Flying Qatar Airways on a Route Affected by the Recent Airspace Closures

Jun 10, 2017

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In my previous post, I spoke about how empty Doha’s Hamad International Airport (DOH) was — I practically had the entire Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge to myself and watched as departure screens displayed multiple flight cancellations, representing just a quarter of the flights that would ordinarily be displayed as flying to Dubai (DXB), Bahrain (BAH) and other Middle Eastern countries.

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After leaving the empty lounge, I headed to Gate A4 to board my flight to Larnaca (LCA), Cyprus. The flight was being operated by an Airbus A320, and I’d be traveling in business class, which was arranged in 2-2 configuration. I’ll be writing up a very detailed flight review shortly, but for now, I will focus on what it was like to fly out of DOH on a route directly affected by the recent airspace bans on Qatari-registered aircraft.

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Once I had boarded, the cabin crew member looking after the business-class section introduced herself. In friendly conversation, she asked about the purpose of my trip — you can imagine the look on her face when I told her I would be flying to Larnaca and returning to Doha purely to see how the route had been affected by the airspace ban. She thought it was very interesting and started talking about her love of all things aviation.

By this point, the boarding process was complete. This was my second flight this week where most passengers where on the plane in a matter of minutes. This particular A320 can seat 140 passengers and today’s load consisted of just two passengers in business class (including myself) and 48 in economy. The captain came over the PA system and made a very quick announcement — so quick that I couldn’t even understand what flight time had been mentioned.

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Once airborne, I spoke with the flight attendant looking after my cabin, who confirmed — and apologized — that the flight today would be four hours and 10 minutes long, while normally the route’s average is about three hours and 13 minutes, meaning our detour to avoid the airspace over Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries had added approximately one hour to the flight. Take a look at the usual route here:

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About two hours and 45 minutes into the flight, the purser and I were talking about the airspace bans. The scenery outside indicated we were likely flying over Iran — I could see lots of mountainous terrain and clusters of small towns. She told me she was going to speak with the flight deck to confirm which country we were flying over and where today’s routing would take us. Upon her return, she passed on the following information from the Captain:

  • Our flight plan was to depart from Qatar and instead of heading slightly west (as per the normal route via Saudi Arabia), we would fly directly into Iranian airspace.
  • Once over Iran, for most of the journey, we would follow the border between Iran and Iraq. On the left side of the aircraft, where I was sitting, Iraq could be seen on the other side of the mountain ranges. On the right side of the aircraft, it was all Iran.

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  • We would then be flying to the very top, north-westerly corner of Iran and turning west before crossing into Turkish airspace.
  • Next, we’d fly over Eastern Turkey, heading west along the southern portion of the country before leaving the coast and crossing into Cypriot airspace for our arrival at Larnaca (LCA).

 This was quite the detour. In Iran, we were tracking north, but still not heading toward Cyprus.

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I spoke to two other passengers who said they were frequent flyers on this route and admitted that they “never usually get enough time for the crew to play two films on Larnaca flights,” so they knew we were working with a longer-than-usual flight plan. Other passengers seemed presumably unaware as to why we were making such little but frequent turns in our early cruise over Iran. In terms of the extra time, it gave me a chance to explore more of Qatar’s ORYX in-flight entertainment system, which was provided to business-class passengers via iPad. I’ll get into that more in my review, though, so stay tuned.

Bottom Line

All in all, it was incredibly interesting to watch the detour our aircraft had to take due to the current political situation in Qatar. It’s not good for the airline, which now has multiple suspended routes and will need extra fuel for flights such as this one to Larnaca.

All photos by the author.

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