Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

New mega-carrier Riyadh Air reveals its livery as it starts delivery of 72 long haul aircraft

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

We haven’t mentioned Riyadh Air on Head for Points before, because we generally take a sceptical view about anything – whether it be a hotel, airline or whatever – which has yet to launch. Such stories also tend to fail our ‘news you can use’ test.

That said, Riyadh Air is planning to be so big (Emirates-level big) that it was only going to be a matter of time before we covered it. The release of some funky new livery images are as good a reason as any.

Riyadh Air is one of two new airlines being launched by Saudi Arabia, not content with having SAUDIA.

Neom is designed to be a regional carrier aimed at driving traffic to the new Neom megacity being built by the Red Sea, and is of less interest.

Riyadh Air is being set up as a competitor to Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines. It has serious people behind it as well, of course, as a bottomless pit of oil money. The CEO is Tony Douglas who ran Etihad for many years, although his legacy there is questionable. I also know expats who are leaving Qatar Airways to work for Riyadh Air.

Riyadh Air

The airline has 39 firm orders for Boeing 787-9 aircraft, with options for a further 33.

Services are due to launch in 2024, eventually operating from the new six runway King Salman International Airport being built in Riyadh. The plan is to be flying to 100 destinations by 2030.

(For comparison, Dubai International and Doha Hamad only have two runways. Amsterdam Schiphol has six.)

Riyadh Air

Apart from that, very little is known:

  • Why is Saudi Arabia setting up a 2nd national airline instead of growing SAUDIA?
  • Will it be part of an airline alliance (SAUDIA is in SkyTeam)?
  • Will it be a ‘dry’ airline?
  • How does it fit into the grand plans to grow tourism to Saudi Arabia which, pilgrimage traffic aside, is exeptionally low at the moment?

The answers to these questions will become clearer over the next 12-18 months. Like it or not – and Saudi Arabia clearly has a long way to go before it reaches the levels of the UAE in terms of attracting tourists – you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it.

In the medium term, the question may be (if we look back at how Qatar Airways grew initially) how many people who have a negative image of the country will conveniently forget about it if offered £1,000 return fares to Asia in a state-of-the-art business class cabin …..?

Comments (115)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • vlcnc says:

    The American Blog, OneMileAtATime, has covered this a lot and it won’t be a dry airline. The idea is for this to be geared towards tourism and transiting passengers based in Riyadh, while Saudia remains formally the national airline and dry based in Jeddah. Riyadh is getting a brand new airport that will be managed by Singapore Changi, so they’ve clearly got big ambitions. I’m not convinced, as the country doesn’t have a good image and even people transiting may be reluctant to do so for numerous reasons given the numerous issues with the country and many probably won’t feel safe doing so.

    • Rhys says:

      Ben has speculated a lot about what Riyadh Air will offer but I’m not sure there’s been any official confirmation that it will serve alcohol?

      I struggle to see how it would work if it doesn’t, but let’s wait and see!

      • vlcnc says:

        I had a look again and can’t see anything official you are right. It’s obviously a very controversial decision given the traditionally conservative nature of the country and but then the country has a fairly young population, many who are well travelled, and educated abroad funded by the state – things are never as much of a shock as people think it might be to Saudis. There is a big difference between what the population think and what the rulers of the country think – we have to remember it’s an absolute monarch not a democracy with most people have little say in the laws or affairs of the country. And the country has already had a lot of changes in the last few years – my partner has worked there and he went more recently for work and said it was unrecognisable to what it was and the changes to being more open/tolerant haven’t been anything but welcome from people he met.

        • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

          There is being conservative and then there is being practical.

          Other predominantly Muslim countries also have airlines with various alcohol policies ranging from arid to damp to fully wet.

          Royal Brunei doesn’t serve its own booze but will serve passengers own that they have brought on board.

          And flights arriving into Saudi cease serving alcohol once in Saudi airspace and only start serving it once a departing flight leaves their airspace.

          • Novice says:

            I am quite well versed in all religions/cultures due to my interest in history and fascination with brain washing etc.

