Malaysia Airlines has to thread the needle now to get its planes safely to western Europe

The World
Malaysia airlines' flight paths

David Conrad

The crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in eastern Ukraine has raised questions about which conflict areas are safe enough for commercial jets to fly over.

For the most part, decisions about a given flight path are made by airlines themselves, and recently many of them have gone to great lengths, literally, to carve out the least controversial route.

Malaysia Airlines flies to four destinations in western Europe, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. This map follows Malaysia Airways flight 4 from Kuala Lumpur to London, which has changed its flight path over the past few days. Airlines often shift their routing from day to day, because of weather and air traffic control, but the current crisis has added a new dimension to the airline's flight planning.

On Sunday, flight 4 flew south of Ukraine, leading it to cross Syria, another hotspot — and prompting howls of concern on social media. But it seems to have perfected the least controversial route on Tuesday — flying around Iran, through northern Iraq, just barely avoiding Syrian airspace and then around Ukraine.


David Conrad