at the airport

Although the restrictions can be stifling, I have identified a few perks of being female living in Saudi. (Of course, some of these “perks” are likely also associated with nationality – i.e. being a Westerner vs. Saudi vs. other nationality.) Take your typical experience at the airport. Usually, the sight of the line-ups for the foreigners in the immigration area is enough to induce a sinking feeling of dismay, particularly after a long flight. But in the Riyadh airport, they usually reserve a counter for the foreign females and if you flash the right passport (e.g. from a Western country), you get whisked over there right away. Meanwhile, the lines for the male travelers who are not Saudi or GCC can extend at least the length of the hall.

(I have recently found that having a North American passport in hand has also come in handy for bypassing the airline counter lines and getting checked in at the “special needs passenger” desk, as long as I don’t have any luggage I need to check in. Hey – I don’t mind being “special needs” if it’s yet another line-up to avoid.)

Similarly, at the security area, women have to enter a separate room for “security screening” by female security officers. I put this in quotations because this involves little more than a cursory swipe with the wand, once across the front and then across the back. No metal detectors and certainly no pat-downs. When you enter the room, they are usually drinking tea, having some snacks, and checking their phone, and I often have the same feeling you get when you’ve found yourself somewhere where you’re clearly not invited. Most of the time, they don’t even bother standing up from their chair. So they swipe you from a seated position; I guess they can at least check that you don’t have anything packed around your waist – and then you’re through. Meanwhile, you would have placed your bags through the x-ray machine outside, and by the time you’re through the female security room, your luggage is waiting for you at the end of the conveyer belt.

So all in all, if you’re a woman, it’s a relatively pleasant and very quick passage through the airport, albeit with some disconcerting security practices. Yet another perk of being female in Saudi.

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2 responses to “at the airport

  1. Hello
    I am new to your blog and i will be going to KSA in a few weeks. I am a female with US passport with one Israeli stamp (i’m not jewish). Will this pose a problem? I have heard its ok now. I know you are not the definitive answer but have you any insight?
    Thank you!

    • You probably had to get a visa to enter Saudi Arabia from the embassy anyway? If so, I would think that they would have seen that stamp in your passport. I have not been in that situation, so I really can’t say for sure, of course. Perhaps getting clarification from the embassy would be helpful? Good luck, and I hope you enjoy your visit!

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