If one has traveled the Middle East from the Gulf routes, chances are they have had a falcon sitting next for a passenger.
This week, a photograph of a cabin full of 80 falcons went viral on social media. The photo was first posted by Ahmet Yasar on Reddit after his friend, a captian, piloted a flight with the birds to Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah.
But if falcons traveling on flights might seem unusual for westerners, it is normal for those living in the Gulf Arab region.
Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Royal Jordanian Airlines allow falcons to travel on their flights so long as they have passports and are given their own seats and are safely perched on their owner’s arm.
On Qatar Airways’ website, passengers are “permitted to carry one falcon on board the Economy Class passenger cabin of an aircraft, and a maximum of six falcons are permitted within the Economy Class cabin of an aircraft.”
For Emirates airline, animals are not permitted in the cabin of their flights, “with the exception of falcons between Dubai and certain destinations in Pakistan,” according to their website.
In the UAE, falcons are even issued their own passports complete with details about its origin, sex and specific breed. They are issued by the Ministry of Environment and Water in collaboration with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.
While Gulf carriers have been open to allowing falcons onboard, regulations to allow the wild bird inside other airlines has been slow. However, German Lufthansa is being considered one of the first European airline to develop a ‘Falcon Master’, a patented bird-stand that will “enable VIPs to bring their falcons on board while keeping them nearby in the cabin during flight.”