How travel is being impacted by the Ukraine invasion
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to impact global travel with mounting interruptions to air service.
The European Union closed all airspace across its 27 countries to Russian airplanes on Sunday, following a steady stream of announcements of airspace closures from member countries over the weekend.
In response to the EU ban, the Russian Civil Aviation Authority announced on Monday that it has closed off its airspace to the carriers of 36 countries.
The United Kingdom closed its airspace to Russian aircraft on Thursday, with Russia responding with its own UK ban on Friday.
Canadian airspace is also closed to Russian aircraft operators.
The number of canceled flights to and from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport ranked highest worldwide as of mid-day Monday as western governments closed airspace to Russian aircraft.
One in every five departing and arriving flights from Sheremetyevo have been canceled as of 12:30 p.m. ET Monday, according to data on flight tracking site FlightAware. The airport is the largest in Russia, according to its website.
Lask week, Ukraine’s airspace closed in the wake of the Russian invasion. Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova also closed its airspace, as did part of Belarus.
The conflict could redraw the world air map.
Meanwhile, the US government’s Federal Aviation Administration told US pilots last week to avoid “the entire country of Ukraine, the entire country of Belarus and a western portion of Russia.”
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, known as EASA, has warned of a “high risk” to civilian aircraft flying near the Ukrainian border.
Countries including the United States and the United Kingdom have advised their citizens to leave Ukraine, and both the US and the UK have advised against all travel to Ukraine and Russia.
Here’s what we know about how travel in Eastern Europe and Russia might be impacted in the wake of the conflict.
Can I still fly to Eastern Europe?
Air traffic is still moving outside of severely affected areas. As well as bordering Russia, Ukraine also neighbors Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, as the map above illustrates.
EASA doubled the size of the warning zone around Ukraine on February 25, fearing “mid-range missiles penetrating into controlled airspace.”
The zone expanded from within 100 nautical miles to within 200 nautical miles of the Ukrainian border with Russia. EASA says the expanded area now factors in the “risk posed by the threat of missile launches to and from Ukraine.”
Moldova has closed its airspace, while Belarus has banned flights over part of the country.
All countries bordering Ukraine were already on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Level 4 list of highest-risk Covid-19 destinations for travel. The US government also warns against traveling to Belarus and Moldova due to the conflict.
Florida-based travel adviser Gwen Kozlowski, a specialist in travel to central Europe and president of travel agency Exeter International, said on February 24 that her agency has had questions from travelers with upcoming trips to Poland.
“We have guests traveling at the end of March and into April in Poland, but that’s over a month out. It’s impossible to say now how this will evolve. We’re basically in wait-and-see mode,” Kozlowski said via email.
Przemysłlaw Marczewski, a representative for the national Polish Tourism Organisation declared on February 25 that “travel to Poland is smooth, and the borders of the Republic of Poland with neighboring countries are not closed.”
Marczewski noted that Polish land borders with Ukraine have been open to refugees and that the travel industry is supporting the citizens of Ukraine with temporary accommodation in hotels.
Tourists with near-term plans to visit Poland are advised to book accommodations in advance, “as part of the hotel infrastructure may be earmarked for those in need.”
My flight is supposed to be flying over Ukrainian airspace. Will it be rerouted?
If you are flying on a route that would usually cross currently blocked-off airspace, the airline will reroute the flight.
Imagery from February 24 from aircraft tracker ADS-B Exchange showed empty airspace over Ukraine and its Russian border.
“For aviation, safety is always the top priority,” said Willie Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association airline industry body, in a statement issued on February 24.
“IATA is helping to facilitate the relevant and timely sharing of information with airlines from government and non-government sources to support airlines as they plan their operations around airspace closures in Ukraine and parts of Russia.”
Can I still travel to Russia?
Countries including the UK and US have issued warnings on travel to Russia due to the current conflict.
Current flight and airspace restrictions also make travel to and from Russia difficult.
Russian airspace on the border with Ukraine is closed to civilian flights. There are also some restrictions on domestic flights within Russia.
EU airspace is closed to Russian aircraft, as is UK and Canadian airspace.
“These aircraft will no more be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the European Union. This will apply to any plane”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on February 28, confirming the news.
As of February 28, Russian airspace is closed to 36 countries.
As well as the UK, which was banned from Russian airspace last week, all EU nations including France, Italy and Spain are now prevented from operating in Russian airspace.
Delta Air Lines has suspended its codeshare with Russian national airline Aeroflot.
The US State Department issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory for Russia in January and updated it on February 28 citing the “unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine, the potential for harassment against US citizens by Russian government security officials, the embassy’s limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia,” as well as Covid-19 and other factors.
The United Kingdom updated its advisory to citizens on February 28, broadening a warning against travel to certain parts of Russia to advising against all travel to Russia.
Canadian citizens are advised to avoid non-essential travel to Russia due to the conflict, and avoid all travel within 50 kilometers of the Ukraine border.
Meanwhile, popular travel author Rick Steves, who organizes tours, announced Thursday he is canceling tours in Russia for the remainder of the year.
“Our mission at (Rick Steves’ Europe) is to help Americans understand the world through travel,” Steves Tweeted. “But when we bring travelers to Russia, we also bring their dollars — dollars that would support Putin’s aggression. We have now canceled all 2022 tours to Russia.”
How long will travel be affected?
The situation in Ukraine is fast-moving. It is unclear how long airspace over Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus or Russia will be impacted.
According to the UK government’s travel advisory, restrictions on domestic flights in Russia are currently set to be in place through March 2.