02 MAR 06 W5 5040 DXB-IKA 2130 2300 TU204-120 seat 10F SU-EAI
W5 = Mahan Air
(one photo shows same aircraft but in previous Air Cairo colours, other shows sistership SU-EAF in full Mahan livery)
Photo © EDDL Photography
Photo © Teemu Tuuri - FAP
My lack of sleep on the flight combined with an all-day wait in Dubai, meant curling up on the floor of Dubai’s very average Terminal 2 was the only option available. And that I did. But not before some drama with my upcoming flight. Excited by the prospect of a TU204 flight, I had rung Mahan Air in Dubai to book tickets, as no travel agency here could get ticket stock to print their tickets (you could book it but not print the ticket). I was assured all was booked and all I had to do was pay for and pick up the ticket on arrival. Well on arrival, I discovered the booking had been cancelled due to non-payment (I had been assured this would NOT happen). However, the staff were great (no doubt because the flight wasn’t full) and were quite happy to reissue a ticket. But it is a warning to anyone else doing this, because had the flight been full, the situation would no doubt have been very different. Also, on the door of the office was a sheet listing all the week’s flights on Mahan. Next to my flight was allocated Mahan’s A320. A little worried, I asked the agent who assured me the TU204 would operate the service, but I was never certain until I actually saw the plane out on the ramp.
The TU204 is aptly called the 757ski – apart from the winglets, it looks and feels like a 757. The interior too, apart from the typical Russian collapsible seats and strange emergency exits (I had an exit row window seat). The flight was crewed by Russians, with a translator and Air Cairo (lessor) official on hand in addition to all other crew. Quite inefficient. And as I discovered is standard on all Iranian airlines flights, there is also a security coordinator who hovers either in or outside the cockpit door for the whole flight and keeps a close eye on passengers. Keep him happy and your cockpit access is fine! Even the flight crew submit to him.
The flight was about 75% full, many Indians getting a cheap deal for a flight onward from Tehran to Delhi. Meal was quite nice, but no inflight entertainment offered. And after less than two hours we glided into land at Tehran’s new Imam Khomeini airport. There I was met by airliners.net reader Mohammad who kindly drove me the long distance from the new Airport, drove me around the empty streets of Tehran (which, if you know the traffic in Iran, is quite something in itself) and finally to the Mehrabad Airport in the centre of town. He also gave me the 5 domestic air tickets for my flights in Iran that he had arranged – booking them from abroad is nigh on impossible (apart from Iran Air)
03 MAR 06 IRZ 164 THR-MHD 0800 0915 B707-3J9C seat 10A EP-SHU
IRZ = Saha Air
Photo © Lukas Kinneswenger
Photo © Sam Chui
Well this is the flight I had been waiting for, and one of the current highlights of the aviation enthusiast’s world… After a late opening to check-in, I got my Saha boarding pass and headed through the boarding gate area (entry is separated for men and women too). To board any domestic flight in Iran, you pass through security twice – once on entering the airport along with all your luggage and again entering the departure hall after check-in. But there is at no stage any ID checks to verify if you’re the passenger the ticket says you are.
We boarded the busses a mere 5 mins before scheduled departure, so I expect a late departure. But we hurtled along the tarmac and eventually found ourselves in front of the old grandma herself: 707-300 EP-SHU, one of two remaining passenger RPT 707s remaining in existence. I could scarcely believe it when I climbed the stairs and entered the 1960s-era cabin, all swathed in green.
Photo © Sam Chui
The flight only had 32 passengers on board – apparently numbers have dropped sharply since their third 707 crashed last year – and we were taxiing a mere minute or so later. No safety demonstration was given, but there were some (battered) safety cards in the seat to consult if feeling nervous. Soon, we were trundling down the runway and it wasn’t long before the 4 tired but true engines had us airborne. Seated in front of the wing at a window, we got some stunning views of Tehran and the mountains as we headed east towards Mashad. After a hot breakfast (quite tasty), I got the best surprise – an invite to the cockpit. Up I went, chatting to the 4 crew in the cockpit (there is also a separate mini-cabin for the rest of the crew between the main cabin and the cockpit – the 707 had a total of 14 crew on board!) and then being offered a jumpseat for the landing into Mashad. Amazing, and whilst they did not allow me to take photos in the cockpit, it was one of the aviation experiences of my life, and highly recommended to others!!!
03 MAR 06 EP 578 MHD-THR 1800 1930 F100 seat 6A EP-ASO
EP = Iran Asseman Airlines
Photo © Yakfreak - VAP
At Mashad, I spent the day with the family of a local Air Traffic Controller who I started talking to on the bus into town, and then late afternoon headed out the airport for my next flight, Iran Asseman Airlines F100 back to Tehran. I initially expected a 727 but it had changed to a F100 before I left Australia, so I had been pre-warned.
The flight was packed for the evening service with 103 passengers on board and 7 crew. Crew numbers in Iran are always higher – not only is there the security coordinator, there is often an inflight engineer (even where usually its not needed) and a fair number of cabin crew.
I had a brief cockpit visit inflight to chat with the crew (I should mention the invites come after I hand a questionnaire sheet to the crew on boarding asking for details on the flight) but the cockpit was too full to accommodate a jumpseat landing. A full hot dinner was served again, with the usual soft drink (Zam Zam is the local Coke equivalent) accompaniment. Newspapers are also offered, and if you’re lucky, the local English-language paper is available.
