Saudi Arabia’s flag carrier, Saudia, has restarted flights to the Turkish city of Istanbul, after being halted for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Saturday, the first flight undertaken by Saudia to the city in two years landed at Istanbul Airport, carrying 130 passengers on board from the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah. Upon their arrival, the flight was reportedly celebrated and the passengers were greeted with flowers.
The airline’s flights to Istanbul were halted over the past two years due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and the measures imposed by countries in efforts to contain and control the virus. Saudi Arabia was one of the strictest countries in implementing and enforcing measures to combat the pandemic, but is increasingly looking to open up after the virus has largely come under control.
Saudia will now be operating daily flights to Istanbul from the Islamic holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. It will also conduct three flights per week between the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and Istanbul.
The restarting of the flights also comes amid a reset in relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In 2020, Riyadh imposed a silent and unofficial boycott of Ankara, preventing trucks holding Turkish goods from entering the Kingdom, forcing Saudi businesses to cut off their trade with Turkey, and pressuring businessmen to end their investments in the country.
That boycott was primarily due to the clash of foreign policy goals between Riyadh and Ankara in the region, with the two backing opposing sides in Libya and disagreeing over the legitimacy of the government in Egypt installed after the 2013 military coup. Turkey was also pushing to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, in which it maintained that the Saudi government and Crown Prince were involved.
Following the past year of conciliatory talks and Turkey’s handing over of the Khashoggi case to Saudi Arabia last month, however, the two former rivals are resetting their relations. At the end of April, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan marked that shift by visiting the Kingdom and meeting with its leaders, including Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for the first time in five years.