By Haider Najm.
Passengers forced to sit in the aisle because of overbooking, others missing flights because the plane left early. Flying in Iraq isn’t exactly glamorous as Iraq’s national carrier struggles to restore its prestige. And now corruption investigations are also underway.
On September 4, passengers waiting for an internal flight from Baghdad to Erbil, in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan, were preparing to board their Iraqi Airways plane north. They were supposed to leave at 5:30pm. However the flight was delayed twice and only, after much misinformation and several false starts, did it leave at 10:30pm.
By then, some passengers had already set off overland – the road trip to Baghdad takes between five and six hours but is dangerous, both in terms of security and because of road conditions. The highway between Baghdad and Erbil is mostly a single lane blacktop divided only by a white painted line, along which everyone, from fast moving 4WDs to huge lumbering trucks, must drive. Accidents are common.
The other problem for Iraqis travelling by land is the tough security at the border to Iraqi Kurdistan and its major cities: if ordinary Iraqis arrive here without the right paperwork they may well be turned away and have to go all the way back.
But Iraqi Airways refused to compensate passengers who were delayed, some of whom missed expensive flights to Europe.
And the passengers stranded in early September are not the only ones. Despite efforts since late 2004 to restore the “green wings” to their former glory, Iraqi Airways is still plagued by problems and flights are often delayed or overbooked.