Make your bookings with a reputable travel agent. This is another point we cannot stress enough. Get references from the agent and call or visit pilgrims that used the agent previously.
Avoid special deals with friends or relatives who are in the travel business. Of course, an exception should be made if you are getting a free trip.
Ensure that you have a confirmed booking out of Saudi Arabia. If your outbound flight is only waitlisted, you will not be allowed to board the aeroplane for Jeddah. If your agent is unable to get confirmation prior to your departure, ask him to obtain the first available confirmed date for you as well as keeping you waitlisted for the requested date.
Waitlisted means that your selected bookings (dates) are not confirmed, and will automatically be confirmed once seats become available on that particular flight.
A word of caution: do not depend on or plan on waitlisted bookings, in and out of Jeddah. Take your confirmed dates and use them for your planning. These are not “normal” flights and there are very few passengers who do not turn up (no-show) or cancel during the Hajj period.
Do not assume that your travel agent knows everything. Double-check everything to avoid conflict later. It is extremely difficult (almost impossible) to change your flights once you are in Saudi Arabia due to the overwhelming number of passengers trying to do the same thing. Select your flights carefully and keep to the itinerary.
If you plan to go to Madinah by aeroplane, purchase your Madinah tickets separately from your Hajj tickets. Ask your agent not to include it in your Hajj ticket itinerary. It is much easier to obtain a refund if the tickets are separate. (The cost of the Madinah tickets are fixed, so there will be no discount on them. There is a small possibility that you may not be able to utilise these tickets as you may need to go to Madinah by bus instead, due to the flight over-bookings and crowds.)
Also have a separate booking made for the Madinah sector. If you do end up going to Madinah by bus, the rest of your itinerary will not be cancelled. (Example: Kuala Lumpur-Jeddah; Jeddah-Madinah; Madinah-Jeddah; Jeddah-Kuala Lumpur. If for some reason you do not show up for the Jeddah-Madinah leg, the rest of your itinerary will automatically be cancelled.)
In summary: Separate tickets and bookings for Madinah! And give yourself at least 6 hours transit time in Jeddah.
When you receive your tickets, verify that the dates and times are the ones you have requested. Also check that the names on the tickets are spelt correctly. If the dates are not the ones you requested and your travel agent tells you that he or she will fix it in Saudi Arabia, don't believe them!
Obtain from your agent your booking computer reference number. By using this number reconfirmation is much easier. It is normally a 6-digit alphanumeric number. Write it down on the cover of your ticket, so it is easily accessible. Use this number during any communication with the airline regarding your booking. The airline refers to this number as your PNR (Passenger Name Record).
Also obtain a computer printout of your booking if possible.
Request special food, depending on the airline you will be flying with (i.e., Muslim or vegetarian meals). Certain airlines such as Malaysian Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines serve only Halal food. If you are travelling on an airline that does not serve all Halal meals, and you have children travelling with you, request special meals for them also. On most airlines, the adult meals will be the requested ones, but the children get the child meal served to all other children and it is not Halal.
If applicable, request a bassinet for the baby on the aeroplane at booking time, and don't forget to reconfirm it prior to your flight.
Review the details of your booking very carefully. There are two other items of special importance:
1. If for example your flight departure time is 0230 on Monday the 16th. This means you need to go to the airport on the Sunday night the 15th (or the morning of the 16th), and not on the Monday night. Many pilgrims mistakenly turn up 24 hours late for their flight.
2. '+1' next to the arrival time means you arrive at that time the following day.
Passport and Visas:
Determine all the necessary visas required for en route stopovers.
Make sure your passport expiry date is at least six months after your planned returned date. Visa regulations for some countries require even longer validity dates. Also ensure that there are enough blank pages in your passport.
All female pilgrims whose passport contains a photo without a head covering, should try to have it changed prior to the issuing of a visa. The visa will be issued, but this is to avoid embarrassment during the journey. It is a good time to start correcting everything in your life.
Your agent will arrange your Hajj visa. The rules and requirements may change from year to year. If you have limited time in which to arrange all this, then we suggest you call the embassy to obtain their requirements.
It may seem that we do not place much faith in the travel agent. On the contrary, they do an excellent job. However, they are very busy people and you are not their only customer. we suggest that you double-check everything.
