If you are an avid bargain hunter Saudia, the national carrier of Saudi Arabia on rare occasions offers bargain fares. For instance, it is possible to find round trip fares for USD 775 to and from India, from the USA. And the thrill of traveling as a single woman, solo to a country infamous for its archaic attitudes towards women only makes it even more alluring. Also, this is probably the only way for solo women travelers to enter this restrictive monarchy.
Be warned, friends, family and well wishers may not see eye to eye, even going to the extent of curbing such enthusiasm by calling it bravado that is foolish and more than uncalled for. You are likely to be advised to cover up, not talk feminism, not converse with men etc in this presumably hostile land. Or alternately, and in their eyes the even better option of canceling the tickets altogether.
It really is not all that bad. It was in fact quite an enjoyable experience for the most part. The cabin crew (all women) are all very polite and can converse with you in fairly fluent if charmingly accented English. The service is efficient; the food hugely palatable, especially their traditional sweet platter at the end of most big meals is to die for.
They even feed you while you wait at the airport (transit-Jeddah) though what you get there is more an excuse for food rather than actual food. My only other grouse is that there is absolutely no alcohol served on the plane,
They do make up for it though. Saudis contrary to my preconceived notions are quite affable and many chatted comfortably in their broken English, some going so far as to ask for help filling out their immigration forms.
One other thing that I was mildly disappointed about was that I didn’t actually get to wear my brand new burqa that I was so eager to try out while there. Women irrespective of nationality or religious persuasion have to mandatorily cover up. Otherwise, they apparently face the very real risk of the religious police bearing down on them.
Do not fret however, if you are not leaving the airport , which you are forbidden to do as a woman/women anyway if unaccompanied by an adult male guardian (who has to be closely related to you by blood i.e. your father, adult son or adult brother or has to be your husband ) all you need to do is dress modestly. Jeans/slacks are super ok.
Much amusement can be found nevertheless when real life mimics movies. It´s Sex and the City all over again. It is fascinating to watch women eat fries or other food from under their veil!
What to watch out for while booking tickets on Saudia-
As mentioned earlier, men are allowed transit visas if they have layovers over 18 hours. This same privilege is not accorded to women traveling by themselves or those who have dispossessed themselves of `acceptable´ male guardians.
Make sure your layovers are less than 18 hours both ways. Otherwise, though the airline will issue tickets, they will refuse to allow you to board the flight. There is just no question of whiling away time at the airport with a book or a tablet. 18 hours is the limit. The only exception is if the woman passenger is traveling there on business on a business visa.
If the airline changes schedule call them directly and they will modify your ticket. They usually, at no extra charge, try and ensure availability on dates close to the originally booked tickets that doesn’t exceed the stipulated 18 hours transit.
- Competitive fares
- Good food
- Adequate service
- Thrill of (barely existent) danger.
- Not as bad as you might think it is.
- Non-availability of transit visas for solo women travelers for layovers over 18 hours.
- No alcohol served at any point.
- Women to be dressed “modestly”.
- Unappetizing food at the airport.
Feature image- Tarmac sunrise, Jeddah.