Thursday, November 12, 2015

Transiting Iranian Airspace

Normally, "fly-over" country refers to somewhere that people normally don't want to travel to. But in this case, Iran is a "fly-over" country that, as an American, I'm not allowed to travel to. But it's totally legit for Americans to fly through Iranian airspace on foreign carriers. Here are my photos from the window of a FlyDubai jet.
JED-DXB
The story starts in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia. Which adds another dimension to my story when you consider the adversarial relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I said bye to our girls, who were still in their beds, but our 3-year-old got up to wave goodbye to me from the front porch steps at 4:45am.

It only took half and hour to go from my home to the departure gate. That's unheard of, as Jeddah is currently considered to be the second worst airport in the world. There was none of the usual street traffic on the way to the airport, no line at check in (sidenote: it's the first time I've checked a bag for a work trip in years), no line at security (they didn't even bother making me take out my laptop). Now, I did arrive slightly before the first prayer of the day, so that may have helped clear out the crowds. But that also meant that all of the coffee shops were closed. A small inconvenience well worth the alternative. .
Jeddah's Airport never looked so good.
The most direct flights the travel agent could book me on connected through Dubai. While I probably could have worked out a way to spend the night there, I think we pretty much hit everything we wanted to see when we took our family vacation in Dubai last May. Here's the annoying thing about going through Dubai: the city has a higher than normal percentage of self-important, pretentious wannabes. While we wait for the initial boarding call in Jeddah, this one older teen in particular perfectly captured everything I'm talking about in one outfit: flat brimmed red hat, Southern frat boy hair, trendy ugly sweater, skinny jeans, paired with what look like womens' flats. And his mannerisms strike me as an entitled little punk.
FlyDubai onboard restroom sign
The early morning flight was uneventful, and I slept through most of it. It was raining in Dubai when we landed.  That entitled punk got put in his place by the flight attendant for getting bag up after landing while the plane was still taxiing. The attendant walked up the aisle, put the kid's bag back up in the overhead, and politely told him to sit down. Bravo, Mr. Flight Attendant, well played.

And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain...
We landed in Dubai while it was raining. We all had to walk down the stairs to the bus in a respectable downpour. It felt kind of nice, so I wasn't rushing to get in the bus (I won't melt), but I kept in mind that wet shirts and air conditioning don't mix well. I did wonder if my checked luggage would be soaked through and though, since Dubai is built to provide shade from the desert sun, not rain.

DXB-ASB
I grabbed some McDonald's in the terminal, and I didn't have to wait long before boarding for Ashgabat. The bus was full of women with colorful headgear. When the first women got on the bus, I thought "oh, this is the traditional Headwear. The second woman got on with what looks like the exact same pattern, and I wondered if the women had one of those "oh no, she wore my outfit" moments. Then more and more ladies got on. I could see at least 4 from where I sat on the plane.
Apparently, this headwear is only for married Turkmen women.
Now, if you know your geography, if I'm in Dubai and headed to Ashgabat, taking the most direct route means that I'm pretty much spending the entire flight headed north over Iran.  As far as I can tell, there's no issue with me being in Iranian airspace since i'm not in a US aircraft. Hopefully we don't have to make an emergency landing, because that would surely complicate things.

But as long as I'm up here, might as well enjoy the Beautiful scenery. Mountain ranges looked like snakes buried in dust; snow capped mountains look like clouds that went to sleep on the desert. of course my window would be so dusty the camera focuses on the dirt and not the landscape. But the window behind me was clean enough, and might actually have been a better angle:

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Here we go!

Those aren't clouds...they're snow-capped mountains!

It looks like a mountainous retaining wall, doesn't it?

Landing in Ashgabat, the rugged mountains of Iran seemed to soften right at the border. Lots of green roofs.

We disembarked down stairs on the ramp. At the bottom of the stairs, a woman with a vest labelled CIP (Commercially Important Person) had my name on a sign and led me to a van that took me to the CIP lounge. There, an expediter with the demeanor of a maître d' greeted me by sight. While that's impressive, I also don't really blend in here, as the flight attendants switched from saying "до свидания" to "Goodbye" while I was disembarking.
Yep, definitely in the former USSR.
The CIP lounge is decked out in brass and cherry wood, warm earth tones and gull gray leather sofas. It's how I'd picture the corporate travel lounges in the 1960's. But no smoking. At first, the staff couldn't find my bag. I wondered if it had made the connection in Dubai or was still sitting there in the rain. But they found it after a second look after I gave them the description of "it's a big red sports bag". I guess the tag fell off. But by the looks of it, my stuff is soaked.
The tea and snacks while I waited for my bags.
Turkmenistan is big on horses,
so it's no surprise they picked this page
for my entry visa.
The drive into town was fantastic. It seemed like all of the buildings were white marble with gold trim. I had a vague sense that I had seen this city before...like in the Hunger Games' Capitol City?

I checked into hotel, then I started to unpack:
All those black marks weren't on there when I checked it in...
Yeah, things got wet.
  • Sport coat & ties: soaked through
  • Shirts: 90% damp
  • Pants: 60% damp
  • Socks, etc: 80% damp
  • Other work gear: slightly damp
  • Exercise clothes: barely damp
  • Swimsuit: bone dry
Are you kidding me? I packed the sport coat in the middle of the bag and the swimsuit right on top. How is it that the one thing in my bag that was both designed specifically to get wet and placed closest to where rain would hit it stayed dry, but the jacket I protected with every other piece of clothing in the middle of my bag fared pretty much the worst? I don't fault the bag, though. This Hiegh Sierra Sportour bags have been extremely versatile. And very easy to spot in the red color.

Now I remember why I used to pack clothes in plastic bags when I was checking a bag.
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