Middle East has become a nightmare for airlines

Escalating tensions between the United States and Iran are making it even tougher for airlines to fly over the Middle East, a heavily trafficked region where huge chunks of airspace are already off limits because of political rivalries or war.

The latest headache for the global aviation industry came Thursday when Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to ban US airlines from flying above parts of the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.

The US agency said in an advisory that it was concerned about “heightened military activities and increased political tensions” in the region after Iran used a surface-to-air missile to down the drone “while it was operating in the vicinity of civil air routes.”

Airlines were quick to take action. United Airlines canceled its service between India and Newark through September 1, while carriers such as Qantas, British Airways, KLM and Lufthansa said they would adhere to the restrictions, meaning route changes for some flights bound for major hubs in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi, as well as for planes transiting the area on routes to and from Asia.

The situation is especially complicated for Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, which operate a large number of long haul flights from those hub airports along the Persian Gulf. Emirates said Friday it was rerouting all flights away from “areas of possible conflict” and would make further changes if needed. Etihad said safety was paramount and the airline has “agreed to change a number of the flight paths we operate to and from the Arabian Gulf.”

Rising costs and risks

For commercial airlines and freight carriers, flight restrictions mean taking the long way around, costing time and money. And nowhere is the disruption more apparent than the Middle East.

Airlines have avoided flying over