- Passengers flying between the UK and India were delayed for more than 36 hours over the weekend, with airline TUI blaming “airspace restrictions” in the Middle East for the travel nightmare.
- Tensions have flared in the region since the US assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week, prompting the US and UK to advise against going to the country.
- TUI ultimately flew passengers on an altered route that did not fly over Iraq, but did not explain what restrictions are in place.
- Many other airlines are still flying routes that take their planes over Iraq.
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Passengers trying to fly between the UK and India were delayed for 36 hours, with the airline blaming “airspace restrictions” along the flight route before it ultimately plotted a route that avoided Iraq’s airspace and flew further from Iran.
The delay to TUI flight TOM30 comes as a number of countries advise their citizens to avoid both Iran and Iraq after the US assasinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week, heightening tensions in the region.
UK newspaper The Independent reported that TUI told passengers trying to fly in both directions: “Due to recent political issues in the Middle East, this has resulted in airspace restrictions along the route of your flight.”
The airline did not clarify what restrictions are in place.
The flight — which took off for Goa from London Gatwick on Monday morning, and was supposed to do so on Saturday evening — ultimately avoided Iraq’s airspace and flew further from Iran. The alternate route took the plane over Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
This is what the flight looked like:
But other airlines are not avoiding flying over Iraqi airspace.
A spokesperson for British Airways told The Independent: “Our teams are closely monitoring the situation. Flights continue to operate normally.”
The TUI plane had last flown the route between London and Goa on December 28, when it went over Iraq, and close to Iran.
This is what that the original route looked like:
EASA, Europe’s aviation regulator, already had warnings for flights over Iraq in place. It identified a “potential risk from dedicated anti-aviation weaponry in Iraq.”
It leaves airlines able to decide if they want to fly over the country, saying airlines are “advised to take this information into account in their own risk assessments and routing decisions.”
The Independent reported that TUI said it would pay each passenger €600 ($671) in compensation, but noted that it was not clear why they were doing so as airspace restrictions are not conditions that require compensation, instead counting as an “extraordinary circumstance.”
Both the US and UK are warning citizens against travel in the two countries.
The UK advises citizens against all travel to Iraq, except for one region where it advises “against all but essential travel.”
The UK advises its citizens against “all but essential travel” to most parts of Iran, and advises against “all travel” to the areas along Iran’s borders. It advises “against all travel” to dual UK-Iran citizens, warning the country does not recognize dual citizenship.
The US told its citizens to leave Iraq after Iran threatened retaliation after Soleimani’s death, and the Department of State warns: “Do not travel to Iran due to the risk of kidnapping, arrest, detention of U.S. citizens.”