In order for us to get the best deal and route options to combine a trip to the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, part of the solution included a 9 hour layover at King Abdul Aziz International airport Jeddah.
Planning ahead for this overnight experience, we searched for on site hotels – none. Lounges we could pre-book into – none. Services in the airport catering for long stay passengers – nothing. Looks like we’d just have to see how it goes…
21:20 – Landed
The flight to Jeddah was a short one, a mere 5 hours. After landing and providing all our personal details at passport control (fingerprints, handprints, mugshots) we walked up to the transfer area and straight into… a lounge! hallelujah! There were fully reclining chairs, blankets, pillows, TV’s. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as we thought.
There was a problem though.
The lounge ‘luxury’ services only catered for around 6 people. There was about 30 of us in there. We waited.
We asked the gentleman working on the lounge desk whether there was another one through security. He replied ‘yes.’ We asked him if they served food. He replied ‘yes.’
Normally this would be sufficient enough for us to confidently march onwards, but something about his tone of voice and expression wasn’t entirely convincing.
The four of us stood outside the lounge, gazing past security at the bright enticing lights of duty free. It looked modern, like it was a new addition to what is quite an outdated airport. Suits standing around ready to spritz the latest perfumes, a large gold counter in the centre, a technology section. But we had no real idea what lay past it.
We knew that once we passed security, there was no way of coming back. Do we risk it?
We risked it. I can now confirm. It was not worth the risk.
Once we had taken the first few steps inside duty free it was clear that the other side was a much dismal version of where we had come from.
Needless to say, there was no lounge.
Actually I lie, there was one. A coffee shop called ‘Lounge.’ Go figure. Apart from the very limited food windows on either side of the room, we were left with the realisation that the rest of our time would be spent sat on the fetching metal airport waiting room chairs. If any of them were to become free.
Surrendering to the realisation it was going to be a long night, we went to the ‘Lounge’ (coffee shop) to make a plan. One always needs a plan. We got a small table in a position to look out over the crowd, so the minute a group of the few cushioned waiting room seats came free one of us could run for it.
Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long and lo and behold a whole row came free. Mo ran over and once we dragged our hand luggage down we got to work setting up a make shift bed – our travel accessories were invaluable here! We had two travel blankets, travel pillows and a sleep mask, Mo and his parents took it in turns to try and get some kip.
I decided to get cracking on my new book, ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. Ironically it’s about a woman and her son who are trapped in an enclosed space. Written through the eyes of the 5 year old, the first half is beautifully poetic as it shows how the little boy Jack brings to life everything that surrounds him. His naivity and innocence allow him to appreciate the very little he has.
I know I wasn’t stuck in a 7ft square space. And I know that Joyce and her son had only a small skylight and here I had a complete wall of glass that looked out over the runways. But I started to understand how they felt. When you are confined to an area for a long period of time you start to observe your surroundings with a different approach.
Starting to get hungry. Mo spots that ‘Tim Hortons’ across from us does what looks like a standard chicken burger. So off he goes to order us all chicken burger and chips. Not the best move as by chicken burger I think they meant cement-in-a-bun, and by chips, they meant microwaved-ready-salted-crisps.
I know, I know, I shouldn’t complain, it was food after all and we still ate it!
The buzz that was continuous when we first arrived has now started to die down. I can’t help but smirk as I look around and see all the wonderfully inventive sleeping positions people have adopted.
I see a man who’s wedged himself in between the seats and the window. I see a woman, her head tilted right back so its resting on the shoulder of a stranger behind. I see a man, head resting on his chest, child in each arm using his tubby tummy as a pillow. People used every piece of furniture they could find to get themselves comfy.
80% of my book down and the Prayer call starts to echo across the terminal. A sign we are two thirds of the way through our stay. A sound that also brings a smile to my face as it reminds me I am back in the Middle East.
Our gate comes up. A glorious moment. We rush down, eager for a change of scene. Our passports are checked but instead of passing officials and heading onto the airport bus, we are asked to step aside.
We wait patiently with a few other Brits, praying this would be sorted asap and we could get our backsides on our plane seats. After some unnecessary list checking we’re through. On the bus. On the plane.
Relax. We did it.
Moral of the story: the grass is most definitely not always greener on the other side.
If any of you ever find yourself in our situation in the future, here are a few things that might help you survive an overnight layover in King Abdul Aziz Airport:
- If there is space in the Saudi Airlines transfer lounge, STAY in the Saudi Airlines transfer lounge.
- There is no wifi in the airport.
- Get yourself a travel blanket and/or travel pillow – the ac does make it a bit chilly.
- Dress appropriately – you may just be in the airport but you are still in Saudi Arabia.
- Take some entertainment – Kindle, games, work (that doesn’t require internet). Take a few things if you can.
- Carry a few snacks – Nobody’s expecting gourmet food at Jeddah airport, but I was not expecting it to be as expensive as it was, considering everywhere else in the country is a bargain, prices are massively inflated at the airport