Pilgrims headed to Saudi Arabia may be in for a surprise as the ministry of religious affairs has forwarded last-minute travel rules which can lead to the offloading of passengers travelling with carriers other than the designated three airlines – Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Saudi Arabian Airlines and Shaheen Airlines.
The eleventh-hour changes come days before the first flight to Saudi Arabia departs on October 1. The changes have been forwarded to all Hajj terminals, tour operators, Haji group organisers (HGOs) arranging visas and tickets for pilgrims.
Pilgrims travelling with non-designated airlines may be offloaded due to travel restrictions forwarded by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The matter may get worse as designated airlines have already overbooked flights and may not be able to accommodate passengers who made bookings with other airlines.
Around fifty thousand pilgrims are likely to be offloaded under the new policy, sources familiar with the matter told The Express Tribune.
According to memorandum ‘Shifting of pilgrims to other carriers by Haji group organisers (HGOs)’, the issue raised by Pakistan International Airlines Corporation was important as the booking of pilgrims through non-designated carriers was illegal under the Air Services Agreement between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, passengers will suffer inconvenience and cause administrative problems for Saudi authorities, the memorandum added.
Consequently, the ministry of religious affairs is requested not to clear the Hajj schedule of HGOs who booked their quota through non-designated carriers and take further necessary action by authorising clearances with No-Objection Certificates (NOC), the statement added.
The interior ministry is also requested to ensure a strict check on the movement of pilgrims through the FIA and clearances subject to the provision of NOC from the ministry of religious affairs.
The letter was signed by Deputy Secretary (Flying) Ministry of Defence Farooq Hassan and was also forwarded to the secretary ministry of interior and secretary ministry of religious affairs. The interior ministry and FIA headquarters in Islamabad have also forwarded the letter to airports across the country to ensure strict compliance.
Pilgrims booked with non-designated airlines were bound to be off-loaded, an FIA official told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2011.
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