Introduction: A Quick Jaunt On Saudia, Jet, And Tunisair
Review: Korean Air First Class Lounge New York JFK Airport
Review: Saudia First Class 777-300ER New York To Riyadh
Review: Saudia First Class Lounge Riyadh Airport
Review: Saudia First Class 777-300ER Riyadh To Dubai
Review: Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights
Review: Marhaba Lounge Dubai Airport
Review: SkyTeam Lounge Dubai Airport
Review: Jet Airways Business Class 737 Dubai To Mumbai
Review: GVK Lounge Mumbai Airport
Review: Jet Airways First Class 777-300ER Mumbai To London
Review: Yotel London Heathrow Terminal 4
Review: SkyTeam Lounge London Heathrow Airport
Review: Tunisair A320 Business Class London To Tunis
Review: Sheraton Tunis
Review: Tunis Airport Lounge
Review: Tunisair Business Class A330 Tunis To Montreal
New York (JFK) – Riyadh (RUH)
Friday, June 9
Arrive: 12:05PM (+1 day)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 3L (First Class)
I boarded through door L1, where I was greeted by the cabin supervisor and brought to my seat. Saudia’s new 777-300ER first class cabin consists of a total of 12 suites, spread across three rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. You’ll notice that there are no overhead bins, so the crew takes your bags as you board, and stores them in the closet.
The bones of the seat are almost identical to those on Garuda Indonesia, except the Saudia first class cabin is an extra row. That means Saudia’s first class cabin takes up the entire space between doors one and two, which is a huge space (Garuda has two rows of first class and then two rows of business class between doors one and two).
I had assigned myself suite 3L, the window seat in the last row of first class.
I thought the suite finishes were gorgeous, and while the tones were fairly neutral and agreeable, they did a good job mixing up colors a bit.
Those traveling together will want to select the two center seats, which have a wall that can be lowered or raised depending on your preference.
In terms of the seat itself, in the very back right of the seat was a compartment which could be used to store things.
This also had the entertainment controller, headphone jack, USB ports, a water bottle holder, and the power outlet.
In front of that was a small monitor at the side of my seat where all the seat functions could be controlled.
Then there was a long counter of sorts, which could be raised to take out the tray table.
The tray table was massive, and could be folded over in half. This is also perfect if you want to dine with someone else, since the suite has a buddy seat, so there’s plenty of room to serve two people at once.
On the left side of the seat was a reading light as well as an individual air nozzle, which I really appreciate, given how hot many airplane cabins tend to get.
Waiting at my seat on boarding was a pillow and blanket. My assumption was that there would be a more substantial blanket later on, but there wasn’t. The pillow and blanket were both a decent size, though were scratchy.
Headphones were also at the seat on boarding, and were fairly basic — I used my Bose headphones.
Moments after settling in, the individual crew members came by to introduce themselves. Taking care of me was Lejla from Bosnia, Hanane from Morocco, and Chef Ali from all over the world. No joke, all three of them were absolutely fantastic. They were friendly, attentive, and charming. In fairness, though, there was only one other passenger in first class (who was observing Ramadan), so I basically had a crew of three to myself.
Lejla started the service by offering me a hot or cold towel — I chose a hot towel.
I was then offered a drink, and selected a lime juice, which was served with mixed nuts.
Chef Ali came by my seat and we had a long conversation. He was a fascinating guy, as he was born in Bahrain, grew up in New Zealand, lived in the UK, and has now lived in Saudi Arabia for quite a while. It was fascinating to hear his story.
The onboard chef concept is pretty new for Saudia, and they only offer this service on longhaul flights to Los Angeles, New York, and Washington. Ali presented me with a beautiful leather folder that had “The Suite” written on it, and said he’d come back in a bit to discuss the menu in greater detail with me.
Inside the folder was a pamphlet describing Saudia’s new first class service, the menu, as well as a luggage tag.
Here’s the description of the Saudia Suite amenities in the binder:
About 10 minutes later, Chef Ali returned to go over the entire menu with me, explain that I could eat what I wanted when I wanted, etc. On top of that, I was impressed by the degree to which the meal could be customized. Not only was there an extensive menu, but I was asked exactly how I wanted everything prepared.
At 5PM the cabin door was closed, at which point the captain added his welcome aboard, and informed us of our flight time of 11hr20min, and cruising altitude of 34,000 feet.
