Holidays affected as Russia bans UK airlines from its airspace


Russia has closed its airspace to all British airlines after the UK Government banned its flag-carrier, Aeroflot, from UK territory.

Last night Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: “I’ve signed restrictions prohibiting all scheduled Russian airlines from entering UK airspace or touching down on British soil. Putin’s heinous actions will not be ignored, and we will never tolerate those who put people’s lives in danger.”

Shortly after, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic announced they would stop flying through Russian airspace, and this morning Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transport (Rosaviatsiya) announced that UK air carriers are banned from landing in its airports or crossing its airspace.

A British Airways spokesperson told Telegraph Travel: “We have suspended our flights to Moscow and also the use of Russian airspace, following the confirmation of Russian government restrictions.”

Virgin Atlantic will also be rerouted away from Russian airspace and has warned of slightly longer flight times. “We apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers by slightly longer flight times,” a spokesperson said.

“The safety and security of our customers and people always comes first and we’re monitoring the situation in Ukraine and Russia extremely carefully following the escalation of conflict.”

The closure of Russian airspace, and the war in Ukraine, could have numerous implications on British passengers flying overseas. Here are your questions answered.

Which airspaces have closed?

Russia has closed its airspace to UK carriers, and all international aviation authorities have now rerouted flights away from Ukrainian airspace following the Russian invasion. A quick glance at Flightradar24 shows a very busy map of planes above Europe, but no flights above Ukraine.

Moldova has also closed part of its airspace and Ukraine’s northerly neighbour, Belarus, shut part of its airspace on Thursday.

Many airlines have already been avoiding Ukrainian airspace after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in 2014, and since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis this year a number of airlines have already redrawn their routes to avoid Russian airspace.

John Grant of flight database and statistics agency OAG says: “Airlines flying to South Asia were already in some cases routing via central Europe and then across to India from around Turkish airspace and then picking up their normal routings.”

Which long-haul services will be rerouted?

While British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are still not back to full operations following the pandemic, some of the routes that could be affected include London to Bangkok, Delhi, Singapore and Islamabad, plus cargo routes to China and Japan (both currently closed to UK arrivals).

John Grant of OAG says: “In normal times the closure would be serious for all the airlines operating from Europe to North East Asia and down into South Asia, and equally as serious for Russia who charge huge fees for access over their airspace. 

“However, both China and Japan remain essentially closed to passenger flights, although cargo services have been operating, and the frequency of services to South Asia have yet to reach pre Covid-19 levels. 

“This event is probably going to impact no more than a handful of flights a day at the moment but in the longer term it will frustrate the airlines, although they do have alternatives.”

Will this mean longer flight times?

Quite possibly. British Airways says: “The rerouting of some services may lead to longer flight times and we apologise to customers for the inconvenience.” 

Virgin has also warned of increased flight times, with flights to India or Pakistan expected to take 15 to 60 minutes longer than usual.

John Grant of OAG says: “The additional distances flown are marginal and have minimal impact on flight times at the moment, so it’s not a big issue for the airlines. For those airlines needing to operate into Japan and China they could if necessary take an extreme polar routing and track north before heading back south into those countries.”

Can I still travel to Russia?

Russia is not banning UK citizens, but rather UK airlines. You can still travel to Russia via another European country. Check the Russia FCDO page for advice.

Will I be refunded if I was due to fly to Moscow?

Yes. A British Airways spokesperson said: “We are notifying customers on cancelled services and are offering a full refund. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

What if my flight has a layover in Russia?

No British Airways or Virgin Atlantic flights will be flying over or touching down in Russia. Neither airline operates layovers in Russian cities.

Has the UK red-listed any countries since Russia invaded Ukraine?

Yes. Ukraine has been red-listed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), meaning travel there is not advised under any circumstances. 

The FCDO has advised British nationals to leave Ukraine if it is safe to do so. All air traffic to the country has been suspended, and entering the country would nullify any travel insurance you may hold.

While some will perhaps feel reluctant to do so, you may still travel to Russia, but there are red-listed areas including a 20km radius of the Ukrainian border, plus Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan and the districts of Budyonnovsky, Levokumsky, Neftekumsky, Stepnovsky and Kursky in Stavropol Krai.

Note that Ukraine has borders with Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. The FCDO advises against travelling into Ukraine from any of these countries.

Will my flight be more expensive?

The longer flight times are unlikely to impact the cost of your ticket. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will mean higher fuel prices across Europe, which could in turn mean higher air fares depending on whether your airline has hedged its fuel supplies.

Ryanair says its flights will not be affected in the short-term since it has hedged its supplies for the coming months. However, it is understood that Wizz Air is not hedging its supplies and EasyJet has lower volumes locked in. 

Our writer Emma Featherstone has tips on how to avoid flight price rises on your next holiday.

Could the cost of my holiday go up?

Rising gas and oil prices could indeed affect your holiday on the ground. Oil price hikes across Europe will mean your overseas car rental costs could rise in the coming months. The Netherlands and Germany are among the largest importers of Russian crude oil, meaning prices could be particularly high in these countries.

Italy and Slovakia are particularly reliant on gas imports from Russia, and could be vulnerable to price rises in the coming weeks and months, which could in turn trickle down to the cost of your holiday by way of rising hotel prices and the cost of eating out.

Could I face any unexpected surcharges on my package holiday?

Tour operators are legally permitted to add surcharges to the cost of your holiday if they can cite circumstances outside their control, such as rising fuel prices. But not by much.

Under holiday regulations, companies are allowed to pass on increases of up to 8 per cent without allowing you to cancel penalty free. So a £2,000 all-inclusive to Greece which you booked in January could become £2,160.

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