There were more birds than humans on a recent flight in the Middle East. A Saudi prince bought tickets for all 80 members of his team of falcons.
For obvious reasons, the birds are tied to their seats, and cloths are placed underneath them. They also look to be wearing some type of bird helmet that covers their eyes. It doesn’t look like the most enjoyable form of air travel for the birds seen in the picture, though perhaps the top hunters are chilling up front in first class with the prince.
Falconry is a popular sport for the affluent in the Middle East, and it’s common for seasoned falconers to be training multiple birds at once. Though 80 birds on one plane is certainly an anomaly, airlines in the Middle East are not unfamiliar with having raptors onboard. This is especially true in the United Arab Emirates, as Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both hubs for the gentlemanly sport.
As pointed out by Atlas Obscura, falcons in the UAE are actually eligible for their own passports, which allow them to travel to Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco, and Syria. One can imagine that this particularly large group caused quite the holdup at customs.
Etihad Airways states on its site, “We accept the carriage of falcons in the main aircraft cabin provided that all the necessary documents have been obtained. We also accept falcons as checked baggage.” Qatar Airways says that it allows up to six falcons per aircraft, so for his flock, the prince clearly booked an airline that’s more accommodating to the winged community.