Iran Air B747SP Across the Silk Route Beijing to Tehran
When I first heard about an active B707 flying in Iran back in 2004, I instantly jumped on the bandwagon and start to make plans to visit Iran. On my log book, I missed the B707 so it seems too good to pass a ride on the plane which transformed intercontinental travel historically.
I left Beijing for Tehran on Iran Air’s famous B747-SP. I didn’t even possess an Iranian visa before hand and decide try to get a “Transit visa” good for 72 hours stay in Iran and fly the Saha Air B707 in between my transit time. Looking back, those days I was young and bold, I did not have to think twice to plan anything and fortunately things worked out so well beyond my wish.
The ticket was quite expensive on Iran Air, return flight from Beijing to Tehran is USD920, I bought a ticket to Dubai via Tehran with Iran Air, because I didn't get the visa to visit Iran beforehand, Iranian embassy in Beijing will not issue a visa for me travelling on a 3rd party country passport. But by buying a ticket to Dubai via Tehran, I can get an arrival transit visa for up to 72 hours stay in Iran before going onto Dubai. The other problem is getting on Saha Air is not very easy, I have heard reports that flights are always fully booked and you have to explain your purposes to the agent, which perhaps they don't understand English or your motive at the ticket counter. Saha do not have a global GDS, the only way to get ticket is inside Iran. So there is a few doubts when I decided to go to Iran.
Without knowing one single person or one single bit of history of Iran, I embarked on an “eye opening” trip to the ancient nation of Persia in May 2004 by myself.
16 May Sunday
Beijing to Tehran
Iran Air 803 B747-SP EP-IAB
173 pax out of 305, Mach 0.86, FL 380
Dep Rwy 36L PEK, Arr Rwy 29R THR
Flight past Western China, the Gobi desert, Urumqi, the Tian Shan Mountain, Kazakhstan (Alma Ata), Uzbekistan (Tashkent), a little part of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan (Ashgabat), it was very scenic enroute with deserts, snow capped mountains, lakes, flat ground, villages and plateaus.
Wing of the B747SP over the Tian Shan Mountain between China and Kazakhstan.
Photo below: Onboard Iran Air B747-SP EP-IAB “Khorosan” over Central Asia
2 full meals were served on this 7 hours 45 minutes journey! (fillet mignon and cream fish)
The interior of the plane was not as old as one may thinks, the B747-SP seems have slightly wider body than other B747 models. Very good inflight amenity bag was handed out to each passenger in all classes, it is a Mashad genuine leather bag with usual combs, toothbrush, eyelid... stuff. Flight were very smooth. On the 7hrs 45 mins flight. 2 full meals and 1 fruit refreshment was carried out, so they serve a lot more food than other carrier, I have the choice of filet mignon and fish in creamy sauce. I think Iran Air's catering was superior than most other large carriers (put them to shame!)
Passenger are split in half are Iranians and half are Chinese, mostly doing trading and business between the 2 countries. I later found out that I was the only tourist on that plane. Contrary to many believes, lot of passengers are using camera and camcorders, recording in flight scenes and the window views, so I have no fear of doing what I want to do! Later, I asked the FA and one kind officer offered me the chance to visit the cockpit, on the upper deck. I gathered my chance on Iran Air is better than any other airlines in the world to visit cockpit during flight and that is Iran Air, with security guards onboard, amazing and I must be very lucky!
Interior of the Iran Air B747-SP in 2004.
A cockpit visit is also allowed! How great is that!
Captain Ferrahi and Captain M Shadmani
I stayed in the cockpit for 15-20 minutes, I filmed a little bit on my camcorder and took a few shots. Chatted to the pilots about the future of their B747-SPs and the fleet renewal plans. I was very lucky to met one officer, whose brother works for Saha Air, so I told him my intentions of travel to Iran, and he called his brother came to help later after I landed in Tehran, I felt much better and relieved...
We arrived 15 mins in Tehran after schedule, despite a 30mins runway holding at Beijing. It was quite hazey and smoggy that day, so the first impression of the city was very brown!
To get the transit visa was not easy either, the officer first told me it was impossible to get one, but later when I talked to him about my trip, he changed his mind! By paying USD 20 at the Bank Melli counter, I was successfully issued a visa valid for 2 days! The Iranian custom didn't check on me but checked on most Iranian back home from Beijing as they brought a lot of Chinese goods. Then I went to the bank exchange some Iranian Rials, 200 US dollars bought me 1.7 million rials, and their largest note was 10000, so my 1.7 million rials was carried in a large size envelope!
To this day, I still remember their warm hospitality and this flight vividly.