Given the dearth of trip reports on SV (Saudi Arabian Airlines), I figured I'd write one for a work trip I recently took. Honestly, if I'd had my druthers, I would have booked on the BA non-stop rather than SV, but I was visiting a Saudi university and they were paying, so I didn't have much say. This is my first TR, so please be gentle You should be able to click any photograph to embiggen. Advance work: Getting a visa to enter KSA In case you're not aware, most people cannot just say "Hey, I'd like to go to Saudi Arabia." and file for a visa. If you're not doing the hajj, you need an invitation from a business, the government, or a friend/relative. I was invited to run a week's worth of teaching workshops at King Saud University, so I needed to apply for a government visit visa. As a US Citizen living in London, I was pleased to learn that I could apply through the consular section of the KSA embassy in London. However, they were not terribly helpful at figuring out the forms. There's no form on their site for a government visit visa, so you use the business visit form. Then there's the painful process of uploading a photo to the Enjaz website. In the end, I decided to hire Regent Visas for about £70 to take care of this for me. There were too many areas in which I could make a mistake, and they clearly had experience. With their assistance, I had my passport back, visa attached, within a week of posting it off. Given the confusing nature of the KSA visa application process, I suggest others do the same. Flight #1 SV106, LHR-RUH Check-in: SV has recently (from 31 March 2011) moved from LHR T3 to LHR T4. I believe this was planned before SV's impending move to join SkyTeam was announced (and since the other Middle Eastern carriers are in T4, it would have made sense), but now it's totally logical. Check-in was in the A zone, and I was a little confused to walk up and see the boards showing an SV106 to DMM instead of RUH. The greeters noticed my perplexed look and asked if I was flying Saudia to Riyadh. I confirmed and they said I was in the right place. They then asked if I was flying First or Business class and directed me to the appropriate check-in. One person checked my passport for the mandatory visa and then passed me on to the luggage check. I had pre-selected 16D, an aisle seat in the second row of J, which is configured in an offset 2-3-2 so that 16AC and 16JL are not aligned with 16DEF. (The Saudia website's fleet page finally has seat plans for some aircraft.) The agent confirmed I was OK with an aisle seat and printed my BP and tagged my bag. He then gave me an invitation to the SkyTeam lounge with a very detailed map of how to get to the lounge. I didn't need the map, since I usually fly ST out of LHR. I made my way to FastTrack security, where I was simply asked if I was flying F or J and breezed through. (There's been some confusion about what can get you into FastTrack security at LHR. I think answering "Yes" when asked about F/J will work pretty much any time, as I wasn't asked to show my BP there.) I got behind a family with an infant at security, but they kept waving those of us who were prepared around, which I appreciated. After clearing security, I went to the T4 IRIS enrolment station to try to sign up for IRIS. (One too many long, long, long queue for non-EU passport holders had me motivated to sign up.) Alas, the door was locked with a number shown to call. I tried calling it, and I got a busy/engaged signal. Thus, it was off to the SkyTeam lounge for a late lunch. Lounge: Despite being a ST FF, this would be my first time into the much-hyped ST LHR lounge, as my previous flights had all been flying Y and without the ST Elite Plus status that gets you in. I got to the lounge around 1350 for a 1600 departure. (I'd arrived at LHR to allow for IRIS.) They still had hot lunch out, so I grabbed some spice-rubbed chicken (juicy and tasty), some sandwiches, and some pasta with vegetables. (Sorry, don't recall the precise name.) The lounge had plenty of space, so I grabbed a seat and pulled out my laptop to get on the free WiFi. After a second helping of food and an adult beverage, I shifted to the upper level of the lounge to get some work done. No announcements are made in the ST Lounge except for delayed flights, as best as I could tell. (They said they wouldn't announce my flight and the only announcements I heard were for delayed flights.) I kept an eye on the board and left for Gate 12 about 35 minutes prior to scheduled departure. Boarding: I got to the gate about 1530, and there was already a mass of gate lice. No indication that boarding had started yet. I had just enough time to identify the aircraft as HZ-AKA, a 777-268ER, before they announced boarding. They announced F and J could board at their leisure, so I headed straight through to avoid spending any more time with the gate lice than was necessary. Pre-departure: I was travelling sans jacket, but the J FAs were swiftly hanging jackets for passengers with them. I found my way to 16D and unpacked a book (Watching the English, which I was just starting and now highly recommend). I had booked into the middle section in hopes of having an empty seat next to me, but EF had suggested that J would be full, and it was. My neighbor didn't speak much English, but when all you need is to get in and out, it's pretty easy to gesture for that. (He did at one point offer me some paper since I was taking notes for this TR on the back of a receipt.) Most of my experience with IFE comes from DL, which basically just shows you AmEx ads pre-departure. However, the SV system had many features enabled during boarding. You could check out the maps and check the view from the cameras (forward and underneath). However, the movies and music selections were not available. They were showing some images of one of their destinations on the main screen at the front of the cabin. No pre-departure beverages were offered prior to the door closing. However, once the door was secured, the FAs made it through the cabin with hot towels, Arabian coffee, and dates. I declined the coffee, since I don't do caffeine, but enjoyed the others. Newspapers (English and Arabic) were