United Suspends India Flights Due To US Iran Tensions

United Airlines has taken the cautious measure of suspending its flights to India that pass through Iranian airspace, due to US Iran tensions.

United Airlines B777-300
United cancels flights from Newark to Mumbai over tensions with Iran. Photo: United Airlines.

Following the shooting down of an American drone by Iranian forces over the Persian Gulf, United Airlines released a statement saying it had suspended flights from Newark, New Jersey to Mumbai, India. A United Airlines spokesperson was quoted by CNBC as saying,

“Given current events in Iran, we have conducted a thorough safety and security review of our India service through Iranian airspace and decided to suspend our service. We continue to explore all our options and remain in close contact with relevant government authorities.”

United’s action came about on Thursday, following the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issuing an emergency warning that prohibited U.S. airlines from flying over the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.

Tensions have been rising between the United States and Iran for weeks

Back in early May, citing credible intelligence that Iran or one of its proxies was going to attack American interests in Iraq, the United States deployed a carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf. They also sent four B52 bombers to a U.S. base in Qatar.

Flight path of UA 48 flying over Iran last week. Image: FlightAware

Since then, there have been a number of limited attacks on foreign registered tankers passing through the Gulf of Oman, near to the strategically important Strait of Hormuz.

Downing of the American drone

According to CNBC, the unarmed Global Hawk aircraft was shot down by an Iranian missile in International airspace. It was flying just 45 miles from a commercial aircraft, according to flight tracking applications used by the FAA.

Global Hawk drone shot down by Iran. Photo: Wikipedia

“There were numerous civil aviation aircraft operating in the area at the time of the intercept,” said the FAA.

Now worried about Iran’s willingness to use long-range surface-to-air missiles and the memory of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the FAA have stopped flights over the area of concern.

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July of 2014. It was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over Eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Right now, four murder prosecutions are attempting to be brought against those considered to be responsible.

What are non-U.S. airlines doing?

While quoting a source in the White House, the New York Times said that President Trump cancelled a strategic strike on Iranian military installation at the last minute, as fighters were preparing to carry out their mission.

B777 British Airways taxiing
British Airways and other airlines change routes to avoid flying over Iran. Photo: British Airways

This has surely ratcheted up tensions, and has other non-U.S. airlines cancelling or altering routes that fly through Iranian airspace. British Airways has rerouted all their flights away from the Strait of Hormuz ,as has Australia’s Qantas, Germany’s Lufthansa and the Air France-KLM group.

The latest tensions between the United States and Iran is particularly worrying for some of the world’s biggest long haul airlines, in particular, those that are based in the Gulf. According to reports, Etihad has said that the airline had contingency plans in place but refused to elaborate on them.

If the United States and Iran should go to war, it will cause a major upheaval in air traffic, the likes of which we will not have seen since the United States and its allies invaded Iraq. Simple Flying reached out to United Airlines for comment regarding the Newark to Mumbai flight; they responded saying,

“Given current events in the Middle East and the continued closure of Pakistani airspace, we have conducted a thorough safety and security review of our India service through Iranian airspace and decided to suspend our service between EWR and BOM (Mumbai) beginning Thursday evening.

“Customers flying onboard UA9239 (Mumbai – New York/Newark) will be rebooked on alternative flights back to the U.S. Customers traveling on these flights will experience extended flight times due to a change in our normal flight path.

“We are contacting our customers to provide this update and assist those who may need rebooking options. We continue to explore all our options and remain in close contact with relevant government authorities in order to provide our customers with the most efficient travel experience under these circumstances.”

Have you been affected by the United Airlines route cancellation? Let us know in the comments.