The crew of Indian carriers — Air India and Jet Airways — that operate to Saudi Arabia are a scared lot.
The country keeps the original passport of crew members on arrival and the personnel then have only photocopies of their travel documents during their stay in Saudi. While this practice has always worried pilots and flight attendants, their fears recently turned true when the crew of an AI flight was reportedly detained in Jeddah last Wednesday for this reason. “We operated AI 931 on July 26, 2017. After landing in Jeddah … (three crew members) went for dinner… Our taxi was stopped by Saudi police to check our permits.
On showing them our xerox from immigration and our valid AI ID, we were put in police vans and were told not to use cell phones. Luckily we made a call to (the) hotel and explained the situation and gave our location,” said a message by one of the three AI crew members who were allegedly detained in Jeddah last week.
When asked why they were being detained, the crew says they were told that photocopies of passports won’t do and that original documents should be shown for checking.
They were allowed to leave three hours later. The crew members’ message said the local AI official told them that Saudi was organising a drive to send back illegal immigrants due to which checks have been intensified.
“Technically our xerox permits (passport copies) are invalid and going out is a big risk,” the message says. An Air India spokesperson said the airline was “trying to confirm this from Jeddah administration.”
A senior pilot of Jet Airways had on June 1 raised the issue of Saudi Arabia keeping passports of airline crew on arrival at immigration with the aviation and external affairs ministry. “A passport is a citizen’s personal proof of identity and nationality when in foreign land, without which a persons status instantaneously declines to that of a refugee. (Saudi) cannot be allowed to treat its visitors with such disdain. We enter their airspace and country only at their request and permission,” the letter, titled “Passport retention — Saudi Arabia” and sent to the aviation and foreign ministries, says.
The senior Jet pilot had sent a reminder too, but has so far not received a reply from the government and may move court on the issue.