Passport

Air France Hits More Turbulence Over Flights to Iran

Gay employees of Air France are asking to opt out of flights to Tehran.

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 10, 2015: An Air France Airbus A380 aircraft is towed toward the runway at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. The A380 is the world's largest commercial passenger aircraft. (Photo by
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 10, 2015: An Air France Airbus A380 aircraft is towed toward the runway at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. The A380 is the world's largest commercial passenger aircraft. (Photo by

Air France won’t resume flights to Tehran until April 17, but airline staff are already worried about what they will face after landing in Iran. Last week, female airline attendants argued they shouldn’t be forced to cover their hair while in the Islamic Republic, as required by law. Air France navigated that blip by agreeing to let female staffers who refused to cover skip those flights. Now, a gay Air France steward is demanding a similar diversion for fear of being persecuted.

Gay sex is punishable by death in Iran, and a flight attendant who identified himself only as Laurent M. launched a petition asking that homosexual crew members not be ordered to fly there. By Tuesday, the petition had more than 2,000 signatures.

“Sure, our sexuality isn’t written on our passports and it doesn’t change the way we work as a crew,” Laurent wrote. “But it is inconceivable to force someone to go to a country where his kind are condemned for who they are.”

Homosexuality is considered a crime in some 75 countries — close to half the world. But Laurent asked Air France to give crew members the right to refuse to fly to places where they could be killed for being gay — a smaller list that includes Iran and other destinations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Mauritania.

In an emailed statement to Foreign Policy, Air France said it has “not had any issues in recent years” in the 17 countries it directly serves that also have restrictive laws against homosexuality.

“By its nature, flight crews’ work requires them to serve countries whose cultures and regulations are very different to our own, and Air France management carries out constant monitoring to ensure that all members of its flight crews can perform their duties in the safest possible conditions,” the statement read.

Iran holds the world record for most executions per capita, but mostly for drug convictions; the number of people killed for being gay is unknown. Some in Iran’s gay community say the state has been far more lenient since President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013.

The Air France debacle is the latest in a series of cultural clashes between secular France and Islamic Iran that have served as stumbling blocks in the two countries’ fledgling relationship. In January, a lunch between Rouhani and French President Francois Hollande was canceled when Hollande insisted he wanted to drink wine at the table, and his Iranian counterpart said he would not show up if wine was served.

Photo credit: ROBERT ALEXANDER/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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