Is It Time To Review An Iranian Airline?

Filed Under: Other Airlines

I’ve been trying to review as many new airlines as possible this year, and that’s something I hope to continue next year. As I look at the airlines I’ve flown this year, some of the most enjoyable flights have been on airlines I would have previously considered to be pretty random from a U.S. perspective, like Air Astana.

I’d love to visit Iran at some point (I’ve heard great things from people who have visited), though for now I’m going to hold off on that. That being said, I’m fascinated by the country’s two major airlines, Iran Air and Mahan Air.

American-Business-Class-787 - 14

Due to sanctions in place with Iran (at least up until now, though that’s slowly changing), the airlines have primarily operated second hand planes, given that they haven’t been allowed to order new planes from Airbus or Boeing. As a result, the airlines have pretty old planes and inconsistent interiors.

As I wrote about back in 2013, Mahan Air took over some A340s from Lufthansa, and they haven’t even bothered to update their interiors. The below first & business class cabins should look pretty familiar, as they’re the old Lufthansa cabins.



The timing of this is pretty funny, because for whatever reason I was looking into transit policies for Iran, and best I can tell I shouldn’t have any issues transiting Tehran without a visa using my German passport. So I then started looking at some of the business class fares published by Mahan Air.

Funny enough, just yesterday a reader posted in the Ask Lucky forum asking for a Mahan Air review, and View from the Wing also posted about the “dangerous” cargo Iranian airlines carry.

I’m intrigued by these airlines. Sam Chui has shared his experience flying Mahan Air between Dubai and Tehran. In particular, I found this tidbit interesting:

All Iranian airliners carries security guard in plain clothes, they usually sit near the cockpit and monitor everything in the cabin. On my flight it was no different, the security chief allowed me taking pictures but did checked all of my photo in my camera. We chatted a little although he speaks only Farsi. He seems fascinated about my passion towards aviation and decided to do me a favour by allowing me inside the cockpit! The security has the final say on all matters onboard Iranian airliners.

I sat behind the pilots (2 cockpit crew) for 10 minutes watching a great sunset before we descend into Tehran on a very clear but cool evening. Our cruising level was 32,000 feet at Mach 0.82. The captain told me he flew a range of plane from Bae146 to Tu154, from B747 to A340, impressive CV!  Both pilots were shocked I was only transitting Tehran in just few hours! May be it is another call to visit the land of Persia next time!


Mahan Air has some great business class fares, like between Dubai and Kuala Lumpur (via Tehran) for under $800 one-way.


The one odd thing is that I can’t for the life of me figure out what kind of an aircraft Mahan Air uses on any routes. Maybe I’m missing something, but throughout the booking process I don’t see an option to see the type of plane, select seats, etc. Obviously I’d rather book an A340 than an A310.

So, what do you guys think — would a review of Iran Air or Mahan Air be interesting? Am I crazy for considering this?

  1. Go for it, Lucky.

    I’ve also wondered about the visa issue. I’m an American with an Italian passport, but my Italian passport lists my U.S. birthplace. For most countries, I wouldn’t worry about this, and would just use my Italian passport as an Italian, but for Iran, I’m a bit nervous. Not because I’m afraid of getting in legal trouble, but just because I wouldn’t want to have my travels interrupted — i.e. being unable to visit and explore this incredible country after paying for a flight.

  2. If you can do it, you should.
    You’ll most likely have very gracious and well – intentioned service. Probably very good food. But of course the product will be outdated and no alcohol. So, I guess think of PIA / Air India – inferior product but probably great service and food.
    I’d love to go to Iran. Esfahan is supposed to be amazing. I’ve never been, but my Aussie friends (and others) who have gone have come back with amazing tales. It’s a VERY hospitable culture, and you’d have a great time there. From what I understand, that culture will be in ample evidence onboard an Iranian carrier. Please do!!

  3. Iran is really nice. Most of the people are very nice. There are great places to see and you will find Tehran very different from what most people think of it. Also Isfahan is a truly remarkable city if you decide to see something from the country.

  4. No.

    The religious persecution, the human rights violations, the war crimes, the intolerance of anyone or anything who expresses anything different to the bigoted philosophy of the rulers….

