Review: Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight Review
Dubai To Khartoum
A330-300 and B747-300
Saudi Arabian Airlines Dubai to Khartoum via Medinah and Jeddah
I have developed a modest interest and curiosity to go to Sudan from my fellow work colleague which is from there. A few plane spotters recently shared information with me about the prospect of spotting there. A quick look at Google map made me realize the airport is surrounded by buildings in the middle of the town; a great location with a single runway! I have heard they are building a new airport (unsure when to finish?) so a trip must happen now!
There are many stories on lengthy visa delay or almost impossible to have a Visit Visa. (no such thing called Tourist Visa) Luckily my Sudanese Colleague’s father in law was the Sudanese Ambassador to UAE, so a Visit Visa can be arranged through the Embassy on the same day! Once with the Visa on hand and overcame the major hurdle, it is time to book flights. I hate travelling on conventional routing especially the LCC like FlyDubai, AirArabia and such. I suppose their new B737 and A320 let my enthusiasm down. I was able to found a good combination of flights on Saudi Arabian Airlines and they are offering one of the lowest airfare with full service too! (Emirates fare was the highest, no surprise from Dubai)
A quick call to Saudi Airlines office to confirm I do not need Visa on transitting, even the plane stop by at Medina, which makes it bit more interesting!
I left Abu Dhabi in the evening that day for Dubai. It took me about 2hr45mins in total on the Emirates Express E1 Bus and Dubai Metro to reach Dubai airport from Abu Dhabi. The Metro station is right adjacent to Dubai Terminal 1 which makes it an excellent transportation to and from the airport; the total cost was 30 Dirham instead of 240 Dhs on taxi.
The Non-Emirates departure board, much more colourful
Dubai via Medinah to Jeddah SV 587 A330-300 HZ-AQD
Saudia check-in was at Area F, which is the old Emirates USA flight check in area before they moved out to T3. It was a breeze and very orderly. The Dnata lady took sometime to understand my routing, as I expected anyway. She told me she had never seen people going to have a vacation in Sudan like I do….. After a few joke and chit chat, she warms up and offers me a “nice” seat and wishes me a good trip to Sudan. Both flight boarding pass were able to get issued in Dubai.
Area F is also used by Gulf Air; it is a much quicker way through to the concourse via the dedicated Security and Immigration. Within 2 minutes, I am on my way to the concourse and lounge. It is the eve of UAE 40th National Day Anniversary, there were signs and decoration everywhere inside the terminal.
Thanks to my credit card, I can use the Dubai Airport Business Class lounge (or Merhaba Lounge) every time I fly. This lounge offers a decent amount of food (6 hot dishes) and snacks plus a standard fare of drinks. I always load up there before my flight the lounge is also used by a few airlines such as Qatar, Kuwait, Korean, China Southern, Royal Jordanian etc
At 8pm, boarding call was made and I made my way through the massive duty free area to Gate 119. There was a 20% duty free sale so I took advantage and bought 2 new Hugo Boss tie.
At the gate, to my surprise, I saw Malaysian Airlines entire crew deadheading to Medinah. I exchanged some conversation with the captain and he told me they’re going there to pick up the company B747-400 Hajj charter and flying it back to Malaysia.
A very light load is revealed soon after boarding. With 67 passenger in total out of almost 300 seats. I took my chance to snap a few cabin photos. No one questioned anything.Onboard – Guest (Economy) Claas seating
To give Saudi Arabian Airlines credit, most of their flights are operated strictly on time; at least the GCC flights are very punctual. A very fast rotation off Rwy30R passing the lights of Deira, Mina, and Sheikh Zayed Road high-rises. The plane performs no turns as we head straight Westward towards Medinah. Flying time is 2 hr 30mins. No in-flight entertainment was offered on Saudia newish A330. Instead newspapers were offered. “Most Saudi customer don’t watch TV or listen to music” I remembered the word from a fellow First Class Saudi passenger on my last trip with themI guess he summed up the reason why there are no IFE installed. A lot of Saudi flights are operated as labour flights and they don’t offer any luxury onboard. A quick dinner is served. The food looks better on the picture but the pasta was barely edible. The sweet and salad were fine. I went explore around the cabin after the meal and was invited to sit in First Class (or Business class) as the guest of the purser Mr Sultan. He told me no problem with photo whatsoever as long as no crew photos is in the picture. I also took photo of the praying area which are located at the back of the plane.
Business Class onboard A330-300
An event free flight cruising at FL400. We eventually descended around 2230 local time and landed safely on Rwy08 of Medinah. There are a few terrain/mountain near Medinah. I wonder it may provide a good spotting location there? 4 more heavies (2 Saudia B747s, 1 Saudia B777 and 1 HiFly A310) followed our landing making Medinah airport ramp very busy.We refueled and about 30 passengers off the plane. No passenger joined on this Int’l flight. But there were a large group of Saudi crew joined, deadheading from MED to their base Jeddah. The next flight was a very short one; only 30 mins ride Southbound for Jeddah. I felt asleep and didn’t wake up till final approach. Jeddah was glowing at night, with the whole city under bright lights everywhere, it is quite a sight. Land size of the Jeddah Airport was massive. They have three runways 34L, 34C, and 34R. We landed on 34C.
