Some Emirates flights to the United States are needing to make refuelling pitstops in Stockholm and Toronto, adding up to nearly three hours in total flight time, because of ongoing tensions in the Middle East. Like many airlines, Emirates is currently diverting flights around Iranian airspace after the downing of Ukraine Airlines flight PS752 near Tehran last Wednesday.
The Iranian airspace restrictions have created a nightmare for flight planners at the Dubai-based airline with crew and passengers alike not finding out about flight changes until they arrive at the airport.
The worst affected flights are Emirates’ services to Dallas Fort-Worth and Houston in Texas, although other flights to Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco are all taking more than two hours longer than scheduled because of the new routing around Iran.
On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Emirates flight EK221 to Dallas, operated by a Boeing 777-300 was forced to divert to Arlanda airport near Stockholm for refuelling. Passengers and crew are said to have remained on the plane on the tarmac at Arlanda for around two hours before continuing their journey to Dallas where they arrived just over three hours late.
A similar situation occurred on Emirates’ EK211 service to Houston on Monday which had to divert to Toronto for refuelling before continuing on to its final destination.
Other U.S. bound Emirates flights, such as those to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York JFK have all been arriving around two hours late in recent days after avoiding Iranian airspace.
Sources claim the need to divert will continue for some time with extra flight time and delays to be expected for the foreseeable future – although not all flights will need to divert for refuelling.
Refuelling stops will only be needed when the aircraft weight, because of the passenger load and cargo weight, is so heavy that a direct flight isn’t possible. Both Houston and Dallas are said to be cargo-heavy routes which is why these two flights have needed to divert for refuelling.
Return flights back to Dubai are suffering extra-long delays because of the need to provide flight and cabin crew with adequate rest after such long duties on the outbound flight.
Qantas has previously warned that it might need to add a stopover in Singapore for what should be its direct Perth to London service because of the Iranian airspace restrictions. At present, flight QF9 is still operating direct to London but with a passenger payload restriction in order to keep weight down.
Emirates was urged by the UAE’s civil aviation authorities to “evaluate flightpath risks” after Iran admitted shooting down a Ukraine Airlines Boeing 737 with the loss of 176 lives. In a statement, Emirates said it had taken “precautionary measures including rerouting all flights away from areas of possible conflict.”
“We are carefully monitoring the ongoing developments and are in close contact with the relevant government authorities with regards to our flight operations, and will make further operational changes if the need arises,” the statement continued.
Emirates has urged passengers to check their booking and flight updates via its website because of possible short-notice changes.