Wow: A Saudia Crew Flew To LAX And Back

Filed Under: Saudia

Airlines around the world are operating repatriation flights, but Saudia is in the news for the manner in which they operated one of their flights.

Saudia’s LAX repatriation flight

Saudia Airlines operated a repatriation flight to Los Angeles a few days ago, as the airline was picking up 187 Saudi nationals who were in the US. This was ordered by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as Saudis were stuck in the US amid the COVID-19 pandemic, given how many flights had been cancelled.

This repatriation flight was operated by a three year old Boeing 777-300ER with the registration code HZ-AK42. On the surface the flight might seem pretty normal:

  • On the morning of Thursday, April 16, the plane operated the 15hr47 min flight from Jeddah to Los Angeles
  • On the afternoon of Thursday, April 16, the plane operated the 14hr36min flight from Los Angeles to Jeddah
  • On the evening of Friday, April 17, the plane continued from Jeddah to Riyadh, after roughly 90 minutes on the ground

Saudia’s 777-300ER first class

A crew worked this journey roundtrip

What makes this flight noteworthy is that the same crew operated the roundtrip flight from Jeddah to Los Angeles. The ~8,300 mile flight is an ultra long haul under normal circumstances, let alone when you fly there and back.

The crew spent around 30 hours in the air flying between Jeddah and Los Angeles (a different crew worked the short Jeddah to Riyadh flight), and when you factor in the total travel time, they had a day of over 40 hours.

The crew worked the roundtrip since that just made the logistics easier. Since there was only a single repatriation flight, it was much easier to just fly all employees back and forth, given the lack of other ways to get to Saudi Arabia. In theory the plane could have spent a night at LAX so the crew could rest, but I guess they decided it was safer and easier to just return.

Arab News reports that the crew was made up of eight pilots, 43 navigators, and 35 flight attendants, which has me mighty confused:

  • Ultra long haul flights have four pilots, so fair enough that they doubled that
  • What the heck are “navigators,” and why did they need 43(!!!) of them?
  • Were 35 flight attendants really necessary? I understand this was an outrageously long day for everyone, but didn’t they mostly get to rest on the way out? Doesn’t doubling the number of flight attendants almost increase the workload?

Here’s a video of all the pilots at LAX, halfway through their journey, as well as a video of the crew being welcomed back home upon their return in Jeddah:

The crew members are being praised as “heroes.” Looking at the video, I’d definitely give the foreign female flight attendants a lot of credit, because they consistently work their rears off, and I’m sure they were bossed around quite a bit even on the way out.

However, for the rest of the crew, I doubt it was actually that rough, given that I’m sure just about everyone had a flat bed on the way out. If there were only 43 pilots and flight attendants then there were more than enough seats in first and business class, plus crew rests. But then there are these mysterious “navigators.”

Saudia’s 777-300ER business class

Bottom line

Having flown from Riyadh to Jeddah to Los Angeles, I can confirm that it’s a really long journey, even in first class.

This was no doubt a long day for the crew, though I’m still a bit puzzled about the staffing of this flight. Who the heck were the navigators, and what exactly did 35 flight attendants do? Were half technically working on the flight out and had the return off, or…?

Regardless, kudos to the crew, because this is the most grueling repatriation flight I’ve heard of.

  1. “The crew members are being praised as “heroes.” Looking at the video, I’d definitely give the foreign female flight attendants a lot of credit, because they consistently work their rears off, and I’m sure they were bossed around quite a bit even on the way out.”

    You are such a racist ! so the Saudi crew did not work hard ? how did you know ? why does the Saudi Arabian ethnicity bothers you so much Ben?

    Sometimes, I can not understand your hypocrisy Ben , you really should stop being Anti-Semitic against the Saudi Arabian ethnicity

  2. There are a lot of Saudis in Hollywood. They like to party. And I can tell you for sure. There are some passengers on this flight that will demand a high level of service in first class and business class. Cutbacks due to COVID will be unacceptable !!

  3. @Ghadir

    This sort of prejudice isn’t new on this blog unfortunately. He had one bad experience and decided to generalize it on the whole population in every post afterwards, this doesn’t seem to happen with other bad experiences he’s had though.

    And if you think that was racist, wait till you see the comments section.

    Have fun!

