Falcons on a plane: First class treatment for birds of prey

Falcons on a plane: First class
treatment for birds of prey


Story highlights
Several Middle Eastern airlines allow passengers to take a falcon on board with them.
The birds are status symbols in the Middle East

Between 2002 and 2013, the UAE government
issued more than 28,000 falcon passports
Ahmet Yasar posted this viral photograph of tens
of falcons and says they were traveling to Jeddah
in Saudi Arabia.
(CNN) — Have you ever boarded a flight dreading
who might be your neighbor for the next few
hours?
Maybe they'll snore, or encroach on your personal
space, or perhaps it'll be a screaming baby.
Passengers flying on Qatar, Emirates, Etihad or
Royal Jordanian Airlines, however, have a unique
type of neighbor to worry about -- the pet falcon.
On these Middle Eastern airlines, the birds -- which
have their own passports -- are permitted to fly,
most often perching on their owners' arms.
Status symbol
In the Middle East, falcons are the ultimate status
symbol.
And it's become routine for some falcon owners to
have their birds join them, un-caged, aboard flights
-- no matter if they're traveling in first class or
economy.
This week, a photograph of a cabin full of the
treasured birds went viral on social media.
Ahmet Yasar, who posted the image on Reddit ,
told CNN that the falcons were traveling to Jeddah,
in Saudi Arabia, and that the photograph was taken
by a friend who works as a pilot.
While flying with falcons in the cabin area is not
unusual, to have this many on board at the same
time is extremely rare -- with commercial airlines
usually restricting flights to a maximum of six
falcons at one time.
A symbol of courage,
determination and freedom
Falconry, the sport of hunting with falcons, dates
back hundreds of centuries and has become such
a significant part of the Middle East's culture that
UNESCO has added it to its Intangible Cultural
Heritage of Humanity list .
Traditionally, the birds were used as a way of
obtaining food but nowadays they're kept as pets
and used for sport.
Cultural expert Nasif Kayed , from The Arab
Culturalist, told CNN falcons can cost anywhere
between 2,000 dirhams ($544) and 70,000
dirhams ($19,058).
"It depends on what you're looking for and how
much money you have, of course," he said. "It
depends on the breed -- some are (bred) for
speed, others are for long distance hunting."
In the United Arab Emirates, the birds are required
to have their own passports, issued by the Ministry
of Environment and Water, to combat smuggling of
the birds. The document is valid for three years
and costs about $130.
Between 2002 and 2013, the government issued
more than 28,000 falcon passports .

Kayed says the birds can be trained within a matter of six weeks and Emirati men develop a strong relationship with the animals.
"For us, they represent courage, perseverance, determination and freedom."
Source: CNN

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