Travel, War & Conflict

The politics of a flight

Two months into my travel I made a rather noticeable jump–from Mumbai to Casablanca, that is, from India to just under West Europe. (The Indian immigration official: “Morocco? What’s that?” I pulled up Google Maps for him. “Oh, some place in Africa.”) This isn’t because I don’t care for any of the numerous places in between, but because of complications due to time and politics–mainly politics. I would certainly like to visit countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, etc., but current events make these challenging propositions.

Exhibit A: My flight path.

Normally, a flight path is smoothly curved, unless there are severe weather conditions in a certain region. The most fuel efficient path from Mumbai to Paris must pass over Syria and Iraq, and maybe Ukraine, but my plane noticeably chose to remain in Iranian airspace and move through the Caucasus instead.

As I hoped it would. When I flew from Frankfurt, Germany to Chennai, India in 2004 I noticed we flew directly over Iraq, and I remember thinking, Why is it we’re flying over an active war zone? Perhaps Iraqi insurgents at the time didn’t possess high-altitude anti-air missiles, but who can be sure? As we found out in July 2014 with Malaysia Airlines, this isn’t just paranoia speaking.

And it happened before, of course. In the 1980s the US Navy accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner, thinking it a military aircraft, and the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner, also thinking it a military or spy plane.

My point isn’t that we ought to be terrified of flying because of this. My point is that even 30,000 feet in the air, politics on the ground matter. One could easily think, that in relatively safe and stable Mumbai and Paris (though both have suffered serious terrorist attacks), that their life would be unaffected by the chaos in this region they didn’t intend to visit. But my plane might’ve taken an hour longer than otherwise. It probably spent more fuel.

And that’s just a¬†flight.

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