All things being equal (cost, points used/earned, logistics), I prefer flying foreign carriers to an international destination. I feel like I’m getting a taste of the destination while enroute.
My flight on Saudia from JFK to Jeddah introduced me to many elements of Saudi and Islamic culture.
There was the delicious Saudi coffee, made with cardamom and cloves. I don’t drink coffee yet this made me a temporary fan!
Also, the planes had a prayer room with monitors that showed the direction of Mecca, and the toilets had bidets so passengers could “clean up” in a manner consistent with Muslim toilet etiquette. (Bathrooms in Muslim countries typically have a “bidet shower” next to the toilet, which looks like a kitchen sink sprayer on a long hose. It’s also euphemistically called a bum gun.)
It’s taboo in many Islamic countries to use the left hand for passing food, handling money or other tasks as it’s the primary hand for, um, bathroom chores, thus it’s considered “unclean”.
What especially caught my eye was how many passengers changed clothes in anticipation of landing in Jeddah.
About hour before landing a pre-recorded message played over the PA, announcing that the plane would soon be passing over something called the “meekat” and that certain prayers should be said. (Prayers were played on video screens and the PA before take-off too.)
At this time, many men went to the prayer room and changed into what looked like white towels or sheets, wrapping them around their waist and draping them over their shoulders. (This is a different garment than the traditional white Saudi robe, called the thobe.)
The men would wear this garment through immigration and out of the airport.
The garment is called an Ihram, and it’s worn when crossing the “meekat”, which means “stated place.” Think of it as a boundary of sorts. Muslims who are going on Umrah (minor pilgrimage to Mecca) must be pure before entering and one way that is attaimed is to change into the Ihram garment.
Ihram also refers to the pure state of mind one should have when going on Umrah. The Ihram is also worn during the Hajj, the annual global pilgrimage by Muslims to Mecca which begins at the end of June in 2023.
Both Saudia flights on my trip, arriving in Jeddah from opposite directions, passed over the meekat. Hence, Muslim men were obligated to change into their Ihram if going on Umrah.
Women and teen/tween girls who boarded in JFK wearing typical western clothing put on abayas, the black flowing garment that women wear in public over their clothing, as we neared Jeddah. They also put on a head scarf.