia menu on CDG flights 2/4
Saudia menu on CDG flights 3/4
Saudia menu on CDG flights 4/4

To my horror, the drinks page is pretty sad:
Drinks page of the Saudia menu on CDG flights
Not one nice mocktail to make up for the lack of alcohol. It’s hopeless. Only the lemon juice will find favor in my eyes.
Lemon juice served as an aperitif on CDG-RUH
But I have the impression that Saudia’s move upmarket on the hard product will be accompanied by a considerable progression on the soft product.Stay tuned!

Here, the aperitif is served without accompaniment. But the cabin crew in charge of my aisle takes my order for the rest of the meal in a very professional manner.

Then comes the tray with the starter, the salad and the soup.
Appetizer, salad and soup on Saudia from CDG
The Mezze chosen as a starter are excellent, the salad is very fresh and the soup tasty.

The hot dish will take 30 minutes to arrive but will also be very good, the chicken not dry and the gratin dauphinois successful. Even the presentation remains decent for a reheated dish:
Dish on Saudia from CDG

I finished this meal with some sliced fruits, which were sorely lacking in ripeness, and a coffee.
Dessert on Saudia from CDG

Note that I would have had only one glass of water during the entire meal. No one ever came to fill it out or ask me if I wanted anything else.
After the meal, I dive for a little nap of two hours, and wake up 30 minutes before the landing in Riyadh.

A mixed experience then, but probably due to a lack of involvement of the crew more than to a problem of service protocol.

Ground experiment in Riyadh

I disembark from my flight from Paris in the first and thanks to a footbridge.

Transit

The first step is to go through the Transit course. Some Saudi police officers ask you the purpose of your trip and then check your passport. Then, a security control is to be passed. When I arrived, this checkpoint was closed and I will have to wait about 10 minutes before it opens. No worries since my connection is long.
Waiting at the security control in RUH

Alfursan Lounge

The Alfursan Lounge is located high above the departure lounge and is accessible by escalators or elevators.
The welcome is very cordial at this late hour. My boarding pass is scanned and I am welcomed in the Business lounge, on the left of the entrance (on the right, it is the First lounge).
Excellent surprise: the decoration is superb, without being bling bling.
Entrance to the Alfursan lounge in RUH
Armchair in the Alfursan lounge in RUH
Qork space in the Alfursan lounge in RUH

The catering offer is diverse and qualitative, it is a pity however that the dishes are in plastic (it is nevertheless sufficiently solid and not too ugly):
Drink offer at the Alfursan lounge in RUH
Ice creams at the Alfursan lounge in RUH
Hot drinks at the Alfursan lounge in RUH
Desserts and pastries at the Alfursan lounge in RUH
hot food offer at the Alfursan lounge in RUH

The wait will be very long in this lounge, because of the delay of my flight, several times rescheduled.
When boarding, it’s hard to spot the SkyPriority lane. So I head to the counter and walk past everyone.

The in-flight experience on the mid-generation 777-300

The cabin of this 777-300ER is much more elegant than that of the 777-200 used on CDG-RUH. It is much newer, and the low density (2-2-2) makes it feel very spacious.
The seats are the same as Air France’s NEV4:
Business seat on 777-300ER Saudia for MNL

The IFE, although larger than on 772, offers the same content:
IFE of the Business seat on 777-300ER Saudia to MNL

The welcome is much warmer, Filipino flight attendants working on this flight. Several welcome drinks are offered and the service is very attentive.

Despite the late departure time, a complete menu is proposed:
Menu to MNL 1/5
Menu to MNL 2/5
Menu to MNL 3/5
Menu to MNL 4/5
Menu to MNL 5/5

I will choose this time the western starter, and the rack of lamb as a main course.

The aperitif (lemon juice with mint) is served.
Aperitif on RUH-MNL

The tray is served without the soup, which I declined. So it looks a bit empty:
Starter served on RUH-MNL

Then comes the dish, with an average presentation but very tasty:
Main course served on RUH-MNL

Before dessert, I take a look at the toilets, which are in a pitiful state:
State of the toilets on RUH-MNL
The condition of the floor is probably due to the bidet feature, which didn’t seem to splash much after testing.

I return to my seat for the dessert, and choose the fruit plate, rather good even if the watermelon would have deserved more ripeness:
Dessert on RUH-MNL
Note that when we talk about dry airline, it should also be understood in the first sense, because if we do not claim, we find ourselves with a dry gullet rather quickly. No water or beverages service.. Moreover, the passenger is NEVER asked if he wants something else than water.

After 7 good hours of sleep (we sleep not so bad, in these NEV4-like), I wake up at the time of the breakfast service… at 5pm local time! I will skip the hot dish.
Breakfast on RUH-MNL

Then a very nice view at the landing.
View at the landing of the RUH-MNL flight

A quite good flight, but finally more thanks to the seat than to the cabin crew.

IRROPS management

The second leg of my flight was severely delayed, nearly 5 hours on the original schedule, consuming the entire turnaround time.
The ground service in Manila was perfect: two Saudia agents were waiting for me at the gate with my boarding passes for the two return legs, and accompanied me to security checkpoint and to the gate. Perfect!

Claims management

Due to the long delay, I made a claim on the Saudia website. Which unfortunately went around in circles. No one has answered me as to what the compensation will be. Lame!

Conclusion

Saudia is a promising airline. The product is improving and so is the service. Lacks a bit of customer focus, after sales management and a bit of alcohol to make it an oriental gem. Soon?

Olivier Delestre-Levai
Olivier Delestre-Levai
Olivier has been into airline blogging since 2010. First a major contributor to the FlyerTalk forum, he created the FlyerPlan website in July 2012, and writes articles with a major echo among airline specialists. He now co-runs the TravelGuys blog with Bertrand, focusing on travel experience and loyalty programs.
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