10 minutes later we began our pushback, with an Aeroflot 777 off our right side, which brought back fond memories of my Aeroflot flight from Los Angeles to Moscow.
As we pushed back the prayer and safety video were screened.
By 5:15PM we began our taxi, and passed an Air France A380 and Alitalia A330.
After a roughly 10 minute taxi, we found ourselves at the end of a very long takeoff queue for runway 31L. At this point the captain came back on the PA to explain the situation. I was amused that he started every announcement by referring to passengers as “folks,” which was a cute touch. “Good afternoon folks, your captain, we just have about 30 planes ahead of us, so it may be another 30 minutes before we are cleared for takeoff. For those fasting, you can expect to break your fast about 2-2.5 hours into the flight. I appreciate your patience.”
After quite a wait we were close to the front of the line.
At 6PM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 31L.
We had a long takeoff roll and then a smooth climb out — what a gorgeous afternoon it was. There were even some views of Manhattan off the right side.
The seatbelt sign was turned off five minutes after takeoff, at which point I checked out the area behind the first class cabin, where there was a walk-up bar, as well as the two first class bathrooms.
The bathrooms were a decent size and nicely designed.
Once back at my seat, Lejla and Hanane came by to offer me some Arabic coffee, as well as dates and chocolate.
I was then offered an amenity kit and pajamas, both of which were designed by Porsche Designs, as well as a sleeping kit.
The pajamas were stylish and high quality.
The kit looked almost like a Rimowa amenity kit.
It had Acca Kappa toiletries, as well as some things I haven’t seen in other kits, like a lens wipe and charging device.
In addition to the amenity kit there was also a sleep kit, with things like hand sanitizer, foot cream, pillow mist, and an aroma stick. I haven’t seen that before…
Once I had been given all my amenities, the cabin supervisor Mamdouh came by my seat to welcome me onboard. He was a super nice guy, and unlike my previous Saudia flight, there were no shenanigans here.
Per my request, the meal service began less than 30 minutes after takeoff, so I could maximize sleep. Here’s the explanation of Saudia’s onboard chef program:
Here’s the drink list:
And here’s the dinner menu:
Since I wanted to experience the product as much as possible, I went all out in terms of what I ordered. Lejla did a great job setting my table and always clearing things, while Ali presented me with each course. First I was brought an empty personal breadbasket, and then they came around with a tray that had a big selection of bread. I chose some garlic bread, pretzel bread, and pita bread.
I started my meal with a chicken and mushroom cream soup, which was excellent, and beautifully presented.
Saudia is a dry airline, so I figured I’d try my luck with one of their mocktails. Ali recommended the lime mojito, which I ordered. Much to my surprise, it was very good, and had a kick to it, despite being non-alcoholic.
On one hand I of course wish Saudia weren’t a dry airline, though in other ways I liked it. I wasn’t tempted to overindulge, and after dinner got a great night of sleep. So as much as it’s fun to “party” on a flight, being on a dry airline does help with arriving well rested.
Next up was the caviar course. Impressively, Saudia offers Petrossian caviar. While the portion was small, the presentation was beautiful.
Next up was the mezze, which wasn’t exactly traditional. I quite enjoyed it, especially the greek side salad.
Next up was the main course, which Ali nicely customized for me, with an Arabic preparation. It was delicious, and I thought the presentation was beautiful as well.
Lastly for dessert I selected the “chocolate lover’s” option, which included a decadent cake and some fruit. I had a cappuccino to go along with it, which I suspect may actually have been powdered. If that’s the case, that’s disappointing, especially for a dry airline (and if it’s not the case, they need to just improve the taste of them). 😉
The meal service was done about two hours into the flight, as the sun was starting to set (and presumably as virtually everyone else in the cabin was very hungry). Service throughout dinner was phenomenal. I had three crew taking care of just me.
Once the meal was done I asked to have my bed made, and in the meantime I went back to business class. Business class on Saudia’s new 777-300ER is in an excellent reverse herringbone configuration. This is a similar product to what I had when I flew Saudia’s 787 business class.
By the time I was back at my seat my bed had been made. This is one area of the product that disappointed me. Saudia has invested so much in their new cabins, but doesn’t have proper bedding. The bed consisted of two pillows (one of which was scratchy), a very thin mattress sheet, and a scratchy blanket.
