Iranian Airlines first flew in 1946 and it merged with Persian Air Services in 1962 when the aviation industry was nationalised forming Iran Air, making them the oldest airline in the Middle East. The logo of the airline is the mythological Homa bird, copied from the ancient ruins of Persepolis, a popular Iranian tourist attraction. Pre-Islamic Revolution Iran favoured US aircraft and the airline amassed an impressive number of Boeings during the 1970’s to serve its global network. Iran Air extravagantly placed an order for two Concorde’s in 1972 to satisfy a whim of the Shah. The 1979 Islamic Revolution resulted in the end of flights to the US and an embargo on aircraft spare parts to the airline. In 1988 a US warship in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iran Air passenger jet killing 290. In recent years Iran Air’s aging fleet has been partially blamed for an increasing number of accidents. Sanctions prevent the airline renewing its Boeing and Airbus fleet so they have ordered 35 new Tupolov Tu-204’s from Russia. In May 2010 most of Iran Air’s fleet has been banned from EU airspace due to safety concerns. Iran Air also operates a cargo division and Iran Air Tours, mainly carrying religious pilgrims.
You can’t really complain about the service onboard Iran Air, as there seldom is any. Staff seem unable to smile and just do their jobs. On domestic flights they thrust a newspaper at you whether you want one or not and on international flights disappear into the galley once they’ve finished dispensing meals. Forget the call button; you’ll never get a response. Interiors are drab and staff uniforms match interiors. The inside of the aircraft look as old as they are. Announcements are in English and Farsi and if a ladys headscarf falls off a polite announcement will inform passengers ‘in the interests of public morality, ladies are reminded to wear their head scarves at all times’.
Until 2010 when the EU caused Iran Air to suspend many services, their network was extensive. Their domestic route map, covers all of Iran comprehensively with Tehran’s second airport, Mehrabad as its hub. International services use Tehran’s modern new Imam Khomenei Airport 30km from the CBD. Iran Air also operate a few international services to Persian Gulf destinations from other Iranian cities. Domestic flights are frequent.
There is a big difference in Iran Air’s prices. Domestic flights are unbelievably cheap, while International fares can be pricey, especially considering negative aspects of their service. Foreigners will pay higher prices than Iranian nationals on domestic legs, but still it is cheap.
Iran Air’s catering is generous, especially for short cheap domestic flights where passengers are still served meals or large snacks. On international routes servings are large and tasty but presented as unmistakable airline cuisine. Economy meals are served in aluminium or plastic trays while Business passengers dine off china. Iran Air’s menu is a selection of authentic Iranian cuisine and can be very delicious on occasions. Naturally there is no alcohol and the airline serves Zam Zam drinks rather than Coke or Fanta.
Iran Air’s entertainment is behind the times. They have an inflight magazine with a genuinely interesting selection of stories, in Farsi, and larger aircraft will screen a film from the older style large screens at the front with volume from headsets. On domestic flights passengers are given either an English or Farsi newspaper. Crew automatically assume all non-Iranian looking passengers can read English.
Iran takes airport security extremely seriously and so-called US anti-terrorism measures seem token in comparison to Iran's. Passengers baggage will be examined before check-in and all passengers will have nougat taken off them as it resembles plastic explosives. Security also conduct thorough body services in a very polite and discrete manner. While US security measures seem a formality, Iranian ones appear to be very real. Check-in staff are pleasant, efficient and baggage allowances are generous. Bags are handled carefully.
Iran's Business Class is called Homa Class and comes straight out of the 1970's. Essentially it is a larger seat, better meals served with nicer cutlery and access to the Homa Lounges, which are pleasantly appointed and distinctively Iranian. Domestic flights are economy-only however Gold SkyGift members can use the lounges before flights. Long haul flights serve genuine Caspian Sea cavier to Homa Class passengers.
Iran has deregulated aviation and there are plenty of airlines to choose from both domestically and internationally. Given the sanctions that limit new aircraft purchases to Russian models, most Iranian airlines fly older models which are in need of updating. Despite this Iran Air has a better reputation than some of its rivals such as Iran Aseman Airlines or Mahan Air. Domestic flights are so reasonable, it's not even worth bargain hunting for cheaper competitors while international flight prices are standard. Iran Air is generous with baggage allowances and does provide large meals. So if you’re a big eater with lots of bags you might like Iran Air.
Iran Air’s loyalty scheme is called SkyGift. It works like other programmes when it works at all. Points often fail to appear on members accounts and staff seldom consider members for upgrades. No other airlines have partnered with this scheme and it is of negligible value to anyone outside Iran. Innovatively Iran Air gives 100 points for each hour an international flight is delayed. Gold members can also book free transfers between Iranian airports and the CBD. Whether the 'limousine' is actually there for you or not is another matter.
Iran Air does not seem to be the best run airline and Iran’s competitive deregulated aviation sector seems to be making things worse. The Iranian Governments solution seems to be offloading the airline onto the private sector and it has been scheduled for privatisation. Staff are poorly paid and lacking in enthusiasm at all levels and the company is administratively top heavy with managers who seem unable to make quick or good decisions. The airlines safety issues, especially in the European Union had been predicted long before they came to a head, so Management ought to have taken corrective action years ago.
Iran Air has been partially thwarted by US sanctions in replacing their aging fleet. The US forced Airbus to cancel an aircraft order due to US manufactured components in Airbus planes, so Iran Air turned to Russia who were thrilled to receive the largest export order for aircraft since the fall of communism. The 35 aircraft Iran Air ordered are still awaiting delivery and in the meantime rubber bands and sticky tape seem to be holding their ancient fleet together. WikiLeaks cables show Boeing has been lobbying the US Government to allow them to sell to Iran, without success. Counter terrorism measures include sky marshalls on all flights, including short domestic routes. If you see a burly wrester seated near the back on the aisle, it’s probably the sky marshall.
An unmistakable Iranian experience from the moment you step on board. Can be very cheap.
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