IF you live in Saudi Arabia, like I do, you would have seen by now the many billboard advertisements for NAS Air, the new budget airline that will be flying between Riyadh, Jeddah and Madinah from March.
It first advertised introductory fares of SR99 one way between Jeddah and Riyadh, which would be SR198 ($52.80) roundtrip, a real bargain compared to Saudi Arabian Airlines roundtrip fare of SR560 ($149). But subsequent ads in newspapers have hiked that fare to SR179 ($48) one way, or SR358 ($95) roundtrip. That’s still SR202 ($53.86) cheaper than Saudia.
Saudia had been the only airline allowed to operate in the kingdom until last year when the government gave licenses to two new budget airlines, NAS Air and Sama. As anyone who has traveled on government-owned Saudia will tell you, the airline has become bloated with too many employees working inefficiently. Too often, Saudia acts like a faceless government bureaucracy that is allowed to be rude to its customers, always be late, and ultimately be accountable to no one.
Now that we have competition this will hopefully change. We saw what a difference competition made on the telephone market when STC’s monopoly was broken when Mobily became the second-mobile phone operator in the country a few years ago. From nasty monsters who literally treated their customers like s**t, STC now sends its customers text messages thanking them for paying them bills on time. What a difference competition makes!
The CEO of NAS Air is Peter Griffiths, a former director of safety at the hypersuccessful European budget airline easyJet. The NAS website claims that Griffiths will be flying some of the airlines Boeing 737s, the aircraft of choice for budget airlines.
Sama, which will be operating out of Dammam, is not allowing any bookings on its website yet, but is expected to start operating later this year. It’s managing director is Andrew Cowen, an ex-fianance manager at British Airways and a founder of Mango Aviation Partners Ltd., which helped put together Sama.
Both NAS and Sama will operate like other budget airlines, meaning that their e-tickets will be sold only through their websites, and inflight food and drinks will have to be purchased by passengers. This all helps cuts costs, which allows the airline to pass on the savings to the passenger.
I’m sure both airlines will be a hit with the flying public, who are fed up with Saudia’s sloppy and indifferent service.