Search AeroXplorer
Freed American Prisoners Return Home: The Importance of Humanitarian Flights

Freed American Prisoners Return Home: The Importance of Humanitarian Flights


The five Americans freed in a $6 billion exchange with Iran arrived back in the United States on Monday. The individuals reunited with family members at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, ending five years of enforced imprisonment.




Politics aside, this situation highlights the importance of humanitarian flights. Time and time again, aviation has been a major player in facilitating responses to global issues, a topic we will address today.


Photo: Andrew Seong | AeroXplorer


Humanitarian Flights Explained


Humanitarian flights are among the most unique operations in the aviation industry. Whatever crisis they may be in response to, such flights usually involve aircraft operating special routes, ones they may not usually operate.




When you think of humanitarian flights, you may picture an aircraft loaded with supplies flown out to assist with aid in a disaster-stricken country. This scenario is one example of a humanitarian flight and a scenario we covered following the recent tragedies in Morocco.


Photo: Edwin Sims | AeroXplorer


However, a humanitarian flight, technically speaking, can also be a regularly scheduled commercial flight bringing refugees or groups of afflicted people among the rest of the passengers.

Shifting our attention back to the five Americans recently released from imprisonment in Iran, these individuals did not return on dedicated humanitarian flights.




They returned to the U.S. on Qatar Airways, which flew them from Tehran to Washington Dulles via Doha. While these Qatar Airways flights were not specifically for the former prisoners, they still served a humanitarian purpose in bringing these five Americans back home.


Photo: Ben Allen | AeroXplorer


Repatriation Flights


Perhaps the largest time when humanitarian flights occurred was during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, airlines worldwide often operated unique routes to pick up citizens stranded overseas and bring them back to their respective home countries.




This period saw some very cool repatriation flight examples. Despite ending revenue service to the U.S. in 2017, Pakistan International Airlines operated special flights to Newark, Washington Dulles, and Chicago to rescue stranded Pakistanis. Qatar Airways operated repatriation flights between Pakistani cities and the United Kingdom, repatriating stranded British nationals and Pakistanis.


Photo: Adam Ostler | AeroXplorer


Also, consider the case of SpiceJet or Wizz Air. Both of these airlines historically never operated over the Atlantic. However, during the COVID pandemic, SpiceJet chartered a HiFly A330neo, and Wizz Air flew their A321neo on special repatriation services to Toronto.




Even looking past the pandemic, airlines have also operated various refugee charter flights. Royal Jordanian is a great example of this, as they operated various charters for Syrian refugees several years ago. These examples show how aviation has stepped in to assist the betterment of humanity.


Cargo-Only Flights


The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of the aviation industry in multiple ways. Aside from numerous repatriation flights, airlines found a way to make lots of money even without many people flying.




Their solution was to remove all passenger seats from existing planes and convert them into temporary "preighter" aircraft. "Preighter" is a portmanteau of "passenger + freighter."

United Airlines, Delta, American, Air Canada, Emirates, and Korean Air are just some of the many airlines worldwide that spearheaded the "preighter concept".


Photo: Thomas Tse | AeroXplorer


When the world needed essential medical supplies and fast, these airlines, among many others, were there flying all sorts of random intercontinental routes, ensuring that basic supplies would be delivered wherever needed.


While all "preighter" aircraft have since reverted to standard passenger use, cargo aircraft is still at the ready and continue to fly humanitarian aid flights when needed.




Many countries also use their respective Air Forces to fly aid into specific places. Military aircraft like C-130s and A400Ms are loaded with essential supplies and flown into disaster-stricken areas.


Summarizing it All


Aviation has and continues to play an important role in the global response to various disasters. Whether flying in essential supplies, facilitating evacuations, or transporting people towards a new beginning in life, the air travel industry remains at the forefront.


Photo: Aarush Malik | AeroXplorer


As the world continues to grow in population and airlines worldwide continue to grow their fleets in response, it's not unrealistic to speculate that aviation will continue playing a vital role in assisting humanity worldwide for many, many more years to come.

 AeroXplorer is on Telegram! Subscribe to the AeroXplorer Telegram Channel to receive aviation news updates as soon as they are released. View Channel 
Hadi Ahmad
Lifelong aviation enthusiast raised in Central Illinois. 777 is the best plane BTW.

Comments (1)

Jethro Bodine Your reporting is inaccurate. The five gentlemen were transferred to the US on a Department of State contracted aircraft.
67d ago • Reply

Add Your Comment



NEWS Prisoner Qatar Airways Humanitarian Flights Iran USA American prisoners Relief Flights Aviation


Etihad Airways to Use Airbus A380 on Abu Dhabi-New York Route Etihad Airways will use the Airbus A380 on its route between Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) starting April 22, 2024. The double-decker aircraft is essential to accommodate the growing demand for travel to Abu Dhabi. Etihad's A380s are famous for their luxurious onboard experience, including the world's only three-room suite in the sky through The Residence. NEWS READ MORE »
Qantas' Airbus A220 Livery Features a Story Through Aboriginal Art Qantas has revealed its inaugural Airbus A220 aircraft, featuring a captivating Aboriginal-inspired livery. Set to join QantasLink, its regional subsidiary, the aircraft was showcased at an Airbus facility ahead of its anticipated arrival in Australia. This aircraft showcases the Aboriginal artwork of senior Pitjantjatjara artist Maringka Baker, narrating the 'dreaming story of two sisters who traverse remote Australia together, covering vast distances to find their way home,' as outlined in a statement from the airline. NEWS READ MORE »
How Do Airlines Decide Which Aircraft to Use on a Route? It may seem like a simple answer—easy: airlines fly their biggest planes on the routes with the most demand. In some ways, this is true—no doubt airlines would deploy a 737 over a CRJ900 for a route like New York (JFK) to Denver (DEN), given the demand on the route. Demand isn't everything, however. Aircraft range plays a major role as well. Other niche factors play large roles, too, and in this article, we'll explore how airlines decide which aircraft to use on certain routes. INFORMATIONAL READ MORE »


NEW!AeroXplorer Aviation Sweater Use code AVGEEK for 10% off! BUY NOW