web Musings of The Global Traveller

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A most unusual flight experience

I've flown a lot and so experienced a lot of things that may seem odd or unusual. Sooner or later the law of averages catches up with everyone*, and with my crazy travel schedules it sometimes seems I seek out trouble - even if it is inadvertantly.

* I've had my share of delays, cancellations, bombs exploding nearby, hijacking attempts, temporary terminal reconstructions (just after 9/11), weather problems, go arounds, misconnections, baggage lost, and so on.

However I recently had a most unusual flight experience. I was flying to Erbil (aka Arbil or Irbil), Kurdistan or Iraq depending on your views I suppose. For those unfamiliar with the area, Erbil is in the northeast corner of Iraq close-ish to the borders of Turkey and Iran. Amazingly, there are commercial flights there - on Austrian Airlines from Vienna (the other commercial flight to Iraq is Royal Jordanian Airlines from Amman to Baghdad).

The scenery is spectacular en route - flying over a big mountain range and afterwards the desert landscape. However, that is not the unusual bit. For the last several minutes before landing, and the first several minutes after take-off, are spent in a tight spiral while the aircraft descends or ascends over the city.

Before I took the trip I'd read that Baghdad had this spiral landing but as Erbil is a much safer area I was surprised to experience this. I admit it unnerved me when I realised what was happening. What had I let myself in for?

On the ground immigration was rather simple. As far as I could tell, everyone onboard who was not a local was given a 1 week entry visa (stamp) and advised to register by the 10th day if intending to stay longer. Compare this to the many hours I had spent (or rather the company I use for arranging visas had spent) trying to find information which was absent or conflicting on the entry requirements. Even at Vienna I was almost refused boarding because my nationality was not on a piece of paper of countries which will get granted an arrival visa - it took a conference with a supervisor to decide to let me fly.

I'm glad I went rather than wait out for hostilities to cease in Baghdad. Although it has had a small impact on my travels - I have already been questioned by immigration in 2 different countries about the Iraq stamps in my passport, and I expect to keep getting questions until my passport is replaced (which should be another year to 18 months at the current rate I'm filling it up).

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