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Lizzie Porter, The Daily Telegraph, February 03, 2016
British Airways has confirmed it is relaunching direct flights from London to Iran – the first British airline to offer the service in four years.
Travellers will be able to fly direct from London Heathrow Terminal 5 to Tehran from July 14 when the six-weekly service launches.
The flights – available to book from February 4 – will then increase to daily flights from this winter.
Up until now, only the national carrier Iran Air has offered direct flights between London and Iran, as sanctions, travel warnings and poor relations have kept foreigners and investors away from the Islamic Republic.
Iran Air’s London services are limited due to restrictions on the airline using European airspace, so most British tourists en route to Iran have had to fly indirect, often via Istanbul.
Confirming the return of the direct service, Neil Cottrell, British Airways’ head of network planning, said Iran is a “large and growing economy” and that it had “exciting new prospects” , as a tourist destination.
Willie Walsh, British Airways’ chief executive, hinted that the London-Tehran route would return last month, telling a conference the company was “actively looking” at services and hoped Iran would form part of its flight network, in “the very near future.”
The airline suspended flights in October 2012 when British Midland International (BMI) became part of British Airways and the route was “no longer commercially viable”, according to a BA spokesperson.
At the time, tensions between Iran and the UK were high, following the violent storming of the British Embassy in Tehran in 2011 and the subsequent severing of diplomatic relations.
Iran has been playing catch up with its tourism and travel infrastructure since a deal on Iran's nuclear programme was signed with western powers last July, and the UK and Iran re-opened embassies in each other’s capitals shortly afterwards.
Middle Eastern operators such as the low-cost carrier flydubai have launched multiple routes from the UAE into Iran, while Accor Hotels has opened two hotels in the country.
• 11 reasons you should visit Iran
British tour operators have seen a significant increase in demand for holidays to Iran since the British Foreign Office removed its advice against visiting the country last year.
While many countries in the Middle East remain off-limits to ordinary travellers, the relaxed stance towards Iran means foreign visitors can appreciate its dazzling mosques, 19 Unesco World Heritage Sites and dramatic mountain scenery.
Iranians are also benefiting from its bolstered tourism industry, with local tour companies, small hotels and jobs as guides offering employment.
However, restrictions on Britons wishing to visit Iran remain. New US government rules mean that people who have been to Iran in the past five years are not allowed to use its visa waiver scheme, forcing them to pay $160 and endure an appointment at the US Embassy in London to apply for a tourist visa.
Britons are also currently not allowed to travel independently in Iran, and must be accompanied by a guide at all times. Women must wear the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, and alcohol is not available in restaurants, cafes or hotels.
British Airways offered the first scheduled flights between London and Tehran in 1946, during the rule of the last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, before the 1979 Islamic Revolution led to hostility between Iran and the west.
Return fares on the new London-Tehran service - operated by Boeing 777s - are from £384 in economy, £728 in premium economy, £2,163 for Business and £3763 for First class.
This article was written by Lizzie Porter from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.