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Israel-Iran conflict: Is it safe to fly to the Middle East, and will flights be re-routed?

Simon Calder’s Travel

The world is watching with concern the increasing tension in the Middle East and what its wider impact might be. But already the effects of Iran’s attack on Israel on Saturday night, and wider worries about the unstable situation, has had a significant impact on aviation.

Airline passengers flying to, from or via the Middle East are facing disruption. Flights to and from the UK have been cancelled or diverted, and detours around the region are jeopardising flight connections – particularly at Gulf airports.

What are the rights of disrupted passengers – and for travellers who have safety concerns? These are the key questions and answers.

What was the impact on aviation of the Iranian attack on Israel?

Ahead of the attack most countries in the region closed their airspace to passenger aircraft, leading to many diversions and planes returning to their starting points.

With Israel under attack, all airports in the country were closed – as was airspace in other countries. For example, the Saturday evening British Airways flight from London Heathrow to the Jordanian capital, Amman, travelled as far as Basel in Switzerland before turning around and returning to its starting point.

Passengers on the Israeli airline El Al from Luton to Tel Aviv were diverted to the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Lebanon is one of several countries in the region that the Foreign Office warns against visiting, but evidently the airlines decided it was the safer option. Apart from one Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Dubai, which flew straight over Iran, almost all airlines avoided the entire region, resulting in much longer flights.

What are the consequences?

A good example is MH2, the Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to London Heathrow overnight on Saturday, due to arrive in the UK early on Sunday morning.

The most direct route between the two airports is off-limits because it goes over Russia, from which many airlines are banned. Instead, the usual chosen track by Malaysia Airlines and many other airlines is to fly directly over Iran.

Over the weekend that changed: the plane arrived over two hours late after making a detour over Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Unlike some other flights, the crew did not need to refuel. Some other planes had to stop along the way because they could not reach their destinations safely without taking on more fuel.

But anyone…

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