TRAVEL

That's One Way to Fly The Friendlier Skies With a Saudi Prince

Raptors get their own seats on Qatar airline.

31/01/2017 4:12 PM AEDT | Updated 31/01/2017 6:00 PM AEDT
Naseem Mohammed Bny Huthil / Reuters
A man sits next to his falcon as he waits to participate in a falcon contest during Qatar International Falcons and Hunting Festival at Sealine desert, Qatar January 29, 2016. The participants at the contest compete for the fastest falcon at attacking its prey. Scores of wealthy Gulf Arabs descend on Iraq to hunt the houbara bustard, a rare desert bird, with trained falcons through the winter months. But the kidnapping of 26 Qataris in December 2015 in the Iraqi desert while hunting, including members of the country's royal family, has highlighted the risks of pursuing the "sport of kings" at a time of heightened regional turmoil. Picture taken January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

If only we were all Saudi princes and could fly in luxury ... with our 80 birds of prey in their seats ... and have nothing to fear from immigration officials or President Donald Trump.

A photo posted on Reddit from a Qatar airlines flight in a very, very different world has captured the imagination of viewers who have turned it into a viral hit. The picture of the hooded birds calmly perched on seats was snapped by the pilot of the plane and given to friend “lensoo,” who posted it. 

Raptor plane passengers are not as unusual as they may seem, especially on airlines plying the skies of the United Arab Emirates, where falconry is a popular sport. Many airlines serving UAE passengers, including Etihad and Qatar Airways and Emirates air, allow a certain number of raptors in the cabin or in checked luggage — though 80 is admittedly on the high end. Qatar airlines has a page on its website with details on transporting falcons.

Germany’s Lufthansa even provides a bird stand that allows passengers to keep their falcons nearby during a flight.

The UAE government issued 28,000 falcon “passports” from 2002 to 2013, the Gulf News reported. The falcon passport program was launched by the Ministry of Environment and Water to combat the illegal trade in the birds.

Speaking of passports, it’s not clear where this particular Saudi prince is traveling, but he could have entered the U.S. with no problem (other than possible challenges from an animal control officer), despite President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travelers from certain predominantly Muslim nations. People from Saudi Arabia are exempt from the ban, as are other Muslim-majority nations where President Trump has business interests. Most of the hijackers in the 9/11 attack were from Saudi Arabia. There have been no fatal terrorist attacks in the U.S. by immigrants from any of the seven nations targeted in Trump’s ban.

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