Flying in Saudi airspace should offer few surprises for newcomers, but operating on the ground poses surprises and challenges.
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Women Must Be Covered in Public
As noted, women must be covered at all times in public (which means any time they are out of their homes, hotel rooms or the aircraft). “Female flight attendants should be prepared to wear an abaya, a black over-garment that covers the head and full body but does not cover the face,” Hanlon said. (The general aviation terminal administrators and some handling agents can either loan or sell abayas to flight crews.) Some cities are more religious than others, Hanlon maintained, and there may be some locations where flight attendants can get away without wearing abayas. However, under all circumstances, crews should verify this with their Saudi agents, as the muttawah, the religious police, patrol the streets and are vested with the power to enforce Islamic dress codes and behavior. “Once you're at the aircraft, then the normal flight attendant uniform or attire is appropriate,” Hanlon said.
Rowland added his own strictures when on the street: “Don't have eye contact with women. Do not talk to anyone of the opposite sex. You do not see a lot of women and no children on the streets. The women you do see will be entirely covered.” Warnick added that “Shopping is a big pastime for our flight attendants, but they only go out in pairs or with a male crewmember.” Even for males, conservative dress is advised. “Some guys wear shorts outside of the hotel, but not me,” Warnick said. “I haven't seen a written rule against it, but it just doesn't seem right to me when I look around.”
“Our cockpit crews wore airline-style pilot uniforms,” Hanlon continued. “A foreign crew should check with their handling agent ahead of time to find out if uniforms are required. In most locations, business attire and a crew ID should suffice if you have a handling agent to walk you through immigration and security. You can expect airline style security screening at all locations. At any locations without a general aviation terminal, you will typically have to use the security screening in the airline terminal.”
And security is omnipresent in urban areas. “There is a noticeable security presence just about everywhere in the major cities,” Hanlon said, “and even the hotels conduct security screening when you enter the lobby. It is safe to walk in groups in the immediate vicinity of some of the nicer hotels and living compounds, but security should be suspect everywhere else. Taxis can be easily arranged, but it is better to arrange for a car through your handling agent or hotel. Rental cars are available, but the cars are small, very expensive, and driving can be very confusing and risky.”
Thanks to the security in the cities, Warnick said, “Crime is low, and we walk the streets day and night without looking over our shoulders. One of our mechanics did have his Blackberry picked from his hands mid-text by a thief zooming by on a bicycle.”