Snowden watch: Today’s Moscow-Havana flight taking a very odd detour that avoids the U.S.

July 11, 2013

Thursday's unusual flight path for Aeroflot Flight 150 from Moscow to Havana. (FlightAware)

Update: It turns out that several westbound transatlantic flights are diverting south today due to unusual turbulence over Greenland. It's still possible that Snowden may be on board (click here for why) but it does suggest that the plane detoured for meteorological rather than political reasons.

At 2:13 p.m. Moscow time on Thursday, or 6:13 a.m. EST, the four-times-a-week Aeroflot flight from Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport to Havana, Cuba, took off as usual.

But then something strange happened: The plane did not follow its normal route, which takes it northwest over Scandinavia, then across Iceland and Greenland before turning south over Canada and the continental United States. Although this might look like a curve on flat maps, it's actually the shortest route, following the curve of the Earth, as well as the safest since it keeps the plane near land in case of an emergency.

Instead of taking the usual route, Flight 150 headed west over Central Europe, crossing Belarus, Poland, Germany and then France. As of this writing, it's over the vast expanse of the Atlantic ocean -- an extremely unusual path for a trans-Atlantic flight. The route is longer and, because it's so far from land, potentially less safe.

Today's flight path is at the top of this page. At the bottom are the last six flight paths for Aeroflot 150, all of which headed over Scandinavia, Canada and the United States.

So why is today's Moscow-Havana Aeroflot commercial flight taking this very strange detour from its route? It's not clear why, but suspicion is naturally turning to one Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who's been stuck in Moscow's airport and is probably trying to find a way to get to Venezuela, Bolivia or Nicaragua, the three Latin American countries that have offered him asylum. To be clear, it is entirely possible there is another reason for the detour; the speculation that the plane carries Snowden and is diverting to avoid U.S. airspace may well turn out to be groundless.

But it's hard not to wonder. After all, this was the very flight Snowden was supposed to take after he first landed in Moscow. Nikolaus von Twickel, the Moscow correspondent for the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur, tweeted that he had asked an Aerflot spokeswoman about the odd flight path. She said she had no information and then hung up, he says.

One reason to doubt that Snowden may be on the flight is that it flew, apparently unmolested, over France and the territory of other U.S. European allies. When Bolivian President Evo Morales recently flew out of Moscow, some European countries did not grant his flight permission to enter their airspace. The plane was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Austria, where it was reportedly subjected to a cursory search. Spanish officials later said they had withheld permission for an overflight after a U.S. tip that Snowden may have been on the plane. So it's not clear why France and others would let today's flight cross their airspace, although it's possible, for example, that they felt burned by the previous U.S. tip or did not feel comfortable treating a commercial flight in that manner.

Or maybe it's nothing. But we'll be watching, so do check back. As promised, here are the last six flight paths for Aeroflot 150.


(FlightAware.com)

(FlightAware.com)

(FlightAware.com)

(FlightAware.com)

(FlightAware.com)

(FlightAware.com)

More from WorldViews on Snowden:

Charting out Snowden's five dubious options for getting to Venezuela

Why his safest choice may be to stay in Russia forever

Here’s what happens to asylum-seekers who get stuck in airport limbo indefinitely

The limits of American power: Why the U.S. still can't get Snowden

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Max Fisher | July 11, 2013