Canadians grapple with cancelled flights and few travel options after Iran crash

Canadians grapple with cancelled flights and few travel options after Iran crash
The co-owner of Vancouver-based Apadana Travel Corp. — like so many of his travel agency counterparts — has been inundated with calls from frantic Canadians scrambling to get home from Iran or cancel planned trips there following recent tension and tragedy in the Middle East.

“We are really busy because lots of flights to and from Tehran are cancelled and people are calling us from the airport,” Najafi said on Thursday in a rare free moment between helping customers. “People in Iran want to come home as soon as possible and people who have flights to Iran don’t want to go because they think it is not safe.”

A Ukrainian passenger plane carrying 176 passengers crashed Wednesday shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing everyone on board. At least 63 of the passengers were Canadian and 138 of the passengers on the Kyiv-bound plane had connecting flights to Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that intelligence from multiple sources indicates that an Iranian missile downed the flight, though it might have been unintentional.

Iran’s military has denied that a missile hit the airplane.

In the days since, travel agents have been grappling with how to get family members of the deceased to Iran and how to help Canadians in Iran home.

“We had a call from one our clients. Her sister died in that crash and she was calling us from the Iran airport. She wants to go back to join for the funeral, but the flight from Frankfurt to Tehran was cancelled,” Najafi said.

“She said, ‘Is there any way I can go back?’ We made reservations for her for the day after tomorrow, but I am afraid that flight will be cancelled too...Every day it gets worse and worse.”

Some of Najafi’s customers are also anxious to get refunds for flights, but many more are just trying to find a way home to Canada or over to Iran.

Before the crash, many made use of connecting flights in Ukraine. A heartbroken Najafi booked at least six of the victims on their fateful flight through the country.

He said the route was popular because of its low cost.

“It’s cheaper,” he said. “For the Christmas holidays... it was $800 less.”

Lufthansa flights through Frankfurt were also commonly used, but Najafi said some flights Canadian customers could have taken through the German city were cancelled.

The lack of routes and difficulty securing tickets are also being faced by Tony Talebzadeh, the client support manager at Toronto-based Aseman Travel, a travel agency that has long specialized in trips to the Middle East.

“It is a nightmare for people who are trying to get back and go to work or people who are trying to go back and bury their loved ones,” he said Friday.

“There is not much they can do unless they fly to one of the neighbouring countries and go by bus or something.”

Some airlines, he said, have grounded their flights to or from Tehran until the 12th or 20th.

“Since.. the tension in the region, obviously a lot of people cancelled their flights or changed their plans,” Talebzadeh said. “Now with this latest situation...people have put their travel plans on hold unless they were planning to go there on an emergency basis.”

Even before the crash and tensions, travel options to Tehran were limited, said Talebzadeh. Canadians trying to fly to or from Iran have grown accustomed to seeing Tehran’s airport departures board devoid of direct flights.

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Robert Kokonis, the president and managing director of Toronto-based consulting firm AirTrav Inc., did not know of any direct flights between Iran and Canada.

Several airlines have backed out of servicing the country in recent years too.

Despite large Iranian populations in Vancouver and Vaughan, a city just north of Toronto, Kokonis said such service is likely lacking because of sanctions and lower demand that Western carriers experience for such a route.

Travellers hoping to get home this week, he said, can instead fly from Tehran to Dubai, Doha or Istanbul and then catch connections to major Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

“Logistically, they can still get there, but it’s a bit of challenge,” he said.

US blames Iran for Ukrainian jetliner downing, pledges probe

“For a lot of carriers, they have to detour over all these airspaces to get where they are going, so flight times may be longer and there will be higher fuel consumption.”

Air Canada has also rerouted its flights departing Dubai for Toronto to avoid travelling over Iraq. Instead, planes will travel through Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has banned American carriers from travelling in Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace because of the “potential for miscalculation or misidentification.” Meanwhile, Air France and Dutch carrier KLM suspended all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace indefinitely on Wednesday.

Kei Esmaeilpour, the president of the Civic Association of Iranian Canadians, said he heard of many people busy trying to travel between Iran and Canada following the week’s tragic events.

He’s noticed many were intent on heading to the Middle Eastern country to visit family there or make funeral preparations. Cancelled flights and the stress of booking last-minute tickets was weighing on them.

“But what can they do?” he said. “They cannot quit their relations with their families, their parents, their mothers, their fathers, their sisters.”

Even before the crash, he noticed many were already shaken by the deaths of 1,500 people, who were reportedly killed in protests over recent months.
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