    You have to take a moral stance mate…

  5. Iran activky to this day hangs gay people from so I would do as little as possible to support them. Dont fly them. (Same for Saudis as well)

  6. This is a country where being gay is illegal..

    “Homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, or by execution.”

    To travel there says you endorse that view.

  7. As a natural born American of Iranian descent who has visited Iran many times, I have to say you will be thoroughly impressed with what the country has to offer. The culture and history is remarkable, and the people are downright TOO nice :p

    I must say though, traveling Iran Air or Mahan might not be the best experience as these planes are all old and not very well maintained. As long as you go into it not expecting much from the flights, you should be fine 🙂

  8. Also with regard to the previous post on human rights violations…6 of the 9 Skytrax 5-star airlines are registered in countries with plenty of problematic policies…

  9. I would have severe reservations about visiting Iran, maybe sometime in the future if some of the hostility ever goes away. I’m sure the people there are nice and there are some fascinating sites, but the rhetoric from the government would lead me to stay away.

  10. Not much Petter N., if Trump imprisons, tortures, or stones to death anyone whose religion he dislikes.

    We’re all still astonished that your country have elected him….

    But that’s side-tracking this post! 🙂

  11. I’m headed to Iran next year and am a fellow travel blogger. Would love to do some guest posts!

  12. Lucky your El Al excuses are getting old. You’ve visited countless countries nobody cares to go to but Israel which is the most vibrant country in the middle east isn’t on your list. Its starting to get old. And now you want to visit a terrorist country and give business to these airlines. Good Luck

  13. I’ve flown both Iran Air and Mahan Air, short haul. They’re fine airlines. All my flights were uneventful, and the service satisfactory for short flights. I’d fly them again in a heartbeat.

    Don’t let politics deter you from visiting a beautiful country with the most hospitable people on earth. Iran is full of gems, a far cry from the picture in US media. Do yourself a favor and see more than the airports (which are nothing to write home about.)

    Let’s not confuse the government and the people.

  14. I looked at google flights and it said that the DXB-IKA flight was on an a300 and the IKA-KUL flight was on an a340

  15. Leon – while in theory this is Lucky’s choice to fly El Al or not, I do want to remind you that Israel also presecutes Palestinians, has built a wall to divide families and illegal builds settlement on stolen land and against UN provisions. So if you want to call it like it is, calling Iran terrorist is in line with calling Israel and occupier of land. Both evils of the same coin, so let’s not call one innocent and the other evil.

  16. I am going to Iran in March, and am quite excited. If you’re going with the intention of seeing any of Iran, rather than just transiting the airport, I would say that the visa issue can be an ordeal. I am in the middle of that process, though I also don’t have a German passport to fall back on, which is probably easier.

    Americans (And some other western citizens), supposedly, have to be with a guide at all times. I am taking a 2-week tour and even had to arrange guided transport from the airport into Tehran. So, if you’re planning to visit then it may take more legwork than usual. Assuming I am approved for a visa, I am sure it’ll be a great trip.

  17. “The religious persecution, the human rights violations, the war crimes, the intolerance of anyone or anything who expresses anything different to the bigoted philosophy of the rulers….”

    Trump’s America.

  18. Why don’t you visit Iran too? Something TPG would never do!

    But yes, a review of Ana Iranian airline would be awesome!

  19. if you were my boyfriend I wouldn’t be ok with it but that’s between you and Ford. be careful. It’s going to be a very long time before I’d ever feel safe setting foot in that country as an LGBT American.

  20. Wait on it. Just this week there was a string of stories about Iran signing a $17 billion deal for 80 Boeings (including 15 773s and 15 779s) and another set of Airbus planes. All new. I guess you could review them now, but you’d just be back in a little while.

  21. It has been estimated by human rights groups that 6000 to 9000 men and women have been executed for being homosexuals since 1979. But it appears that the last person executed for homosexuality was 4 years ago. I think there is a difference between ‘taking a stand’ for human rights and deciding not to visit a country where you can be executed for who you are. But hey, it has been 4 years since any gay executions, so maybe they are all cool with it now…..(sarcasm).

