Question about Saudi Arabia Airlines

Paul , I hope you’ll drop by!

I’m curious about the codes of conduct on SAA, primarily regarding female passengers. Are dress codes (abaya and face covering) mandatory? Can the face covering be removed during meal service? Once airborne, can Western women who wore long garments while in Saudi Arabia change into something more appropriate to their destination city?

Can an unrelated male and female sit side-by-side? Is there a regulation seating chart that divides the sexes?

I’m asking these questions because I have flown various airlines in and out of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is an Islamic country but women have far fewer restrictions than Muslim women in the Middle East. They drive, go to school, work, have a relaxed dress code (jeans, sandals and a brief head covering are common in young women), and maneuver around the city alone or with others, both male and female.

It is common to see young women studying abroad take off the headscarf immediately upon leaving KL and put it on right before landing in KL. I’ve been to several of the larger cities and resorts and have noticed the relaxed dress codes; however, I understand that in some rural areas they are vigorously maintained by self-proclaimed ‘vice police.’

Have also heard, but have not seen for myself, that some of the grocery stores in these areas have separate checkout lanes for men and women, separate swimming pools at resorts, etc.

So, how does it work on the airline?


SV is a not-too-bad international airline. Women wearing abayyas and scarves and the like usually (that want to do so) go to the restroom and get into something a lot more Western when the plane takes off. On the way back, the same thing happens in reverse. Please note that this does NOT happen on domestic flights.



Hello straykat23,

Saudia is a very ‘normal’ airline. There are three things that make a flight on Saudia a bit different than most.

First, all flights start with a recorded travel prayer. It freaked me out a bit the first time I heard it.

Next, the video channel that shows where the plane in on a map changes over every few minutes to a pointer that indicates where Mecca is. (A 'Mecca meter.)

In the back, near the bathrooms two or three rows are removed to leave a prayer space. People tend to try to sleep in there, but the cabin crew shoos them out.

(Also during Ramadan, the airline sets out a nice buffet of sandwiches in lieu of food service. I like that.)

Women check in and go through security alongside men. There are sometimes a few female (un-uniformed) policewomen to check female passengers. They are dressed as they always are here. Western women throw on a cloak, Saudi women may go with the full face covering and black gloves. Teenage girls flaunt convention as much as their father will let them.

Once in the departure area, women begin to change clothing. This process is slow and unnoticable. Someplace over the Atlantic all the Western women have ditched the gown and teenage girls in jeans run up and down the hallways. Very normal.

Upon arrival in New York, only a very few elderly ladies are still in full gown.

In the same way, men tend to change en route. By the time we get to the States, most are in pants and shirts. Even those in the thobe have lost the guttrah. My friends say it is just a matter of trying to blend in. Also sleeping on a plane in a gown is not as comfortable as other options.

The cabin staff is made up of Saudi men and foreign women (mostly Filipinas). In the Kingdom, they wear pantsuits with long coat things, plus a hat with veil. By the time they get to New York they have taken off the silly hat and coat.

Does that help?