To assist South African Muslim pilgrims travelling to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, South African Airways (SAA) will provide six flights to transport them to the annual Hajj held between December and February.
However, SAA and the South African Hajj and Umrah Council (SAHUC) - a body speaking on behalf of pilgrims, comprising representatives of the national Muslim councils in South Africa - are yet to sign a memorandum of understanding.
Among other things, the memorandum states SAA will assist more than 2 000 pilgrims and will only undertake to do so after tickets have been purchased and money deposited into the airline’s account. Also, the airline and the SAHUC are yet to agree whether flights will depart only from Johannesburg or from all the three hubs, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
A full schedule of the flights will be provided to SAHUC as soon as its been finalised. Pilgrims wanting to attend this season’s Hajj are advised to liase directly with SAHUC.
All Travel Agents/Hajj Operators must contact SAHUC regarding their travel requirements for Hajj.
SAA will offer six free tickets to the most needy senior citizens in the Muslim community, who due to economic hardships, may never have had the opportunity to attend this once in a lifetime requirement for every practising Muslim.
SAA’s willingness to help negated views expressed in the past that SAA is insensitive, intransigent or unwilling to help the pilgrims.
Considering that Hajj is a specialised religious ceremony, it needs to be operated by airlines equipped to deal with high-density charter aircraft. Such airlines include Air Atlanta and Onur Air, both controlled by Saudi Air.
Also it must be understood that aviation transport is negotiated between governments. The governments deal with issues such as landing, flying and parking (slot) rights. The South African aero-political environment is open for Saudi airlines to operate charter flights from their country into South Africa.
SAA constantly evaluates the possibilities of direct flights to Jeddah to assist in the annual pilgrimage. However, flying there mean pulling off some aircraft from their daily or weekly assigned schedules to destinations across the globe.
However, after a series of meetings between SAA and SAHUC, it was agreed that in December and February, SAA will use its soon to be phased-out Boeing 747-300s as charters to fly the pilgrims to Jeddah for this season only.