The Hajj is a five-day annual pilgrimage made by those of the Islamic faith to their holiest site, Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The trip is often preceded by a stopover at the second most holiest city, Medina, around 250 miles to the north of Jeddah, with its centre point being the location of the ‘first’ Mosque. As a Hajj pilot based in the Middle East, you very quickly become very familiar with these two airports.
This was to be my second Hajj operation, transporting pilgrims from cities all over the world to Jeddah – the nearest airport to Mecca. Two years ago I flew a Boeing 737-800 on behalf of NEOS, an Italian airline based in Milan, with the aircraft being subcontracted to Nasair of Eritrea. This year, our aircraft – a B747-400 – was based in Baghdad, Iraq. (Most commercial pilots would probably find working in this environment completely alien, but with a little patience it is not too bad.).