British Muslims who booked travel tickets to Saudi Arabia to join the hajj pilgrimage have been denied at UK airports amid chaos over a new booking system imposed by the kingdom. This introduction.

Frustrated travelers tell of being denied boarding because airlines didn’t have records of their bookings despite having paid thousands of pounds through a Saudi government system.

A last-minute overhaul to Saudi Arabia’s rules means European Muslims must book the hajj through an official government website called Motawif rather than travel agents, after the kingdom cut the number of pilgrims from 2.5 million in 2019 to just 1 million this year in response to the Covid epidemic.

Pilgrims would then be entered into a lottery to allocate places, but the system has been plagued with problems that have left tourists in limbo – and thousands of pounds out of pocket. . The late rule, announced in April, means that many people who had arranged their own travel for the hajj are now unable to go and tour operators face liquidation.

But even those who secured a place for the pilgrimage through Motawif ran into problems. A Muslim from Bradford told The Independent Her group of seven had twice refused their flight from Manchester airport despite a £66,500 payment between them for travel and accommodation through the Saudi system.

Muslim pilgrims in Kaaba

(Getty)

“We have no reason to believe we won’t get on their flight,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

But despite trying to contact Motawif many times, the team has not received a confirmation of booking less than 24 hours before the plane took off. With a “terrible” amount of communication and unable to contact the agency, the group decided to go to the airport and hoped to arrange a reservation there.

When they arrived at the airport on Saturday morning, the group called the company and after an hour of waiting, Motawif said the Saudi Airlines flight from Manchester airport had been cancelled.

“They told us it was a technical fault and no one would be traveling,” she said. “But I think they were dishonest.”

At the airport, airline staff confirmed the flight was not canceled but was overbooked. “We asked if we could upgrade to business class because we knew there were 12 seats left, but they refused. We had to go home. “

Motawif advised the group to head back to the airport the next morning, making sure they were on the flight.

At this point, their original PCR tests were out of date. The team had to re-run their tests with the same results on the same day, costing them £420 in total.

When they arrived at the airport for the second time, they received an email from Motawif with an expired ticket for the original flight they were supposed to take.

Hajj tourists turned away at Manchester airport

(Benaras Ali)

At the airport, the staff of Saudi Airlines confirmed that the group did not have a ticket for the flight that day.

“It was a disaster. This woman said.

“I had to go back to work on Monday for a day, and it was embarrassing. People are confused about what is going on. It’s just silly.”

The portal re-registered the group on a flight on Tuesday, but also changed their original return dates. One team member will miss her son’s graduation because of this change.

Benaras Ali, a 55-year-old executive who is accompanying the team, said his faith in Motawif has been “completely diminished”.

“The staff at Saudi Airlines told us that Motawif had not sent them money for the flight,” he said.

“We thought we would take this blessed journey together, but my sisters and I were in tears.

“We feel hurt.”

Ali-Haider Abdul Rashid, a pharmacist from Sheffield, was also turned away at the airport.

He said he was on the phone with Motawif when airline staff at Manchester Airport told him he had no room on the flight.

“I really feel sorry for the Motawif agents over the phone, they have no right to do anything,” he said. “The agent just told me they will try to get us on the flight as soon as possible.”

But by Monday night, he hadn’t heard from the agency. The pharmacist decided to arrange his own route to Saudi Arabia, but it cost him more in addition to the £18,500 he paid Motawif.

Mr. Abdul Rashid and others are not guaranteed that they will get a refund for canceled flights or even accrued fees such as airport parking, travel expenses and multiple checks. PCR.

“We haven’t even discussed the subject of annual leave, childcare, etc. It’s been a complete nightmare,” he said.

“But there is no alternative. Our hajj is an obligation that we have to fulfill. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have had the chance to go with Motawif. “

The Independent reached out to Motawif for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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