Evaluating the Saudi Arabia National Air Carrier: Air Arabia
Airline from a Islamic State
The Middle East which at one time a few decades back was thought of as a laggard has now emerged as an economic powerhouse in the shape of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emeritus, Qatar and Kuwait. In addition hundreds and thousands of Indians work and earn precious foreign exchange for the Indian government in these nations. Even greater numbers of Indians visit Dubai as tourists and millions visit Saudi Arabia for the Haj.
To travel to the Middle East and even further to Europe or America, one of the airlines that one can travel by is Air Arabia. This is the official flag carrier of the Saudi monarchy and state. The airline has some restrictive practices, but makes up with cheaper airfares and visa help as well as sumptuous on board catering.
The airline was formed in 1945, when President Roosevelt of the United States presented a DC-3 (Dakota) to the King of Saudi Arabia. This led to the formation of Air Arabia. From that humble beginning, the airline has grown by leaps and bounds and today is one of the largest airlines in the world with a fleet of 139 aircraft including the new Boeing Dreamliner. The airline connects many Indian cities with both Saudi Arabia and UAE. I have many a time caught a flight from Mumbai to Sharjah in UAE.
The airline is run with a heavy overdose of Islamic rhetoric, as Saudi Arabia is a strict Islamic state following the pristine Islam as laid down in the Wahhabi concepts. The airline plays Islamic music and verses which are optional. It however does not serve alcohol, which in any case is not a good thing. It makes up with excellent hospitality service. The air hostesses most of who are from India and Europe wear the Islamic code of dress and keep their head covered. Most of them are lovely and they add a flip to your travel.
Service and Products
One peculiarity of the airline is that it is owned by the Saudi Royal dynasty. It is reported that the family has a 80% stake in it. The plus point is that the airline connects to 80 cities worldwide, with the hub of its operations being Jeddah. Most operations of the airline have a transit point at the King Azeez airport at Jeddah. It is generally considered a budget airline and flying by it gives you a discount of 20% in fares compared to other airlines. It also has add on services like help in Visa services to places like Dubai and this more than makes up with its decision of not serving alcohol.
The airline however serves excellent meals on board. Only Halal meat is served. Most Indians travelling by this airline will opt for vegetarian fare, but I don't have any inhibitions and partake of chicken and lamb, halal or no halal. There is entertainment on board, but it is as per Islamic norms and English films are generally censored.
The airline connects the East with the West. It is the cheapest airline to fly to Europe or the USA from India. The airline will fly passengers from the East to Jeddah, which is the transit point and then fly them to their destinations. The connections are smooth and many of my friends have travelled by this airline to the States.
The airline has a global reach and its bookings incorporate the latest software technology. It is thus easy to book a ticket from any corner of the world through their website and get a confirmation immediately, with the chance to get your printout of the ticket as well in real time.
The airhostesses are specially selected and will wear the Islamic dress with their heads covered. I am told the pay scales of these airhostesses on Air Arabia are better than air hostesses from other airlines. Most of the air hostesses are from India and Europe. It’s a pleasure to see so many Indian girls on this airline. They are well looked after and their hostel in Jeddah is a veritable fortress. This is to ensure their safety. They are not expected to venture out into the city on their own. This restriction is accepted by Indian girls, but many English girls leave as they do not like the restrictions. I have as yet not seen Muslim girls from Saudi Arabia as Hostesses though Muslim girls from other nations like Egypt and Lebanon are around.
The airline is the preferred airline for travel for Haj. Most Muslim pilgrims travel by this airline from India as it has a religious connotation. I am afraid to point out that Muslim pilgrims traveling by Air Arabia could be treated a lot better as many of them are not well educated and are making the trip to Mecca as enjoined in the Muslim holy scriptures.
One can book a ticket at any time and claim a refund within 18 months. I have never asked for a refund but some of my friends have got refunds pretty fast. This is a plus point of the airline. The airline is however one of the biggest airlines and flies right from China, Russia, India to the USA and Europe. Its operations are almost 5 times the size of the Indian national carrier Air India. In addition the airline lays great stress on sanitaion and making the airline vermin free. One can't imagine a rat on this airline, like the one discovered in Air India on a recent flight to London, necessitating a return of the flight from over Tehran.
Customer service and Feedback
The airline has a more than average customer service. One can easily connect to Jeddah and make a complaint. The airline despite its Islamic restrictions is a budget airline and is preferred by many travellers. Though no alcohol is served, yet the airline makes up this lacuna ( if it can be called a lacuna) by better inflight service and cheaper fare and easy connections to all parts of the world. I think the only continent the airline does not fly to is South America.
i have travelled by this airline and enjoyed the flights. I have however not used it to fly to USA, but to the UAE only. One can certainly try this airline if you don’t mind any alcohol not being served as well as the Islamic mores that the airline propagates.