Which flight routes have been affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
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As war rages on the ground between Ukraine and Russia, the skies above both nations lie eerily quiet. No one dares fly over battle-torn Ukraine; and almost no one wants to fly over its invader, Russia.
And yesterday, in retaliation for Europe’s blanket ban on all Russian planes from entering its airspace, Russia closed its skies to 36 European nations, forcing airlines that fly between Europe and East Asia to find alternative routes.
The trouble is, flying over Russia is the fastest way to reach Asia from northern Europe. And flying around it, as many western airlines had to do for years during the Cold War, can add hours to flight times. The higher cost of fuel, which has skyrocketed since the invasion, makes that extra time in the air even costlier.
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Nevertheless, a number of long-haul airlines have had no choice but to reroute their flight paths to circumvent Russia’s no-go airspace.
Which routes have been affected?
Virgin was the first to announce changes to four of its routes last Thursday — Heathrow to Islamabad, Lahore, Delhi; and flights between Manchester and Islamabad.
“Avoiding Russian airspace will result in slightly longer flight times by 15-60 minutes, depending on the route,” the airline said. “As ever, our airport, cabin crew and customer teams will support customers with any connecting flights.”
It added: “We continually monitor and evaluate the security situation in Ukraine and Russia as well as all regulatory guidance and restrictions.”
British Airways said it would be rerouting “some services” at a cost of “longer flight times”, but did not go into any further detail. The Points Guy has asked BA for clarification on exactly which flights are most affected.
Last Friday, however, Luise Gallego, CEO of British Airways-owner IAG, told investors: “We have rerouted the flights that we were operating to Singapore and Delhi, not to fly over Russia.”
BA chief executive Sean Doyle went on to play down the impact of the bans, saying BA was not currently flying any services to China or Japan anyway due to a COVID-19-inflicted lack of demand, while it would normally operate multiple flights a day.
Air France was more transparent, announcing changes to the flight plans from Paris to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo.
“The change of itinerary results in an increase in flight time and may lead to schedule changes,” it said. They added that passengers affected would be contacted directly that they would communicate “details of the flight schedule for the following days” shortly.
Lufthansa told The Points Guy that it is “continuing Lufthansa flights to Asia Pacific destinations and, if required, is adapting routes in order to avoid Russian airspace.”
“All this can also lead to longer flight times,” it said.
Qantas is another airline that has long relied on Russian airspace to spirit passengers between Australia and the U.K. — famously dubbed its “kangaroo route”.
It told us that it had redirected its popular path between Darwin and London, which usually flies through “the northern part of Russia”. “Given the current circumstances and complexities, we’re opting to use one of our alternative flight paths that don’t overfly Russia while we continue to monitor this evolving situation,” the company told us.
One of the airlines most affected by the closure of Russian airspace was Finnair, which has built its long-haul business model on the growing demand for flights connecting Europe with Asia, and uses its geographic position in the north of Europe to offer quick flight paths through northern Russia.
“For many of our north-east Asia flights, rerouting would mean considerably longer flight time, and operations would not be economically feasible,” the airline said on Sunday as it cancelled all routes to Japan, Korea and China. It added that it was “looking at alternative routings for some flights to Asia.”
Flydubai and S7
Meanwhile, a number of the world’s other airlines, while not banned from Russian airspace, have opted to avoid Russia nevertheless.
What are the alternative routes?
With Russia off the table, there are really only two viable routes from Europe to Asia: to fly south via the Middle East or loop north over the arctic.
A spokesperson for Lufthansa told us that, while “the routings still differ”, most go “the southern way via Turkey, the Middle East and then on to Far East Asia.”
Qantas said it has also found an alternative flight path “through the middle east and southern Europe.”
Other airlines have so far declined to elucidate exactly which airspaces their rerouted flights will use, but the Turkey-Middle East option appeared the most likely.
How did all this unfold?
The U.K. was among the first to ban Russia’s flag carrier, Aeroflot, and all other Russian-connected aircraft from its airspace on Friday 25 February.
And as of Sunday 27 February, the European Union (E.U.) and Canada both announced they would follow suit, closing their airspace to Russia.
Russia responded with a “retaliatory” announcement stating that Canada and all E.U. member states are banned from Russian airspace — bringing its total ban now to 36 countries and territories.
On Monday 28 February, the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency, Rosaviatsiya, confirmed: “A restriction has been imposed on flights for airlines of 36 countries in accordance with international law as a retaliatory measure for the ban imposed by the European states on the flights of commercial airliners operated by Russian airlines and/or registered in Russia.”
A lot is happening very quickly – but all of these announcements will have a knock-on effect for the travel industry and, of course, everyday passengers.
We’ll keep this updated as the situation develops.
Which countries have been banned from Russian airspace so far?
First up: the U.K (all of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
British Overseas Territories included in the ban are Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar. Additionally, Jersey in the Channel Islands is banned, too.
Comprising the E.U. is Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
The entire E.U. has been banned from Russian airspace, including its various territories, such as Greenland and the Faroe Islands (both parts of Denmark).
Albania, Iceland and Norway, which are not part of the E.U. but are on the European continent, are also barred.
Finally, Canada has also been forbidden from Russian airspace. At the time of writing, the United States has not been banned, nor has it banned Russia itself.
Additional reporting by Matt Blake.
Featured image by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty
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