  22. @TJ
    Personal safety is not an issue in Iran for (visiting) LGBT folks. The monstrous treatment of local gays has been at the hands of the remnants of the loony-fringe revolutionary guard.
    Tehran is a charming city.

  23. I find the soapbox speeches from this comments section really troubling. I don’t believe in violating human rights, whether it’s my country’s new Moron-in-Chief, the IDF, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Duterte, Erdogan or anyone else. On the other hand, travel transcends supporting the government of the country you visit—it’s about meeting people there, breaking down barriers, two-sided stereotype shattering and lots of amazing, human things.

    Not to mention the fact that I’m sure every single one of you has visited a country with a checkered human rights record…

  24. The issue with visiting the Islamic Republic of Iran is that the government has a history of jailing Americans without legitimate reason, making up false/fraudulent charges, and then trying to use the American as negotiating pieces to get what they want. This is a different situation than visiting a place like The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has strict laws, the judiciary follows Sharia Law, and the King has absolute power there, but if you obey their laws you will not be thrown in jail or executed.

  25. Robert, I am not taking a human rights stance when I choose not to visit a country that executes gays. I am taking a stance of not getting executed because I am gay. It’s not a ‘soapbox’, its self preservation. Same reason I don’t smuggle drugs into Singapore. I want to leave a country in one piece. And, yeah, I know its been 4 years since they executed a person for being gay, but since the law is still on the books, I would be pretty stupid to visit. And yeah, I know its supposedly only for the locals, etc. But I hear people tell women the same thing about the UAE, but there is always a western woman getting arrested for being gang raped in the UAE, so you can’t tell me it doesn’t happen.

  26. Do it and have fun! And there plenty of eye candy, too (I don’t find the “typical European” look –on men especially– too appealing).

  27. I often wonder when I see posts like this if Lucky is making the popcorn as he is typing so he can sit back and enjoy it while reading the comments of all the people that buy goods from China and other oppressive countries but tell him not to go somewhere.

  28. Yes, you should review an Iranian airline. But you should also finally review El Al, as everyone keeps asking you to do. Ideally, you would do El Al first, so you don’t have to answer Israeli security agents’ questions about what you were doing in Iran.

  29. Oh, please, yes!! Go! But only if you devote a couple of days to exploring Tehran, which is a one of the most intriguing & fascinating cities that I have ever experienced. And this is coming from a very openly gay guy. BTW, there is a discrete gay scene in Tehran that is centered around a couple of cafes in the northern areas of the city.

    Please disregard the comical doom & gloom hyperbole espoused by some of your readers. The traffic is horrendous, the pollution is noxious, and the hotel situation is abysmal. But it will be a trip you’d never forget. I’d love to go back to visit Isfahan.

    And, of course, we would love to read your impressions of Mahan Air.

    I do have to agree with others that reviewing El Al would be a noble goal for 2017. And Tel Aviv is another fascinating city that you should experience!

    Can you imagine the traffic OMAAT would get–and what an adrenaline rush it would be–if you managed to combine Mahan Air/Tehran and El Al/Tel Aviv into the same trip!?! It would certainly be possible.

  30. Our dear friend, @Credit, is quite correct: Iranian women are beautiful. And Iranian men are quite handsome. Yes, this is a gross generalization but there is some truth to it.

  31. Lucky can you imagine how famous you would be if they put you in jail for a few days on spying charges and then trump’s son goes to successfully negotiate your release.

    Free publicity for you and your blog, serious chops for that neanderthal son of trump and free restitution for iran for setting a gay jewish man free. Set it all up before you head out. I only see major upside in this.

    Your blog is famous in entire America, Europe and middle east.

  32. Iran is easily on the top of my list of places to visit, but for non-Americans, you lose US ESTA visa waiver if you visit, meaning applying for a visa for future US visits which is just ridiculous and stupid. Same situation with Iraq, otherwise Erbil is also high on my list.