  4. Ben!

    Not sure where did the paper get the navigators thing from but I read the news in Arabic from multiple sources including the airline official statement and there are no mention of this. Basically they had 8 pilots (4 captains and 4 FOs) and 35 (half of them working each leg) flight attendants and no one else (? maybe the paper confused the total crew number as navigators).

    Ghadir, I can tell you Ben is no racist having been following his blog for years however I think his statement about the female flight crew being bossed around is in no way reflect what Saudia nowadays is. I have flown them many times the last few years and I have seen their males counterparts work as hard as them and they were treated with respect. Maybe he was talking about the old days.

  5. I think it’s more common than you think, Lucky, especially during this pandemic. The reason they had so many crewmembers onboard (at least speaking for the FAs) is that half of them were probably deadheading on each segment, and they didn’t have FA already in LAX to work the return. On Mar 17, I worked the last outbound DL 40 LAX-SYD. Since there was already crew laying over SYD, so we didn’t have to carry anyone over deadheading to work the flight back. Upon arrival in SYD, we cleared customs and immigration, and within less than an hour, we changed into our pajamas, and were back on board DL 41 SYD-LAX on the last inbound flight on Mar 19. On that flight, there were double the number of pilots (8, 4 each way) and FA (24, 12 each way) on a B777-200LR, half of us who already worked the outbound were now just deadheading, with all pilots and most senior FA in D1, more senior FA in DPS and C+, and us juniors in MC, though fortunately, I had an exit row at door 3; the working crew took their respective jumpseat and crew rest positions as in a normal flight. Still less than Saudia’s 77W count, but of course a longer plane would have required more FA. The number “43 navigators” might including all pilots and FAs if there were 8 pilots (4 each way), and 35 FA (perhaps 17/18 each way).

  6. I am from Germany and as far as I know, on Repatriation flights to Germany, the Government sends some additional officials with these flights, which are needed to assist on Ground at the Airport in the foreign Country and help People on the Repatriation flight planning their onward journey to their home City. In my opinion these Navigators might be similar to that, it could also be that they had send some medical staff with the flight, just in case someone develops Symptoms mid-flight

  7. As a follow-up to my post above, normally, our crew would have laid over in SYD for a day, and work the flight back the next day, but because of the pandemic, it was the last flight coming back to the US, so we had to deadhead home immediately. DL offered all of us hotels upon return to LAX, but only commuting FAs took advantage. I live in Orange County, so I also took a nap at the hotel before the drive home.

  8. @ghadir: lucky?… anti semitic? Against saudis?? Everything you said in that sentence is wrong.

  9. @Ghadir it’s not Anti-Semitic if he is racist against Saudi’s that would be Israel. I do agree that there is a bias against KSA by this blog but I assume that is related to homosexual issues in general.

  10. Navigators, lol. I think we entered a time capsule and this is 1948. Imagining 43 navigators all pouring over charts and using their sextants to plot the course.

  11. @Ben 35 flight attendants and 8 pilots = 43 ‘navigators’

    Probably lost in translation in the EN news stories, but sounds like 43 just refers to the total crew.

  12. Ben is referencing the fact that on a previous Saudi flight he was on, he observed all the male FAs on that flight hanging out and goofing off in the business class section, while the female FAs were working the whole flight.

  13. I don’t know why you would quote unquote heros here. They are. It’s not about who can rest in lie flat beds or any first world problem you can think of. US is a heavily infected country at this point where consequences from making this trip could theoretically include dying from respiratory complications. Redundancy is there to make sure if some of the crew needs to be isolated the plane can still fly.

  14. Really “ Ghadir” and “Aziz”coming from a country where women were just recently Allowed to drive! You must be kidding me. Women do not have the same rights as men in your country. My third grade daughter knows that! And forget about gay rights! They don’t exist. Women in Saudi are treated like candy wrapped all up so they won’t be exposed to the outside world with little or no basic rights. What a joke!

  15. @ Mirza Ahmed

    Read my comment again dude.
    I’m talking about a general prejudice that’s a common theme to everything KSA related on this blog, and that includes Saudis as a people.
    Just about every post includes this “lazy Saudis” perception that’s based on the actions of a couple of FAs on a flight or two. Having an opinion on 30 million people based on what you saw 2 of them do is the definition of discrimination.