            And I can tell you that the Saudis are extremely hypocritical when it comes to religion because if they were as strict as they like to appear regarding alcohol, modesty etc then it’s in their form of islam to live a simple life and not a lavish life of palaces, gold marbles, fast cars, mansions. Also, what about the fact that in their book Quran it says that everyone is equal. And, the fact that in their book it’s stated that it’s a sin to have a pic of a prophet and (might not be da vinci’s) MBS is the rumoured owner of salvador mundi painting.

            Can’t stand hypocrisy.

            They just pick n mix whatever they please from their beliefs just like all other religions.

    • Duck Ling says:

      I agree, although as a tea total of course I would 🙂

      I have flown Saudia in Business and I have to admit I was disappointed with the drinks selection. Being a dry airline I had assumed they would put considerable effort into elevated non-alcoholic drinks. Mocktails, smoothies, fresh juices etc. But nope. It was the usual coke, sprite, etc.

      This was about five years ago though, they may have improved since.

      • Novice says:

        I agree about the drinks but my issue is with all the airlines. I don’t know why they can’t offer something better to ppl who don’t drink for various reasons other than soft drinks.

  • Aston100 says:

    Are there genuinely so many people who cannot go up to 24 hours without alcohol, so much so that a dry airline would be a deal-breaker no matter how good the rest of the offering.

    • Rob says:

      Difficult to offer a high end meal service without paired drinks. Not impossible, of course, but difficult. A decent bit of steak and a diet coke don’t really work.

    • James says:

      Someone should recommend alcoholics anonymous

      • meta says:

        There is more than fizzy drinks in the world and some are quite good as BA’s covid drinks menu showed. It’s not about pairing at all. Any luxury restaurant/bar will have premium non-alcoholic drinks that are on par with anything alcoholic.

        If you fly long-haul once or twice a year then you’d want to indulge in copious amounts of alcohol, but if you’re flying on a weekly or monthly basis then you’d want to cut on alcohol. It will depend on what kind of customer they’d want on board.

  • His Holyness says:

    Wow…Eire will have to cull a lot more cows to offset Riyadh Air’s carbon emissions with such a fleet.

  • Dig this says:

    Expats just following the smell of the money..

  • Duck Ling says:

    I think the reason they are launching a new brand instead of growing Saudia is that they will have three very distinct markets and need different products to aim to these markets.

    Reading between the lines of what the NEOM Airlines CEO said it sounds like Saudia will primarily be the airline for Saudi nationals and Haj pilgrims (so restricted IFE, no booze, prayer rooms on board) and Riyadh Air will be focused on the connection/tourist market so I reckon we will see booze IN and prayer rooms OUT. Neom of course is dedicated to just serving the new mega city.

    ‘Neom Airlines CEO Klaus Goersch confirms the trio would not be in competition with each other, as each focuses on a different market: Riyadh Air for global connections, Saudia for religious traffic, and Neom dedicated to the Red Sea development.’ (from

    • Chaz says:

      I’m here at the moment, so I get the distinction between the religious market (Jeddah focus) and other. The fact is Riyadh is the capital but it is not a tourist city – it “might” work but is leagues behind other ME cities (shocking road network / metro that’s threatened to start for a few years) and isn’t coastal so the local attractions / hotels needs to be so substantially upgraded – we’re not just looking at a nice airport. Neom is a Red Sea resort that “might” work – but it’s competiting in a dense field.

      Saudi has woken up very late in the day and is throwing money around hoping something will work. Riyadh is is going to have a monumentally tough time vs transit hubs like Dubai etc.

      • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

        Isn’t Riyadh also that bit closer to western Europe to make connecting there less pleasant than UAE? As in, a post-midnight departure to Europe would have to leave circa 3am to get to European airports no earlier than their opening times.

        • Bloxorus says:

          Its actually better than the UAE from this perspective. Flight time from Riyadh to London is 7 hours from GMT + 3 time zone. Dubai to London is 7 hours 40 mins and GMT + 4 time zone. So to land at 6am GMT you’d need to depart Riyadh at 2am local time vs 2:20am local time from Dubai…

  • Dev says:

    lets be honest … its a massive gravy train for european expats to take full advantage of.

  • Dubious says:

    “The CEO is Tony Douglas”
    – are you sure?
    There were reports in January 2023 that he’d stepped down from RIA after 2-months in the role. Never sure how to confirm if this wasn’t just fake news though as it wasn’t widely reported.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.