Dubai: The first batch of Haj pilgrims flew out of Dubai on Wednesday bound for Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
Flights will continue to depart until August 8 on four carriers — Fly Dubai, Emirates, Fly Nas and Saudia — and pilgrims will pass through dedicated fast-tracked services, which include free health checks and Haj kits.
Mohammad Al Marzouqi, head of operations at Terminal 2 and head of the Haj committee at Dubai Airports, told Gulf News that around 2,300 to 2,400 Emirati pilgrims are expected to fly from Dubai for Haj this year.
The figure represents almost half of all Emirati pilgrims from the UAE, and some expats and pilgrims transiting via Dubai will also be leaving for Haj through Dubai’s three terminals, he said.
Pilgrims will be greeted at the airport with free basic health checks such as a blood sugar and blood pressure readings.
“There are signs at the terminals which tell Haj pilgrims exactly where to go,” said Al Marzouqi. “They are given gifts and guided to dedicated check-in counters, immigration desks, screening areas and departure gates.
“The whole process, from arrival at the airport to the departure gate, only takes a few minutes,” added Al Marzouqi.
“We want the pilgrims to enjoy their journey. We have a small celebration for them at the airport. Every year, we receive very good feedback from the pilgrims regarding the arrangements and gifts for them, and we’re proud to maintain this level of service.”
New this year is a free check-up for osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones, said Badir Al Najjar, director of internal audit and head of the Haj committee at the Ministry of Health and Prevention.
The ministry is also gifting free Haj kits containing 16 items, including sunscreen, a hands-free umbrella that can be mounted on your head, a water bottle, and an accessories waist belt.
“We’re looking at the heat and hydration for pilgrims; we want to protect them in this heat,” said Al Najjar. “My general advice is try to drink as much water and fluids as possible and don’t expose yourself to the sun unnecessarily. Make sure the skin is not dry and be careful of communicable diseases. Please also take all necessary vaccinations, like for meningitis, before leaving for Haj.”
The ministry has clinics in Makkah, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa — the sites of the Haj rituals — as well as in Madinah for UAE pilgrims.
Clinics are staffed by 36 doctors, nurses and pharmacists to provide any assistance or treatment. There is also a doctor and nurse with every group of worshippers.
Pilgrims greeted at Terminal 2 on Wednesday said they were pleased with the reception and services at the airport.
“Everything is fine here at the airport, I’m really happy with the reception and services for pilgrims,” said Fatima, an Emirati woman who is going on her first Haj.
Iraqi expat Omran Hadi, 62, also said he was satisfied with the arrangements.
“This is my second Haj from Dubai and, as always, it’s been a smooth start,” Hadi said.
American transit passenger Abdur Rahman, 29, said he stayed overnight in Dubai before continuing on his journey to Saudi Arabia. “It’s really amazing that they [Dubai officials] have made special services for us pilgrims,” he added.
In most cases, expat pilgrims have to apply for the Haj visa from their home country and set off from there, so the departure halls in Dubai were mainly filled with Emirati worshippers.