Live From 38,000 Feet: Saudia’s Bizarre Onboard Security Screening Process

Filed Under: Saudia, Travel

I’m writing this live from my Saudia flight between Colombo and Jeddah, which has been beyond fascinating. This flight has been so bad that it makes the China Eastern flight I had the other day look like the Etihad Residence by comparison. I have never experienced service like this.


I have this impression in spite of the fact that we had a last minute equipment swap, from a 777-200 with angled business class seats, to a 777-300 with fully flat business class seats.


Shortly I’ll have a post with more about the inflight experience so far, but first I have to share something that’s sort of unrelated to the service as such, but rather involves security.

At Colombo Airport there’s a security checkpoint as you enter the airport (before you get to check-in), and then a “sterile” security checkpoint at each individual gate, before you enter the “holding pen” for a flight. That’s where you wait until the flight is ready for boarding.

This is the same setup as at Singapore Changi Airport, for example.

Sometimes on US-bound flights there will be another superficial security check on the jet bridge, where airport security personnel check your bags for liquids, etc.

However, my experience on Saudia was unlike anything I’ve witnessed before.

Once boarding commenced we walked down the jet bridge to the door of the plane. Rather than being greeted by the flight attendants with a “welcome aboard” or “let me show you to your seat,” we were greeted with a security screening on the plane… by the flight attendants!

We were instructed to place our bags on a trolley they had set up near the galley, where they were pretty thoroughly searched.

After that I got a full body pat down from another flight attendant, and after that my passport and boarding pass were checked by yet another flight attendant.


This was done for all passengers. When we asked the flight attendants about this, they said it’s standard procedure out of Colombo (I’m not sure if they meant it’s standard procedure just on Saudia flights out of Colombo, or were suggesting it’s standard procedure on all ex-CMB flights).

The worst part? The bag search and pat down were the best service we’ve received so far on the flight. Come to think of it, it’s the only work the male flight attendants have done so far.

Stay tuned for the follow up post about the inflight service. You won’t believe what the service has been like on Saudia (at least I still can’t believe what I’ve witnessed over the past couple of hours).

Has anyone experienced anything like this before? Is this the standard procedure on Saudia, or…?

  1. Have never seen anything like this on numerous Saudia flights to several destinations, including flights to and from the US and UK, so maybe it is just a Colombo thing. Still very odd though.

  2. In the “related” section at the bottom of the post an article is “help me pick the most amusing routing home from Colombo” so far the route back to the US is sure living up to the title amusing.

  3. They have not done it to me flying shanghai to jeddah, so maybe they do it when you fly out of colombo. IDK

  4. I was stopped on the JetWay prior to boarding an AA flight to Paris in May and escorted into an alcove on the JetWay for a “random” search. Had to open everything and got a head to toe pat down. I’ve been searched in boarding areas many times but never before in the JetWay or onboard.

  5. Are you sure its safe to write this given your whereabouts? Hahaha. Keep the entertainment coming and stay safe.

  6. Pretty standard for flights from S Asia into Persian gulf states. Same treatment by Kuwait Air on inward flights for example.

  7. Flew SV many times in the past. First time hearing of such security procedure. But yes, I can say that the level of service is pretty standard on all SV flights.

  8. Given the terrible things that are happening around the world right now are you surprised? I’ve flown out of ‘3rd world’ countries and this has happened before on certain airlines, yes its a total inconvenience and makes you feel like some sort of ‘criminal’. Excited to read this full trip report! Also a dry airline….yikes I don’t think i could survive!

  9. Not surprised to read of increased security checks.
    Saudi is at war with Yemen’s Houthis (who are pro-Iran rebels), the hezbollah terrorist organization entrenched in South Lebanon (also pro-Iran) and on non-diplomatic ties with Iran itself after the Iranian public took it upon themselves to attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran (in Jan 2016).

    Then Iran asked Saudi for visa to their citizens to attend the annual pilgrimage (Hajj) this year and, unsurprisingly, the Saudis refused unless a few security conditions were met. Iran refused and Saudi told Iran to F- off. This left Iran fuming.

    With Hajj coming up and relations with Iran and Hezbollah at an all time low, all systems are on high alert and security at its toughest. If anything, I think you chose the wrong time to fly via Saudi.

  10. I’m sort of embarrassed as I truly believed–and predicted–Ben would be pleasantly surprised by his Saudia experience. I’m now dreading the full trip report. I just hope Ben’s JED – MAN flight will be more like the positive experiences I have enjoyed on Saudia.

    Oh…Ben still has to transit through JED (shudder!). Can’t wait for that rant!

  11. Flew EY J from CMB to AUH last June.
    There was an extra security check including x-rays at the waiting gate before boarding.
    Overall, my bags were scanned/searched twice, passport and boarding pass at least 4 times at CMB airport.

  12. Ben, Even US carriers like UA and DL(no longer operates) does this ex-India. Only difference, not by FAs but by gate agents. The guy who just checked you in will give you a full pat down. This is after going through thorough check by actual security professionals.

