Flight SV300, Cairo (Egypt) to Jeddah (Saudi Arabia)
Boeing 777-300 ER – which comprises 33 of Saudia's 147 aircraft in its young fleet.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines) is in the Skyteam alliance, so you can earn and burn points with members including Delta, Garuda and Vietnam Airlines.
Economy class (referred to as 'guest' class), seat 49L (window).
Two hours, non-stop.
The airline has no public statements of tackling emissions on its website. Calculated at 0.242 tonnes for an economy class passenger. There's an option to pay to offset emissions at co2.myclimate.org
This busy route has up to nine flights a day from Cairo to Jeddah, with even more in reverse. Jeddah is the gateway to Mecca, and during Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, this route is even busier.
At the beginning of the flight, I'm given a little hygiene kit comprising sanitiser, an antibacterial wipe and Saudia's cute and coveted black disposable mask that is embellished with a sadu design, the traditional Saudi tribal weaving. A note on the packaging explains from what region my mask's design originated. No nasty medico-blue masks here, thank you.
At the time of flying, passengers had to produce proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test to enter Saudi Arabia, but the PCR requirement was scrapped on March 8, 2022.
After a glitchy run through customs thanks to lack of staff, I'm cutting it fine. However, the check-in queue snakes interminably through the centre of Cairo Airport's Terminal 2. We're going nowhere fast, and I can't help but notice I'm the only obviously foreign tourist in the conga line. If only laudanum was still a thing: in a heightened state should my COVID paperwork not be in order, the painful pace of check-in does nothing to assuage my nerves.
My seat width is on the slender side at 16.8 inches (42.7 centimetres) – good if you want to pick up a date – with a 32-inch (82 centimetres) pitch.
My semi-flex ticket allows a 7kg carry-on bag and two bags at 23kg each checked-in. Even if I wasn't too crazy or lazy to truck 46kg of luggage with me, my next flight, a domestic route, allows only one 23kg bag, so I don't take advantage of this outrageously generous allowance.
There's a distinctly Arabian flavour in the entertainment offerings, and I tune into a live recording of 1950s Egyptian diva Umm Kulthoom to enter the state of tarab, where you become lost in the music. There's also an e-guide to Hajj and Umrah for pilgrims. It's just too short to start a movie, but there are all the usual US TV shows on offer. I am overly entertained with the flight map, whose exotic destinations include Nubia, Sudan and Iraq. Wi-Fi costs $US9.49 ($A12.61) for 50MB or one hour.
Voted the world's most improved airline in Skytrax' 2021 awards, don't expect a matey approach from the cabin crew. Service is distant and perfunctory on this packed flight from the masked-up female flight attendants.
I can only guess what food we're going to get, but judging on the crumbs that fall into my lap when I first open my tray table, I'd say there were turmeric-flavoured chips involved. I'm wrong: despite the fact it's only a two-hour flight, we're presented with a full meal of muhammara (red pepper dip), a spiced rice and lamb dish, a huge bread roll and a solid, syrup-doused mystery slice. As to be expected, there is no alcohol served on the flight: it's juice boxes all round – apple or orange?
ONE MORE THING
Check and double-check the COVID requirements with the airline directly, as its website is really directed at outbound passengers exiting Saudi Arabia, rather than inbound passengers.
There is absolutely no glamour flying economy with the national flag carrier of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but with 95 destinations, a young fleet and a solid safety record, it's a good one to have on your travel radar when travelling in the region.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
Belinda Jackson travelled as a guest of Experience Alula, experiencealula.com