Today’s headline in The Times tells of a Union Jack being burnt in Iran and the temporary arrest of our ambassador in Tehran. Things are not looking great and there is a lot of concern that these sentiments could spread throughout the region.
Security teams around the world – including the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) – were quick to caution travellers planning to visit the Mid-East and North Africa after the US attack which killed an Iranian general, and recommended that anyone already in affected countries should consider returning to the UK.
Advice against travel has been issued for Iran and Iraq, but the FCO has also sent updated warnings for visitors to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Egypt and other popular destinations in the region. Existing advice against all travel or all but essential travel to certain areas of those destinations remains in place.
A CNN report stated that, “Destinations previously known as safe tourist havens are now also the subject of official warnings highlighting the risk of violence and potential terrorist attacks," but in fact, many of these destinations have carried a significant risk for years.
Turkey and Egypt, for example, have experienced regular attempts and acts of terrorism, from shootings of police and military targets to an attack on a tourist bus in Giza towards the end of 2019.
The risks are no doubt higher now than they were last month, but they’re by no means new. Safe Journey was created in 2016 due to a growing international risk of terrorism affecting travel directly or indirectly – 2015’s downing of flight 9268 from Sharm El Sheikh was one of the devastating attacks that showed us how necessary cover for acts of terrorism had become.
Flights: Who Is Affected?
Following the surface-to-air missile strike on a Ukrainian flight on Wednesday 8 January, which killed all 176 people on board shortly after take-off from Tehran, a number of airlines have diverted flights which would normally fly over or close to Iranian and Iraqi airspace.
The risk of flying near the region had already been noted the previous day when Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases which are also used by the US military.
Diversions may add to total flight time, so you should check with your airline if you have connecting flights or other transportation booked.
A few airlines, including Emirates and Qatar Airways, are not changing their routes. These airlines say there is no cause for concern as they are flying recognised passenger routes and fly well above “conflict” altitude. A member of our team will be flying from Dubai to Stansted tomorrow and has been assured by the Emirates contact centre that Dubai’s recent heavy rains are far more likely (but still quite unlikely) to delay or affect a flight than any tensions in the region!
If you have booked a flight with an airline that will be flying over Iran/Iraq or if you’re going to a destination such as Turkey or Tunisia, you may want to cancel, and that is a decision everyone must make for themselves using all the available information. Please note that you won’t be able to get a refund though (Qatar Airways confirms that its standard terms and conditions apply) and it’s impossible for travel insurance to cover this cancellation. It would be classified as “disinclination to travel” but without an actual attack having taken place.
Safe Journey is one of the only policies that covers cancellation/disinclination to travel, and that’s if an act of terrorism actually takes place – within 40 miles of your destination, up to 6 weeks before your scheduled departure – read our Policy Wording for full details, Ts+Cs.
Threat Of Terrorism
As we have noted above, there was already a significant risk of terrorism in many Middle Eastern and North African destinations long before the Iran-US situation escalated.
“The U.S. Embassy/Consulate General in the UAE advises all U.S. citizens of heightened tensions in the region," according to one alert last week. "U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness."
International security experts are concerned that the situation is heightening the risk, and that there could be a focus on “Western interests", especially those linked to the USA. Last night’s Union Jack flag burning reinforces this sentiment.
What should we do?
For now, the FCO is advising travellers to pay close attention to news and events and remain extremely vigilant if they’re in the Middle East or North Africa.
Fodor’s Travel has categorised the relevant destinations as a guide to its readers, although it’s important to remember that these are educated guesses, not certainties or guarantees of safety.
Their list features:
“Proceed With Caution”
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- Saudi Arabia
“Reconsider For Now”
We sincerely hope that the situation doesn’t escalate further and that tensions in the entire region subside, but please be alert and take care if you do travel while this is going on, and make sure you’re comprehensively covered in case any additional issues do come up.
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