More than two million Muslims from all parts of the world make the Hajj pilgrimage each year to Mecca and Medinah in Saudi Arabia. The country’s airlines, airports and air navigation service provider play a key role in safely handling this huge influx of pilgrims.
It is the largest religious gathering in the world, with the pilgrimage rites occurring over just five days, leading to an influx in aircraft passengers over a very short timescale.
Most fly into Jeddah in specially-chartered flights and then travel the 50 miles to Mecca by bus. At Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport a newly-extended Hajj terminal is able to process over 7,000 arriving and departing passengers an hour through the arrivals and departures areas and can accommodate up to 80,000 travellers at one time. This is a vast building, covering 120 acres, which is only open for the Hajj period and provides for the specialist dietary and religious needs of the travelling pilgrims.
The other international airport gateway for pilgrims into Saudi Arabia is Medinah’s Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport, which has also been widely expanded in recent years.
Prior to 1946, around 60,000 pilgrims visited Mecca annually – one of the key factors in the increase in people able to make the pilgrimage is the access to affordable air transport from across the world.