NEW DELHI: A week after four crew members of Air India were detained by the Saudi Arabia police because of confusion over their passports, the national carrier has asked its crew members flying to Saudi Arabia to carry additional details written in Arabic with them. Besides identity cards, the airline crew has been directed to carry their names on the hotel letter pad along with the telephone numbers of the hotel, immigration and airport. In an information bulletin circulated internally, the airline’s safety wing has said that it was issuing the direction for crew’s safety.
Last week, the Jeddah police had detained four crew members of the airline after it found that the airline staff was not carrying their original passport with them.
The bulletin states, “AI crew are hereby informed that along with the crew permit and Air India identity cards in Jeddah, you are now required to carry the details of crew names written in Arabic on the letterhead of the Hotel Trident. The letterhead will also have the phone numbers of the hotel, immigration department and airport. All crew laying over at Jeddah are required to comply with the above requirements for their own safety.”
An AI spokesperson confirmed the move to the New Indian Express on Tuesday.
In Saudi Arabia, crew members of all airlines are required to deposit their passports at the immigration office in Jeddah, which issues a certificate. Airline staff deposit this certificate at their hotel and keep a photocopy with themselves. Thus, the staffers only have photocopies of their travel documents during their stay in Saudi Arabia. AI’s crew members were out for dinner a day after their flight from Mumbai landed in Jeddah when a police team approached them to check their travel papers. The crew members were detained for some hours because they were unable to show their original travel papers.
They were released only after the intervention of hotel and Air India’s. Reportedly, a senior pilot of Jet Airways—which also operates flights in Saudi Arabia-- had on June 1 raised the issue of Saudi keeping passports of airline crew on arrival at immigration with the aviation and external affairs ministry. Questioning the practice, the pilot wrote a letter titled “passport retention - Saudi Arabia” to not just aviation ministry but also few other ministries.
His letter stated, “A passport is a citizen’s personal proof of identity and nationality when in foreign land, without which a person’s 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...We urge your office to take cognisance of this issue which is faced by the airline fraternity and find an amicable solution the earliest by coordinating with the appropriate department of Saudi Arabia” Seeking urgent redressal of the problem, the pilot had also said, “The Passports Act, 1967, of India requires that a passport is the property of the government of India and should be in the custody either of the holder or a person authorised by the holder.”