    There was an uproar when Continental employee in India, gave a pat down to former Indian President, who has highest clearance in the country.

  13. @HT – Wow, thanks for informing us of the Iranian boogyman that is obviously the cause of all of Saudia’s (and indeed Saudi Arabia’s) problems. Because Saudi Arabia has always been the innocent party, and has never supported terrorists… with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS (just to name a few) notwithstanding.

  14. They do this extra security check at Beirut airport, too. Otherwise it is not “normal” flight attendance doing this, they are security guys, wearing similar uniforms to FAs.
    (In the meantime LH also hires security guys to do this extra check in Riyadh airport…)

  15. Never had that done on any SV flight before, but I’m not really surprised.

    Now that you’re on your way to Jeddah, the real fun will start!

    To say that the Jeddah airport is a disaster would be a severe understatement (but you’ve been warned!).

    I won’t be surprised if you find a big difference between service on your CMB-JED flight and your JED-MAN one. Saudi tends to do better on flights heading west. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the service was bad on both either!

  16. “This flight has been so bad that it makes the China Eastern flight I had the other day look like the Etihad Residence by comparison”

  17. Perhaps it’s just Saudia Company policy for flights departing Colombo.
    Maybe the Saudi Intelligence received some tip off and thus they increased security measures on this flight/route?
    Or perhaps in the greater scheme of things they might be competing with El-Al on who has more security checks?

  18. You have some good posts and some bad posts, but this one definitely no where to stay. Considering what have happened in the Arabic countries and around the world, security is number one priority, sucks but it’s necessary nowadays. You are complaining and acting like those stupid jerks at the airports complaining why they have to take off their shoes and belts or get padded down when going through security. Did you not know Egypt Air had some terrorists working within the airline and blown up the whole plane? What they were doing is protect you from getting the higher risk, this is for your benefits, why are you complaining?

  19. Pretty clear that they don’t have much faith in the local security screening in Colombo ( and anyone observing it closely would probably concur with their view).

  20. I understand security is important, but I do find this security procedure absurd.

    1. Do they expect that you have somehow acquired a contraband between the boarding gate and the end of the jet-bridge?
    2. Are the flight attendants better trained at performing security checks and pat-downs compared to the trained airport security personnel? (well – yes when compared to the TSA in the US, but they are unique in their own way)

    No wonder you received terrible service – they are not flight attendants, they are the Saudi equivalent of TSA in flight attendant clothing!

    Cannot comment further than that since my network does not allow me to fly on Saudia.

  21. Had this same experience for the last when flying kuwait airways.
    Although this was more then 10y ago.

    On many different airports however, in chicago, kuwait, bangkok, amsterdam …

  22. You are without a doubt the biggest complainer I have ever come across. Find some joy in what you do or do something else.

  23. Flew Kuwait Airlines a few years back from JED to KWI and the KU security officers, who appeared to be part of the inflight crew and who, oddly, wore tropical short sleeve “aloha” shirts as their uniform, did a full pat-down and bag screening at the top of the aero-stairs upon embarkation. Made sense to screen immediately prior to boarding, especially as we were at a bus gate.

  24. @Too bad so Sad says:
    If you are getting on your soapbox about security (and I concur added security is necessary) then shouldn’t you be horrified that the security is handled so close to the plane and on board by flight attendants instead of security experts with better security equipment?

  25. Flew SV and KU out of MNL, they do have extra security screening but at the gate, similar to what they do for US bound flights. I can attest to security agents onboard ku flights who are dressed in casual clothes and are seated amongst the passengers.

    Service with these two ME carriers can be quite terrible especially when compared to their next door neighbors. hopefully with the two carriers being privatized soon it’ll dramatically improve service

    Good luck lucky!

  26. It used to be standard procedure on nonstop flights to the U.S. ex-India for all passengers to undergo a frisking and a bag search prior to boarding, but this was done on the jetway, not on board. Definitely a strange procedure. As Chandan Bhat said, maybe there was some kind of security threat specific to CMB?

  27. Changi has security screening before each gate but not before check-in. Soekarno-Hatta is a better example of that although currently they now screen at each finger of a group of gates rather than at each gate in addition to screening before the check-in counters.

  28. In 2007, I flew from Kathmandu to New Delhi with a flight home to Canada. There was security screening to get into the airport terminal. There was security screening to get into the boarding zone. There was a security screening as you left the holding area to get on the plane. Lastly there was a security screening on the tarmac right before you boarded the plane. All bags were searched.

  29. I have been on several flights ex-Israel and on flights to India and the US where passengers are boarded using the remote stands and each passenger has to identify their checked luggage plane-side before they can board.

  30. Always complaining and for what? Yes of course you’ll get compensation and other sort of stuff from airlines, that’s what you’ve always been doing until United exposed your scheme. Save the drama for your mama.

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