As mentioned in an earlier post here we were unable to take any annual leave over Christmas time to go home as we were still within out three month probation period, so rather than staying in an extremely quiet KAUST, we decided to go to Dubai for the weekend. We were lucky enough to be able to change our flight to early Thursday morning, as initially we weren’t supposed to be flying to Dubai until 6pm Christmas eve which in hindsight would have been a nightmare.
We left KAUST at 3am Thursday morning – which was a little early being that our flight wasn’t until 7:20 but there is a bit of a dearth of taxi’s on campus, and this was the only time we were able to book one. Taxi’s to the airport cost 125 SAR which is about 25 quid. We arrived at the airport approximately an hour later and I was instantly hit by extreme culture shock, the place was MANIC. Jeddah airport is the nearest to the two holy cities, Mecca and Medinah – and so is used for anyone on a pilgrimage (I.e. a lot of people), teamed with the fact that it was recently voted worst airport in the entire world, you can imagine the level of chaos.
You have to navigate your way around very large families sat haphazardly all over the floor eating an evening meal, luggage is strewn everywhere, no concept of lines or queues, children racing each other on luggage trollies, everyone is shouting at each other, the check in desks are not all in one area so you have to try and track down your check in desk amongst all the chaos…I know I sound like a whinging, snotty prick but seriously, c’mon – I’m British; we LIVE for order and a calm queuing system. This was my own personal hell.
We found our fly dubai check in desk eventually and tried to queue for a bit, difficult to do so when no-one else trying to check in believes in waiting their turn. We eventually managed it, got our boarding passes, and through to the departure lounge and security aka bedlam. Women have to use separate queues to the men, as obviously they can’t take their abayas off in front of men. Fine. What isn’t fine is everyone pushing and shoving each other in a very narrow, very hot, corridor FOR AN HOUR. Honestly, that was really not a pleasant experience – if you have children I suggest leaving them with your husband as at least the male queues are not enclosed and it won’t be so warm and claustrophobic.
Also don’t worry about sealing your under 100ml liquids in a clear plastic bag and so on – security is zero. Literally I saw a woman with Tupperware boxes of fishfingers, bread, soup and water sat on the floor having a family feast ononce through ‘security’. And we had been worried that our suncream might have been refused entry 😀
There is a duty free shop on the other side, a couple of basic sandwich stores and not much else. Also be aware that the toilets are traditional Arabic toilets – be prepared.
The flight was delayed (surprise) but we eventually got on the plane, we were flying out with FlyDubai and the plane was actually really nice. Good selection of films, which you have to pay for but it’s only about five quid, the staff were great and as far as planes go this was a nice one. Got to Dubai an hour later than planned, took an hour of queuing to get through passport control which was incredibly frustrating, I expect this was down to different visa types as some people seemed to take fifteen minutes to get through whereas we took approximately thirteen seconds but what can you do. I’m happy we were able to get an earlier flight rather than waiting until after work as with all the delays we experienced it would have been 2am before we got to our hotel.
Taxi’s are outside the airport and we got whisked straight away – time to relax! Dubai really is a magnificent city, very impressive to drive through, the buildings are all so imposing and beautifully designed, everything is so clean and luxuriant. Our hotel was fantastic, absolutely the greatest hotel we have ever stayed in – admittedly probably the last time we will ever stay there as its extortionate (we somehow managed to find a 59% off deal which is the only reason we were lucky enough to go) but if you have that kind of money I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here is the website.
I’ll create another post with what we did in Dubai and our pictures etc by the way, this post is more for travel information.
Sadly all too soon it was time to go back. We caught a taxi back to the airport, which incidentally couldn’t be further away from Jeddah airport. I think it is maybe the fifth largest airport in the world and it is very new and modern. The departure lounge had a whole array of restaurants, bars (yes – pre flight beers are allowed!) duty free, designer shops, sleeping lounges and so on. The flight again was delayed for an hour and a half, not sure if you’re noticing a pattern here? Something you definitely have to get used to if you move to the Middle East.
We flew back with Flynas which was pretty grim, I don’t have high standards for plane flights but this was a particularly bad one – just expect a VERY basic flight. Also expect to have serious cramp when you disembark unless you are under four feet tall.
Getting back into Jeddah airport was particularly demoralizing. The queues were ridiculous, very busy with expats and pilgrims and you were probably looking at an hour and a half wait to get through passport control. Luckily the universe obviously took pity on us and some nice chap came and asked if we were from KAUST “YES!” we practically screamed at him, throwing passports, iqamas and KAUST passes at him in desperation. He took us to the front of the queue and with the minimum of fuss got us through in five minutes. Now I don’t think he is supposed to do this to be fair but I wasn’t asking any questions, I was just overjoyed that we had managed to skip those queues. I’m under no illusion that usually, we are just going to have to put up with the wait – but thank you kind stranger for helping us this time, you are a wonderful man.
From there it was simply a case of finding the taxi we had booked to take us back to KAUST who was helpfully holding a sign with our names on it in the arrivals area. Piece’a’cake.
Hope this has been helpful to anyone – and honestly please don’t think I moan this much all of the time, I don’t – unless people push in front of me, frankly I find it infuriating 😉
Anything else you want to know about – as always comment and let me know. In the meantime, please follow my Instagram @livinginarabia for regularly updates pictures of my adventures in and around KSA.