After deplaning from my prior Saudia flight from Kochi, I followed the rather flimsy signs towards transit. An overly sleepy single attendant manned the security checkpoint and mentioned that he expected just four (!) other transit passengers within the hour. Not a busy day then!
Riyadh Airport has two terminals that are interconnected behind security with the Plaza Premium Lounge (used by most non-Saudia carriers) and the Wellcome Lounge. Both the Plaza Premium and Wellcome lounges are accessible by Priority Pass members. Saudia also has a separate first class lounge for its first class passengers.
The Wellcome Lounge attendant just needed my Priority Pass number – no scan, signature or boarding pass needed. The lounge itself has a cool, modern design and features sleeping rooms as well. These cost $6 per hour, which seemed like a fair price to me.
I wanted to do some work and the lounge WiFi was initially very fast but the busy Dubai flight would knock out the WiFi for about an hour after I arrived.
There was a hot and cold food buffet where you could order the food items and the attendant would plate it. The food was very edible – nothing great but also nothing horrible. I had a few portions of hummus, of course. Interestingly, you could have as much olive oil as a condiment as needed.
After a few hours, the time for boarding finally came (many flights that day showed horrid delays of 2 hours or more but not mine). Boarding was well underway and we would use a bus gate of course.
About 150 passengers (three buses) made their way out and when I boarded (almost last) I was stunned to see that economy class was almost 100% full and even business was 70% full.
This seemed more for leisure than business. I asked the flight attendants about this and then the appearance of all the immigration police at the boarding stairs suddenly made sense; about 150 extra passengers were being repatriated to Ethiopia by the immigration police from Saudi Arabia. By some pure luck, I managed to get a two-seater on my own, though.
This A330 was light years ahead of the configuration I had flown in Saudi Economy just a few hours earlier. Business class features the same flat-bed installation that Qatar Airways uses on its A330 (as I flew with Qatar Business Class from Berlin to Doha).
Economy class also looked very modern, with huge seatback screens and remotes. There were power outlets (USB and AC) for every seat in economy and there was at least 31 inches of seat pitch.
The in-flight entertainment features a lot of movies and TV shows. The typical suspects were all there and the flight app was snazzy too. I found the entertainment system to be a delight!
There would be the same WiFi package available as on my prior flight; these packages are volume-limited and rather expensive, so I did not try it.
From the start, the flight to Addis Ababa would be very unruly; it seemed every single passenger had their life story to tell and all the way until landing it was one of the noisiest flights I have ever been on (competing with a flight from Paris to Bangkok with Air France and a Germanwings flight from Stuttgart to Istanbul. It was like a big party bus but with no alcohol of course!
Food service came out quickly and the flight attendants seemed clearly unnerved by the unruly passengers (who were mostly further at the back). I wasn’t hungry and ignored the food, which looked just OK.
I tried to fall asleep but given the noise level, it took me much longer than I expected (it was way past midnight local time). Eventually, the pilot announced our landing.
We hadn’t touched down for more than a few seconds and almost everyone jumped up (we were still on the runway). The flight attendants ‘fought back’ but it only helped for a few more minutes; on the taxiway, everyone was up clearing out their luggage and chatting away. I had never seen such unruly behavior on any flight (not even on my New York to Rio de Janeiro flight with Latam Business Class).
We finally reached the gate and I was the first person at an empty immigration, which I cleared in a few minutes.
In sum, the hardware was much more than what I expect from a Gulf airline. I would have no problem being in that seat for quite a bit longer. I wish the food would have been better (of course). There isn’t much an airline can do to prevent such unruly passengers but I feel in the US, most would have at least had a run-in with local law enforcement. I highly doubt Ethiopia was ready or willing to enforce this, though.