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Originally published July 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 16, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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A new way to escape Baghdad -- if you're a Westerner

A new no-frills airline that begins weekly flights between Baghdad and Amman, Jordan, in August will accept only certain passengers ...

McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD — A new no-frills airline that begins weekly flights between Baghdad and Amman, Jordan, in August will accept only certain passengers — U.S. and Western citizens.

Iraqis, Indians, Pakistanis and other non-Westerners need not apply.

Expat Airways, looking to capitalize on the thousands of contract workers in Iraq, is believed to be the world's only commercial airline to blacklist a large swath of nationalities.

Company officials say the carrier's 8 a.m. flights out of Baghdad beginning Aug. 7 will help speed U.S. and Western contractors through Baghdad International Airport where daylong delays, overbooking and no-show planes are common.

Royal Jordanian Airlines and Iraqi Airways are the only two scheduled commercial carriers flying between Baghdad and Amman, a gateway to Europe and the U.S.

Pro Group, with offices in Amman and the United Kingdom, is launching Expat Airways in conjunction with the Jordanian Air Force.

Ashraf Mraish, managing director for Pro Group, said Jordan's tight visa restrictions drove the decision to exclude non-Westerners.

Refugees have overwhelmed Jordan, which has imposed strict entry requirements for Iraqis.

Despite fares of $450 each way, the 500-mile jaunt aboard a 42-seat Russian Antonov turboprop is no-frill. Seats are on a first-come, first-served basis. Passengers have to load and unload their luggage.

There is no beverage or meal service. Passengers cannot bring their own booze aboard "for obvious reasons," according to a recent e-mail Expat Airways sent contractor firms.

Many contractors recall cramped, sweltering rides out of Baghdad on U.S. military C-130 transports, or nights of uncertainty spent on cots or the airport floor.

"You never know if the plane's going to get out or not," said American contractor Daniel Thorsen.

"And if you get dropped off at Baghdad International and your personal security detail leaves you, you're in trouble."

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