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Orient – but not express when geopolitics dictates the flight plan

Simon Calder’s Travel

Two-dimensional maps can be deceptive: the shortest distance between two points on the surface of the earth is rarely a straight line.

Take the journey I have just made, on a Korean budget airline, T’Way Air, between Zagreb and Seoul’s Incheon airport. The most direct flight path between the Croatian and South Korean capitals begins by aiming northeast. This “great circle” route cuts diagonally across Hungary; clips corners of both Slovakia and Poland; and continues over western Ukraine, eastern Belarus and – for two-thirds of the journey – over Russia. Were the captain to take the straightest course, the final approach would involve flying over Mongolia, China and a western corner of North Korea before descending to Incheon International Airport.

That, as they say, is not going to happen.

Let’s run through the obstacles. Ukraine has been off limits to civil aircraft since the Russian invasion. Belarus has been regarded as risky since a routine Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was ordered to land in Minsk by air traffic controllers, with MiG fighters intercepting the Boeing 737 by way of friendly persuasion. A Belarusian dissident was removed from the plane before it was allowed to continue to Lithuania. Since then, Belarus air traffic control has not enjoyed a great reputation.

Continuing the putative flight plan: many Western airlines are banned from Russian skies. Others, including T’Way, choose to avoid the world’s biggest country. Yet Russia permits plenty of overflights, including those of Chinese airlines between the UK and the People’s Republic – who enjoy a time advantage over their British competitors.

Mongolia and China allow any airline through their skies, though the latter has carefully prescribed air lanes which can result in some significant zigzagging. And while North Korea’s airspace is open to the aircraft of friendly countries such as China and Russia, South Korean airlines give it a wide berth.

Fast track: the most direct route between Zagreb (ZAG) and South Korea’s main airport, Incheon (ICN) (Great Circle Mapper)

What happens in practice? I found out aboard the latest addition to Europe’s long-haul air schedules, T’Way Air flight TW506.

The Airbus A330 used for the flight is, ironically, an ex-Aeroflot plane. But it flies over Russia no longer, instead taking a much longer course….

Click Here to Read the Full Original Article at The Independent Travel…