Abu Dhabi: The first Haj flight from Abu Dhabi Airport this year left early Thursday morning with only a few UAE pilgrims on board and 183 transit passengers arriving from various destinations.
Flight EY2344 took off at 9am and is considered the first operational flight of 15 other flights departing for Jeddah between November 27 to December 14.
A total number of 4,014 Haj pilgrims, who are part of an allocated UAE quota fixed by the Saudi Arabian government of approximately 6,000 people, are expected to fly during those dates to perform Haj.
Umm Hadi and her 27-year-old daughter Umm Abdullah, each wearing a nikab (a facial covering) were among the few passengers from Abu Dhabi ready to take off on the same flight.
"This will be my sixth visit to Makkah, and with each passing year and just before the Eid holidays I become more anxious to go," said Umm Hadi, while checking in her baggage.
When asked why she chose to travel on the first operating flight to Makkah, her answer was: "If there was an earlier flight for pilgrims, I would have taken it! When it comes to visiting the house of God, I don't think twice."
Both women before entering the departure hall told Gulf News they will continue to take the first operating flight to Makkah each year if healthy.
"Once people visit Makkah or do Umrah they will understand how important and wonderful it feels; they won't think of the economic crisis or of the problems around them anymore, everything will seem easy and tolerable once they fill their hearts with faith and hope," said the daughter, who's married to an Emirati and residing in Abu Dhabi.
A team of six customer service representatives from the Abu Dhabi Airport Company (ADAC) and members from the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments were assisting passengers from the moment they entered the airport till they reached the aircraft.
Transit passengers on the same flight arriving from Manila, Indonesia and India were also being serviced once they reached the Abu Dhabi Airport at a hand-made tent serving coffee and dates and availability of religious preachers in case they had any questions or doubts before their arrival to Makkah.
Talib Mohammad Al Shehhi, Head of preaching section of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments has been assisting Haj pilgrims for the past three years. He told Gulf News that there are now three different television screens in the departure halls dedicated to the pilgrims about steps to take during Haj and Umrah.
"My job is to preach and help pilgrims with any doubts they may have. I am supposed to arrive to the airport before they do so that I make sure that all our religious books, texts, brochures and my team is ready to assist them. We want to ensure the pilgrims are well informed. That's our main job," Al Shehhi told Gulf News.
According to the Customer Service Supervisor team, who wished to remain anonymous, the number of non-transit haj pilgrims will increase in number by Saturday, where five flights are scheduled, two via Saudi Arabian Airlines, three via Etihad Airways and one via NAS Air (a Saudi based budget carrier).