(Traveled on September 15-16, 2015)
In 2014, I went to Iran to fly on the special sightseeing flight on the Iran Air Boeing 747SP. While I only went there for one day with the sole purpose of flying classic aircraft, the country and its extremely friendly people left a great impression on me in that short amount of time. Since then, I couldn’t stop thinking about my next visit to Iran.
When I found a cheap flight by AirAsia X from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, and booked it, it was decided – I was about to go to Iran again!
This is the first part of my report covering the first two days of the unforgettable trip.
Table of Contents
- Getting to Tehran on IR 747-200 – The first part covers days 1 and 2 of the trip. It talks about getting to Tehran from Tokyo on AirAsia X A330-300 and Iran Air 747-200 and the first evening spent in Tehran.
- Zahedan on MD-82 and 727 – The second part covers day 3 of the trip. Included are stories from a roundtrip to Zahedan onboard Iran Air MD-82 and Iran Aseman 727, as well as spotting and sightseeing in Tehran.
- More Classics – 727, MD-83 & A310 – The third and final part covers days 4 and 5 of the trip: some more sightseeing in Tehran, flying to Shiraz and back on 727 and MD-83, and finally flying on to Vienna on an Iran Air A310-300.
Planning the Trip
As mentioned above, the trip was confirmed as soon as I booked the discounted Tokyo Haneda – Kuala Lumpur flight by AirAsia X. The flight was booked for September 15, 2015, arriving in KL the next morning.
Next step was to book the flights to and from Tehran. While Iran Air’s Kuala Lumpur – Tehran operated by a classic 747 was a no-brainer, I could either fly back from Iran to KL and Tokyo, or continue on somewhere else. In the end, I decided to continue on to Vienna to visit my family in Slovakia and to get the chance to fly Iran Air’s A310-300 – another aircraft that is getting fairly rare these days.
The final step was to arrange the domestic flights within Iran. To book the domestic flights, I asked one of my Iranian friends for help. After going through the schedules of Iran Aseman and Iran Air for a long time, I decided to go with Tehran – Zahedan – Tehran on September 17 and Tehran – Shiraz – Tehran on September 18. This would give me the chance to fly Iran Air MD-82, Iran Aseman 727 and Kish Air MD-83.
For accommodation, I initially booked Tehran Mehrabad Airport Hotel. However, my friend offered me to stay at his place, and so I had canceled the reservation and did a “homestay” instead. Definitely a better option!
Day 1: Off to Kuala Lumpur
Finally, September 15th came, and straight after work I headed to Kawasaki where I met with two of my friends for a dinner.
After the dinner, my friend drove me to Haneda. After saying bye to him and exchanging money, it was time to head to the check-in counter for my 11:45PM flight to KL.
Date: September 15, 2015 (Tuesday)
Flight No.: D7 523
Route: Tokyo Haneda (HND) – Kuala Lumpur International (KUL)
Airline: AirAsia X
Aircraft: Airbus A330-343 (9M-XXY)
STD / STA: 11:45PM / 06:10AM+1
With Euros in my pocket, I headed towards the AirAsia X check-in area. When I arrived, I was shocked. The line for people who checked in online was at least 45 minutes long. On the other hand, the regular check-in line was only 3 or 4 people long.
I approached one of the staff roaming around:
“So I have to line up at the end of this line?”
“Did you check-in online?”
“I wish I could say I did not.”
“Are you traveling alone?”
“Then go ahead and join this line.”
Phew, what a relief! I was allowed to join the shorter queue, and I had my boarding pass in no time.
As by this point of the day I was tired, I just quickly cleared security and immigration, got a snack and a drink and found a quiet place to relax in the satellite terminal for an hour or so before the boarding.
Soon enough, it was time to head over to gate 144 and board 9M-XXY – the Airbus A330-343 that was waiting at the gate.
Once onboard, I settled in my seat – 39C – and waited for the boarding to finish.
Knowing that AirAsia X has switched from operating to both HND and NRT recently, and from the constant stream of people coming in and taking every empty seat in sight, my hopes of getting a good night’s sleep were diminishing.
Luckily, even though almost every single seat was taken, I was left with a row of three to myself. Because of that, I was able to sleep through the whole uneventful flight, arriving in Kuala Lumpur fairly rested.
