Flight XY219, AlUla (Saudi Arabia) to Dubai (UAE)
Airbus A320neo. Flynas has committed to purchasing 120 A320neos and A321neoXLRs, an $A11 billion paycheck for Airbus. Currently, it has 20 A320neos in its 34-strong fleet.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
The low-cost Saudi airline was formerly known as Nas Air, and points earned on its loyalty program, NaSmiles, can be redeemed only on its flights, flynas.com/en/nasmiles
Economy class, seat 10A. I've asked for a window seat, and with the flight only about 15 per cent full, it's an easy request to accommodate.
2 hours 30 minutes, non-stop.
The flight generates 0.319 tonnes of carbon emissions for one economy passenger, according to co2.myclimate.org. Flynas states that its A320neos reduce its fuel consumption by 15 per cent per seat, with half the noise footprint and lower CO2 emissions than previous generation aircraft.
The AlUla-Dubai route began in November 2021, the first international flight from the newly renovated little AlUla International Airport, as the region, best known for its UNESCO-listed site, Hegra, launches on the tourism market. The route operates three times a week between Dubai and AlUla.
Passengers have to present their verified vaccination status on the Saudi COVID-19 tracking app, Tawakkalna, to enter the airport, and again to check in. Masks are also mandatory in the airport. However, unlike other international flights I've taken recently in the region, there are no face masks or hand sanitiser offered inflight.
For the first time in my life, my ticket reads "First Class," but the check-in clerk informs me dryly that there's no First section on the plane, and my ticket's not even in the Premium class, which makes up the first two rows of the plane. Crushed.
The blue padded leather seats are 18 inches wide, and like everyone else on the flight, I have a row to myself. However, the seats in my row, which are one row ahead of the exit rows, don't recline, so the staff swiftly move me a row forward so I can lean back and snooze.
My allowance is 20kg of checked-in luggage and one piece of cabin luggage weighing up to 7kg.
Flynas' bread and butter is its short-haul flight network to 35 domestic destinations, though it does service other countries in the region including Egypt and Turkey. So it's no surprise there are no screens – neither individual nor communal. That's OK, because the first half-hour of the flight is spent admiring the smorgasbord of desert vistas and the two million palms of the AlUla oasis below.
Proving that it's the staff that make the greatest difference on a flight, I ask one flight attendant if there are any USB slots in the seat - as usual, my phone is flat and I need to present my vaccination status on arrival in Dubai. He not only plugs it in up in the galley, but uses his own, lightning-fast cable to charge it. "Whatever you need, I'll bring it," he declares, before dashing off, presumably to deliver a baby and catch a unicorn for a small child.
Food must be pre-ordered and costs extra unless you're on a Premium ticket. As soon as we take off, staff do a food drop, but bypass me until I remind them that my ticket is marked as having a meal. When it arrives, the meal is a small bottle of water and long, curiously gritty white roll with a slab of cream cheese and a strip of warm cucumber, delivered by a crew member with the same aplomb as dropping a handful of 5-cent pieces into a busker's hat.The tea cart then rumbles down the aisle offering drinks for 5 dirham ($A1.80) – they take UAE dirhams, Saudi riyals and credit cards. The same, dismissive flight attendant is later seen wandering the aisles, asking passengers if anyone has change for a 500 riyal (A$183) note.
Voted the Middle East's leading low-cost airline in the Skytrax airline awards 2021 (there's more competition than you'd think), I'd suggest the reviewers haven't eaten that sandwich.
ONE MORE THING
The flight is blissfully free of inflight announcements, save the recitation of the travelling surah (chapter) from the Quran on take-off, and a reminder to buckle up when we hit some turbulence.
A convenient connection that makes it a two-flight journey from Australia to Saudi Arabia's most exotic new destination: although the low-cost carrier is Saudi, it's still a budget airline. Leave your expectations for gold toilet seats at the boarding gate.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
The writer flew as a guest of AlUla, experiencealula.com