What’s Really Wrong In Iraq: International Flights Cancelled for “Spite”

File this under a new reason for flight cancellation. Right next to weather, crew availability, and maintenance there is now “spite.”

There’s still both political and sectarian violence ravaging Iraq, years after the U.S. occupied, surged its troops, and began to pull out. Sunni Arabs are marginalized by the Shia government.

I’m no expert on geopolitical matters, but it seems clear that these huge macro issues aren’t likely to be solved soon.

And this story offers a window into why — into the quality of governance, the culture of corruption, and into the extent to which political power is seen as a tool for personal and group enrichment rather than as a mechanism by strong impartial institutions can create the conditions for peace and commerce.

Iraq’s Minister of Transport refused to let a plane land in Baghdad after his son missed the flight.

A passenger plane flying from Lebanon to Iraq was forced to turn back after the Iraqi transport minister’s son missed the flight and phoned Baghdad to stop the aircraft from landing, a spokesman for the airline said.

They delayed the flight, and tracked down the passengers in the lounge. By the time Mahdi al-Amiri made it to the gate (which is quite a schlep away in Beirut), the plane had departed. al-Amiri declared, ‘I will not allow the plane to land in Baghdad.’

Twenty-one minutes into the flight, the Baghdad airport station manager called MEA operations to tell them there was no clearance to land, Salha said. The plane then returned to Beirut and the passengers disembarked.

The passenger making the threat is the son of Iraqi Transport Minister Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organisation which has a history as an an armed Shi’ite militia.

al-Amiri claims that no planes could land at the airport because they had decided to clean, and that’s why they turned back the Middle East Airlines flight. As unbelievable as that account sounds, it’s also disputed:

An official at Baghdad airport, who asked not to be named, said air traffic was normal, with 30 flights landing on Thursday. The only one turned around was the one from Beirut.

When the family of former Delta CFO Warren Jensen — the father of “No Waivers, No Favors” — bumped paying passengers out of first class, it was a huge scandal. Jensen wasn’t directly involved, his secretary brought the family members to the gate and the gate agent — who had given away their seats already — downgraded passengers to put them back up front. Jensen reimbursed the cost of the vouchers given to the four downgraded passengers, and eventually left for Amazon.com.

Jensen was only accountable to Delta’s shareholders, and not to the entire country’s people, holding state power in trust for the benefit of those people.

Iraq has been liberated from Saddam Hussein, but it’s still run as a fiefdom for the benefit of its rulers.

Skyteam member (and Delta partner) Middle East Airlines offers daily service aboard either an Airbus A320 or A321 between Beirut and Baghdad. Fair treatment for an international airline with daily service in and out of Iraq would seem to be far more important than spite.

(HT: Matthew)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Without going into too many specifics since my current employer still has significant ongoing aviation interests in Iraq, this kind of behavior is par for the course with the Al Amiri family (and indeed rather tame compared to some other stuff junior gets up to). Thank goodness there is an election coming up and the chances of daddy remaining in the same role afterwards are very slim.

  2. I initially read the title as “Sprite,” like the soft drink, and thought “wow, that’s a really crazy issue to turn a plane around for!” Spite makes a bit more sense!

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