It’s not all that uncommon to find animals on airplanes these days, whether they’re pets or emotional supports, but one Saudi prince took things to the next level for his avian flying companions. On a recent flight in the United Arab Emirates, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family reportedly purchased individual seats for each of his 80 falcons, and a photo of the falcon-filled plane is taking off (pun intended) online.
Reddit user lensoo posted the shot of the birds perched in coach, along with a few scattered human passengers, in a thread on Monday. “My captain friend sent me this photo,” the photo was captioned. “Saudi prince bought ticket for his 80 hawks.” [Note: the poster incorrectly identified what kind of birds they were.]
As strange (and ironic) it may seem for a flight to be filled with birds, the practice of transporting falcons on planes in the Middle East isn’t actually all that unusual. According to Business Insider, falconry is a popular sport for the the Middle East elite (Dubai has both a high-end falcon hospital and a museum dedicated to the birds) and has been for thousands of years, though it’s not exactly clear why this particular falconer needs so many.
One Reddit commenter pointed out that Qatar Airways allows a maximum of six falcons on board per customer, and Gizmodo reports that Etihad Airways allows falcons in the main cabin or as checked baggage. The falcon is the national bird of the UAE, which may explain why several Gulf airlines are equipped to transport them.
But it’s not all smooth soaring for these birds of prey to fly commercial; Atlas Obscura points out that all falcons who fly must be issued a passport, valid for three years, for air travel in the UAE in order to protect them from smugglers. No photo is required, but the birds must be fitted with a leg ring with an ID number corresponding to its passport.