Idiosyncrasies of Jeddah Airport, Saudi Arabia

by - 4/09/2024

When I was very young, many of my friends' fathers were posted in Saudi Arabia. Some were in Riyadh, some in Jeddah etc. Their Dads used to get fancy things for their kids (like Casio keyboards and other electronic toys, which were not yet available in India). I used to be so fascinated with their imported stuff that I really wished that my father got posted there too. But those kids had a rather lonely life. Their fathers never took their family there and visited only once a year. One of my very close friend's father was posted there for 7 long years and he was without his Dad for the same period. The reason? That country was not female friendly. 

I have heard and read horrendous stories about the oppression of females in Saudi. They were not allowed to drive, they were not allowed to step out unless covered head to toe in an Abaya. The female needed to be accompanied by a male if she wanted to step outside the house and so on and so forth.

So when my Dad actually got the offer, both me and my mom didn't let him go. It was surely a huge financial loss but we don't have any ounce of regret. 

Fast forward 25 years, the world has changed and so has Saudi Arabia. The laws regarding women, their driving and their attire has loosened to a very large extent. They have started influencer marketing too, to promote their tourism. From last year, a group of travel bloggers are being invited on a regular basis to promote their natural and man made wonders. They are opening up to the world. Abaya is no longer compulsory, you can wear anything which covers your full arms, legs and of course chest and back. 

Their airlines have started carrying passengers all over the world. So when we got a great deal of Tanzania on Saudia Airlines, we grabbed that offer. However the experience was a bit daunting.

As Indians we are already conservative enough. However when we step outside our country, we want to inhale that liberty. Our flight to Jeddah were full of pilgrims going to Mecca. So we three were the only one wearing colour. That was slightly suffocating. Our luggages were checked before entering the aircraft (after all the security checks). This is because they are very particular about certain stuff entering their country.

We had a 5 hour stopover in the afternoon and the entire airport was empty. Literally empty. Anyway we had our meals and travelled ahead to Dar Es Salaam. Mind you, one has to be fully clad in the flight+ airport because you don't want to invite unwanted trouble .

We are waiting patiently while the bags are being opened before entering the aircraft 

On the way back, at Dar Es Salaam airport, again our bags were opened before entering the aircraft. We all were declared clear but a Polish family got stuck. They had bought 3 bottles of liquor from Duty Free. Now Saudi is an absolute alcohol free nation. They just can't allow these liquors entering and the man was asked to discard them. He got ready angry because the counter at Duty Free requires flight tickets for billing. So they should have warned him that liquor wasn't allowed. Not even during stopover! They were flying to Amsterdam from Jeddah. After a very long altercation, which involved all the flight crew, he was sent back to the Duty Free for a refund. This entire incident set us back by one hour. So basically, no matter how open they might appear , the situation can get very dicey if not careful.

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Now I understand the religious implications of everything. But somehow our luggage being opened in front of everyone, even after all the security checks, I just can't justify that. Also fliers need to be more responsible. They should get themselves acquainted with the local laws, even if that city/country is just a stopover. It works both ways.

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  1. It is definitely daunting and you're so right, we should do our checks before entering a country to ensure we don't make any last minute goof ups.

  2. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 3 years, happy to sea its become more welcoming. Great for the women. But yep. Flying to any gulf state gives me shivers!