Iranians ‘imprisoned in their own country’ as more airlines axe flights

JEDDAH: Ordinary Iranians faced being effectively imprisoned in their own country on Thursday after two more airlines halted flights to Tehran because they can no longer make a profit on the route.

Air France, which had operated flights to the Iranian capital with its low-cost operator Joon, will axe the route on Sept. 18 because of what it said was “poor commercial viability.”

Already this month the French airline had reduced its Paris-Tehran connection from three flights a week to only one.

Just before the Air France announcement, British Airways axed its London to Tehran service because it was “currently not commercially viable.”

The last outbound flight to Tehran will be on Sept. 22, and the last inbound flight from Tehran will be the following day. The Dutch airline KLM also suspended Tehran flights last month because of “negative results and financial outlook.”

The airlines are the latest in a raft of international businesses to pull out of Iran in the wake of US economic sanctions reimposed this month by President Donald Trump, after the withdrawal of the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers.

The screw will tighten further in November, when the sanctions are extended to Iran’s crucial energy sector, including its oil industry.

Restrictions on Iran’s access to the global finance system, dominated by the US dollar, are already isolating ordinary Iranians. The cost of flights to their favorite destinations, such as Dubai, Istanbul and major European capital cities, has tripled, and such trips are now beyond most people’s budgets.

In addition, after Trump banned Iranians from traveling to the US, other countries in Europe and the Middle East have unofficially followed suit. Many visa restrictions, lifted as a benefit of the nuclear deal, have been reimposed, and Iranians find travel increasingly difficult as well as expensive.

Bookings by Iranians to overseas destinations have slumped by half, Majid Nejad, the founder of one of Iran’s largest travel agencies, told the Washington Post newspaper on Thursday.

Most airlines charge for seats in US dollars, and the fall in the value of the rial has made dollars unaffordable for most Iranians, Nejad said.

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said last week that airlines would have to use market rates for foreign exchange, which has also increased airfares.

“There is disappointment inside the country,” said Nejad, and many Iranians were frustrated with their government for mismanaging the economy.

“People are more free to travel outside the country, but no one has the money to go. People are seeing their spending power decrease by half,” he said. One Tehran resident in his thirties had intended to visit Turkey in September, but canceled the trip when the cost of the flight soared, he told the newspaper.

“We are in crisis because of the government and people don’t trust the government,” he said, and the continuing problems would lead to Iran’s middle class feeling “imprisoned in the country.”

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