  16. @ Norman — To be clear, I totally recognize that flight attendants have been “essential” workers throughout this, and it’s something I’ve consistently mentioned on this blog. My point was that what seems to make them “heroes” isn’t that they operated a repatriation flight to a high risk zone, but rather that it was so long.

    I didn’t see celebrations like this when Saudia operated repatriation flights to Italy or Spain. Rather what seems to make them heroic is that they flew so far. My point was simply that while this was a record-breaking trip, I’m not sure just being on a plane for that long makes one a “hero.”

  17. I’m laughing at Ben being called a “racist” towards Saudi’s because he is gay. How about he was writing a blog post on a Saudi repatriation flight with some funny descriptions?

    And really, being gay would be the least of his concerns. If he wrote about someone being chopped up into pieces in the Turkish embassy as a “dissident” that would be more understandable to angry replies. Though equally as accurate.

    This from a person who is fine with thinking Ben is sometimes a bit off in his ponderings.

  18. To those taking issue with me specifically recognizing the hardworking female crews, I’m sorry, but that has been my consistent observation on the airline. I’ve flown almost a dozen segments on Saudia — this isn’t based on an observation on one or two flights. In some cases the imbalance of service was infuriating (like this flight), while in other cases it was more subtle.

    This is not intended to be a reflection of the country on the whole. I’d actually like to visit Saudi Arabia at some point, quite controversially. And I’ve overwhelmingly had positive things to even say about Saudia, and their long haul product has exceeded my expectations. I’ve enjoyed most of my flights on them.

    However, I’ve witnessed the same behavior over and over on Saudia flights, and I’m comfortable standing by that statement.

  19. @stuart

    Who said he is racist because he’s gay?

    Again, stop being so prejudiced against people you know nothing of.

    Anyone’s sexuality is totally irrelevant here, I’m not sure why you’re bringing it up and, even worse, accusing others falsely based on it.
    As for politics, that’s also irrelevant since we are talking about flying and airlines, last I checked this was a post about a repatriation flight and not a murder case.

  20. @Lucky

    I’m not taking issue with your recognition of hard working female flight attendants, they deserve all the recognition in the world.

    My issue is how you portray their counterparts and bring it down to the fact that they’re Saudi. That’s like saying all Americans are rude because an American flight attendant was rude to you once, just doesn’t work.

  21. @Aziz Well, that’s a pretty good generalization/comparison. U.S. flight attendants are, for the most part, rude, lol. In their own special way of course.

  22. @daninmci – uhhh, if you didn’t know this already, it doesn’t take any serious Googling to teach yourself that the three common Semitic religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While we commonly refer to anti semitism as being racist against Israel, either as a religion or nation, because that term was coined as such during the anti Israeli campaigns in Germany in the late 19th century, it is a misnomer because all three religions are Semitic. While @ghadir’s use of the term is surely not common (at least in English speaking countries), it’s technically correct. Either way…was the poster really off base in taking issue with Ben’s statement? It had no place in the article, adding nothing of value to what the article was trying to portray, and clearly was either an anti Muslim or anti Saudi stereotype he chose to perpetuate for some reason about an article on repatriation flights.

    @cmorgan, the governments maybe…but that surely doesn’t define all Saudis as a people or how women are generally treated as FAs on Saudia. Once again this was an out of place statement by Ben and while not offensive to everyone, I can certainly see why any Saudi or Muslim in general might be more sensitive to statements like that. As a blogger part of another “minority” community, you’d think Ben would understand this. Many statements about the LGBTQ community could be viewed as random and innocent or even somewhat accurate, even if not a very positive characteristic, to those not part of the community while being extra sensitive and potentially offensive to those in it. Either we treat all communities with the same level of sensitivity we would treat our own communities with or we all understand we’re always going to offend someone so none of us should get upset about statements not made with any malice.

    Either way, I still don’t understand why that statement was necessary for a blog post article…surely fits better within a comments section, but for some to tell others they shouldn’t be upset about statements that are directed at their community is incredibly hypocritical unless they remain silent to blog posts taking digs at their own communities as well.

  23. It is unacceptable that every time a truthful comment is made about a situation that involves another country with different cultures those who want to hide the situation scream racist and racism.

    Canada did not close its borders to countries responsible for the spread of Covid-19 for weeks claiming it would be racism. Bloody stupid. Australia closed the border immediately and look how well they’re doing.

