When I found out I was going to be flying Saudi Airlines from Beirut in Lebanon to Jakarta in Indonesia via Riyadh (the capital of Saudi Arabia), my first question was – can I even do this as a solo female?!
Not known for being the most female-friendly country in the world, I honestly had no idea whether I could even board the plane, let alone transit in the country.
Naïve and perhaps, ill-formed, I know – but I tend to think of myself as quite a relaxed traveller, including within the Middle East, and still I had no clue what such an adventure would entail!
So, I set about doing my online research and actually found it incredibly hard to get many details – what was it going to be like and what would I need to prepare for this voyage?
And so the inspiration for this post was born!
If you’re thinking of flying Saudi Airlines or through Riyadh airport as a solo female traveller therefore… read on to get my full lowdown.
- Solo Female Travel in the Middle East – What to Expect
- 33 Things You Need to Know About Travel in Sudan
- Solo Female Travel in Lebanon – Is It Safe?
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Information given in this post is correct at time of publication and is based on my personal experience as a British passport holder.
My Journey with Saudi Airlines
My journey with Saudi Airlines began in Beirut, Lebanon.
From here, the plan was that I would fly internationally to Riyadh airport (the capital of Saudi Arabia), waiting in transit there for 5 hours before continuing on with the same airline to Jakarta, Indonesia.
Saudi Airlines were by far the cheapest airline for this journey and, as such, I was keen to make it work if at all possible.
That said, as a white, British solo female traveller I had several main questions:
- Could I fly Saudi Airlines as an unaccompanied solo female?
- What would the plane journey be like?
- Could I transit in Saudi’s main airport as a solo female?
- Would I require a visa for this?
- What would Riyadh airport be like?
So I set about researching this journey and, as I explained before, found it was not at all easy to get the info I needed.
There was next to nothing online about any of the questions I had.
That’s the main reason I’m writing this post actually – to help any fellow lady wanderers get the lowdown, because with the adventure behind me now, hopefully, I can help more of us get around this world for less!
Flying Saudi Airlines as an Unaccompanied Solo Female
So yes, despite any fears I may have had, flying as a solo female on Saudi Airlines is totally possible and totally easy.
Of course, I was the only solo white woman doing it on my flight, but nothing new there!
Despite the strict regulations governing female movements in Saudi Arabia, this definitely didn’t apply on their airline fleet or, if it did, it wasn’t for western women.
Booking my ticket, checking in and boarding were all business as usual – well apart from the fact I was delayed 4 hours and couldn’t find a single person to liaise with regarding the potential I might miss my connection, but that’s another matter.
Aside from this, as I’ve always found when travelling the Middle East alone, everyone was incredibly friendly, kind and hospitable.
What Are Saudi Airlines Like?
It goes without saying that Saudi Airlines operate a dry service on all their flights, but as I don’t generally booze when I’m flying, especially on longhaul services, this literally didn’t bother me.
After my experiences of travelling in Sudan as a solo woman (another very conservative Islamic country) I did wonder if boarding and plane seating might be gender-separated, but this wasn’t the case either.
There was also no division of local or international passengers.
Air hostess staff were all female, although predominantly from either Europe or Asia it seemed, and spoke in English – even with the Saudi passengers apparently.
Safety announcements and other information was imparted in both Arabic and English and the onboard service was very good.
I’m delighted to say both planes I flew with were in excellent condition and I believe Saudi Airlines have recently done a lot to upgrade their fleet.
But perhaps best of all, was that both the aircrafts I took were pretty empty and, as such, I got a whole row to myself on each leg of the journey, including the full 4 seat middle row on the overnight flight to Jakarta – complete result!
The other extra bonus was the hilarious sight (to my western eyes) of literally every Saudi national on the plane, being out of their seat, bags and kids in hand, belongings out of the overhead lockers, walking down the aisle and queueing next to the curtain dividing first class and economy waiting to disembark, all while the seatbelt sign was still on… and the plane was still moving.
Yup we hadn’t even finished taxi-ing yet!
Guessing the hostesses turned a blind eye behind their curtain!
Cultural differences, you gotta love them!
Transiting in Riyadh Airport as a Solo Female
Now I know Saudi’s main airport is a large international hub and that while transiting there you still technically haven’t entered the county, but I still wanted to check I’d be allowed to do so as an unaccompanied female.
And the answer was yes, absolutely I could.
That said, this was largely made a lot easier by the length of my layover.
For, as I found out when researching, as a British female I would have needed a transit visa for anything longer than 12 hours in Riyadh.
Just from reading about this process on the gov.uk website, I was super glad I wouldn’t have to go into it all!
As it was, I could transit easily in Riyadh for a short period of time without a visa and without the need to be accompanied – so far so good!
That said, I did pack a headscarf just in case it was needed.
What is Riyadh Airport Like?
In the end, it definitely was not.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, and despite the dire warnings I’d got from some people who’d been there years ago, Riyadh Airport is now just like any other modern international hub.
It actually is perhaps even better than many I’ve been in and was very clean, modern and easily laid out.
I think they must have recently renovated it or built a new one!
Going through transit between connecting flights was straightforward.
In fact, there was no one even at the desk to check my passport or boarding pass, although when I did find an airport official and asked for help they were incredibly accommodating and thankfully spoke impeccable English.
There were duty-free shops and a lot of seating too.
No free wifi in Riyadh airport that I could find, but some kind official let me in on the password for some network or other, so I managed to send a few Whatsapp messages to confirm I was enroute!
The airport population was a huge mix of different nationalities, some women wearing Islamic dress and others not.
I felt totally comfortable in my casual (albeit long-sleeved) travel clothes and nobody batted an eyelid at me – sensational!
Given the delay to my first flight, I actually ended up only having a short layover in Riyadh Airport, but had it been longer I honestly wouldn’t have minded – well perhaps apart from the wifi!
Boarding my flight to Jakarta, I was, of course, the only white female (and I think the only non-pilgrim) but I never once felt awkward.
Pleased I had those 4 free seats in a row, it was “goodnight” from me for a good few hours, before hello Jakarta.
Because I was asleep I can’t comment on the entertainment or the food offerings of Saudi Airlines, but honestly when the price of that journey was as good as it was, who cares!
So delighted to say that, as per usual, any travel fears I may have had about Saudi Airlines were completely unfounded.
It’s amazing how we fear the unknown, but sometimes a bit of research and bit of biting the bullet can pay off… and save us a fortune!
Have you flown Saudi Airlines or transited in Riyadh Airport?
What was your experience like?
I’d love to hear more in the comments area below…