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LCC in Saudi Arabia: Sama Airlines DMM-RUH

LCC in Saudi Arabia: Sama Airlines DMM-RUH

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Old May 8, 08, 3:43 am
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LCC in Saudi Arabia: Sama Airlines DMM-RUH

25 Apr 2008
Dammam King Fahd International Airport (DMM/OEDF) - Riyadh King Khalid Airport (RUH/OERK)
Sama Airlines ZS 754
Boeing 737-300
HZ-NMA (cn 2921, delivered to Frontier Aug 1997)
16:15-17:25
Economy class (all-economy class), seat 16F


According to my logbook, this was my 130th flight, but my first flight on a low-cost carrier! Though I'm not counting SK subsidiary Blue1 nor Aer Lingus (which I've only flown on a BA codeshare before they left Oneworld) as LCCs. Not many of my friends can say that ZS was the first LCC they flew! The tickets from Dammam to Riyadh were ridiculously cheap, so I booked them without hesitating after my reservation with Saudia fell through. This time I was travelling with a fellow Wikitravel fi-admin and a well-known FTer, Jpatokal. Out of all the places in the world, we both were working in Riyadh at the same time.

Dammam airport is built in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing but sand surrounding the airport. One thing I don't understand though: why did they build the thing in the middle of nowhere 50 km away from Dammam, when they could have built it in the middle of nowhere only 20 km away from the city. Despite the numerous offers by the local taxi drivers, we opted for the airport bus, which took us from the city bus terminal to the airport in maybe 45 minutes (well, the driver had to buy some lunch from a small restaurant during the trip and suggested us to do the same, as the prices on the airport would be out of scale). Roasted chicken and a huge portion of rice in a plastic bag was quite tasty and certainly worth the SR12 (about $3) we paid for it.

DMM is a huge airport. It feels maybe a bit dated, but it isn't actually that old. According to Wikipedia, it's the largest airport in the world when measured by area. After locating the check-in from the 2nd floor we found the Sama counter already open. We both wanted window seats, so seats 16F and 17F were ours. The service desk agent had no problems complying with our request, as we got tickets with sequence numbers 1 and 2. The seat assignment was done on paper! He had an A4 with a picture of our 737-300 in which he marked our seats as taken with a regular pen. At least Sama has assigned seats, unlike some Euro-LCCs.

There's a nice "wavers' balcony" in the airport, where anyone can get to and see the tarmac. The airport itself seems to be a bit underused with flights leaving only every now and then. After the security there are a couple of cafees and your average shops minus the alcohol of course. While waiting, we saw the pilots (probably Britons) and 3 F/As (2 Filipino ladies and an Arab man) entering the plane, which had arrived on time from the previous flight. We sat next to Saudia's Alfursan lounge in hopes of free Wi-fi, but in vain. Only secured WLANs here. We were clearly early, as there was almost no-one else waiting. The airport felt quiet and empty and the absence of announcements highlighted that.

The Boeing 737-300 HZ-NMA was originally delivered to Frontier in 1997, so it's one of the newer 737 classics. Before joining the Sama fleet, it had served also Virgin Nigeria. When the time to board the plane came more people had already arrived at gate 117, but still there was a relatively few people around. No way the plane would be full, which was expected as we got our dirt cheap tickets only 3 days before departure. Sama had installed quite snazzy looking blue leather seats, which had a cool Sama logo embossed in them. The seat pitch was comparable to normal full fare carriers. None of the 3 seats in front of me had a safety card, but the middle seat had the exit door instruction card. Never mind that the exits were a few rows ahead of us. There was also a menu for the onboard sales, with rather reasonable prices.

Seat by seat the plane started to fill up, and in the end I think there were less than ten empty seats. Of course one beside me and one beside Jpatokal. Pure coincidence? Unlike the international flights I had taken to/from Riyadh, the Arabs were a majority on this flight. The announcements were hurriedly made in Arabic and English, not forgetting the travel prayer, which seemed like a necessary evil. After pushback I managed to catch a glimpse of Sama's 2-prop Jetstream 41, which is operated by Eastern Skyjets. It looked like a toy plane next to Saudia's 747.

After the takeoff you could only see sand. Sand, sand everywhere. And an occasional camel or deserted building here and there. The captain announced that our altitude will be 7200 meters, flight time less than 45 minutes and the gentle temperature of 40 degrees celsius would be waiting us in Riyadh. The cabin crew announced that only drinks are sold on this rather short flight. The sky was clear, but the scenery underneath us did not change during the flight - just sand. I ordered a Pepsi and quaffed it in quite a hurry as the plane started to land. For the price of SR3 ($0.8) you did not only get a can of coke, but a plastic cup with ice too.

Before landing there was some slight turbulence, but nothing special. We banked right above the King Fahd International Stadion, which is easy to spot from the air thanks to it's interesting tent-like design. When we were only a couple of hundred meters above the ground the first mobile phones started to beep reporting incoming SMS messages. And it was not only one or two phones, they were everywhere. Only a short moment after the wheels had touched the ground the Saudi guy in front of me was already talking in the phone. Needless to say, people started to get their stuff out of overhead lockers while the beeping grew even louder. When we reached our parking position and the seat belt sign was switched off there were only a handful of people still sitting. Now this is one of my favourite pet peeves: although it might not be that dangerous, the way I would like to see it the phones will be kept switched off during the flight until the seatbelt sign is switched off. If for nothing else, then just because the captain says so. I mean, with the words of Jeremy Clarkson, 'How hard can it be?!' It's not like you would die if you receive your message or call a whopping 2 minutes later. I also observed the same behaviour later on my GF flight from RUH to BAH.

We disembarked through the gate and in the terminal it was easy to see, that the domestic terminal was an exact copy of the international terminal used by Saudia, which in turn is a 100% clone of the internation terminal used by other airlines. Only the immigration counters were absent here. As we didn't have any checked in luggage, we quickly walked to the arrival hall 10 minutes before the plane was even supposed to land.

All in all, the flight was quite good although short. Assigned seats, quite clean and ok cabin, generous seat pitch, well on time and dirt cheap prices. Definitely good value.
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Old May 8, 08, 3:47 am
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Read also Jpatokal's version of the events: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showp...78&postcount=3

-olli
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Old May 8, 08, 9:55 am
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Good report. How much did you pay for your tickets?
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Old May 8, 08, 11:38 am
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Originally Posted by MatthewLAX View Post
Good report. How much did you pay for your tickets?
Good question! Our tickets booked 3 days before departure cost us 120 riyals per person, which would be about US$33...
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Old May 14, 08, 8:31 pm
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Great report. I've noticed the Gulf violation of cell phones rules is the most flagrant by far!
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Old May 18, 08, 10:21 am
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You were lucky. SAMA is getting notorious for late departures canceled flights on the DMM-RUH run.
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