Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I'm flying home from Africa now – a 38-hour journey, involving two 9-hour layovers in Riyadh and Singapore. There are better timed routes than this, but flying Saudi Airlines and the Singapore Airlines-owned budget carrier Scoot, I can accomplish an Addis Ababa to Sydney fare for less than A$600.

Saudi Airlines is so cheap that it beats the nearest-priced competitor on the route from Addis to Singapore, the reasonably-priced Ethiopian Airlines, by a factor of three. Enticing, but suspicious. Why is it so cheap?

Reviews of Saudia are seriously mixed, and there is no fence-sitting. International routes seem to receive better appraisals than domestic. Some passengers prepared to forgo certain conveniences, such as being able to transit Saudi Arabia as an unaccompanied woman (disallowed), praise the prices. I think these passengers are men. Others vow never again, recounting experiences of rude staff, neglect of safety procedures, and aisles full of passengers, luggage and oxen.

The Aviation Safety Network details the airline's record. In 2008 one of the engines of a Boeing 747 caught fire after landing. Dramatic, and the plane was written off, but all passengers and crew were evacuated safely. In 2000 and 2002 there were hijacking attempts in Iraq and Sudan – frightening, but hardly the airline's fault, and dangerous destinations anyway.

It would seem that Saudi Arabian Airlines does, however, hold a dubious attainment of featuring twice in the top ten most deadly air disasters. A fire on the plane at Riyadh airport in 1980 killed all 301 aboard. And a mid-air collision with a Kazakhstan Airlines flight in 1996 killed 349.


Well, I'm already booked.

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