Airlines Start To Divert & Cancel Iran Flights

Filed Under: Misc.

Yesterday a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 flying from Tehran to Kiev crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 176 people onboard. US and other intelligence officials are claiming that the plane was shot down by Iran, and there’s even now alleged video footage of the incident.

With the theory of the plane having been shot down now widely accepted by authorities around the world, it looks like some airlines are starting to take action, as we’ve already seen two airlines divert while enroute to Tehran today.

Austrian & Lufthansa divert their Tehran flights

Lufthansa flight 600 was operated by an Airbus A330-300 bound from Frankfurt to Tehran today, and the plane turned around about two hours into the flight, and flew back to Frankfurt. The airline has also canceled their flight for tomorrow.

Austrian flight 871 was operated by an Airbus A320 bound from Vienna to Tehran today, and the plane diverted to Sofia, Bulgaria. The airline has also canceled their flight for tomorrow.

In both cases these diversions came as the airlines learned about the seemingly reputable theory that Iran shot down the plane. I wonder how exactly the crews handled communicating with the passengers in this situation. I doubt they explained what they knew to passengers, so presumably passengers were left to read between the lines.

What are other airlines doing?

Ukraine International Airlines immediately suspended the Kiev to Tehran route after the accident.

A majority of the remaining airlines flying to Iran are from the Gulf region, and they’re continuing to operate flights as usual.

As far as other European and Asian airlines flying to Tehran go:

  • Aeroflot operated their last flight from Moscow on Wednesday, and the next flight is scheduled for Friday, and it shows operating as usual for the time being
  • Turkish operates up to five daily flights between Istanbul and Tehran, and for the time being it appears that flights are still operating as usual, though we have seen some cancelations in the past couple of days (though before this revelation a few hours ago)
  • China Southern canceled their flight from Urumqi to Tehran yesterday

It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds. On the one hand, obviously people still need to fly in & out of Iran at the moment. At the same time, airlines have to prioritize the safety of their crews and passengers.

What excuse do airlines have for not canceling flights?

I guess to think of this a bit differently:

  • The prevailing belief is that the plane was shot down
  • If that’s the case, it’s far from certain that it was intentional/targeted (after all, the flight had more Iranians onboard than any other nationality)

So it’s most likely that a commercial plane was shot down by mistake shortly after takeoff.

With that in mind, what’s the logic for airlines not canceling their flights to Tehran at the moment?

  • Do they not believe that the plane was shot down?
  • Do they think that it has happened once, and therefore it can’t happen again?
  • Do they think it’s worth the risk to continue to operate flights?

Unfortunately Gulf carriers in particular have a habit of not heeding warnings from international safety organizations… I’ll be curious to see if this situation is the same.

What do you think is the appropriate action for airlines to take here?

  1. The better question is why weren’t there proactive diversions and cancellations days ago? Iran and the US both telegraphed that military activity of some kind was likely early this week. In that environment, it would be easy for commercial airlines to be misidentified. It is likely safer for these planes to fly to Iran now.

  2. I just flew in to the USA on Qatar Airlines. I just have to say they are so screwed as really the only way they have to operate flights are over Iranian Airspace with the current blockade. I wonder if at what point the US will get more involved to have the other Arab countries lift the blockade at least for US bound flights as they are putting US nationals at risk…

  3. No Insurance company is going to cover an aircraft fully knowing its an active war-zone or somewhere with projectiles flying around.

    Might have been part to do with that and that people are now saying it was an accident and error on shooting down a civilian aircraft.

  4. I think even a F-16 could land safely at IKA in the next days as no one wants to repeat this accident (if it was). Even Trump wants to deescalate (which is a bit surprising) so i hope everything will be business as usual after a few weeks.

    I have to admit that the LH & OS cancellations are a bit unnerving for me as i’m booked to Tehran on them this April. Hope they don’t cut the route.

    Do we have Information how and if the passengers on these flights where rerouted? TK via IST?

  5. @when I travel the world:
    “Active war zone “:
    I love hearing stupid people spout off about things they know nothing about. Keep up the good work!

  6. Diversions and short term cancellations make sense right now as we are still not 100% sure of all the facts right now. So I’d agree with Lufthansa and Austrian that as a precautionary measure flights should be cancelled for at least the next week.

  7. @fathiss.

    OK, incorrect words used on my part there.
    I know its not a war zone.

    I guess an area that has had recent military activity involving missiles.

  8. Who in their right mind would fly to Iran, unless on Government business. Flights should be cancelled until such time as the details of the UIA flight being shot down is confirmed or disproved.

    Airline are obliged to put safety first. Mistakes are often repeated. Too much of a risk, so if airlines do not officially cancel they are culpable should any more lives are lost and made to pay (preferably by going out of business).

  9. My Austrian flight to Erbil, Iraq has been cancelled the past two days but now scheduled for tomorrow. Don’t mine the airlines playing it safe and Vienna is never a bad place to be stuck.

  10. It amazes me people are surprisedTrunp wants to deescalate. The dude’s foreign policy position during the campaign was to criticize Bush and Obama’s moronic wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya. He also ran on how worthless NATO is. In a nutshell, he is an isolationist.

    What surprised me is that he killed General Salami in the first place. If a war started as a result, he would have lost a major campaign promise (no new wars) and a good portion of his base. Despite what his opposition says, Trump knows he’s done if he starts wars.

