Numerous airlines have announced they are altering their respective flight plans following security threats in Iraq and the crash of a Ukrainian B737 in Iran.

This month, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on airbases housing US forces in Iraq, in retaliation for the US killing of Qasem Soleimani, a general in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), on January 3. This was followed on January 8 by the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines (PS, Kyiv Boryspil) B737-800 shortly after take-off from Tehran Imam Khomeini, killing all 167 passengers and 9 crew on board. the circumstances of the incident remain unclear.

Given these developments, Vietnam Airlines (VN, Hanoi) has said it will reroute all flight routes between Vietnam and Europe to keep a safe distance from areas that might be impacted by rising tensions in the Middle East, according to a press release from the airline on January 8. Even though it has no regular flights to/from Europe that pass through Iranian or Iraqi airspace, the Asian carrier will adjust its flight paths to avoid areas of potential instability despite a consequential increase in journey times and operating costs on these routes.

To illustrate the change in operations, flight VN50 from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City on January 8 routed from the UK via airspace in Netherlands, Denmark, Latvia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Russia again, Mongolia, China and then Vietnam according to Flightradar24 ADS-B data. On January 6, and for all other recent VN50 flights, the same service has routed from the UK via airspace in Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and finally Vietnam.

Vietnam Airlines currently flies from Hanoi to Frankfurt Int'l 6x weekly, Heathrow 4x weekly, Moscow Sheremetyevo 3x weekly, and Paris CDG daily. In addition, it offers services from Ho Chi Minh City to Frankfurt 4x weekly, as well as Heathrow and CDG, both 3x weekly.

This is not the first time Vietnam Airlines has had to reroute flights away from areas of potential conflict. In 2018, the airline diverted its routes away from the Black Sea, as stability in the region was affected by the civil conflict in Syria.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KL, Amsterdam Schiphol) also issued a media release on January 8 confirming that until further notice the airline will not fly through Iranian or Iraqi airspace, amid recent tensions in the region. The airline's statement indicates that a number of its Southeast Asian and Middle East destinations will be operated using alternative routes, while it continues to monitor developments in the region. It did not confirm whether any flights would be cancelled.

In the Middle East, the Skyteam carrier flies to Abu Dhabi Int'l, Bahrain Int'l, Kuwait, Dammam, Dubai Int'l, Muscat, and Tel Aviv Ben Gurion. In Southeast Asia KLM operates to Singapore Changi, Manila Ninoy Aquino Int'l, Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta, Kuala Lumpur Int'l, Denpasar, and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi.

Qantas (QF, Sydney Kingsford Smith) said it was changing its flight routing on its airport pair between Perth Int'l and Heathrow “until further notice,” to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace. The adjustment would add 40-50 minutes to the QF9 Perth-London sector, so the airline would have to reduce its passenger load on this flight to carry more fuel. The airline also said it was considering altering the flight path of QF9 over Asia, and possibly adding a fuel stop in Hong Kong Int'l or Singapore so that the service could fly with a full load. Due to more favourable prevailing winds, the return sector, QF10, would see no increase in its flight time.

Lufthansa Group is also making amendments to its schedule in the troubled region.

“Lufthansa Group Airlines will continue to fly around Iranian and Iraqi airspace. It is not yet possible to say anything about the operational impact of the bypassing of Iraq and Iran. The safety of our passengers and employees always has top priority,” the group said in a statement.

Lufthansa (LH, Frankfurt Int'l) cancelled flight LH600/601 on January 8 from Frankfurt to Tehran, and the A330-300-operated service on January 9 had its departure delayed by three hours. The airline said it will decide on a daily basis on the operation of flights, based on information from national and international authorities.

In addition, group airline Austrian Airlines (OS, Vienna) has cancelled its flights from Vienna to Erbil on January 8, 9, and 10. However, it did operate flight OS871 from the Austrian capital to Tehran on January 8 and 9, although with a six-hour delay on January 8.

Air France (AF, Paris CDG) is also taking mitigating steps to avoid the area. “As a precautionary measure and as soon as ongoing airstrikes were announced, Air France has decided to suspend all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice,” a spokesman said.

On January 7 and 8, the airline's services from CDG to Dubai Int'l, which normally routes via Turkey over Iraq into the UAE, took a more southerly route using Greek, Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian airspace. Other Air France services that may be impacted include its operations to Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, and Bangkok.

Middle East carrier Emirates (EK, Dubai Int'l) also cancelled flight EK941 from Dubai to Baghdad on January 8, citing operation reasons. An airline spokesperson said: “We are carefully monitoring the developments and are in close contact with the relevant government authorities with regards to our flight operations, and will make further operational changes if required.” Its flight EK943 on January 9 to Baghdad operated as per the airline's normal schedule.

Emirates' daughter company flydubai (FZ, Dubai Int'l) also cancelled its Baghdad service on January 8, although its flights to Basrah and Najaf were flown on the same day.