    I worked for 11 years in the Middle East. The ” entitlement” of Nationals working for government or even private sector was overwhelming. Every shop had to have a 50% National owner. He sat and drank tea while ‘his Indian (or Pakistani)’ ( the other 50%) did all the work. Same on the airlines.

    As Orwell properly stated ” everyone is equal but some are more equal than others”. George actually used “animals” in his quote from ‘Animal Farm”.

    Political correctness buries truth, slurs of racist or racism try to cremate it.

    Please continue to tell it like it is, Ben, we respect you for it

  24. I hope we stop arguing about nonsense during these tough times at least, we’re all in it together from all races and backgrounds.

  25. @TBH Yes, I do take blog posts directed at our own (In my case American) culture very well, thank you. And sometimes quite deserved. Sometimes, quite not.

    But, given that the Saudi Crown Prince ordered the mutilation of a journalist who dared to speak ill of his “people” I would venture to say we take it far better than he does.

  26. I don’t understand the wondering of the 43 navigators… clearly it’s the total of the crew… reading comprehension amd common sense are fundamental.

  27. 8 pilots- 4 to la, and 4 back. What about the 35 FAs. Maybe 1 or 2 to LA to ensure cabin safety, but isn’t this a repatriation flight, so the fa’s should be less then usual

  28. @Ghadir @Aziz I live in Saudi and love the country. And I’ve flown Saudi numerous times over the last decade, and one of the most consistent aspects has been foreign crews working hard and locals relaxing. If you are both Saudi, then it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

    When I first started working here, I hardly had a student who’d ever had a part-time job. Now I have lots. The process of Saudiization is slowly getting the Saudi ‘workforce’ to actually work, but let’s not pretend that the work ethic isn’t slowly being instilled. It’s not a given.

  29. This blog entry once again shows the author’s lack of understanding how the industry works, or lack of basic journalism editing. The flight was double staffed so half of the crew deadheading. Nothing more, and nothing amazing about this. Clickbate at best.

  30. Lucky,

    Reading your statement you clearly have no idea what it takes to do a turn around this long “even with flat beds” and even further you have no clue about flight duty limitations.

  31. Anti-semitic relates to discrimination against Semitic peoples, not religions. To be anti-Christian is not the same as being anti-semitic. But….as was mentioned above, Arabs are Semitic. Yeah, that’s right. Everyone associates anti-semitism with Israel, but that doesn’t negate the fact that to be anti-Arab is also anti-semitic. Keep that in mind all who are trashing @Ghadir.

  32. FYI – To all who think the only Semites of the world are Jewish are the ones who don’t have a clue. Why anti-Semitic equals only prejudice against Judaism is ridiculous. People need to pick up a book.

  33. Se·mit·ic

    1. relating to or denoting a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic and certain ancient languages such as Phoenician and Akkadian, constituting the main subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic family.

    2. relating to the peoples who speak Semitic languages, especially Hebrew and Arabic.

    From Google, from Oxford

  34. I’m living in the Middle East, working for an airline, and Ben tells it like it is. Plenty of occasions he has also been positive about Saudia experience. If a Saudi national finds it difficult to hear criticism of their own country, I suggest they go and read one of their local newspapers, rather than this blog.

    Can’t believe he has to defend himself for forming an opinion out of experiences…

  35. @DaninMCI Arabs and Ethiopians belong to the Semitic ethnic group ! maybe you should get some education first? the Middle East is not just Israel, there are so many other races and countries.

    @Ben (Lucky) i’m a huge fan of your blog, i don’t want you to take this personally! the only issue i have with this specific article is that you say you are sure that they were bossed around!!! how are you so sure that happened? tell us? do not you find this to be generalization? have you traveled on Saudia since their Top5 program started? have you seen the change ? you may not feel it but you are demonizing the Saudis in the eyes of your readers !

  36. 8 pilots plus 35 crew equals 43 . So 43 navigators is referring to total crew . You have been in lockdown too long Lucky .

    I am interested in the comment that all American cabin crew are rude. I have not flown an American airline since about 1983 when I flew United from Hong Kong to Singapore , and that was fine . On my infrequent trips to USA,I always fly on European or Asian airlines , so much better I am told .