    As for the airlines, my guess is Iran is actually pretty safe airlines right now. Iran F’d up big time. They also showed they are afraid of meaningfully retaliating against the US. If they start shooting down airliners routinely, there will be no choice but for countries to attack them

  11. If it was a missile, it was more than likely intentional, not accidental.

    Firstly, other missiles fired were hours earlier. There was no activity at this time. Also, the missile doesn’t just accidentally collide with the plane, or change targets from a foreign base to an aircraft. It targeted the plane and with no other hostile activity in the area, and that it had just taken off from their airport the only conclusion is it was intentional to target that plane, just as happened with MH17 over Ukraine from Russia.

    In such circumstances the only sensible approach is that any country without friendly relations with Iran should cease air traffic. That’s why the Aeroflot service is still intended to continue, since Russian-Iran relations are friendly.

  12. @Anthony

    Exactly right. Iran telegraphed its intention loud and clear to anyone and everyone. That foreign civilian traffic was still merrily flying the skies of Iran and northern Iraq during this point in time is beyond stupid. Would it have broken the airlines’ bank accounts to just suspend flights for at least one lousy week to see what happened? No passengers ever got killed from a cancelled flight yet! Terrible, avoidable waste of life.

  13. At least there are other airlines still serving the airport. I’ve been stuck at OSM for years trying to get out.

  14. @Serge T – Even their European flights have to go through this airspace. I flew them on Monday and Tuesdays this week and both of these flights went through Iranian airspace (which wasn’t the most comfortable feeling). Perhaps QR could ask for a one-time exception (which I’m not sure would happen given how tight the political ideals are).

  15. @fathiss
    @when I travel the world

    I guess you never dealt with insurance companies involving large sums before.
    “Active war zone“ maybe a poor choice of words for the current situation but for insurance purposes, I’m quite sure it’s the first excuse to deny claims.

  16. There is very little the international community can do to insist Iran conduct a full and impartial investigation into the downing of the Ukraine airliner. However, by cancelling all flights into Iran until such an investigation is conducted or started would be a wise move in it’s insistence.

    My two cents is that the airliner was a delayed departure and therefore not expected to be overhead at that position at that time. Combine this with being trigger happy waiting for retaliation over the Iraq missile launch, you have all the ingredients for a total f””up.

    A similiar situation happened when the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air passenger plane.

  17. @davistev
    and factor in these are mobile systems not tied into any central system, all you have to believe is a few exhausted, stressed out, terrified conscripts, or reservists, did not double-check the automatic targeting lock on, and made a bad call.

  18. @MH
    This was a missile for air defence. Iran was probably waiting all night for an american counter attack.
    The people that took the videos has explained that they started filming due to sound of anti-aircraft guns prior to the missile. So the airplane might have been mistaken for an american drone or aircraft.

    Iran has nothing to gain in shooting down an Ukrane airliner, with mostly Iranian people on board. Even most of those listed as non-Iranian are Iranian with dual citizenship.

  19. I am just sad that 180 people had to give their lives for the muscle flexing of idiots. What a tragic ending, the unknowing victims of morons with power. Collateral damage.

  20. I always find it interesting how during wars or escalated military activity, people like journalists or businesses and organisations such as airlines expect that those involved would think about and respect international treaties/agreements/conventions etc etc etc! Even if the leaders are aware of political sensitivities, those pulling triggers or being thrown out in the field have their own lives to think about first. There’s no reasoning, sensibility or common sense in war/military activity! So airlines should not see themselves as being magically protected!

  21. I doubt Iran would deliberately shoot down an aircraft who’s majority of passengers were Iranian.

    The Iranians aren’t the only ones who have accidentally shot down a fully laden plane before killing all. Have a google of ‘Iran Air 665’.

  22. Lucky, Can you tell us how many flights departed around this time? Is it only Ukrainian? If not, would not other flights have been shot down as well if it is a mistake? Why only this plane because system would have flagged other flights as well. And if yes, why did Ukrainian flew when everyone else was not…

  23. Until the Iranians actually admit that the plane was shot down, and that they might have done it (accidentally or not), it seems completely prudent not to fly into or out of IKA and to avoid Iranian airspace if possible.

    When I looked at FlightRadar, it appeared a lot of QR flights were avoiding Iran and entering the Persian gulf right over Basra Iraq and then approaching Doha from the Gulf. But there were some over Iraq that were coming in from East Asia.

    The flights over Iran seemed to be mostly UAE based airlines like Emirates and FlyDubai.

    While Iran was threatening to fire missiles at Dubai, I was surprised to see an Emirates flight from Seattle flying over Iran the day after.

    I think it is more prudent to avoid it. The corridors are getting tight avoiding Yemen, Iran, Syria, eastern Ukraine, etc.

  24. Just checked in on a flight I’ll be taking next week that otherwise flies right over Tehran, EK134, and Emirates now appears to be diverting west around Iran for the time being.

  25. Iran is insisting that they did not shoot down the plane, and they are intent on proving that.

    Oh, wait:

    “Iran is using bulldozers at the Ukrainian plane crash site, which could make it impossible to prove what happened”… 😉

  26. OS did not divert to Sofia, it was already planned to make a tech stop there before it took off (maybe refueling so they don’t have to in Tehran?).

    What changed was that instead of continuing to Tehran after the stop, it returned to VIE (if they had fuel all the way to Tehran, they would not divert to SOF but simply return to VIE).

  27. Mark,

    Your hypothesis fails as this was just one of many flights that took off from their capital airport overnight – in fact 8 passenger planes took off between their general attacks and this plane, and then another 5 or so in the next few hours. It had full id, was being directed by Iranian controllers and was taking off from their own capital airport in the capital city, where all the top equipment and leadership are so their can be no excuses about being misidentified. How you can even suggest it would have any mistakenness of being an American attack craft is unfathomable.

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