Saudia’s first class seat is pretty hard to begin with, so the bed was very firm.
C’mon Saudia, you’ve invested so much in this product, have a proper mattress pad and duvet, along with some plush pillows.
Shortly after I got in bed, there was a PA indicating that people could break their fast — “ladies and gentlemen, it is now time for Iftar. May Allah accept all our good deeds.” Flying Saudia during Ramadan is fascinating. We had about nine hours remaining till arrival in Riyadh, so I browsed the entertainment selection, starting with the airshow.
The entertainment selection was quite impressive, with dozens of movies. There were also quite a few sitcoms, though it mostly seemed to be older episodes. Do keep in mind that all the entertainment is heavily edited, given that this is a Saudi Arabian airline.
I also connected to the inflight wifi. Minutes before takeoff I got an email with a code for free wifi, which I guess they offer first class passengers. That’s impressive.
All passengers get 20MB of wifi for free.
Here’s the pricing beyond that, which is pretty reasonable:
My free wifi pass came with 1024MB of data, which should last just about anyone for the entire flight.
While the pricing was reasonable and I appreciated the free wifi for first class passengers, Saudia uses OnAir, which I find to be the worst wifi provider. So it was painfully slow, unfortunately.
As I watched a couple of TV shows, I couldn’t help but notice how drastic the mood lighting was. I appreciate when airlines have mood lighting and use it, though I still think the ideal setting at night is “off,” rather than something that looks cool but isn’t necessarily soothing.
Before going to sleep I briefly checked out the snack bar behind first class, just to see what was there. There was whole fruit as well as some packaged snacks. I believe the bar setup is much more extensive for longer flights, but for a quick overnight flight this was more than sufficient.
I fell asleep with about eight hours left to Riyadh, and got a solid six hours of sleep. I woke up about two hours before arrival, as we were over Egypt.
Within five minutes of waking up, Lejla was at my seat to see if I wanted anything. I ordered a coffee and some bottled water.
I was also asked when I wanted to have breakfast, so figured I might as well have it fairly soon. The breakfast menu read as follows:
Service began with a delicious smoothie.
After that my table was set, and I was offered a selection of croissants and pastries, along with a fruit plate, with melon, watermelon, pineapple, and grapes.
Next I was offered a gorgeous parfait.
Saudia also offers made to order eggs in first class. I asked for scrambled eggs well done. What great presentation!
I was full at this point, but Ali insisted that I try the masoub, which he described as a sweet Arabic breakfast. I’m a sucker for any sort of Arabic dessert, so couldn’t resist. It was incredible. As explained on the menu, masoub is a sweet breakfast made from ripe bananas, ground flatbread and cream, and it’s served with dates, nuts, and honey. It was so good.
At 11:55AM the captain made another announcement, informing us that we would be landing in about 35 minutes. He seemed like a super nice guy, and in addition to thanking everyone for flying Saudia, he made another announcement I’ve never heard before. “I’ve received a note from a passenger thanking me for the great service from the cabin crew, but it is them and not me who should be thanked. I would like to thank the entire cabin crew for their service, they did a great job flying to New York from Riyadh and I will make sure the feedback goes to the concerned department.”
He took a lot of pride in his job, and that’s something I have a lot of respect for.
We began our descent at around noon, at which point I just gazed out the window until our arrival. During the descent the cabin manager, chef, and two flight attendants all came by my seat to thank me for flying Saudia.
It’s actually only on the descent that I discovered that Saudia has a pretty high resolution nose camera on their 777s, which was cool to look at. We touched down on runway 33L at 12:30PM sharp.
Our touchdown was the smoothest imaginable, and from there we had a 10 minute taxi to our arrival gate.
We pulled into the fairly quiet terminal at 12:40PM, and a few minutes later I was off the plane.
Saudia first class bottom line
It would be an understatement to say that Saudia exceeded my expectations. What a pleasant surprise. Saudia has gorgeous new first class suites with great amenities and excellent catering. Furthermore, the crew on my sector was excellent.
There are certainly some areas where they could still improve — they could have better bedding, better hot beverages, and I do wish they didn’t have OnAir wifi, but I guess that’s tough to change at this point. But overall I found Saudia’s first class to be excellent, which I wasn’t expecting.
Saudia was recently rated by Skytrax as the world’s most improved airline, and I can see why.