Umrah pilgrims stranded for three days in Saudi Arabia

KUALA LUMPUR: A factory manager is frustrated by an umrah agency's lack of care and consideration and poor management after he, his wife and more than 100 umrah pilgrims were left stranded in Saudi Arabia for three days.

Basri Baco, 36, was part of an umrah group that was stranded for two days in the Holy Land and then a day in Jeddah because of flight delays on March 5.

Basri and his wife just returned to the country. They had to wait an extra day before they could return to their hometown in Tawau, Sabah, due to a last minute flight cancellation.

Basri said he was supposed to perform the umrah on Feb 19, but a week before that, the umrah agency changed the departure date to Feb 22.

He said the umrah agency did not confirm his flights when he was told about the date change.

He claimed the flight confirmation came less than 24 hours before departure.

"Luckily, we were ready to fly. But there was no confirmation. We only knew we were supposed to return on March 5.

"A day before we were supposed to return, we still hadn't received our return tickets.

"We were told the return tickets were being processed and we would have to transit in Jeddah.

"After we completed the 'tawaf wida' (farewell tawaf before leaving Makkah), we were placed in a hotel about 3km to 4km from Masjidil Haram while we wait for our return tickets, which were supposed to be processed in stages. We ended up staying there for two days."

He said the hotel is on a hill, so his group had to walk with their belongings as the road was not suitable for large vehicles.

"Senior citizens using walking sticks or wheelchairs had to climb the hill. I helped an elderly lady using a walking stick with her luggage. It was very upsetting and heartbreaking."

Basri said representatives from the Malaysian embassy had discussions with the umrah agency before his group was sent to a hotel in Jeddah, where they spent a night.

"Because of the flight delay and the uncertainty around our trip back, I ended up paying another RM2,400 for our flight tickets back to Tawau because we returned later than expected.

"What the umrah agency did was very upsetting. It shows how unprepared they were. This was not the experience we hoped for, being stranded for days.

"Under the package we paid for, we were supposed to take a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Madinah, then from Jeddah back to Kuala Lumpur. But we ended up transiting in another country and the hotel provided was just disappointing."

Basri said he paid RM10,000 per person for the umrah package and felt he and his wife did not get what they paid for.

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