Hajj flights for Asia's Muslims starting this week

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The Independent Travel

Across Asia many airlines are beginning services this week to ferry passengers to Saudi Arabia in time for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world and is expected to fall between November 25-30 this year. Most large Asian air carriers will operate flights to Jeddah and Medina in two phases with little variance: the arrival stage, from October 20 through November 21, and the departure stage, from December 1 to January 1, 2010.

Beginning October 21, Pakistan International Airlines, the nation's flag carrier, will commence nearly 300 Hajj flights. The operations are expected to involve 126,000 passengers, according to the company.

On October 16, Air India, that nation's largest airline, announced the operation of nearly 300 extra flights to ferry passengers from 20 Indian cities to Jeddah and Medina.

National carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines expects nearly 40,000 passengers to take advantage of their dedicated Hajj flights, as they estimate they will fly about two-thirds of all Bangladeshi pilgrims.

In Indonesia, budget king Indonesia Air Asia does not offer any services to Saudi Arabia but Indonesia's busiest private airline, Garuda, announced this month that they have added aircraft to compete for Hajj flights. The company has 14 wide-bodied aircraft dedicated to Hajj this year, which they hope will help them increase on the 259,000 Hajj passengers they shuttled in 2008.

Malaysian Airlines has added special Hajj flights, in combination with Emirates Airlines, to fly their pilgrims, according to the company.

On October 21 and 29, Thailand's pilgrims can utilize special flights to Saudi Arabia via a tie-up between Thai Airways and Malaysian Airlines.

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