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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Falcons on a plane: Birds get business class treatment with flydubai

Frank Kane's family get a surprise on a flight to Azerbaijan. Not only did the falcons get their own seat - they were in business class too.
Falcons and their owners at the flydubai business class check-in at Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 2. The birds were on their way to Azerbaijan, where there was much more prey and where the Azeris were eager to learn the art of falconry from the Emiratis. Photo by Frank Kane
Falcons and their owners at the flydubai business class check-in at Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 2. The birds were on their way to Azerbaijan, where there was much more prey and where the Azeris were eager to learn the art of falconry from the Emiratis. Photo by Frank Kane

Last week Dubai sent a top level delegation to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to further develop trade and financial relations with the Caspian country.

On Sunday night, at Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 2, I witnessed first-hand evidence of the strong relationship between the two countries.

I was dropping off my wife and daughter for a visit to Baku (my wife’s hometown). They were queuing to check in for the overnight “red eye” when my daughter suddenly burst out: “Look daddy, falcons”.

A keen ornithologist and regular poser for the falcon-on-arm pics, she knows her birds of prey, and she was dead right: there, at the flydubai business class check-in, were at least half a dozen birds – some in travel cages, some on the arms of their handlers, some sitting patiently while waiting in line.

It was one of those Dubai moments when you think: “It could only happen here”.

I had a quick chat with one of the bird’s owners, who told me they were going to fly the birds in Azerbaijan, where there was much more prey and where the Azeris were eager to learn the art of falconry from the world recognised experts, the Emiratis.

Once on the plane, I was informed in a series of excited calls from my daughter on the tarmac that the birds and their owners had taken over the business class section, and were obviously seasoned flyers (which makes sense: they are birds, after all). They were quieter and better behaved than some of the passengers in economy, my wife told me.

But flying live birds in the cabin of a modern aircraft? Surely that was against the rules?

Not at all, it turns out. Flydubai informs me that the only livestock allowed inside the cabin of their planes are crustaceans, fish and some reptiles. “And falcons of course,” the airline’s spokeswoman explained. “As you know, they are very special birds.”

So special, in fact, that they must have their own seat, on which a special cloth is spread for the duration of the flight to avoid accidents. Think falcon mid-air turn-down.

On this particular flight, the owners had booked out the entire business class cabin, which I guess was obligatory. Imagine settling in for your flight to Baku, trying to prepare for the day’s meetings there, and finding a falcon in the seat next to you. Disconcerting.

In fact, travelling falcons are a pretty regular occurrence on flydubai routes. “We treat them the same way we would VIP passengers and frequent flyers. Once an entire plane was chartered to take some birds to Bahrain,” the airline’s spokeswoman told me.

Do they get air miles? Use the airport lounges? Shop in duty free? Get bumped up to first class? Is there room for a whole new category of air travel – falcon class? The mind boggles.

fkane@thenational.ae

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