In this review, we will take a Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines) flight from Athens to Jeddah in business class on an Airbus A320.
After spending some time in the Goldair Handling Lounge, I arrived at the gate some ten minutes before the announced boarding time. A small crowd had already gathered at the gate, although fortunately most people were just hanging around and chatting a bit with fellow travellers instead of unnecessarily queuing in a line well before boarding even starts.
There seemed to be quite a jovial atmosphere among a small group of European-looking passengers who stood out among the mostly Arab and Asian passengers. I chimed in as well in the conversation when I overheard them talking about the great Saudia business class deal. It turned out that two of them (a British and a Czech) booked exactly the same deal as I did and would also fly Athens-Jeddah-Kuala Lumpur just like me.
The Saudia Airbus A320-200 which would take me from Athens to Jeddah. ©Paliparan
Boarding began right on time with business class passengers and Sky Team elites being called forward first. I was the second person to board the flight. Even though I had flown Saudia a few times before in business class, I was excited to see how much the on-board product has changed as I heard that the airline has introduced some enhancements when it comes to food, drinks and service since the last time I flown them.
Athens (ATH) to Jeddah (JED) on Aegean Airlines
Flight SV192 – Airbus A320-200 – Business class, seat 1A
Departure: 3.15pm – Arrival: 7.40pm
Flight time: 3h25m – Distance: 1,441 miles
Costs: 350 EUR for ATH-JED-KUL
Saudia Airbus A320-200
Saudia currently has two different configurations of their Airbus A320s, of which they have 46 in total. The planes with the old interior have 12 leather recliner seats in business class, while the updated cabins have 20 lie-flat business class seats. A quick look at the seat map will show you whether a newly configured aeroplane or an older one is scheduled to operate your flight.
The airline is working hard to configure more airplanes to the new cabin interior – which in the future will be used on all mid-haul flights to Europe which are not operated by widebody planes (such as Madrid which currently has the Boeing 787 operating the flights). I have flown the non-reconfigured A320s with recliner seats before and thought they were comfortable enough for a short daytime flight, although needless to say these lie-flat A320s constitute a huge improvement of the hard product.
Saudia business class seat
When I first set foot on the plane I was warmly greeted by the flight attendants. The first thing you note on the reconfigured Airbus A320 is just how big the business class cabin is. It is certainly twice as big as the old cabin with recliner seats, which is no big surprise as these lie-flat seats do take up more space.
As there are five rows of business class in a 2-2 configuration, it makes for a very premium-heavy flight as in economy class there is only space for 110 seats. In comparison, most low-cost airlines such as Wizz Air and Air Asia have around 180 seats in their Airbus A320s.
The plane interior looked modern and clean with its soft colours of brown, beige and white. I had assigned myself the bulkhead seat of 1A as the seats in the first row have a larger footwell than the rows behind as those are slightly restricted by the seat in front of you.
Each business class seat had a pillow and a blanket placed on it. Headphones could be found in a case which was placed on a storage shelf on the top side of the seat, where also one of the two plug sockets and USB charging ports are located. The headphones itself are of decent enough quality. Also the menu card was already placed here.
Unfortunately, Saudia no longer hands out amenity kits on short and mid-haul flights in business class.
A control panel at the side of your seat allows you to move every part of the seat. It is very straightforward to adjust the recline, the footrest, or to put your seat fully flat and up again.
The seats in business class have a big, high-resolution entertainment screen. It is easiest to operate the in-flight entertainment by simply tapping on the touchscreen, although you can also use the controller found in the side of your seat, which is handy when you have put the seat in full flat mode and cannot reach the big screen easily.
I found the film and series selection of the Saudia in-flight entertainment system to be decent enough. It was by no means exhaustive such as airlines like Emirates have, but it wasn’t bad either. There seemed to be a good mix between classic movies, new released and episodes of popular TV series.
The seat controls on the business class seats of the Saudia Airbus A320. ©Paliparan
The menu card for the flight was already placed above each seat (next to the headphones case) upon boarding. Although as a dry airline Saudia does not serve any alcohol, there are a good number op non-alcoholic options.
I was pleased to see that Saudia diversified it’s beverage options, as compared to my previous flight on the airline there were now numerous special teas and mocktails listed.
Saudia traditionally has an all-female cabin crew hailing mostly from Asian countries, who are led by a male Saudi Arabian senior purser. I always found the Saudia crews a mixed bag, with most of the female flight attendants just going through the motions and the male pursers being downright lazy and even rude at times.
I was however in for a great surprise as the enhancements of the Saudia business class product were not only visible in the seat, but also in the crew. The crew was just absolutely fantastic on this flight – and perhaps no-one more than the male Arab purser. He and one of his female colleagues both stopped by my seat before take-off to introduce themselves and to thank me for choosing Saudia.
They told me that if at any time during the flight I need something, I should not hesitate to ask them. Indeed, they would also inquire multiple times throughout the flight if I perhaps wanted a refill or if they could do anything else for me.
Just moments after I sat down in my seat, a flight attendant handed out a warm refreshment towel and offered a welcome drink of choice. I went for the non-alcoholic Bellini, which tasted excellent.
Shortly before departure, the crew also distributed dates and Arabic coffee in small cups, which is a tradition among most Arab airlines in business class. That Saudia has been working on improving its in-flight product could even be seen here, as I was presented with a choice of different varieties of dates.
Before departure Saudia traditionally plays a short prayer on the in-flight entertainment screens. It is an old prayer which the prophet Muhammad used to say before embarking on one of his journeys on the Arab Peninsula, wishing for a smooth and fast journey without any ill outcome for his or his family’s health.
After a short distance taxiing on the apron of Athens Airport, we lined up on one of the airport’s two runways for takeoff. Views upon takeoff were magnificent. Just like the beautiful views on landing in Athens on my previous flight, there were again gorgeous views over the Attica coastline.