offered. Since I had a book, I didn't notice what the English-language paper(s) were. The safety instructions were provided via video, shown both on our IFE screens and the large screen at the front of the J cabin. First the video was played in Arabic, featuring Arabic subtitles and sign language. Both male and female crew were used in the video to demonstrate the safety features. Then the video was played in English, this time with English subtitles and sign language. After pushback, a prayer for safe travels was played over the PA. (It was introduced in both Arabic and English, but being a Muslim prayer, it was only said in Arabic.) Some of the features of the IFE system (notably the moving map, flight info, and downward/forward cameras) worked during taxi and take-off. However, movies, television, and audio were not enabled at this time. We pushed back roughly on-time (1600) and took off at 1625. The temperature at LHR was 17C. In-flight: Shortly after take-off, the seatbelt sign was turned off and all the features of the IFE were enabled. The FAs also distributed SV-branded (couldn't see any indication as to the actual manufacturer) noise-cancelling headphones. They use a THREE-prong connector, with the connection socket being between elbow and shoulder level on the seat's plastic shell. I wanted to read a bit, so I put my seat into a semi-reclined mode and found it reasonably comfortable. I should note that the seat (an angled-lie flat) is not terribly comfortable in the full upright position required for take-off and landing; the seat seems rather hard when in that position. Important warning: The D seats in the J cabin do not have a power socket. All other seats have a universal (US/UK/European) socket, but D does not. If E isn't using his/her socket, it would be readily acceptable for the passenger in D. However, if you're flying J on an SV 777 and need a power socket, stay out of the D seats. The flight attendants distributed an assortment of chilled fruit juices. No indication was given as to what each one was, but the one I had was tasty. Before too long, the FAs began dinner service. The cabin crew was a mixture of men and women (probably 50/50 for F and J, from what I observed). The men wore uniforms similar to what you'd expect to see a pilot wearing for a US carrier (sans jacket), while the women were dressed in a manner similar to what I'd seen for other Middle Eastern carriers (small hats, head scarves covering all hair but leaving the face exposed, and long-sleeved blouses with trousers). Dinner service was excruciatingly slow on my side of the aircraft. The FAs hadn't even finished serving the starter by the time the ones working the other aisle were serving mains. No menus were provided, unfortunately, so I really have no clue what I was eating. In flight photos are from my mobile, so I apologize for the quality. Starter: Both options were some sort of fish with a green salad (three types of dressing were offered for the salad). The other option appeared to be maybe some tuna salad accompanied with a half tomato filled with a dairy item (a creamy cheese of some sort?). The starters were served from a cart and were pre-loaded on the trays with cutlery. The FAs didn't even know what they were serving and just said "You can have this or that." The FAs came around with a bread basket featuring a variety of breads, and I selected two items. The starter was fairly tasty. Water was served with dinner. I don't recall seeing anyone with even a second glass of fruit juice, so it may have been the only beverage offering. Main: Long after I'd completed my starter, the FAs finally started coming down my aisle with mains. (Those who'd ordered a special meal were served their mains almost immediately after getting their starters.) On offer were fish (salmon?), chicken, pasta (veg lasagna?), and "beef". The photograph above is of the "beef" that I selected. I cut into it and it appeared to be white meat, but clearly wasn't chicken (and obviously wasn't pork on SV). My suspicion is that it was veal. The main was edible, but definitely not something I'd seek out again. Dessert: I thought it was a bit odd that the dinner service tray would come with a little box containing two chocolates, as I expected we'd get a full dessert/pudding/sweet, depending on the version and class of English you speak. I soon discovered that the painfully slow service was why we were given chocolates. In the box was a dark chocolate truffle and a truffle containing a lemon creme filling. Both tasty. Eventually the FAs came around with the dessert cart. (It appears they only had one cart, so the speedy aisle got dessert first and then my aisle got ours.) There were several options featuring fruit, but I went for a chocolate mousse-like option with a cup of tea. It was decent but had a bit of an odd aftertaste and the texture was a bit gummier than I would have cared for. IFE: After dinner, I decided that I'd been reading enough and would check out the AVOD options. I was impressed with the wide selection of movies and television (lots of CSI) available, both in English and Arabic. The music selection was also ample, providing "radio channels" for which a host/presenter selected an assortment of songs from a genre and entire albums to select. English-audio programs were subtitled in Arabic, and from what I could see of my neighbor's screen, Arabic-audio programs were subtitled in English. I didn't measure the screen, but it was a good size, probably in the 10-11 inch range. (No picture, sorry.) I watched The King's Speech, which I'm a bit ashamed to say I hadn't seen before, so I can't comment on how much it was censored. I did detect some swearing that had been muted out, but I would expect this on western carriers, too. Scenes featuring alcohol did not appear to have been altered. I do intend to watch the entire film soon, and if there's anything glaringly obvious that was missing from the SV version, I'll post an update. I'd been hoping to switch on the downward-facing camera for landing in case we approached over the city, but most features of the IFE system were disabled for approach. We touched down in RUH at 0025 AST, where the temperature was 30C.