This flight was a part of my return trip to Surabaya-Indonesia after spending almost one week vacationing in Istanbul and Izmir with my wife.
Since we are both Skyteam members and we also eager to try some new airlines within this alliance, we decide to give Saudia a try, since the price they offered for flights from Istanbul to Surabaya was more economical even in business class, it was about USD 950 at the time I booked it. I also checked that they would deploy their A330-300 with brand new business class seats for this route, so it would be a no-brainer to try this flagship carrier of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
At Istanbul New Airport
We arrived at Istanbul New Airport 3.5 hours before the scheduled flight time. There was this first security check just after entrance and then we were let into the huge check-in area to find our way to the check-in desk for Saudia.
This is how the check-in desk looks like for business class passengers.
There were no other passengers when we got there. In not more than 10 minutes, the friendly agent checked us in and told us that the lounge we could use was IGA Lounge. I was quite perplexed since IST has just recently opened the new Skyteam Lounge, why wouldn't he give us access? I confirmed once again and he surely nodded that IGA lounge was the one for us that day. I felt sorry that we could not have the chance to experience the newly opened Skyteam Lounge, but on the other hand, I did feel excited to try IGA Lounge since from some reviews I read before, this lounge is spacious and has various kinds of seating and also lots of choices for food and beverage, almost identical with Turkish Airlines lounge in terms of space and amenities. With boarding pass in hand, so off we went to find our way to the lounge.
For elite-status passengers or those who are traveling in First and Business Class, IST provides dedicated fast track immigration lanes for Turkish Airlines & Star Alliance airlines and IGA fast track lanes for other airlines outside of Star Alliance. Unfortunately, we couldn't manage to snap a picture of it.
Some pictures of IST after second security check and along the way to the lounge.
Both IGA Lounge and Skyteam Lounge are easily spotted and located just across each other.
Too bad there would be no review for this lounge.
And here is the entrance of IGA Lounge.
To enter the lounge, one has to scan his/her boarding pass onto the automated gate machine. But before that, the boarding pass must be verified by the gate agent and stamped.
We did not snap much pictures here, but this lounge has many amenities and facilities one might need. Just right next to the gate machines, there are rows of lockers to put luggage or personal belongings that you would not want to bring in during lounging around. One pool table lies in the center. When we got there, it was still breakfast time, so the food had choices of salads, cheese, cold cuts, pastries and also some hot options like köfte (Turkish meat balls), spiced rice, baked beans, and Menemen (Turkish omelette). Beverage options were fresh Turkish tea/coffee, pre-packed/bottled tea and juices, mineral water, Ayran (Turkish style yogurt), beer and some liquors in a manned bar.
Various amenities includes praying rooms, shower rooms, opened-style napping booths, dining tables, lazy chairs, couch, VIP room, and children playing area. One feature which is quite unique is the complimentary massage service for 15-30 minutes for those who are interested, first-come-first-served basis.
We spent roughly two hours lounging around and then decided to move out to the boarding area, just in time that the boarding was just started.
On-board The Cabin
Apparently, there was last minute aircraft swap and as confirmed by the crew, there was some kind of operational reason that the aircraft which was supposed to be the new A330-300 was changed to the old three-classed B777-300ER, unfortunately with also the old business class seats.
This is how the seat looks like.
As seen on the pictures, the seat was the older one Saudia has that does not go fully flat when reclined, exactly similar with what other fellow Skyteam members like Garuda Indonesia & Korean Air have on their A330-200 & A330-300 respectively. A thick blanket and a pillow are placed on each seat.
It was a light load in business cabin today with only 10 seats taken out of 36 seats.
The headset Saudia uses on this flight were placed inside a chic looking pouch, it sure looks firm and decent.
As soon as we took our seat, a flight attendant serving our aisle that day, Ms. Jaler came by to introduce herself and offered us choices of welcome drink: water or date smoothie. Saudia is a dry airline, so every beverage on board does not contain alcohol. I definitely opted for their well-known date smoothie and when it came, it was served chilled and felt really refreshing with no tendency of being too sweet. It was one of the most excellent airline signature drinks I've ever tried so far. The smoothie came with a warm oshibori on a plastic tray.
