How Middle Eastern politics is trebling flight times

Qatar Airways is counting the cost of its country’s diplomatic spat with four Middle Eastern neighbours. Not only has it been banned from flying to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, over Qatar’s alleged backing of terrorism (a claim denied by rulers in Doha), it has been banned from entering those nations’ airspace too. 

That means circuitous routes to dozens of destinations, journey times longer for travellers, and and spike in its fuel bill. Flights to Lagos, Nigeria, for example, now begin in an easterly direction. 

While trips to Tunis must go north, via Turkey and Greece.

Middle Eastern politics has long been inconveniencing fliers. The distance from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, and Amman, the capital of Jordan, is 192 miles as the crow flies. That’s around the same (a little less, in fact) as the distance between London and Manchester. Yet a flight from London to Manchester takes around half an hour, while the trip between the two Middle Eastern cities lasts up to 90 minutes.

That’s because airlines don’t go as the crow flies, but choose to avoiding both Syrian and/or Israeli airspace. Royal Jordanian’s roundabout route was highlighted by Lizzie Porter, formerly of Telegraph Travel. 

It is confirmed by the website FlightRadar24:

Conversely, Middle East Airlines, on services linking the same cities, has no such qualms about flying over Syria – though it still steers clear of Israel: 

EgyptAir also avoids Israel– but does pass over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, despite the shooting down of Metrojet Flight 9268 over the region in 2015. 

Numerous other airlines, for political and/or safety reasons, also shun the shortest route. El Al, the Israeli national carrier, routinely avoids flying over Arabic countries. It means more time in the sky for passengers heading east. 

Much of Iraq is avoided by carriers too. Here’s Turkish Airlines’ favoured route from Istanbul to Kuwait, which skirts the north of the country.

North Korean airspace isn’t the best place for jets flying out of Seoul – as this flight route shows.

The Ukraine has been a no-fly zone since MH17 was shot down near the Ukraine-Russia border in 2014. Airlines now skirt north…

…or south.

According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), six countries – Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, North Korea and Iraq – are completely off-limits to commercial airlines. That means a longer flight from Cairo to Casablanca…

…and from Addis Ababa to Dubai:

For more on where is and isn’t safe to visit, see the map below or check out the Foreign Office website

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