By Rob Morris
Dubai carrier says swine flu ban will not impact on passenger numbers to Saudi.
A proposed ban on elderly people and children performing this year’s hajj will not, if enforced, affect Emirates’ passenger loads, the airline said on Wednesday.
The Dubai airline was responding to an agreement among Arab health ministers last week that certain people will be restricted from travelling to the pilgrimage to reduce the risk of a swine flu outbreak.
Several countries in the Middle East are concerned that among the three million Muslims expected to descend on Mecca this November, some may have the potentially deadly H1N1 virus.
To reduce the threat, the ministers said children, people with chronic medical conditions and the elderly would be stopped from embarking on the holy pilgrimage.
While Saudi authorities have yet to officially approve the ban, Emirates told Arabian Business that any travel restrictions would have no impact on its traffic to the kingdom.
"All hajj pilgrims are obliged to organise their travel through an organised mission (hamla), which will each enforce any restrictions set by the Saudi government and other relevant authorities in their respective countries,” Ahmed Khoory, Emirates' senior vice president of commercial operations for the Gulf, Middle East and Iran, said.
“Emirates will transport pilgrims holding valid hajj visas. As with previous years we expect a high volume of passengers to travel to Saudi Arabia with Emirates for hajj, and have obtained special permission from the Saudi authorities to operate extra flights specially designated for hajj pilgrims only during this period.
Khoory added the airline is well prepared to assist any passengers with swine flu-related symptoms.
“With regards to H1N1, Emirates is in full compliance with the measures put in place by the International Air Transport Association and the World Health Organisation," he said.
Etihad Airways also commented on its expected passenger loads during hajj, telling Arabian Business that it will be business as usual irrespective of any potential ban.
A spokesperson for the airline said: “Etihad Airways is not anticipating any disruption to its operations nor to its passenger loads over this period.”