There are two low-cost airlines in the Gulf, and now I have taken them both.
I cannot claim to be an expert on either Jazeera Airways or Air Arabia, as I have now taken exactly ONE flight on each. And Mr. Fixit's wife works for Jazeera and looks smashing in her blue uniform, so I have a slight bias.
If my experiences over the last few days are anything to go by, it might be fair to compare Jazeera to Southwest Airlines in the States, and Air Arabia to Ryanair in Europe. Meaning, in Air Arabia's case, you get there and you don't have to pay much but after that, it's fairly average. But Jazeera seems both swell and cheap, not just cheap.
The Jazeera aircraft was brand-new. The staff was friendly and attentive. Everything ran smoothly from the base in Kuwait to Dubai International Airport. Even the food was reasonably priced. The fares were great, starting at $18 or so and going up to $48 for most routes beginning in Kuwait.
Air Arabia's hub is in Sharjah, UAE. The airport is low-end compared to Dubai, but you can overlook that if there's other compelling reasons to take the airline. In Europe, Ryanair often uses airports between 60-90 minutes from the city they service, but the .99 fares make the bus fare worth it. If I fly to Stockholm on my April mini-break (I'll have a week in Europe, anywhere I can get to cheap from London), I'll be halfway across Sweden from the actual city of Stockholm, but that this is okay given the dirt-cheap fare. I'm actually inclined to go to Berlin to hole up in a rented flat for a week and work on rewrites and maybe even meet Ed Ward for a meal if he hasn't moved to France by then. Berlin also has an advantage in that I've been there recently and won't be distracted. Wait, I'm supposed to be talking about Air Arabia.
The first thing I noticed at Sharjah Airport was the lax security. The next thing was that I boarded what looked like a rent-a-plane. There were beautifully painted Air Arabia Airbus jets nearby, but not the Sharjah-Aqaba-Sharm one. Ours was white with some lettering on the side that had been painted over (not too effectively) in white. It looked like it said "Sharee" or something underneath.
The inside looked fine. But weirdly, it was like the staff was also a rental. No one seemed to have any idea how anything was supposed to work. When we stopped in Aqaba, one blond European passenger asked "Can we go outside?"
"I don't know," answered a flight attendant.
He asked three more times but the other staff members ignored him.
I asked someone if they would be serving food on the next leg, as it was so brief.
"I have no idea," the uniformed attendant answered answered.
I'd been trying to buy a chicken tikka sandwich for three hours. The staff had wheeled the food cart up the aisle to the halfway point, then rolled backwards and disappeared. I'd assumed they'd gong to refill, but they never came back, with or without the cart. I didn't spy another staff member until we were on the ground in Aqaba.
There was some sort of holdup and we sat at Aqaba for an hour longer than scheduled. The European never did determine if he could get off the plane, although I did finally badger someone into feeding me.
If I have a choice, I'll always opt for Jazeera over Air Arabia. But AA was all right for the money. I'd just gotten inflated expectations based on my JA experience.
There's still the return flight on Sunday, so maybe AA will redeem itself.