British Muslims who booked journey to Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage have been turned away at UK airports amid chaos over a brand new reserving system launched by the dominion.
Frustrated travellers instructed of being denied boarding as airways had no report of their bookings regardless of paying hundreds of kilos by way of a Saudi authorities system.
A final-minute overhaul to Saudi guidelines meant European Muslims needed to ebook hajj by way of an official authorities web site known as Motawif as an alternative of travel agents, after the dominion lower down pilgrim numbers from 2.5 million in 2019 to only one million this 12 months in response to the Covid pandemic.
Would-be pilgrims are then entered right into a lottery that allocates locations, however the system has been beset by issues leaving travellers in limbo – and hundreds of kilos out of pocket. The late rule, introduced in April, meant many who had already organized their very own journey for the hajj are actually unable to go and tour operators have been left facing liquidation.
But even those that secured locations for the pilgrimage by way of Motawif have encountered issues. One Muslim from Bradford instructed The Independent her group of seven was twice turned away from their flight from Manchester airport regardless of paying £66,500 between them for journey and lodging by way of the Saudi system.
“We had no reason to believe we wouldn’t get on their flight,” stated the lady, who requested to not be named.
But regardless of a number of makes an attempt at contacting Motawif, the group nonetheless had not obtained their flight reserving affirmation lower than 24 hours earlier than they have been as a result of take off. With “terrible” communication and no manner of contacting the company, the group determined to go to the airport and hope they might kind the reserving there.
As they headed to the airport on Saturday morning, the group known as the corporate and after ready for an hour on maintain, Motawif instructed them their Saudi Airlines flight from Manchester airport had been cancelled.
“They told us it’s a technical fault and no one will be travelling,” she stated. “But I thought they were being dishonest.”
At the airport, airline employees confirmed the flight was not cancelled however was overbooked. “We asked if we could be put on business class because we knew there were 12 empty seats, but they refused. We had to go home.”
The group was suggested by Motawif to move again to the airport the following morning, assuring them they might be on the flight.
By this time, their authentic PCR checks had expired. The group needed to redo their checks with same-day outcomes, costing them a complete of £420.
As they made their option to the airport a second time, they obtained emails from Motawif with expired flight tickets for the unique flight they have been meant to be on.
At the airport, Saudi Airlines employees confirmed the group didn’t have tickets for that day’s flight.
“It has been a disaster. To be turned away from the airport twice is just ridiculous,” the lady stated.
“I had to go back to work on Monday for one day, and it’s embarrassing. People are confused about what’s happening. It’s just silly.”
The portal has rebooked the group on a flight on Tuesday, however has additionally modified their authentic return date. One member of the group will miss her son’s commencement due to this transformation.
Benaras Ali, a 55-year-old operations supervisor who’s travelling with the group, stated his confidence in Motawif has been “dented completely”.
He stated: “The staff at Saudi Airlines told us that Motawif had not sent them the money for the flight.
“We thought we were going to do this blessed journey together, but my sisters have been in tears.
“We feel traumatised.”
Ali-Haider Abdul Rashid, a pharmacist from Sheffield, was additionally turned away on the airport.
He stated he was on the cellphone to Motawif when the airline employees at Manchester Airport instructed him he was not booked on the flight.
“I kind of feel sorry for the Motawif agents on the phone, they have no authority to do anything,” he stated. “The agent just told me they will try to get us on a flight as soon as possible.”
But on Monday evening he had heard nothing from the company. The pharmacist made the choice to rearrange his personal path to Saudi Arabia, however it has price him more money on prime of the £18,500 he had already paid to Motawif.
Mr Abdul Rashid and the others have been given no reassurance that they are going to be reimbursed for his or her cancelled flights and even amassed fees resembling airport parking, journey bills and a number of PCR checks.
“We haven’t even broached the subject of annual leave, childcare etc. It has all been an absolute nightmare,” he stated.
“But there is no alternative. Our hajj is an obligation that we have to fulfil. If there was a choice, there would be zero chance of me going with Motawif.”
The Independent contacted Motawif for remark however had obtained no response on the time of publication.