My new job in Dubai will see me travelling frequently throughout the Middle East, Africa and of course back to HQ in FRA. In order to better get to know the markets I’m dealing with, I will try to visit as many of them over the next months. (In fact, I’m writing this trip report on a DXB-IST flight). This will include trips to places one likes to visit and others that are maybe not so pleasant. Teheran probably falls somewhere in between these categories. In any case, it was a destination I was looking forward to getting to know better.
I had quite some difficulty in scheduling this trip because of full flights. Originally I had planned to stay over night and already got hold of an unconfirmed return ticket on Iran Air, but as the date came nearer, flights got fuller and fuller,and I had to look for alternatives. It emerged that only a day trip would be possible, leaving DXB in the morning and returning in the evening, both on EK. I hope I can still fly on IR at some other time. So I boarded the A330-200 A6-EAK at 8:30 in the morning and made myself comfortable in that not-so-popular middle seat in business class, a unique feature on EK’s Airbus fleet (except for the A345). Thanks to the recently enlarged seat pitch, it was OK though, but in my row 2 (the first with the 3 center seats, row 1 only has two because of the narrowing cabin) you have to do without a personal TV screen. Not a big problem for a 2 hour flight though. All in all, in my opinion, the EK “hard product” (i.e. the seats) somehow lags behind major competitors, but this is made up by the very good inflight service, and this 2 hour flight proved no different, starting with the welcome drink and hot towel, and continuing with an excellent meal choice (in this case breakfast) for a relatively short flight. On-time departure was from 12R, followed by a 150 degree left turn very shortly after takeoff to bring us on course to THR. We quickly crossed the Arab Gulf for landfall over Southern Iran, a very mountaineous territory. Cruising altitude was an amazing 40,000ft which the capable A330 reached within less than 30 minutes. Approaching from the southeast, we descended into the high-altitude valley in which THR is located at almost 3,000ft altitude, while the mountains north of the city reach some 15,000ft. With a population of more than 10 million, it was an impressive sight (see Sam Chui’s photos), and the city gives an impression of a modern metropolis from above, with wide alleys and highrise buildings. Mehrabad airport is located some miles west of the center, but now fully engulfed by the growing city. The new Imam Khomeini airport, that is completed but not in operation yet due to internal discussions on who gets to operate it, is located much farther away. As we touched down on rwy 29, I was craning my neck both directions to catch glimpses of all the aircraft that were parked. Here’s a selection of what I saw: 3 Saha 707; TU154 of Mahan and Iran Air Tours; Aseman 727, Fokkers and ATRs; the whole range of what Iran Air has to offer; both ex-LH B747-200s now operated by Air Universal of Jordan; and a huge Air Force fleet, at least 5 707 and even more 747s, the latters seemed to be largely stored, IL76 and Hercs. On remote positions, an ex Iberia A300 used for spares and an Iraqi 737-200! A window seat which would have allowed some snapshots would have been priceless… After a quick taxi, we docked at one of the few jetbridge positions that the Shah-era terminal features. I have to say, the first impression when entering the country is not the best, due to the very sorry condition of the airport terminal. Not much seems to have been done to keep it up-to-date since the revolution, so at least in this regard, the new airport will be a huge improvement. At least airport and immigration staff was friendly, an impression that was reinforced during my stay, that of a very friendly and hospitable people. Of course I couldn’t see much during one day, and our office is in the more modern, affluable and liberal quarters of the city, so I saw modern, open-minded people who are definitely not the foundation of the country’s system and ideology. It was especially interesting to see how girls (and Iranian girls are very beautiful) are trying to test the limits of the official dress code.
After a day of meetings with our local sales colleagues and a bit of sightseeing, time soon came to head out for the airport again. Luckily the evening EK flight back to DXB departs well before the big rushhour of the European carriers when the overcrowded international terminal turns into a total chaos, so my checkin and security procedures were efficient and very friendly again. Due to the full flight, I could only get a seat in economy class, no issue for a short flight, and as it turned out, always better to get to know seat neighbours and talk with them, in my case an Iranian student attending American University in Sharjah, reinforcing my day’s impressions of modern Iranian youth. EK served a full warm dinner with full bar service even in economy on this A330-200 (A6-EAL), what a difference to what we’re used to these days in other parts of the world. Too bad I was still full from lunch and dinner in Teheran, kebab all day long… not much else to report from the return flight, it was dark and uneventful. An ontime landing in DXB on 30R, and the long walk from the satellite Sheikh Rashid terminal through the tunnel to the main building, followed by a quick pass through the electronic fingerscan e-gate immigration system and a visit to the arrival duty free store to stock up on liquors for home, concluded this short trip, which yet left me with many new impressions of an interesting country, with a very interesting aviation scene. Maybe I should return soon to fly on the Saha 707!