Before leaving home:
o Place a unique identifying mark on your passport so that it is easily recognisable within a pile of passports. (A distinct, brightly coloured tape on the edge of your passport will do the trick.)
o Make photocopies of your passport and keep them separate from the passport.
o Keep some extra passport-size photographs with you (at least 4).
o Obtain the Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah (where applicable) telephone numbers and addresses of the airline (or agent) you are departing from Saudi Arabia with. This is important information, as you may need to call them or visit their offices.
Your ticket will show (in the last column on the right side) your baggage allowance. The standard weight is 20kg (44lb) per ticket. Some airlines allow more during Hajj. In the USA it is the number of bags and not weight.
During Hajj the airlines are very strict about overweight (excess) baggage. Excess baggage charges at airports, including Saudi Arabia, are extremely high. Check this with your agent or airline if you have any doubts. The normal rule for overweight charges is 1% of the 1st class fare, for each kilo. Do your sums and you will be very surprised.
There are facilities and agents in Makkah who handle cargo. Many pilgrims send their heavy bags as cargo prior to their departure from Makkah. Most airlines allow only one piece of hand luggage, and it should weigh no more than 5kg (11lb). This is excluding a handbag or a briefcase.
Keep the size of your suitcase in the normal size range (max. 28in/70cm). It is very difficult to travel with very large suitcases, and you will definitely be overweight. Do not take your very expensive and favourite suitcases. Ensure that your luggage is sturdy as it will be “well travelled and knocked around” by the time you return.
Sometimes during check-in the airline may allow you 5 to 7kg (11-15lb) more, depending on the person checking you in. Do not depend on this. If you are leaving home with your bags already weighing 20kg (44lb), then you will most likely be overweight coming back, unless you do not plan to buy anything, or you have plenty of gifts/parcels for people in Saudi Arabia.
Mark all your luggage clearly, inside and outside. Mark the outside with a unique identifying mark so that it is easily recognisable. Remember there are many bags that look alike. A brightly coloured ribbon attached to the carrying handle is a good trick. (Hopefully, not everyone reading this will use the same colour ribbon).
Upon your return you will most likely bring back zamzam water. Check with your customs authorities prior to leaving home the maximum number of litres of water you are allowed to bring back with you. There is no sense in carrying 10 litres of water when the customs in your country will only allow 1 litre per passenger.
In the past some airlines allowed zamzam containers as hand luggage. This is no more the case. All zamzam has to be checked in (and most airlines count it as part of your weight allowance). So 20 litres of zamzam, and you have already reached your 20kg weight allowance. Check with your airline. Do not pack the zamzam container inside your suitcase.
One of the more unpleasant aspects of travelling is when the airline “loses” your luggage. This happens on the best of airlines.
Most airlines have a very good lost baggage tracking system. If your bags have not been stolen (which is unlikely), then in most cases the bags are found and returned to you within a few days. Always keep the luggage tags (stickers) that you received during check-in with you, as you will need them in the event of your bags being lost. You must have one tag (sticker) for each piece of checked luggage.
If you did not receive all your luggage, ALWAYS report, and complete any paperwork, at the first point of arrival. The forms have a field where you have to put your residential telephone number and this is used as the contact number. Most pilgrims make the mistake of not adding their local numbers (hotel in Makkah or Madinah). Once you get checked into the hotel, call the airline to provide them with your room number.
Obtain the required file and telephone numbers that you will need for follow-up.
Under normal circumstances the procedures are that the airline will endeavour to get your luggage to you (to your hotel). With Hajj we found that in most cases, the pilgrim needs to do the “running around” and you may have to go to the airport a few times to search for your bags. This can sometimes be very difficult, as you may be in Madinah and your bags are in Jeddah.
On numerous occasions the pilgrims only received their bags after Hajj. Also for this reason you should never pack perishable food items in your luggage.
Remember or note down the following before you travel:
- The size of your bags;
- The colour of your bags
- The make (brand name) of your bags
- Any other special identification (i.e black stripes, broken handles, etc)
This information is very important when you have to complete the required paperwork at the “lost baggage” counter. If you check in very late (30 minutes before departure), don't be surprised if your bags don't arrive on the same flight as you. This is when the group leader or the travel agent (assuming they are with you) should be of great assistance to you.
Taking all the above into consideration, we strongly suggest you keep some spare clothes (and underwear) in your overnight bag.
If you have not been reunited with your luggage prior to your departure for home, make sure you obtain a claim form (file number, contact numbers, procedure to follow, etc.) from the airline, in order to pursue the case further once you reach home.