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:
— Arab News (@arabnews) April 18, 2020
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
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.