Day 2: On the Iran Air Classic to Tehran
Once I got off the plane in Kuala Lumpur and passed the immigration, I met a friend in the arrival hall. As I had a couple of hours to spare before checking in for my Iran Air flight, we headed to have a breakfast. After finishing a large chicken dish and taking a brief look at the AirAsia apron, we headed to Terminal 1 where the Iran Air flight departs from.
Date: September 16, 2015 (Wednesday)
Flight No.: IR 815
Route: Kuala Lumpur International (KUL) – Tehran Imam Khomeini (IKA)
Airline: Iran Air
Aircraft: Boeing 747-230B (EP-IAI)
STD / STA: 12:05PM / 16:55PM
As my friend knows one of the Iran Air staff, I was allowed to check-in in the business class area without having to wait in the longer economy class line. I was assigned seat 10A – on the lower deck. Even though Iran Air 747s have economy class on upper deck, unfortunately, except for full flights, the upper deck is reserved for security personnel.
With the boarding pass in my hand, we headed to the aircraft observation area where we arrived just in time to take a picture of my aircraft taxiing to its gate after arriving from Tehran.
As I was taking a picture of the Iran Air aircraft taxiing by, I realized that I was wearing shorts and by mistake I checked in my long jeans. To avoid any potential difficulties at Iranian immigration later on, my friend took me back to Terminal 2 for a quick shopping. A pair of jeans in my bag later, we were headed back to Terminal 1.
After arriving at Terminal 1 and changing into my new jeans, I went back to the Iran Air check in counter where my Iranian friend arranged for me to greet the crew of my flight.
After taking a photo with the Captain, I bid farewell to my friend and headed airside. A quick train ride later I found myself in the satellite terminal heading towards gate C14.
When I visited Iran last year, my IR815 was operated by 747-200 because the 747SP was in maintenance. At that time, I was happy since I had the chance to fly the SP on the sightseeing flight. Since then, however, I also wanted to fly the SP on a scheduled flight. As such, when my friend mentioned that the SP is in maintenance again, and I would be flying the 747-200 again I was a bit disappointed.
Getting to the gate, and seeing the 747-200 there made the disappointment go away though! After all, you can’t complain for a 747 Classic getting substituted for another 747 Classic in 2015!
Soon enough, it was time to board EP-IAI for the second time in my life. It was also my second flight on a 747-200 and my third flight on a 747 Classic. It felt unbelievable. I felt extremely lucky to have been able to fly on the plane once again – a plane that I thought I would never have a chance to fly on just a year or so earlier.
While last year my seat was 1K in Homa Class, this time I was flying economy, and so after walking down the airbridge it was time to settle in seat 10A. The flight was not completely full, and while I had a neighbor for a couple of minutes during boarding, eventually I ended up with a row of three seats for myself.
EP-IAI was originally manufactured for Lufthansa to which it was delivered in 1982 as D-ABYX. The aircraft is about 5 years younger than its 747SP sistership EP-IAC. Even so, the aircraft has been flying for a respectably long period of time – over 33 years. The cabin is in excellent condition with two interesting things about it. One – overhead projectors were replaced with modern LCD screens mounted on bulk heads. Two – there are still traces of the original operator Lufthansa in the form of German signs on the tray tables and in the restrooms among other places.
After boarding was finished, cabin crew handed out a piece of gaz – Persian sweet originally from the Isfahan region of Iran. That was just the beginning of the Iranian hospitality demonstrated during the flight. During the relatively short 8 hour long flight, meal was served three times.
The first meal was lunch served couple of hours after take-off. The main course was grilled chicken with Persian rice. Besides that, there was a small fresh salad, a piece of bread, a yoghurt and a cake. For drink, I chose Coca-Cola and I was handed a full 0.33 litre can – doesn’t happen that often anymore!
While I spent majority of the flight looking out of the window and and dozing off here and there, shortly after lunch, one of the flight attendants approached my seat. As expected, it was finally time to visit the flight deck.
Up the spiral staircase and into the cockpit. I was welcomed by the crew of three, led by Captain Javadinejad. I spent over 30 minutes in the cockpit chatting with the crew. They were all very proud of the aircraft. It was a pleasure listening to their stories and experiences about flying with Iran Air.
