Flying to Hajj

Follow the journey millions of Muslims make to reach Mecca for the annual pilgrimage.

Every year, over two million Muslim pilgrims from around the world descend on Mecca to perform the Hajj.

With the convenience of modern air travel, a journey that once took months on camelback can now be completed within hours.

Last year, 94 percent of international pilgrims travelled to Mecca by plane, five percent by land and one percent by sea.

The sheer scale

The Hajj brings together Muslims from all over the world, regardless of culture, ethnicity, sect or class. It is a religious duty for all financially and physically able Muslims to perform the Hajj at least once in their lives.

Every year, the Saudi government allocates a quota of the number of citizens from each country who are permitted to perform the Hajj. This figure is largely determined by the Muslim population in each country.

Over the past two decades, the total number of pilgrims grew from 1.8 million in 1995 to a peak of 3.1 million in 2012. The number of pilgrims declined sharply in 2013 due to an ongoing expansion project in Mecca and Medina, which is expected to be completed in 2020.

One-third of all pilgrims live in Saudi Arabia but the remainder come from all over the world.

Infographic - Where do the pilgrims come from?

If a single plane was filled with all the pilgrims, it would look like this:

Infographic - Where do the pilgrims come from? Figures from 2017

Reaching Mecca

Pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia through one of two airports. Most pilgrims fly to Jeddah, 80km to the west of Mecca. With a dedicated Hajj terminal, this is the busiest airport in the kingdom.

The other option is to fly to Medina to first visit al-Masjid an-Nabawi, the Prophet's Mosque, before making the 450km trip south to Mecca.

Aerial view of Mecca

Jeddah    Medina

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Tracking all the Hajj flights

To get an idea of how many aeroplanes are needed to transport so many people, we set about tracking all inbound flights to Jeddah and Medina.

While the Hajj itself can be performed over five or six days, many pilgrims arrive early, knowing that it may be a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfil their religious duty. For this reason, local Hajj offices facilitate travel and accomodations, offering a range of long (40 days) and short (5-6 days) stay packages.

Flights to Jeddah (July 10 - August 19, 2018): Planes landing in Jeddah

Flights to Medina (July 10 - August 19, 2018): Planes landing in Medina

Total flights 16,888
Jeddah flights 13,128
Medina flights 3,760
Busiest day August 13 - 524 flights
Busiest time of day 11pm-12am

Top flights per country

About 40 percent of all flights into Jeddah and Medina are domestic.

The remaining 10,054 international flights are only the direct routes to Jeddah or Medina. Countries with indirect flights are not included.

The travel paths for each unique departure point is highlighted on the map.

Country Flights
1 Egypt 1,618
2 UAE 1,187
3 Pakistan 1,134
4 Turkey 1,067
5 India 514
6 Indonesia 424
7 Sudan 418
8 Bangladesh 399
9 Kuwait 351
10 Jordan 311

Longest direct flights

The longest direct flights are from the US, Canada and Indonesia.

Pilgrims traveling from further afield must catch a connecting flight. Popular transit destinations include Europe, Turkey and the UAE.

Origin Distance Duration
1 Los Angeles, US 13,409km 14:51
2 Washington, DC, US 10,610km 11:20
3 Toronto, Canada* 10,463km 11:09
4 New York, US 10,243km 10:55
5 Surabaya, Indonesia 8,648km 9:23
6 Manilla, Philippines 8,607km 9:42
7 Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei 8,344km 10:10
8 Jakarta, Indonesia 7,974km 9:18
9 Guangzhou, China 7,538km 9:42
10 Beijing, China 7,220km 8:59

*Saudi Arabia suspended all flights to and from Toronto on August 13 due to a diplomatic dispute with Canada.

Flights by airline

Several airlines operate extra flights to and from Jeddah and Medina over the Hajj period.

The latest figures released by Travelport showed a 20 percent increase in air travel compared to last year's Hajj.

The top 10 airlines by number of flights is presented below:

Airline Flights
1 Saudia 3,572
2 Turkish Airlines 655
3 EgyptAir 583
4 Flynas (Saudi) 554
5 Shaheen Air International (Pakistani) 357
6 Pakistan International Airlines 258
7 AirBlue (Pakistani) 238
8 Air Arabia (UAE) 225
9 Oman Air 223
10 Emirates 212

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