How Middle East airspace closures may affect your travel

Jan 8, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

A number of major airlines have adjusted flight paths to avoid flying over Iranian and Iraqi airspace following a rise in conflict in the region. Iran has fired multiple missiles against Iraqi military bases housing United States-led coalition forces in retaliation for the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad last week.

The military escalation prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority to ban all American carriers from flying over Iran, Iraq, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

If you are flying to, from or over this area, here is what you need to know.

Related: Here’s what you need to know about travelling to the Middle East right now

Cancelled flights

Lufthansa, Emirates, Egyptair and FlyDubai have cancelled services to both Iran and Iraq, effective immediately, with Emirates advising it is monitoring the situation on a constant basis.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic do not operate scheduled flights to either country.

Longer flight times

CNBC reports a number of major airlines including Air Canada, Air France/KLM, British Airways, China Airlines, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic are now adjusting their flight paths to avoid flying over Iranian airspace, with some of these airlines also avoiding Iraqi airspace.

Two British Airways planes, one Boeing 747-400 and one 777-200ER, both operating scheduled services from London Heathrow (LHR) to Dubai (DXB) diverted to Istanbul on 7 January rather than entering Iranian airspace, according to the BA Source. Flight BA134 operating from Mumbai (BOM) to Heathrow on 8 January took the unusual flight path below, before eventually diverting to Athens (ATH).

As you can see from the image below, Singapore Airlines flight SQ317 from London (LHR) to Singapore (SIN) on 4 January 2020 flew a more or less straight line over Iran to its destination.

SQ317 LHR-SIN 4 January 2020. (Image courtesy of FlightRadar24)

But the same flight SQ317 on 7 January took a less-direct route in order to fly around Iran, rather than over it.

SQ317 LHR-SIN 7 January 2020. (Image courtesy of FlightRadar24)

For airlines avoiding the airspace, aircraft will take longer to reach their destinations as they have to fly farther in a more indirect way.

Qantas has already announced the airspace avoidance would add 50 minutes of flight time to its marathon nonstop 787 Dreamliner service between London (LHR) and Perth (PER). Executive Traveller reports that the airline will also block more than a third of the Dreamliner’s 236 seats in order to operate the ultra long-haul route nonstop westbound, though it may add a refueling stop in the future in order to operate the flight with a full cabin of passengers while still avoiding the airspace.

FlightRadar24 has released an interesting image showing how some European airlines are avoiding the space by flying indirect paths.

For long-haul flights especially, it’s common for airlines to pad their published schedules, meaning the scheduled flight time is longer than the time it will usually take for the plane to fly from origin to destination. If you’ve ever departed on a flight late but still arrived on time, or even early, this may have been because of the padded schedule.

Where airlines do pad their schedules, the slightly longer flight time alone should not affect the airline’s ability to arrive on schedule. For example, flight SQ317 on 7 January landed early, even with the indirect flight path.

Your flight may depart slightly late, should the inbound aircraft arrive late because of an airspace-avoiding indirect flight path and an insufficiently padded schedule. This can then have a knock-on effect where airlines have tight turnaround times and may lead to airlines slightly adjusting their schedules to account for longer flight times.

It’s a good idea to check any upcoming bookings you might have where your aircraft will fly over the Middle East to see if your scheduled departure or arrival times has changed — especially if you have a tight connection.

U.S. airlines do not have scheduled passenger services in the region, but U.S. cargo carriers do — and they’re avoiding the area of possible conflict altogether by flying over Saudi Arabia. Here’s a UPS flight from Delhi, India (DEL) to Cologne, Germany (CGN), giving the Gulf and Iraq a very wide (and expensive in fuel burn) berth on Wednesday.

Unaffected flights

Reuters reports that a number of airlines are still operating over Iran and/or Iraq airspace, including Air Arabia, Emirates (noting it is not operating flights to these countries), Etihad, FlyDubai (noting it is not operating flights to these countries), Norwegian, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.

Live pictures of aircraft in the Middle East. (Image courtesy of FlightRadar24)

Note that the FAA ban only applies to U.S. civil aviation operators, which the above airlines do not fall under the definition of.

Etihad has advised TPG that it “has air robust contingency plans in place in case of unexpected changes to air routes though is currently continuing to operate normally”. However, for passengers who want to change their travel arrangements, the airline says to contact the Etihad Airways Contact Centre on (+971) 600 555 666.If you are uncomfortable with the idea of your flight passing over the airspace in question, you should contact the airline to firstly confirm if the flight will do so, and your options for refunds to change to an airline that is not.

Qatar Airways is already subject to significant airspace restrictions in the region as a result of the long-running Gulf blockade, meaning flights to destination like Western Europe already have to fly in a fairly indirect way.

Qatar Airways flight path from Doha to Barcelona. (Image courtesy of FlightRadar24)

If Qatar Airways chooses to also avoid Iraq and Iran airspace as well, it is likely to have a significant impact on its ability to operate flights efficiently and profitably, as there will three large adjoining countries the airline cannot fly over (Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq).

Featured image by FlightRadar24

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.