For reasons I don’t fully understand, Saudia files very low fares from several South Indian cities to Addis Abeba (despite minimal competition). Saudia fares usually work one-way for half price and so I booked Kochi (COK) to Addis Abeba (ADD) for under $100 in economy for the 3,000-mile journey connecting via Riyadh (RUH).
When booking Saudia make sure you only have one stop in Saudi Arabia. You CANNOT take a domestic flight as visas are virtually impossible to get (as of 2017, this may change in 2018). Saudia runs a dual hub in Jeddah and Riyadh; some destinations have flights from both hubs, while others (like Los Angeles) from only one.
Saudia also serves no alcohol – not onboard and not in the lounges. Alcohol is banned in the country of Saudia Arabia as well (with a few exceptions).
The airline has a cool-looking app in the iPhone App Store but I wasn’t able to check-in with it. The wonderful, empty international section of Kochi Airport had almost a dozen agents available for check-in.
This would be for an A330 with 300 seats (but just 150 passengers for this flight). The contract agent was friendly but took his time checking my visa and visa requirements for Ethiopia (frankly, it can get complicated).
I walked through the fast immigration and security (in India you can’t avoid a pat down).
The new Cochin International terminal (apparently India’s fourth busiest) has the Earth Lounge open for Priority Pass members. And what a lounge it was. It had a great view of the tarmac and plenty of well-appointed seats to start with.
There is a made-to-order dosa and eggs bar and there were plenty of other (Indian) food items available.
There are two quiet rooms with sleep sofas and several business center areas and there was also a kids area.
However, it was hard to find an outlet (only a few seats have one) and the Internet was limited to 300 MB per visit – not much, considering a speed test is often 50 MB alone. Plus some patrons kept yelling into their mobile phones, which did not help the atmosphere and the sleeping areas were taken by airline crew who seemed to use the lounge as a transit hotel.
The flight showed 30 minutes late but at the original boarding time, they announced ‘last call’ (something Etihad is also well-known for). When I arrived at the gate, I would be the last passenger to board (at 35 minutes before the original departure time) The flight would certainly not be late anymore!
My boarding pass was checked six (SIX!) times before I was allowed to board. I understand a double check but six times is ridiculous.
The flight attendants extended a greeting in fluent English and since boarding was already complete, I chose an empty row in the middle of the 2-4-2 configuration. The economy cabin looked barebones – a bit too much like WOW air for my taste.
The gray and light blue colors aren’t exactly exciting. The plane was delivered ‘just’ seven years ago and no seatback entertainment is offered on this A330. There are a few overhead screens though.
We rolled away from the gate 10 minutes before our scheduled departure time. Saudia featuresa prayer video just after the security video and highlights their praying area at the end of the plane.
Take-off was all full thrust and pitch all the way up to 15,000 feet – someone was in a hurry to get away from this airport and at altitude quickly! We went up the Indian coast and had a bumpy ride most of the time before turning sharp left toward Saudi Arabia.
I was hoping the aircraft would allow onboard device entertainment but only WiFi was offered and the price seemed prohibitive at $24.99 for 300 MB. From the interface it looked like Gogo’s satellite WiFi.
After about two hours (I had given up on a meal service by then) the flight attendants came through with the food. The meals were done by the same catering company as the lounge food at Earth Lounge and since I have a weak spot for Indian cuisine, I liked it a lot. A good Indian salad, fresh curry and roti and a sweet but well-done dessert rounded up the experience. Not very filling but a good meal.
Our flight path was odd enough – too far north in India, crossing over the UAE and going north of Qatar (understandably) and then going into Saudi Arabia way too far north and looping around the airport. There must have been good reasons but the captain was not in the mood to tell us.
We arrived with an hour delay. From the 150 passengers onboard, just four were transit passengers – the rest headed for Riyadh (so it seemed).