Just like the crew on my flight last year, both the Captain and Flight Engineer had stories to tell about their trips to Japan from the good old days when Iran Air used to fly to Tokyo Narita via Beijing and via Seoul with their 747SP. Unfortunately for the First Officer – Ray, the Tokyo flights were cancelled before he started flying on the Jumbo Jet.
Unfortunately, the security personnel did not let me stay in the cockpit for our landing in Tehran. In spite of that, I was extremely happy. After all, I was flying on a Boeing 747-200 on a scheduled passenger flight, and I got to visit the cockpit in-flight – doesn’t happen very often in 2015!
Right after I took the stairs down back to my seat, the second meal served. It was a fruit plate containing an apple and grapes. Some more time spent looking out of the window, and the final meal was served shortly before arriving in Tehran – it was a light meal consisting of a croissant, Kit Kat and orange juice. All of the three meals were fairly tasty, especially the chicken served for lunch, and the quantity of meals provided on the flight was definitely more than enough.
Shortly after the final meal trays were collected, the seat belt sign was switched on, and we were beginning our approach to Imam Khomeini airport. After landing, we taxied to a gate at the terminal, and it was time to say good bye to the aircraft. Quite likely, it was the last 747-200 flight for me. At the very least, I most certainly hope to get on the 747SP the next time I do this flight!
Day 2: Entering Iran
Right after getting of the airplane I headed towards immigration. There were several people getting visa on arrival, so I stood in line at the visa counter for some time. When it was my turn, I was asked if I had visited Iran before. Answering yes to that, the follow up question was if it was with the same passport. Because I entered with my old passport the last time, I had to refill the visa form, and get back in the line.
Some minutes later, my name was called, and I got a piece of paper with 50 EUR written on it. Off to the finance section right next to the visa counter. I was also required to buy insurance for 12 EUR, and so the total cost for getting into Iran was 62 EUR, 22 EUR more than last year.
While waiting for my visa, I could witness a Bangladesh man refused entry into Iran. From the last words I heard being exchanged between him and the immigration officer, he would have to sleep in the immigration area until he could take a flight back the next day. Another man was transferring on Mahan Air, and one of the agents have taken his passport and disappeared. Took him quite some time to get someone who could help him. And even so, he was not done by the time I got my visa and proceeded to immigration. I hope he solved his problem and continued on to Bangkok safely.
Once it was my turn at immigration, I was greeted by a young officer – apparently the same age as me – 24. He was very interested in seeing a Japanese passport, and immediately called me Keishi “Yamaha,” asking me if I know the brand. Then he stamped my passport, and took me to the counter behind which his boss was sitting. Showing him my passport, the boss looked disinterested. After all, he was playing “Clash of Titans” on his iPhone. He asked me if I knew the game, and after saying I knew it but never played it, he recommended it. After that, the immigration shook my hand and welcomed me to Iran.
Day 2: Tehran, Good to See You Again!
Clearing immigration took me well over an hour, and so, after collecting my baggage and exchanging some money I went straight to the taxi stand. I handed the driver address of my friend’s home and asked him if I could call my friend to let him know I would be arriving at his home in about an hour. Without hesitation the driver dialled my friend’s number – another example of Iranian hospitality. A quick phone call later, we were on our way to central Tehran.
After arriving at my friend’s home, I took a quick shower, relaxed a bit. Not to waste any more time, we left the house and headed to Milad Tower – one of Tehran’s main sights.
Milad Tower, with its height of 435 meters is the sixth tallest tower in the world. It is connected to a large shopping complex and it has an observation deck at the top. The observation deck offers great view of the whole city of Tehran. Judging by the amount of people, it is an extremely popular spot for both locals and tourists.
When we arrived at Milad Tower, my friend offered to wait in line for tickets. I took the opportunity and went to see a live performance of Iranian music that was going on at the entrance of the complex. Even though I did not understand a single word of the lyrics, I enjoyed the performance and waited for my friend.
With tickets in our hands, we headed to the top of Milad Tower. The views were breathtaking. With over 16 million people living in the wider Tehran metropolitan area, the night lights of the city were endless. After spending some time looking at Tehran, we took a little tour of the indoor area that offered a nice collection of Persian art.
Finally, we headed down into the shopping complex to have a quick dinner before heading home.