  37. 1. Lucky is getting back to his pedantic best wrt the comment about navigators. Quarantine doesnt suit him 🙂
    2. Love how MBS trolls are out in force. Theyre almost rivalling the Trumpettes in number

  38. @Ghadir, you do realise that you’re now demonising your own people? You’re absolutely reinforcing the stereotype that Saudi’s won’t hear nothing but praise of their own country and culture??

  39. @SullyofDoha — I don’t think an entire people should be maligned because of political acts.

    But nor should the observations of those of us who have witnessed endemic Saudi indolence be dismissed either.

  40. Am I the only one who is getting tired of the overuse of “hero”? This seems to be particularly so in the US. A soldier, a nurse, a doctor or cabin crew sign up for jobs. Doing their jobs as originally envisaged do not make them heroes.

  41. Racist: conveniently defined by some (who don’t actually know what it means) as being a comment or statement made by someone that you don’t agree with. That’s what these idiots are calling “racist”. And, this trend of calling everything “racist” cheapens the word itself.

    By the way, those who do this have no idea what REAL racism is. If they did, they wouldn’t throw that word around so easily and conveniently.

  42. @Wilhelm

    Yep, to this day I don’t know how protecting interest in foreign oilfields and local affairs abroad makes you a hero.
    What makes you a hero is if you have super powers or a flying suit and you defend earth from alien invasion by time travelling and resetting the future.

    “By the way, those who do this have no idea what REAL racism is. If they did, they wouldn’t throw that word around so easily and conveniently.”
    Are you suggesting that what ancestors have to endure means nothing more than a bed time story or excuse to get out of anything?
    There is no such a thing as REAL or FAKE racism, there is racism that I can use to benefit me or not. “racist” is just part of another over used adjective for your personal gain.

  43. ‍♀️‍♀️‍♀️ Ben, talk to a flight attendant or a pilot BEFORE you publish…

    Half the crew works one way. The other half works the flight back. 35 flight attendants and 8 pilots don’t work a 40 hour straight shift – not much to wrap your head around there. Half will be DEADHEADING (not working but still getting paid) – sleeping in a designated crew rest or available first class seat on each leg.

  44. @Ben(Lucky)
    His statement of “However, I’ve witnessed the same behavior over and over on Saudia flights, and I’m comfortable standing by that statement.” is TOTALLY True……….. I’m an American that worked in KSA for over 5 years and took close to 100 flights over that period. There are many gracious, polite and hardworking male FAs, with more of them observable in the recent years, however, as a rule, the male FAs do shirk their responsibilities and the female flight attendants work their butts off to cater to the passengers, including some of the “Stupidest, Arrogant and Rudist” male and female passengers on earth!!! Even after the Top5 program was put in place.
    Some of the things I witnessed on Saudia flights would amaze even the most seasoned air traveler…… On one flight @ about 5 seconds before landing one middle-aged man got his bag out of the overhead and headed to the front of the plane to be the first one off…..It was like WTF is he doing, we are still in the air??? And of course, he ignored all the female FAs that tried to handle the situation. So, Ghadir, Aziz & Abdulaziz, you need to realize that most of what is reported it REAL and you know it…… It’s part of your recent, NOT current culture movement, for many of the Saudi people to be sexist, lazy and demanding, HOWEVER, at the same time, there are MANY, MANY, MANY hard-working, polite, kind and warm-hearted Saudi’s in KSA too….. The Jerks just stand out!!! Same as all over the world, everywhere…..
    So, get off your soapboxes and stop pulling the Race, Sexist, Homosexual Cards and relax…. Those cards are getting way too much exercise!

  45. I generally think lots of people call out racist because they don’t have other things to do. In this case though, Lucky’s remarks were in extremely poor taste. Even his clarifying comment was weak and essentially said: “yeah by induction from my ten segments of which three were bad, I know for sure that male Saudis bullied female foreigns”.

  46. @coffeeaddict

    The name is “wasta”

    Entitled have it and treat everyone else like dirt. Reference @GLCTraveler

  47. Hi there, gentlemen, I got tired from reading your back and forth replies, I was the PIC of those flights, we were 8 pilots and 35 F/As ,ferrying to LAX , came back with 187 Pax. Crew were changed at JED, there were no 43 So called Navigators ( the last time I heard this word was in 1980s, Navigators in the pretty B777 , come on)

    Our prayers and thoughts for those who lost their love ones in USA and in KSA.

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