How United Airlines is avoiding Middle East conflict zones near Syria

 United is rerouting several long haul international flights to avoid conflict zones. Photo:  Kurush Pawar /Flickr (Creative Commons)

United is rerouting several long haul international flights to avoid conflict zones. Photo: Kurush Pawar/Flickr (Creative Commons)

United Airlines has started re-rerouting some of its long-haul flights, including departures to Dubai and Kuwait City, to avoid new conflict zones, according to a note distributed to pilots. 

United officials said there are no official warnings recommending airlines avoid airspace near Syria and Iran, but the airline nonetheless took several steps as a precaution. Flights to the Middle East and India are most affected. 

Here's the current plan, straight from United's note to pilots:

  • Until the situation stabilizes, we will route around Iranian airspace and the southern half of the Caspian Sea to avoid the conflict area
  • We rerouted our flights from Dubai and Kuwait over Saudi Arabia and Egypt
  • We rerouted our Indian flights over Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan

I used FlightRadar24 to examine United's Flight 976 from Washington Dulles to Dubai. I tracked two different flights, one on Oct 11 and the other on Oct. 6.

The Oct. 11 flight is the one below that hugs the Southern Italian coast and then crosses the Mediterranean Sea. It then flies across Egypt and Saudi Arabia before landing in Dubai.  

In the recent past, however, United used a different flight plan. United had been flying through Romania and crossing the Black Sea into Turkey before flying on the Western edge of Iran (for a short time near the Syrian border) and crossing the Persian Gulf to reach Dubai. 

As readers know, airlines have been more vigilant about flying through conflict zones since Malaysian Airline Flight 17 was shot down last July over Ukraine.

But rerouting aircraft can be expensive as Air France-KLM Group chief executive officer Alexandre de Juniac told AP last year. “If you lengthen routes, you use more fuel, so it is more costly," he said. 

Of course, local airlines have it much worse than major international carriers such as United and Air France, which only have to reroute a few flights per day. A United Arab Emirates newspaper called The National wrote in July about how new policies enacted after the Malaysia crash have affected the region's airlines. 

"Previously, a flight from Beirut to Amman on Royal Jordanian, for example, would take about an hour — just a quick hop into Syrian airspace and across the Jordanian border. Now that route takes nearly twice as long, with planes flying out into the Mediterranean before cutting down over Egypt," The National said. 

Do you think United made the right call? 

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