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Travelling to Europe or the US? It’s now a longer flight



Flying from India to Europe or the US has become more time-consuming lately, with longer flight durations and some routes being altered. Despite the unchanged fares, travelers are facing the brunt of this situation in terms of time. The shift in flight paths is primarily due to geopolitical tensions and safety concerns.

Why is this happening, and will it get better any time soon?

Avoiding High-Risk Airspace
Since mid-April, many non-US airlines have been avoiding Iranian airspace due to the Iran-Israel conflict. American airlines, however, had stopped flying over Iran much earlier. The disruptions are not limited to Iran; Afghanistan has been a no-fly zone since August 2021. Furthermore, Western airlines have been avoiding Russian airspace since the conflict in Ukraine began. In addition, some pilots occasionally avoid Iraqi airspace due to safety concerns.

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Impact on Flight Times and Routes
The rerouting around Iranian airspace adds up to an hour for flights between India and the West. Western airlines face even longer detours because they avoid Russian airspace as well. For example, an Air India non-stop flight from Delhi to New York, which overflies Russia, takes 14-15 hours. In contrast, a similar flight operated by United Airlines, which avoids Russian airspace, takes 16-18 hours. This extended travel time has led to some US airlines suspending certain India routes and delaying the launch of new ones.

Safety Concerns with Older and Newer Aircraft

Air India’s older Boeing 777s are equipped with an additional oxygen tank, allowing them to take a shorter route through the Hindukush region to avoid both Afghanistan and Iran. This is crucial for safety, as the high-altitude mountain ranges require a longer time to descend to 10,000 feet in case of emergencies, such as cabin pressurization failure. The extra oxygen tank provides the required supply for overhead masks.However, the newer ex-Delta and Etihad B777s, which Air India has leased, lack this additional oxygen tank. This means they must take longer routes through the Arabian Sea, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and into Europe to reach the West. Moreover, the airspace between the Pakistan-Iran border and Turkey has seen an uptick in incidents involving GPS jamming and spoofing, adding to safety concerns.Signs of Possible Relief
There could be some relief for airlines and passengers. Some non-US Western carriers are considering resuming flights over Iran. SWISS, for example, started flying over Iran on May 1, and other airlines might follow. However, if the conflict in the Middle East escalates again, these plans could quickly change, keeping the skies as turbulent as ever.

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