Reports have surfaced that Saudia, Saudi Arabia’s national airlines, will begin segregating men and women on flights after male passengers complained of having other males sitting next to their female relatives. Saudi officials have since denied the report, however.
The reports began to surface after a Saudia official told newspaper Ajel that, indeed, the complaints from passengers were a problem, and that “there are solutions to this problem…we will soon enforce rules that will satisfy all passengers,” according to the Daily Mail. Emirates24/7, which translated the Ajel report, notes that the official did not make any specifications regarding what “solutions” would be implemented, but that Ajel “said it would include instructions to flight booking staff at the Gulf kingdom’s airports to ensure males and females are separated aboard Saudia’s flights unless they are closely related.”
The Mail added that complaints included men objecting to other men sitting next to their wives as well as complaints that some women were too “flirty” on flights. The new rules would reportedly not include men and women who were married or close relatives. Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper, reports that, while uncommon in the West, these complaints also occur on Israeli flights, “with some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to unrelated women and some women objecting to being asked to move so that the men won’t have to sit next to them.” On those flights, however, the women asked to move to accommodate men also protest, however, and so no rules have been imposed regarding gender-assigned seating arrangements.
The Saudia official quoted in Ajel, however, has claimed that his comments were taken out of context. Rahman Al-Fahd, Saudia vice president for marketing, later tweeted a correction of his comments, claiming that he had said: “I answered: We are trying to find a solution and awaiting the outcome.” Another spokesman for the airline, Abdullah Al-Ajhar, told the website Arab News that the reports were “false” and “misleading.”
The website Mashable notes that Al-Fahd claimed in separate tweets that his answer was not actually related to complaints on women travelers, but on “how to rearrange splitting family members aboard.”
Whether the new rules proposed will be implemented or not, Saudi Arabia remains a deeply hostile nation to female liberty. Women are banned from driving, and some who defy the ban have been taken to the nation’s terrorism court to be tried for endangering others through the mere act of driving. In November, the nation’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice– a morality police of sorts– implemented a law against “tempting eyes,” defined loosely as the uncovered eyes of a woman, particularly if wearing makeup. A woman could be punished, one Saudi journalist noted, even without makeup if their eyes are “beautiful.”