The chief executive of Riyadh Air says passengers “might” be able to drink alcohol on its flights by the time the airline launches in two years’ time. Speaking on Sky News, Tony Douglas said the carrier would have to comply with local laws but noted the breakneck speed with which change was happening in the traditionally hyper-conservative Kingdom.
At present, alcohol is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia, and the current national carrier Saudia Airlines, is a so-called ‘dry airline’, meaning it doesn’t serve alcohol or allow it to be consumed even once outside of Saudi airspace.
But Riyadh Air is positioning itself as a “world-class” airline and is promising to provide passengers with an “exceptional experience”, which could include letting a new era of visitors to Saudi Arabia drink alcohol onboard flights to and from the Kingdom.
The smart money is on Riyadh Air providing a similar level of onboard service as its regional rivals like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Douglas’ former employer Etihad Airways.
In that regard, alcohol will be permitted, and food and drink will be served during daylight hours during Ramadan, but other traditional Islamic customs will be observed or, at the very least, catered for.
During the same interview, Douglas, however, dismissed the notion that Riyadh Air planned to go head to head with its peers in the Persian Gulf by going after transfer passengers travelling between East and West.
Although Riyadh Air boasts about its “strategic geographic” between Asia, Africa and Europe, Douglas says the airline is being launched with the primary aim of serving what is expected to be burgeoning demand for inbound traffic to the Kingdom.
To back his argument, Douglas highlighted the trillions of dollars that the Saudi sovereign investment fund is pumping into projects to transform the local economy to attract businesses and tourists alike.
Riyadh Air is hoping to launch in 2025, and the airline has already agreed to purchase at least 39 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, with options for a further 33 Dreamliners should the need arise.
Douglas says further orders are in the works, and another announcement could be made soon. The airline is expected to bolster its fleet with an order for single-aisle aircraft such as the Boeing 737MAX and a deal for long-haul aircraft from rival manufacturer Airbus is widely tipped.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.