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The connected nation

by Abdulrahman Al Fahad, Saudia

Saudia is the only airline in the region offering free Wi-Fi to premium passengers on selected routes such as Los Angeles, Washington, New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Dubai.

But allow me to take you back to the beginning of this journey – not just for Saudia, but for Saudi Arabia as well. It’s the journey of how our airline helped connect our country, our people, and in the process our passengers.

Strategically located

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has strong connections with North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. We have 30 million inhabitants. Saudi Arabia is the leading oil exporter in the world. It houses the two holy mosques of the Muslim world, linking 1.5 billion Muslims to the country.

In 1945, Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAUDIA) was born. We will celebrate our 70th anniversary next year. We carry about 27 million passengers each year. That shows the role we play in connecting people – within Saudi Arabia, in the region and internationally.

In 2012, we joined the Skyteam Alliance. Now we’re part of the 20 leading airlines linking people from as far west as Los Angeles all the way in the east to Manila and Guangzhou, China.

This move to Skyteam Alliance led us to refresh everything. We have a totally new fleet of aircraft. During the past six years, we’ve renewed our entire fleet.

Young, connected 

As much as 60% of the Saudi Arabian population is under 30 years of age. And they’re all connected. Everybody is looking at their smartphones and communicating through these devices. Some 50% of Saudis are online – the highest penetration in the world.

So what challenge does it present to Saudia?

The challenge is that we have to provide connectivity. People cannot afford to be disconnected while they fly.

We’ve worked to connect our passengers, not just on board our flight, but also before and after the flight. Our e-commerce enables our passengers to book seats, buy tickets, get their boarding passes, drop their bags, go through security – all electronically.

Premium passengers can even check into our lounge with their smartphones.

Of course, they can then connect onboard to check email, receive text messages and make calls. And when they arrive, we continue to connect with them; for example, updating them with the latest baggage information and other services.

Fully connected

SAUDIA has currently six Boeing B777-300ER aircraft fully connected and additional eight B777-300ER will join the service within a few years offering full connectivity. We have 12 Airbus 330s, also connected. In end of 2015 we expect the first of eight 787 Dreamliners, fully connected.

So how do we offer free Wi-Fi for our premium passengers? First, we ensure connectivity capabilities from the manufacturer.

Then, we partner with OnAir, who did extremely well by signing with MNOS or Mobile Network Operators. We have three networks in Saudi Arabia, and OnAir connects with them all.

Happy passengers

The feedback we’re getting is very good. Our longest non-stop flight, to Los Angeles, takes 17 hours. We get a lot of comments from passengers during this time – mostly positive. And we strive to turn negatives into positives before the passenger deplanes.

We do this by communicating with each in-flight supervisor, through their personal devices, which are connected to the network and the aircraft network. We inform them about the experience the passenger is having so they can address it right then and there.

Beyond the skies

We’re very pleased with our journey thus far. But we’re not resting on our laurels. We continue to think, ‘What is beyond the skies?’ Meaning, what’s the next step for the airlines, for the manufacturers, and for the service providers?

Whatever that next step is, we cannot afford to go unconnected

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