Tag Archives: King Khalid International Airport

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.

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.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

There’s an interesting sign above the baggage carousels at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. The sign very politely asks you to declare if you have certain items of interest to the customs inspector. I am always slightly bemused, if not a little nonplussed, not so much by the actual items, but by the order in which they appear:

First on the list: video tapes, films, and audio recordings. I assume they mean x-rated videos or messages (political?) disseminated by cassettes (which really dates the sign too). Some of the items that follow are pretty standard, like drugs, currency, and commercial goods. Others, like sculptures, alcohol, and pork, reflect the religious regulations here.

But what caught my eye is the fact that it’s not until the very end of the list that fire-arms and ammunition appears. I would have thought that in terms of a country’s and its citizens’ security, this last item should be a priority for the border officials to check!

As I alluded to above, I think this sign reflects policies and practices from an earlier era. I have yet to be questioned by a customs official, or seen anyone else being questioned or having their bags searched. Camelman says they used to be much more strict and would hand search people’s luggage more often. Nowadays, before you can exit the terminal, all your bags have to be put through an x-ray machine, which is manned by a bored-looking officer. So maybe they are not as worked up about finding those contraband materials (except, hopefully, firearms and ammunition).