A successful Hajj Season 2022 at King Abdulaziz International Airport


25 August 2022



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Ayman Abo Abah, CEO for Jeddah Airports Company, tells International Airport Review how its airport prepared to receive over 450,000 pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage through its ‘Hajj Plan’.

The Hajj is the annual religious pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca undertaken by millions of Muslims worldwide each year. It takes place in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, known as the Hajj season, between the 8th and 13th days of the year. Participation in the pilgrimage takes place at least once in a lifetime, and between two and three million people take part in the six-day ritual each year.

This year, one million pilgrims travelled to the Holy City. Eighty-five per cent of the pilgrims came from abroad for the first time after the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on participation, introduced to minimise the spread of viral infections among pilgrims, led to a two-year hiatus. The Saudi government ensures smooth and safe journey for all pilgrims, many of whom travel to and from airports near Mecca.

Most pilgrims arriving by air do so at King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah and Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz International Airport (MED) in Medina. More than 850,000 pilgrims flew in and out by plane this year, 450,000 of them via Jeddah Airport.

The ‘Hajj Plan’

Major events such as the Hajj pilgrimage present unique challenges for the airport. First, there is an intense arrival phase when pilgrims arrive to complete the Hajj and a complex bus and transport operation. This is followed by an intense departure phase that can put pressure on airport facilities that operate on a fixed schedule – from luggage trolleys to baggage and passenger screening. JED was built expressly for this sharp increase in passenger numbers, aircraft movements and baggage. The airport must ensure smooth and safe travel during the Hajj season.

This could only be achieved if the entire airport community and all external stakeholders worked together as a team in the detailed planning of the peak season. All potential challenges and operational solutions were formulated in an integrated ‘Hajj Plan’, which was developed based on JED’s extensive experience in Hajj operations and with the support of Jedco’s management partner daa International. The ‘Hajj Plan’ encompassed all areas related to JED’s Hajj operations and identified the main risks for an optimal passenger experience. It then worked closely with key stakeholders to mitigate these risks and make the airport’s facilities as robust as possible to meet the demands of increasing passenger traffic.

By involving all stakeholders at an early stage, the ‘Hajj Plan’ was able to accurately predict the additional passenger and baggage numbers that would need to be handled at the airport during the Hajj period and efficiently distribute traffic across the three terminals. The staffing, equipment and logistics plans followed this terminal, airside flight and passenger plan. The plan also identified key arrival and departure days of the season and special operational concerns, notably the visit of 11 Gulf and Arab heads of state and the President of the United States, which was handled at the airport on one of the busiest days of the Hajj.

The 2022 Hajj season was a great success and is a testament to the incredible efforts of MATARAT holding supervision, Jedco’s team, partner airlines, ground handlers and all other stakeholders who worked tirelessly to provide an outstanding experience for all pilgrims and passengers during the season.

Data and experience

This data-driven approach has been made possible through the close use of data collected during previous Hajj seasons, as well as by harnessing the in-depth knowledge and experience of all stakeholders at the airport who have worked intensively together over the years to make the pilgrimage a success. The airport has also been in close contact with the Hajj Ministry and the participating countries to determine the expected number of pilgrims and their respective travel plans and requirements.

When a large airport with multiple terminals is planning a major event such as Hajj that coincides with peak travel times, a solid plan is essential to provide your passengers with an outstanding customer experience. To ensure Jeddah Airport is prepared for all eventualities, solid contingency planning capabilities and business continuity procedures are essential.

Jeddah Airport is planning 50 million passengers in 2023 as a pathway to 114 million passengers in 2030 as part of the KSA 2030 vision.

Ayman Abo Abah, CEO for Jeddah Airports Company, tells International Airport Review how its airport prepared to receive over 450,000 pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage through its 'Hajj Plan'.Ayman Abo Abah is the CEO for Jeddah Airports Company. He has a long work experience of more than 28 years, during which he held many leadership positions, including the Vice President for Operations at Riyadh Airports Company.