  33. @Paolo and others, I’m not commenting on the hospitality of the Iranian people. I do not trust the regime. This is a regime where being “merciful” would be sparing me, Lucky, or others like us the death penalty and only giving us prison, lashes, and others. All it takes is one Iranian religious official to decide to make a stand by imprisoning the gay American and we’re in trouble. As others have pointed out, this is a country with a history of kidnaping and jailing Americans, and those weren’t “degenerates” that they can claim their religion requires punishment of. It’s also a country we don’t have established diplomatic relations with, relations that our new President seems to have zero interest in improving, never mind his generally low regard for foreign policy and diplomacy to begin with. I’d feel the same way about traveling to the African countries where Christian nutjobs similarly persecute the LGBT community.

  34. no, you’re not crazy. I visited Iran in 2011 for about three weeks. Fascinating country and lovely people. Don’t miss Shiraz, Esfehan, and Persepolis. Tehran has some interesting sights too. I took some intra-Iran flights and those flights were not impressive.

  35. Lucky,
    As a long time reader of your post and having visited Iran, I can speculate that your Iranian transit visa will probably be denied. American tourists coming to Iran with a travel guide have had their visas rejected just recently and the Iranian immigration does stringent background checks after the fallout of a British adult movie star slipping into Iran for a nose job.

    Use your German passport and apply through the online Iranian visa agents to see if you get authorization from the Iranian MFA.

    Politics aside, its a wonderful country to visit. Don’t miss Persepolis, Pasargade and Alborz mountains.

  36. I hope everyone bashing you don’t buy goods from the Chinese ‘regime’ where gays are banned from being depicted on tv. It’s an interest idea, having relative moralism. Where is your line? My line? I keep it to myself because I choose to live it and not think everyone needs to live by my personal standard. But if you support a regime that refuses to believe gay people exist and shouldn’t be seen on tv, but won’t support one because a regime took the next step of actively harming gays, you should be ashamed.

  37. @TJ’s comment was very thoughtful.

    I love traveling to some of the more challenging destinations. But @TJ gave me reason to pause. He brought up the issue of traveling to some of the more zealously homophobic East African nations. Would I travel to Uganda? God no. Yet, I would have no problem traveling to Iran. This smacks of hypocrisy on my part. But I can’t help but feel that, on a societal level, hatred of gays is far more prevalent and real on the streets of Kampala than on the streets of Tehran.

    Nonetheless, I really appreciate @TJ’s opinion.

  38. The difference between Saudi and Iran is that the Saudis are officially our allies but it’s citizens hate us ( HINT 9/11). Iran is at a government level antagonistic towards us but its citizens generally love us. They actually held a candlelight vigil after. 9/11 and so many of their citizens come to the US to study.

    On the other hand I did fly Iran Air late 1980s on their Tokyo-Beijing-Teheran route. It was a single class no alcohol and frankly not recommended. I would however recommend visiting Iran

  39. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Mahan Air (but not IranAir) because of its links to the IRGC and role in supporting the Syrian regime.

  40. If you want to review an Iranian airline, do it on a “fifth freedom” route (If/when they have them). For the reasons already stated above, it isn’t worth risking your life to review an obscure airline if the result is touching down in Iran. The incoming president of the US isn’t going to be nearly as inclined to give the mullahs whatever they want in exchange for US hostages taken by Iran. You have a huge web presence. You will not be unknown to the authorities. They will know you are American, and will know your sexual orientation. Either of these is enough to end your days. As a fan of your work, I urge against this. There’s being “worldly,” and then there’s being reckless…

  41. Yeah, US citizens need to be guarded in Iran. Europeans lose their ESTA because of US paranoia. Anyway it is on my list.

  42. @ Marcus

    Try googling the number of Saudi students studying in the US on government funded scholarships, or the number of Saudi tourists visiting the US every year.

    To say that 30 million people hate a country based on a terroist attack by 11, or that 80 million love it because of a vigil after them, is just comical.

  43. It’s been said before in this thread, but as an American who currently lives in Israel (but doesn’t fly ElAl) I’d love to see you review it finally. I’m not sure if you are Jewish or not, but it really doesn’t matter for traveling to Israel. See things here, some amazing and unique, others problematic. The problematic here is nothing like what you would find in Iran. It seems silly to ignore traveling to Israel again in favor of traveling to the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism.

