First of all I’d like to thank American Bedu follower, Jlll, for asking about airport etiquette to ensure no wrong steps are made at arrival. Now Jlll first asked if she arrived in Saudi as a female tourist, must she be well-covered before landing? Well, to begin with, while Saudi Arabia is making strides in its efforts to open up more for tourism, tourism is not as yet fully developed in the Kingdom. As a result it would be more likely that a single woman would travel to Saudi Arabia due to accepting an employment opportunity. Now based on this premise, should the woman be well-covered before landing at the airport?
As a flight prepares to land the inside cabins are quite busy. Saudi men may choose to revert from their western jeans and shirt back to the traditional thobe. In turn Saudi women who relaxed during the flight without their abaya on will also be reaching into their bags to retrieve it so they deplane clothed at least from shoulder to toe in black.
What about expat guests? Do they have to wear the traditional dress? My own suggestion for women is towards making the best possible first time impression; it is preferred to wear a loose abaya upon deplaning at the airport. A head cover is not mandatory for non-muslim female guest workers but it is suggested that she carry a scarf in case she would find herself in a situation where she felt more comfortable to wear one.
Another good question raised by Jlll was whether she would be expected to enter/exit a female-only bus to and from aircraft. Thus far I have traveled at Saudi airports in Riyadh, Jeddah and Madinah and can say that the busses have not been segregated. Men and women will naturally gravitate to separate areas but families will tend to stay together.
There will be taxi queues outside of the airports. In my own experiences traveling in and out and within Saudi Arabia as a western woman I have never had any difficulty in being able to retain a taxi for transport. My personal recommendation when at all possible is to have a private taxi reserved in advanced if the sponsor has not organized transport.
Within the airport itself there are separate areas for families and women to sit if preferred but again, it is not mandated. The same applies at the airline ticket counters. Women can go up to the ticket counters and will be served courteously.
In closing the post I’d just like to remind readers that not all travelers flying in and out of airports in Riyadh may be accustomed to seeing independent women traveling freely on their own. Therefore I would suggest that although it is not mandated to wear an abaya on departing on a flight out of the Kingdom, I recommend a woman do wear one, again showing her understanding and respect of the culture.
Thanks again Jlll for your questions and look forward to more.
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