Later I found out that Ms. Jaler is a Filipina working for Saudia. It was exactly December 25th and based on my assumption, I wish her a merry Christmas and she gracefully smiled back while generously thanking me for the wishes. She would keep this positive and friendly attitude towards the end of the flight and rest assured that this would be a flight full of enjoyment for me and my wife.
Few minutes later, she brought us a basket with assorted dates to choose while also serving us a cup of Arabic coffee from a unique jar. I asked her what she would recommend us to have for the dates and here was her choice. She was definitely right, the seedless dates were all awesome.
It was also my first experience tasting the Arabic coffee. It had a very strong cardamom and clove aroma while the coffee itself tasted bitter. Apparently, it was supposed to be consumed altogether with the sweet dates to balance the bitterness. Later I learned that this was a gesture of welcome from Arabian countries.
Later on while the boarding process was still commencing, she handed over a piece of menu card for us to choose later on after cruising. There were two choices of Arabic set cuisine or Mediterranean cuisine, while for the drinks, there were choices of stilled/sparkling water, non-alcoholic Bellini cocktail, date smoothie, choice of juices, teas and Sumatra coffee. It was really a delight to see Indonesian coffee being served on international airlines like what Saudia did.
Few minutes after reaching cruising altitude, Ms. Jaler came by and kneeled down next to our seats to ask what we would like to have for lunch. For some, it might sound strange and awkward to have someone kneeled down, but for us both, it was just a warm welcoming gesture that she tried to maintain a level eye contact with her guests while communicating.
I chose the Arabic set cuisine with sparkling water and my wife ordered the Mediterranean set with stilled water and blueberry juice. She delightfully took note and went back to the galley. Some moment later, she started to set our tables. First, she spread over a deep blue tablecloth which resembles Saudia cabin crew's uniform color and then brought out trays consisting of our appetizers. I had mint labneh, hummus, and cumin dip while my wife had the kelp cured salmon with potato salad and aioli. Bread baskets were already prepared on each tray.
This was my appetizer.
And this was my wife's.
I enjoyed mine really well and so did my wife. The Arabic mezze had a unique taste while the salmon was moist and really tender with hint of spices.
Ms. Jaler then came back to clear our empty plates and then replaced them with our main course. I had red mullet fish with kabsah rice and my wife had roasted garlic chicken with zucchini, red peppers and rosemary potatoes.
This was my main.
And this was my wife's.
The spiced rice dish really went well with the fish without being too much overheated, the portion was very fulfilling as well. My wife also enjoyed her chicken dish very much. It was a fulfilling yet delicious lunch we had in the sky, and Saudia crew managed to deliver this lunch service promptly. But the more important thing was the crew's attitude, especially Ms. Jaler's which made our flight more enjoyable. She would always call us by name and every time we made our choice on something, she always said things like "… Good choice, Mr. Martin". We were awed by her hospitality and friendly manner all along the flight. She deserves higher appreciation from Saudia and Saudia should always maintain this level of service on all its flights.
However, I noticed one shortcoming on the dining service. The crew did not offer us any dessert despite it was clearly written on the menu. No idea if they just forgot about it or they did not load it on board.
We spent the rest of this 3-hourish flight by watching the interactive flight map. I didn't try the headphones nor watching movies, but based on my swift browsing on the content, the IFE system was loaded with lots of movies, music, TV series, live news, etc.
Mid-flight, Ms. Jaler came down to offer us this Valrhona chocolates served on a silver saucer.
I also ordered English Breakfast tea and it came with separate sugar cubes and cookies.
We landed on time to Jeddah for making our 4 hour transit before our next flight to Surabaya, All good times must come to an end, and so we bid farewell to our very first yet enjoyable flight with Saudia and furthermore, to our lovely Ms. Jaler who had taken care of us really well.
Despite of the dated hard product, Saudia leaves us with a very positive first impression and we would not hesitate to fly with it again in the future.
We enjoyed the flight very much and Saudia exceeds our expectation.