    I’ve been reading for years I think now and will continue to do so. But I’d really like to see Israel higher on your list (maybe next spring when Tel Aviv gets a second Starwood property, the W).

  44. First of all as a Iranian i have to say you are more than welcome to visit our beautiful country and you have
    absolutely nothing and i mean nothing to worry about .
    right now Iran has a ” open up to the world ” policy and with that in mind the country gives on arrival visit
    visas to nearly 90% of his visitors .
    Due to the Sanction ( until now ) i have to say they did a great job maintaining the aircraft and keeping them flying and there is nothing to worry about regarding your flight safety .
    both airlines that you mentioned ( specially Mahan air ) have a great for the safety and quality of the flight
    i encourage you to visit our country .
    One more thing ; there is a short video called ” Dont go to Iran ” in youtube ; you can always watch that too 😀

  45. Please excuse my ignorance as I have never gone through the process, however…

    Despite the fact that the Iranian stamp (if applicable) will be in your German passport, are you not asked the question when applying for global entry as to whether you have visited any high risk countries?

    If so, whilst there will be no proof in your US passport, you, as a high profile individual may be unable to answer this question without causing yourself future travel problems (risk of not being approved for GE next time around?)

    Please do not get me wrong, I am an avid reader of the blog and have had many countless hours of enjoyment from it and new reviews are always read as soon as they are posted, I just worry that for the sake of 1 / 2 airlines (there are many more to try without these) you may find travel difficult in the future, deterring you from taking certain trips?

    I would love for people to reply to this comment and tell me I am wrong, as I said I have never been through the process and if so I look forward to the reviews!

    Thanks for all the good work!


  46. Sam is awesome! I flew on the Iran Air 747-SP and 747-200 last year thanks to Sam. Even as a US passport holder it’s ok to transit in IKA. Good luck! Mahan Air is on my list as well so hopefully you get to fly Mahan soon so I can read your review. I’m not 100% sure but if Iran Air hasn’t retired its 747s, try to fly on those!

  47. America has a lovely human rights record…. notable achievements include guantanemo bay and the invasion of iraq.
    Nobody complains about you flying AA/delta/united though hahaha

  48. While we are considering less explored airlines, how about Cubana? Who knows that will happen with Cuba travel after the inauguration, so there is a limited window to go now. And I’d love to read your review of HAV airport, which will have to go down as one of the world’s worst.

  49. @Lucky,

    this reminded of me of the time TPG went to Turkey had was branded SSSS for a few months, which caused some issues for the the immediate travels. Given how much you fly, this is an opportunity cost to consider.

  50. When I visited Iran in 2013, I took Mahan Air for several internal flights using Fokker 100. Its not exactly SQ but its not much worse than AA, United or Delta – probably a tad lower than AI but better than PIA.

  51. From Iran: Mahan Air is great. Great service. Excellent Persian dishes. Quite a few new airplanes too. Mahan Air somehow got these new planes from an Iraqi airline.

    Recent flight Tehran Dubai on the new plane. The astonishingly beautiful flight attendant lifted one overlap covering the back of her seat, pointed to the logo of the US carrier under the overlap, and with her face becoming a big smile, said proudly: “see! It’s new! We just got it! If they want to get it back, they have to come here,to get it!

    Iran Air,has great international flights. Food is great. Last time I flew Europe to IKA. Excellent and friendly service.

    Iran has,the least expensive public ground and air transportation in the world. $60 for a 2-hour flight across the country.

    Bed and breakfast at

    Hotels also inexpensive. But better to stay with Iranian families. Guests and visitors treated well due to the ancient 4,000 year old culture of Iran which operated along with China the most ancient trade route in the world, Silk Road, for hundreds of years.

    To those,self-centered racist, ignorant, brainwashed dudes who wrote,nasty things about Iran: would you go to a Native American tribe and say, listen since your,culture does not support men sticking their pennies into stool or diehrerra-filled rectum of another man, we are not going to aporove of you? Can’t you just respect an ancient civilization and respect their,way I feel life and after your trip go back to your nation and do the above act if that pleases you?

    For Americans who have visited Iran, search YouTube.

