Air travel to Iran was quite a mission just a few years ago.
As a result of sanctions against Tehran, many airlines abandoned their Iran routes following a drop in demand to visit the country home to the most world heritage site in the Middle East.
On top of that, the aging fleet of Iranian airlines made long-haul travel risky, so only a handful of domestic airlines offered limited international flights; limited in terms of both frequency and destinations.
Tourists traveling to Iran were left with little choice but to book indirect flights with one or two layovers, which were both long and costly. However, that is changing rapidly.
Following easing the economic sanctions in January 2016 as part of the nuclear deal between Tehran and the world powers, things changed for the better.
Iranian airlines quickly opened talks with major plane manufacturers including the French Airbus, US-based Boeing and Franco-Italian ATR and placed orders for over 200 long- and short-range aircraft to renovate their fleets.
This, in turn, has allowed domestic aviation companies such as flag carrier Iran Air, Qeshm Airlines to expand their network in every direction, from Europe to East Asia.
Moreover, the lifting of sanctions has opened up Iran to tourism, and the growing demand to visit has prompted foreign airlines to restart their Iran routes, launch new ones, or expand existing ones.
Traveling to Iran has not been this easy in years.
What are Iranian Airlines?
There are 16 airlines in Iran, but some of them only fly domestically.
Founded in 1962, Iran Air (aka Homa) is the oldest Iranian airline whereas Mahan Air (est. 1991) is the largest by fleet size.
Iran Air, Qeshm Air, Mahan Air and Iran Aseman Airlines are popular carriers, particularly for international flights, but alternatives such as ATA, Zagros and Taban are doing very well locally and their international flights (mostly to regional countries) are generally fully booked.
Major airlines are busy renovating their fleet, with Iran Air and Aseman leading the pack. However, smaller carriers such as Zagros Airlines and Iran AirTour (a subsidiary of the national flag carrier) have also committed to purchasing quality jets from Airbus.
The average age of Iran’s air fleet is 24 years right now, but it is expected to drop significantly in the new few years as airlines purchase brand new planes and retire old ones.
The table below outlines Iranian airlines, their fleet size and their international destinations (as of July 27, 2017). Data on the fleet size has been derived from Myaviation.ir and information on flight destinations retrieved from each airline’s official website. Please note that seasonal flights have also been included.
|Airline||Fleet Size||Int’l Destinations|
|Ata Airlines||15||Turkey: Istanbul ; Azerbaijan: Baku|
|Iran Aseman Airlines||39|
|Iranian Naft Airlines||9|
|Sepehran Airlines||5||N/A (regional flights planned)|
|Zagros Air||18||Georgia: Tbilisi|
What flight classes do Iranian airlines have?
Depending on the plane, airlines only offer one or two classes aboard their planes for domestic flights: economy and business. Planes such as ATR are too small to have more than one class and since they fly short distances, you wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the amenities of first class seats.
On long-haul international flights, you’ll be able to choose from standard class options, from first class to economy.
A quick note: Iran Air has ditched the traditional ‘first class’ name and instead promotes those seats as Homa Class.
How much does air travel cost in Iran?
To give you an idea about the price difference of classes, a Mahan Air flight from Tehran to Mashhad costs on average €60 for economy and €85 for business class.
What are the direct flights to Iran?
There are numerous direct flights to Tehran and a handful of other cities from European metropolises including Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, London, as well as smaller cities such as Athens and Larnaca.
Major European airlines such as British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Alitalia offer frequent flights to the Iranian capital, whose ever-expanding domestic air network should make it easy for you to fly to your desired destination.
|China Southern Airlines|
|Thai AirAsia X|
|Ukraine International Airlines|
How can I book flights to Iran?
Flying to Iran aboard an Iranian airline is generally more affordable, so if you’re traveling on a budget and looking for cheap flights, you should consider booking a seat on an Iran-registered airline.
However, as most Iranian airlines aren’t listed on online booking websites yet, you’d have better luck calling up your local travel agency to make a booking.
If there are no direct flights to Iran from your city, don’t fret! Odds are there are plenty of routes to one of the major regional hubs such as Dubai and Istanbul, which have frequent flights to multiple cities in Iran.
How can I book Domestic Flights in Iran?
The main problem foreign tourists might face when it comes to booking tickets for domestic flights is the issue of payment, because international credit and debit cards cannot yet be used in Iran.
While Iran has moved to somewhat remedy that by issuing tourist-specific debit cards offered by select banks, there is another problem that needs to be addressed: Online booking. Numerous Iranian websites allow flight and hotel bookings but the problem for foreign travelers is that most of the websites are only available in Persian.
Still, travel agencies can be found all over major cities in Iran, so all you need to do is get in touch with one and they’ll take care of it.
Is air travel in Iran Safe?
Traveling domestically on airplanes had become somewhat of a risk because most of the aircraft used by Iranian airlines were well past their service life. Things got so bad that in 2009 aviation officials banned Iranian airlines from using some airplanes, particularly Russian-made airplane, Tupolev, which had been involved in numerous crashes.
However, safety level of domestic airlines is going back up with the addition of short-range ATR turboprops to Iran’s fleet of aircraft. Both Iran Air and Iran Aseman Airlines have placed orders for the 70-seat passenger planes that will only be used for domestic routes. Iran Air has already received the first batch of its order and is serving over a dozen routes.
The government has banned the import of planes older than 19 years old, highlighting the fact that air safety is a priority.
Note: Here is list of air crafts banned from operating within European Union due to safety reasons. It would be better to make sure that your insurance covers local flights with listed air crafts or try alternate options if needed.
From which airports can I get visa on arrival?
Iran has 14 international airports, 10 of which issue visa on arrival: Imam Khomeini and Mehrabad (in Tehran), Mashhad, Kish, Shiraz, Isfahan, Bandar Abbas, Tabriz, Lar, and Kerman.
Iranian airports are not particularly eye-catching and are in dire need of a makeover. But don’t let the underwhelming ports of entry put you off; they in no way reflect what awaits you on the other side!
And finally, some General Rules
This section aims to provide you with must-know information about flying to Iran in an easy-to-digest format.
- Depending on your flight class, you’re allowed between 20kg and 35kg of luggage on domestic flights and between 35kg to 50kg on international routes before incurring a surcharge.
- Bear in mind that Iran has a dress code that must be abided before you leave the airplane (for inbound flights). Men must avoid wearing sleeveless tops and shorts while women have to ensure their hair is at least partially covered and wear loose-fitting clothes.
- When leaving Iran, you can abandon the dress code as early as take-off, but it’s best to wait until you’re out of Iranian air space.
- Alcoholic drinks are not allowed in Iran, so don’t bring any with you when getting off the plane. Although, non-Iranian airlines rarely, if ever, serve alcoholic beverages on their Iran flights.
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