Having done my usual scour of Skyscanner for my trip to India, I ended up booking a pretty cheap flight to Kochi with Saudia Arabian Airlines, with a flight change in Jeddah.
A couple of days before the flight, I googled Jeddah Airport, and was quite impressed with just how terrible it was supposed to be. Most of the comments were along the lines of the following:
‘Disgraceful is an understatement for this airport’
‘I would rate this airport as the worst among all’
‘Possibly the most frustrating and annoying airport on the planet’
Jeddah is also the not-so-proud winner of Sleeping in Airports‘ coveted ‘Worst Airport in the World’ award, coming above Juba, Port Harcourt, Tashkent and a large number of Greek airports to steal the top spot. But is at as bad as its reputation?
Having now visited, I was glad I’d googled it, as it’s much better to arrive prepared. Had I expected something along the lines of Dubai and found myself spending seven hours in Jeddah’s South Terminal, I can see why I’d be more than a bit unimpressed.
Look, Jeddah is definitely not a good airport, but it’s not AS bad as some of the comments say – in fact it’s perfectly bearable, as long as you bear in mind the following:
- You cannot stay in Saudi Arabia for more than 12 hours waiting for an onward connection without a visa. It used to be 18 hours but changed in April. If your connection time is more than 12 hours, they will not allow you to board your initial flight. Check your tickets when you book, as Opodo nearly booked me on an illegal flight.
- If your layover is more than six hours in South Terminal, they will usher you through into a free ‘transit lounge.’ This is tiny, but has a few reclining chairs (I didn’t get one), toilets, and you get a free meal, although mine was pretty grim. Don’t be excited when you see computers – they weren’t connected to any plugs. There were phone charging points though.
- Once you leave the transit lounge, you can’t go back, as you go through security. So at some point you have to choose between the safety of the poky lounge and the mystery of the terminal beyond. The lounge has seats (and if you get a recliner, you’re fine), the terminal has a boozeless duty free and a few cafes. And maybe seats.
- There is no wifi. The only ‘free wifi’ you can access depends on having a Saudi Arabian sim card to receive a pin code. Bring a good book or download a movie before you get here.
- Bring toilet paper and hand sanitiser. The toilets had neither paper nor soap.
- Take US dollars. There is no ATM or way of obtaining Saudi riyals, which you need to pay in the cafes. The best thing to do is to go to the Duty Free, find some cheap biscuits (around 12 riyals, or roughly $3), and pay with $10 or $20 to get riyals in change.
- Use your change from duty free in the Lounge Cafe. I chose this over the other options (Baskin and Robbins and Tim Hortons) as it came with seats, and there didn’t appear to be any other seats available. I bought a ‘fish combo’ for 25 riyals and a Turkish coffee, which got me my own seat and table away from the hustle and bustle. As a bonus, it was actually really tasty – doesn’t look much at all, but it was well spiced, with lots of cardamon. They let me stay sitting here once I’d finished the meal too.
You could try paying for the Al Fursan Lounge (apparently they sometimes let people pay, sometimes not – although that may have changed with the transfer lounge) but I didn’t feel I needed to. Aside from the no WiFi, Jeddah was perfectly manageable. And to be honest, if I’m going to shell out for a first class lounge, I at least want it to be one that will serve me wine.
Solo female travellers can transfer in Saudi without any issues. I mean, it is Saudi, so you will be greeted with this (apologies for blurry iPhone shot; I felt that it was probably better to be discreet taking photos in an airport).
But you don’t need a headscarf, you don’t need to dress in a certain way – as long as you don’t pull a beer out of your bag and start chugging away, you’ll be fine.
Overall? Worth it for a cheap flight if you’re a budget traveller, and I didn’t find it as bad as I’d feared after reading about it online. Just know what to expect before you go.