Around 30 to 40 minutes after takeoff while flying over the Mediterranean island of Crete did the crew commence with meal service. Already before departure did they inquire what our preferred choice of meal was – so as soon as the fasten seat-belts sign went off they could jump right into action.
First a table cloth was placed on my tray table, after which a flight attendant placed an individual bread basket on it. Then the starters were distributed. I had chosen the Arab set, which had a selection of Arab mezze (hummus, moutabal and labneh) as starters. To drink I opted for the San Pellegrino sparkling water.
The starter was decent enough. I had better mezzes before on Saudia, although it wasn’t bad at all.
My main, the hamour sayadiya (a baked fish) with basmati rice was excellent. The fish was tender and fresh and the spices made sure it had lots of flavours.
As dessert I selected the apple and blackberry tartlet and a praline eclair, accompanied with a cup of peppermint leaf tea. I’d wish that especially the tartlet was a bit bigger in size – as it was absolutely delicious.
Overall, I was very satisfied with the entire meal service and quality of the food. All the dishes were beautifully presented and drink refills were proactively offered. Besides, the meal was concluded within one-and-a-half-hours after departure. It didn’t take forever but also didn’t feel rushed – which is exactly the way I like it on a day flight.
After the meal service I played a bit with my seat to check how the quality is in full flat-bed mode. The seat buttons are extremely easy to use and you have put the seat completely flat in under half a minute.
In the fully flat position, there is not much shoulder room – I found the only comfortable way to lie down was to move on my side as sleeping on my back or stomach did not leave for much space around your shoulders.
That said, I can imagine getting a decent enough sleep in these seats. The overall quality is certainly good. And given that we are talking here about seats on a plane operating short to mid-haul journeys you can only conclude that it is the best product imaginable on a narrow-body plane like the Airbus A320.
Entering Arab airspace
One aspect which I absolutely loved about this flight were the great views. After crossing the Med we entered Egyptian airspace. There were some beautiful desert views – with nothing to see but emptiness and sand save for the odd escarpment.
Saudia uses OnAir WiFi, which I think overall is not one of the best quality satellite internet providers. That said, on this flight it seemed to worked decently enough, although there were a few coverage gaps (most notably over the Egyptian desert) when there was no signal at all.
Each passenger on the flight was given a few megabytes of data (if I remember correctly – 15mb) for free which could be used only for messaging apps. That said, this also worked to browse the internet. I easily managed to load a few internet pages and to sent some messages over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Additional data packages – including a full-flight plan – were also available for purchase and were decently priced. As I had some offline work to do on my laptop, I did however not bother trying any of these out.
The only thing which puzzled me is that normally, Saudia business class passengers get a voucher code by email which they can use for a certain amount of megabyte in additional data. For whatever reason, I did however not receive any such email before departure. Also the crew was oblivious about it.
While I tried to get some work done I ordered a coffee – which tasted fairly good. It was nicely served with a few chocolates and even another refreshment towel.
After a while I decided to ditch my laptop and just enjoy the views from the window. We were currently flying over the River Nile, which I think is one of the more amazing sights you can see from the plane window. I just love the contrast between the fertile lands on each side of the river and the desert which immediately begins afterwards. What a stunning view – especially so at sunset with some stormy clouds closing in!
There is one lavatory in the front of the cabin which is exclusively for the use of business class passengers. Although the toilet is the same size and model as you can find in any other Airbus A320 – it was stocked with some nice quality toiletries and even featured a small flower to give it a bit of the business class touch.
The crew made sure that the toilet was kept immaculately clean during the entire flight, basically checking the toilet after each passenger used it to see if it might need some cleaning.
Even though our arrival into Jeddah was less than one hour away, the crew had no problem serving out another coffee refill, which was this time served with some shortbread.
Some 40 minutes before landing the crew even passed by each seat offering each business class passenger a glass of juice before arrival. I selected a glass of orange juice, which tasted good.
I always like arriving at airports in Saudia Arabia (be it Jeddah – or even better Riyadh) by night as the city lights and the mostly rectangular street grid just looks impressive from the air. Unfortunately, my phone camera was nowhere near good enough to capture this in darkness.
We landed spot on time in Jeddah and after a short taxi time we arrived at our gate of Jeddah’s new airport terminal.
The flight from Athens to Jeddah went by fast – which is always a sign how good a particular flight is. Sure, the great views along the way of the Med and the Egyptian desert helped too, but it was Saudia which stole the show.
For a short to mid-haul business class product, the lie-flat seats are the best you can get on a narrow-body aeroplane like the Airbus A320. If you want, you can have some good sleep, although also in upright position these are excellent business class seats.
The food and drinks on board Saudia are excellent too, although do note that no alcohol is served. That said, there are plenty of mocktails, sodas, juices and teas available to keep most people satisfied. I loved the quality of my main dish and dessert – and the whole meal services was smoothly executed and beautifully presented.
Best of all was however the crew. You can clearly see that Saudia’s recent improvements of its soft product also impacted their employees. Each and every crew member went a bit extra to ensure that all passengers were well fed and always had a full glass next to them. They seemed to be genuinely happy doing their jobs, welcoming to each and every passenger and proud of the Saudia product. And they indeed should be.
The only negative I can think about is the removal of the amenity kit on short and mid-haul flights and the irregular internet connection – but those are things I can easily live without considering how great all other aspects of the flight were.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Aegean Airlines Business Class Bucharest to Athens (Airbus A320)
2. Review: Goldair Handling Lounge (Non-Schengen) Athens Airport
3. Review: Saudia Business Class (Airbus A320) Athens to Jeddah (current chapter)
4. Review: Saudia Alfursan Lounge Jeddah Airport South Terminal