Disclaimer: The story below focuses purely on aviation experience onboard the Iraqi B747. The author has no idea that some of the passengers may intend to migrate to Europe from Belarus on this flight.
As an aviation enthusiast, I am always looking for special and rare flights. My friend Josef Furst from Austria recently went to Iraq, in a bid to fly on the last remaining Iraqi Airways B747-400. He kindly shares his amazing experience below:
"My favourites are Russian aircrafts and B747 in various version. Always on the top of my "To Fly List“ is the Iraqi Airways B747."Josef Furst
Iraqi Airways have two B747-400s: YI-ASA (ex Malaysian) and YI-AQQ (ex JAL). YI-AQQ just returned this spring from maintenance in Jakarta. Sadly YI-ASA has been discontinued since 2018, due to the failure of two of its engines, also a number of electronic devices were taken from her as spare parts for YI-AQQ, when she was in GMF AERO ASIA (Jakarta).
So there is only one 747-400 left, but I guess not for long; starting 2022 Iraqi Airways will begin to receive the first of 10 787-8s that they have on order.
Therefore, it was time to act!
Gladly I had a very helpful friend in Iraq - Yasir Mohammed Ali Al-Khafaji! He is an Iraqi aviation enthusiast and has great connections within Iraqi Airways, he also has plenty of useful information.
One more issue to navigate for this flight to happen was the Iraqi Visa. It used to take about 4 weeks to get one; however, after the Pope visited they surprisingly changed their Visa policy for a lot of countries. They have now made it possible to obtain a visa upon arrival, which makes visiting very easy now.
I was watching the movement of the aircraft on Flight Radar and checking the Website of Iraqi Airways nearly daily to various destinations. At the beginning of July YI-AQQ started regular operations to Minsk.
It seems to be a popular tourist destination for Iraqis in summer to escape the heat. During the Islamic Eid Al Adha holidays it was also operating to Beirut. Because of the quite short flight time to Beirut (Just a little bit over an hour) I decided to focus on the Minsk flight instead (flight time nearly 4 hours).
On Wednesday 14th of July I wrote to my other good friend (20+ year experienced tour guide) in Iraq, Raad Al Qassimi, to book the flight Baghdad to Minsk for Thursday 28th of July. Within a couple of hours, I received the ticket and the confirmation that a 747 would be operating.
I arrived 2 days prior to my flight in Baghdad and picked up a visa on arrival (Cost $80). I did some sightseeing prior to my big day, Wednesday 28th July.
The Big Day - 5 Security Check Points
Raad picked me up from the hotel at 06:00 for my flight departure at 09:30. For normal airports this would be far too early, but not for Baghdad International Airport.
About five km out from the terminal, you reach a huge checkpoint.
We had arrived in Raad's car which was not allowed to go to the main terminal, only special Taxis like Al Mumayez are allowed, so we had to transfer to a taxi, for which of course you have to pay for.
After two more kilometres there is another checkpoint.
You have to get out of the car and pass a security checkpoint like at the airport. Documents checked and an X-ray taken. Only after that may you proceed to the main terminal.
When reaching the terminal there is yet another document check and your luggage will be checked by a dog for explosives.
On the way into the terminal is another security check & X-ray.
Before reaching the check-in Counter area there is a further document and security check, which also includes another X-ray.
Then there is one more last passport and ticket check in front of the check-in counter to Minsk.
Once I finally arrived at the check-in counter I was relieved to find that check-in was normal, nothing special and no different form any other airport. A boarding pass was issued within a couple of minutes. Afterwards I went through passport control and was then finally inside the departure area. The whole process took about one and half hours! If you are late you will definitely miss your flight!
Yasir Mohammed Ali Al-Khafaji told me, the day before, that he had contacted the Captain of this flight, Mr. Laith Khaled Al Omar, and told him about me. Capt. Omar told him he would take care of me to the best of his abilities.
Upon entering the boarding gate there was yet another document and security (incl. X-ray) check.
During the wait for boarding, Cap. Omar and his colleague passed by; I caught his attention and he approached me.
He told me he would talk with security, to see if they could bring me down to the apron to take some pictures. Unfortunately security would not allow it, so he offered to take pictures for me and send then on to me later.
Boarding the Iraqi 747-400
When boarding started, Capt. Omar came back and told me I should go to the Upper deck (Business Class section) were the crew already knew about me!
Wow, what a very kind offer again! Before entering the aircraft we had to endure one final document check! I have NEVER EVER had that many checks before taking a flight!
Upon entering the aircraft a very kind purser welcomed me and guided me to my seat at the upper deck! I was immediately offered water and tea!
From my experience of other special flights, I know it is always in your own interests to have some small presents for the crew.
So this time I had one big box of Mozartkugeln for the cabin crew and two smaller bags for the cockpit crew. They were very happy and thanked me a lot for the gifts. It was not much, but it is like a door opener!
Because of the security, I was not allowed to visit the flight deck; however Capt. Omar again offered to take pictures for me and said that he would film take-off and landing, which was very kind of him and seemed amazing to me.
Soon after take-off, I was offered a hot and cold breakfast; I assumed this was a crew meal, as all the other passengers got was a snack box.
It consisted of some cheese, marmalade, butter, a bread roll, one piece of Danish pastry and an omelette. It was quite tasty and filling.
Tour of the Iraqi Queen
After the meal, I started exploring the main cabin. I went down and was again greeted by the nice purser, who offered me a guided tour.
The purser explained nearly every detail of the cabin and kitchen, from the front to the back of the main deck. Taking pictures of everything as we went along was no problem.
The flight had 384 passengers and 18 crew.
After the tour, I settled down in the middle kitchen for tea and mamool (Arabic pastry). I had a good chat with the very kind and friendly crew.
They offered endless food and drinks! Even their homemade food which they had brought for the flight.
Landing in Minsk
Before approaching Minsk, Capt. Omar came around again to take my phone for filming the landing and taxing.
Landing at Minsk was very smooth on runway 31L. We taxied to a remote stand and passed by a private United Arab Emirates B-747-400, along with an Air China 747-400 Cargo.
Before leaving the aircraft, Capt. Omar had one last surprise for me. He opened the door on the upper deck, which provided me with a great view over the wing and into the back of the aircraft.
I bid farewell to Cap. Omar and the whole crew and left the 747 through the stairs. Shukran/Thanks very much to Capt. Omar and to the entire crew for this amazing and truly memorable experience!
Report by Josef Furst