The de-plane pictures.As some of you may know, Jeddah do not have any aerobridge and there are two main terminals, the North and South Terminal. Saudia use North Terminal (same as NAS Air) but most foreign airline use South Terminal. After a lengthy taxi, we parked at the hardstand and all passengers deplane via stairs and bus ride to terminal.
Instead of heading over to immigration, I proceed to the little Transit desk for Saudi Arabian Airlines. Again, the officer was surprised I am going to Khartoum and hand me a meal voucher, he was very nice and efficient in working. I head upstairs through a small walkway and there I am back to the airside for departure! Very simple process unlike Dubai which can take up an hour at peak hours with the crowd of Emirates….
I proceed to Saudi Arabian Airlines Al Fursan Lounge; thanks to my Priority Pass card I can use it.
Pictures of the lounge:
The lounge was not too crowded and I found a good “bed” for the night. Not to mention the food offering was quite decent! Love the Chinese Fish they made there!
I slept for about 2-3 hours and a SV agent woke me up yelling “Khartoum….Khartoum boarding”. Yes, this is the first flight to depart that morning at 05:30am
I head out of the lounge with my eyes barely open, I saw a huge crowd moving toward Gate11 and with a sight like that really woke me up! It was a large Sudanese crowd with many dressed in their country’s dress. It was like a wave approaching the boarding gate.
We went downstairs to wait for buses to take us boarding.
At 5am, we arrived at our plane. A Saudia Jumbo Jet, B747-368 HZ-AIN awaiting us on the tarmac. I have now fully waked up knowing a great ride await!
Jeddah to Khartoum SV 451 B747-368 HZ-AIN
I have met a young man name Omer, later we befriended each other and he became my tour guide in Khartoum and the life support there. The boarding took forever, making me believe the myth of saying “Sudanese are very slow”…. (No offense) However, I don’t mind a bit standing up on the stairs and amazed how large and wide the Jumbo Jet is. It was a great feeling to fly the B747 classic again! I steal some snap here and there without anyone seeing and yelling at me.Boarding of the Jumbo Jet via stairs
Amazingly the boarding finished at 05:30 which is the STD and we pushed back immediately with no time wasted. It was an On-Time departure, just like a miracle! Some passengers weren’t even sat down while we started taxi to the active. There was not even one single seat around! We have about 360 passengers onboard.
We took off at 05:35am on Rwy34L and with a left bank over Red Sea. We head towards Africa continent!
The cabin view from my seat. After 30mins, for the first time I can see the sun beams over the clear dark sky, then slowly and slowly rising level with horizon, and above it. It was the most beautiful moment of the day if you can watch it. I enjoy it so much and can’t stop taking photos of it…..Watching the beautiful sunrise already making this trip so worth it!
Some Sudanese creativity there!
Breakfast was served with choices of Ful Medames or Omelet. However the Omelet was cold and I think they forgot to heat up the breakfast. With a short flying time of 1hr 30mins, may be there isn’t enough time to wait for the food to be heat up and then serve it. The crews were working very fast and served rounds of coffee/tea before landing.
My seatmate, the old man on the left is 75 years old, on his way back from Hajj. It was his first time. I took my chance to take a few more cabin photos before the seat belt sign came up.
With the Nile emerged from the window, we have started our descend for Khartoum.
The sights below the 747 wing are amazing, Khartoum has a large urban sprawl and you can see villages and farms before the city appears and the airport is in the middle of the town!
With more and more buildings passing under the wing, we finally touched down at local time 07:15am (no time difference from JED to KRT) and taxi off the runway to the remote stand at 7:20am. There was a Yak42 and a IL76 took off after our landing, making the morning very exciting already.
I grab the First Class photo (36 seats located in Zone A and B) before leaving the plane.
Again, we deplaned by stairs and bus into the terminal which is only 20 seconds away. Surprisingly the immigration was fast and efficient in Khartoum with no questions asked. The baggage took a long time to deliver. This brings an end to the Saudi Arabian flights to Khartoum.
Baggage Collection scene
With the help of Omer, I was able to plane spot around. Sudan have some amazing and rare domestic planes that you don’t see them elsewhere. Many Russian props such as An-12, An-24, An-26, An-30, An-32 and jets like An-74, Tu-134, Yak-42 operating domestically. Also an IL-62, with Fourty Eight Aviation title is parked and withdrew from service. Plus a few B707 and DC8 around, it is truly plane spotter heaven. I was very hungry and having a strong desire to photo them all. It is one of the most exciting trip I did for a while, I felt like I was stealing away the great planes from Khartoum, one after another. For that moment, I couldn’t careless of getting caught by the security. In the end I achieved exactly what I wanted, with my will. I was very satisfied after the 2 days trip. I was told by many how “lucky” I was given the situation was not comfortable. The regime was very imposing indeed. Luckily I left the country 2 nights later with all the aviation photo treasures and memories from Sudan. I eventually returned to Abu Dhabi via Doha onboard Qatar Airways A321 and A320.
This trip gave me an immense level of satisfaction, I was on a mission and through my strong will, I achieved exactly what I wanted. A lifetime story to tell for the next generations I suppose.
Some photos of the Sudanese People and street scenes
Thanks for reading, I hope you have enjoyed my trip.