    If you’re a mainstream media junkie, you will be pleasantly surprised and walking around the streets of Tehran, wondering: “why was I lied so much to about this place?”

    Iran is a 4,000 year old civilization. You will definitely enjoy your time here.

  52. @Sohrab Lavasani:

    I said in my posts that my concerns dealt with the Iranian government, not the Iranian people. If you claim to speak for your people, you only make them sound as messed up as your government.

    “To those,self-centered racist, ignorant, brainwashed dudes who wrote,nasty things about Iran: would you go to a Native American tribe and say, listen since your,culture does not support men sticking their pennies into stool or diehrerra-filled rectum of another man, we are not going to aporove of you? Can’t you just respect an ancient civilization and respect their,way I feel life and after your trip go back to your nation and do the above act if that pleases you?”

    Wow I don’t even know where to start with this. If you don’t like how men have sex with each other, that’s fine, but resorting to using inflammatory imagery to make it sound gross and disgusting is disrespectful and homophobic. there’s a lot of things that straight people do that I can find gross, but hey, if they enjoy it, more power to them. I respect their differing sexual tastes enough to not publicly, and disparagingly describe their preferences with exaggerated (and inaccurate) obscenity.

    Your culture may be ancient and full of incredible achievements, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect everything that it teaches. Some very sophisticated and celebrated ancient cultures have practiced and believed some very horrible things. I find nothing respectable about a belief which leads to misery, suicide, and execution for people just because of who they are and who they love, nor one which prompts people to insult and demean a wonderful and beautiful bond between two people. I tell you what, I’ll respect your beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong if you respect my right to love who I love and express and enjoy that love without fear of disparagement, harassment, or legal prosecution.

    “You will definitely enjoy your time here.”

    Not if who I am is going to be viewed with the sort of contempt and disgust you expressed here.

  53. Reading all this it seems to have lost its thread. I flew from Shiraz back to Teheran last month. Wife and I were upgraded to a Businees class seat. Seems like they only sold economy but luck of the draw put you in first, business or coach ( 3 cabin plane). I hadn’t taken any pictures on the plane but took the in the airports under the watchful portraits of the Iman’s. Some of processes like gaining access to the gates is a bit confusing, otherwise quite normal.
    The worst part of the whole visit is departing the International air port, complete mayhem, endless queues for checking, pass port control, and security. The sad thing was that it was only the foreign visitors jumping the queues.

  54. I would not do it even for a transit. I’m gay like you and the risks are too great. Even if u use your German passport the ability of your Government to assist is limited if something goes wrong like a technical fault or mechanical issue with the onward connection. This is even more dangerous with a Trump presidency. The Iranian experience is not consistent and that is the danger you would face.

  55. I think you should go. I’m Iranian and grew up in London, my father worked for Iran Air for over 35 years. I’m a huge aviation geek and I think if you have the same sentiment you should definitely visit Iran. I recommend you visit as many cities as you can, it’s like experiencing the evolution of aviation in one trip. I think it’s a very exciting time for Iranian airlines as they have just purchased new planes from Airbus and Boeing. You should also look up the history of the airline you can see its had a huge love affair with aviation for decades. I’m really hoping the new planes will put them on top of their game again! They would benefit from your perspective on what makes a great airline.

  56. I’m late to this post but found it when I was searching for Paris–> Tehran air fare. (I live in Paris and Air France just started direct flights in May 2017, in addition to the other companies offering flights). I visited Iran in 2013-14 with my Iranian (then) boyfriend and it was amazing. Food, history, natural beauty, hospitality of the people were all excellent.

    I definitely recommend it as a travel destination – we went in December/January and were able to go skiing Dizin (north of Tehran) and then scuba diving in the Persian Gulf (Kish Island) the next week. A portion of the trip was visiting his family, but we also went to the Caspian Sea in the North plus explored Tehran.

    I’m an American but have a French passport with my US birthplace listed and had no problem getting a visa, although we did have a friend an the Iranian embassy who may have helped ease the process.

    We flew Mahan Air from Tehran to Kish Island and it was ok- nothing terrible, nothing special. Our first pilot was a woman, which I really liked!

    Definitely go if you can and do let stories about their politics deter you

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