The flight was once again on time and we were soon back in Tehran.
03 MAR 06 B9 940 THR-SYZ 2145 2305 TU154M Seat 9A EP-MCF
B9 = Iran Air Tours
Photo is of sistership EP-MCE in revised livery.
Photo © Christian Waser
That same night I was booked to fly onwards to Shiraz. I could have flown direct from Mashad, but I wasn’t going to start restricting the numbers of flights now I was in Iran, and after all at around USD20-40 per flight, it didn’t break the bank either!
I was keen to fly on Iran Air Tours, wholly owned subsidiary of Iran Air for their aircraft – all TU154 fleet. Well again I checked in and got my forward window without too much drama and was soon on the bus to the aircraft for an on-time departure.
Iran Air Tours source their planes widely, and many are in hybrid liveries – on the trip I saw a Siberia Airlines tail as well as another I did not recognise. My plane was in full livery, but a little dirty!
The flight was also full. I gave my sheet to a flight attendant, and whilst the sheet was completed, I was informed that the security coordinator had barred by entry to the cockpit, even though the flight crew would have been happy. Oh well, I hadn’t been too badly off so far! But soon after takeoff, one of the (female) flight attendants got me, brought me to the galley, sat me down, offered me extra food and proceeded to chat me up like I have never seen before. I was amazed, especially as I had been led to believe that culturally the concept of a western non-muslim man hitting on an Iranian woman was taboo, and the opposite was even more strange!! Anyway, she was particularly lovely and we chatted the whole flight, after which she gave me her cellphone number and email to get in touch again… amazing!
05 MAR 06 IR 328 SYZ-IFN 2100 2210 F100 seat 7E EP-IDB
IR = Iran Air
Photo © Shahram
After two somewhat eventful days in Shiraz, it was time to head to Isfahan, one of the jewels of Iran. To get to or from Isfahan from anywhere, there is not really any choice (at the moment at least) but to take Iran Air’s F100s. And so that is what I did.
Again, as with every flight, the flight was on schedule and again it was full. I’m not a huge fan of the F100 as it can be cramped when full, and it was certainly the impression it gave me in Iran.
But I didn’t have to worry too much about being cramped too long, because after dinner and an inflight announcement from the flight deck that must have lasted 10-15mins (with the passengers listening attentively and at times laughing loudly – no idea what was said, the English version was short and quite normal!) I was invited to the cockpit. The captain was a very lively chatty guy who told me about everything and anything that came into his head. I was soon invited to stay for landing, and the captain walked me through everything he was doing has they descended and flew into Isfahan. It was a great flight.
07 MAR 06 IR 252 IFN-THR 2200 2255 F100 seat 5A EP-CFH
photo is not of exact aircraft, but same livery.
Photo © Alireza Shakernia
After 2 magnificent days in Isfahan, it was time to leave Iran, via Tehran. My flight to Tehran was a late one, on another F100 of Iran Air. Another full one, with 109 passengers and again on time. I handed in my sheet and headed to my seat. Not 30secs later, the captain, who amazingly was the same from the other night bounded up the aisle with a big grin on his face, shook my hand, asked me how my last few days had been, explained how it was his 6th sector for the day and that he was tired but promised to have me up for landing. And so for the 3rd sector in 5 total domestic flights in Iran, I had a jumpseat landing – this one the most impressive of all, landing at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport with all the lights of Tehran stretching in all directions around us. Magical!
After a final meal with Mohammad, and an hour or so watching late arrivals into Mehrabad (Mohammad was amazing in that he could pick the plane types miles out by their landing light configurations!), most of night was spent on the ground at the Imam Khomenei Airport awaiting the next morning’s flight back to Dubai. There are no good seats to sleep in, so it was the floor that had to do…
08 MAR 06 W5 5041 IKA-DXB 1030 1300 TU204-120 seat 12F SU-EAI
another photo of SU-EAF in full Mahan colours
Photo © Christian Waser
I was hoping that this flight might have been operated by EAI’s sister ship SU-EAF which I believe still also flies for Mahan (I’ve seen a photo of it in Mahan livery, but perhaps it’s been returned), but alas, EAI was the aircraft to take me back to Dubai. The flight itself was uneventful – no invites to the cockpit, and similar service as that received on the flight out.
Comments on Iran:
Flying in Iran is very cheap and easy. If you’re not American or Jewish or haven’t been to Israel, it is now quite easy to get in, with visas available on arrival. Domestic flights generally can’t be booked outside Iran – anyone interested please email me, I have a contact who is generally willing to help, for a small (really!) fee for his trouble. Unlike what the media might suggest, the people are invariably incredibly friendly, generous and helpful and there are usually enough people who speak English around such that you will be able to make your way around. And if you plan on going to fly, please also do yourself a favour and stay a few days to look around too. If there is only one place to go, go to Isfahan. Shiraz would be no.2.
Getting a flight into Iran is easy using the legacy airlines, but you will pay a bit less and have more interesting aircraft if you make the effort to book options like Mahan Air (TU204), Iran Asseman (727 or F100), Iran Air (A310), Kish Air (F50), Caspian Airlines (TU154). All of these airlines fly from Dubai, some from other cities in the middle east. If coming from the East, Iran Air from Beijing will give you one of your last chances in the world to fly a B747SP.
I plan on writing a short guide to flying in Iran with all the info you may need if planning a trip. Please email me if you want a copy.