All photos by the author.
Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz Airport was ranked as the World’s Worst Airport (source). As someone who has been flying out of Jeddah since childhood, I very rarely get to see what all the fuss is about. Thankfully, this particular trip was one of the better ones. Back when I first started senior year, I started looking into holiday destinations that would fit for our senior trip during Spring Break. Malaysia was the all-round star after considering some good competition including Sri Lanka and Jordan. For one, fares to Malaysia (a popular destination for Arab tourists) are consistently low – around SR2,000 return ($533) and below. Second of all, Malaysia can be traveled to visa-free by virtually all nationalities. This was music to my ears as a holder of a relatively restrictive travel document.
Having been to Malaysia only once before around 7 years ago, I was excited to revisit the vibrant southeast asian country. After rounding up a group of 12 senior students and a chaperone, I organized a 10 day adventure in Malaysia for around SR4,500 a person ($1,200) including flights and hotels.
Flight #1: Jeddah – Doha
Qatar Airways 1187: JED-DOH
Depart: 6:45 PM, Arrive: 9:00 PM, Duration: 2h 15 m
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Part One: Outbound, Jeddah to Kuala Lumpur
Since our departure day on the 27th of March was still three days out from the start of Spring Break, we brought our luggage to school on departure day and left straight after school. Those who couldn’t be bothered coming to school in the first place just met us at the check in counter. Since Qatar Airways is a foreign airline not a member of skyteam, we used the tiny Foreign Airlines Northern terminal.
It was quite the spectacle to see 12 high schoolers (of both genders, extra scandalous!) with their luggage dominating not one but two check in counter lines. Ground staff weren’t particularly quick, and by the time we got through the already massive line ahead of us, checked in ourselves, and said our goodbyes to our parents we headed to passport control.
Despite the negative reviews of JED, there has been a slight improvement in service. Passport control was a breeze! Note that Saudi citizens use a dedicated passport line, and that line was pretty much empty. However, almost all of us were non-saudi and we managed to get through in about 15 minutes.
Finally airside, we had about an hour till boarding. Everyone dispersed as we agreed to meet up again when it’s called. The wifi at the airport is tedious to use with a long sign in process, but it was okay. When boarding was called, we queued up to get on our buses, since all of the gates are remote. In the distance we could see our beautiful bird parked along with a sea of Saudia and Flynas aircraft. JED doesn’t usually give much to the average aviation enthusiast to see, but one special bird on the tarmac was a SaudiGulf A320! After months of delays, I’m glad they’re finally up and running. Saudi’s LCC market seems to be booming, with three different carriers operating in the country (SaudiGulf, Flynas, and recently established Saudia-owned Flyadeal). Too bad Qatar’s Al-Maha never quite took off.
Boarding was very efficient, and soon enough everyone was in their seats. The flight attendants were diverse and very friendly, they greeted all of us with a warm smile. The 777-300ER’s seats were modern and very comfortable, with perfect recline. The IFE was great too with an impressive list of Hollywood movies.
Service started with a refreshing towel. As we neared departure, the cabin mood lighting was turned on. This was my first flight with mood lighting, spectacular!
Not long after the seatbelt signed was turned off service started. There was a choice between beef, chicken, and fish on the flight. I usually opt for chicken or beef on middle eastern carriers, they always tend to be more flavorful. Sure enough the dish was remarkable. Dinner consisted of chicken with rice, a portion of salad with feta cheese, chocolate cake, bread and butter, water and your choice of a drink. I decided to have orange juice. The chicken was served piping hot and was rich and succulent, the salad was fresh with the feta cheese really adding flavor. The chocolate cake was good. The cutlery was freezing cold and served in beautiful pouches, unfortunately it isn’t quite visible in the picture.
Alas, this two hour flight was relatively short compared to what was coming. Soon enough we were on final in Doha. Might I add that Doha is fantastic on approach, the whole country is lit up with beautiful architecture. Upon landing we had excellent views of the iconic Islamic Museum and the business district with its abundance of skyscrapers.
Our landing in Doha was smooth and we arrived shortly at our gate. It was nice to use an air bridge for a change. Hamad International Airport is absolutely astonishing. The architecture is brilliant and the terminal is easy to navigate. They even had reclining chairs at some gates! We also got to visit the infamous terminal teddy bear, an art installation owned by the Qatari royal family.
We had around six hours to kill at Hamad so we dispersed and decided to meet at the teddy about two hours before departure. This gave me the opportunity to explore the many art installations, exchange currency, and grab some more food from the food court. Our departure gate was all the way at the end of the terminal. Fortunately, there was a skytrain available, and it whisked us from one part of the terminal to the next in no time.
Flight #2: Doha – Kuala Lumpur
Qatar Airways 848: DOH-KUL
Depart: 2:50 AM, Arrive: 3:15 PM, Duration: 7h 25 m
Aircraft: Airbus A340-600
Boarding for our next flight took longer than expected, and at this point we were already exhausted and the prospect of the seven hour flight ahead of us wasn’t helping. We simply sat across from the gate until the line dried up and then mustered up whatever we had to bring ourselves forward. Unfortunately, I didn’t grab any pictures at all until I was already seated. Underneath all my exhaustion I was excited to fly on QR’s few remaining A340-600s! According to planespotters.net Qatar Airways has 4 A340-600s in its fleet left, configured with 24 business class seats and 348 economy seats. Although the aircraft seems high density, it was quite comfortable. The seats of course do appear older and the recline isn’t as great, but the aircraft was still enjoyable.
Waiting at our seats was a beautiful little amenity pouch. Inside were a pair of earplugs, an eye mask, a toothbrush kit, and a flimsy pair of socks. I don’t usually use the items in amenity kits, though when I tried on the sock it wasn’t warm nor comfortable. I do regret not making use of the eye masks, since I am pretty light sensitive when I try to sleep.
I admire Qatar Airways’ service consistency. As always, service began with the friendly FAs distributing refreshing towels. After that it was off to bed for most of the cabin.
The meal plan for this flight consisted of a light snack at first and breakfast towards the end. After everyone had settled in for the night our lovely flight attendants quietly passed around snack boxes and refreshments. Although I did not take a picture of what was inside the box, I can tell you it consisted of a delicious cheese-filled pastry served warm and a piece of cake. I also opted for apple juice to drink.
With the insane amount of movies available, I took the liberty to spend the entire flight watching movies. Strangely enough, I do not remember anything that I watched, probably because I was half asleep. Fast forward a few hours of vicious sleep/watch cycles and breakfast was served. As someone with a notable sweettooth, all the other options were drowned out by “bread pudding.” It was indeed a fine choice: the bread pudding was warm and soft, the strawberry sauce was sweet and creamy. Oddly enough, we were given a pouch of candies that had inflated in the air pressure. I was too amused with the inflated bag to eat any candy. Accompanying the meal were some melon cubes, bread rolls, butter, and water. To drink what better than to have some OJ to start your (seemingly endless) day?
As the sun started to shine I slowly adjusted my seatmates (or rather, half the cabin) to the sunlight by gradually opening the window shade. There were some beautiful cloud formations to look at. When we started passing land I even saw a rainbow! I have actually not seen one since childhood. Our approach to KUL was beautiful with lush forests, rivers, and cute small towns. We had quite the treat of having a parallel landing with another widebody I could not identify.
KLIA is gorgeous as well though not as seamless to navigate. We passed through passport control fairly quickly and arranged two minivans to take us to our hotel. Then, we enjoyed our time in Kuala Lumpur, until it was time to come back.
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!