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Major travel disruptions widen in Russia-Ukraine conflict

Planes avoid airspace around Ukraine.
Planes avoid airspace around Ukraine.
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Russia’s attack on Ukraine has prompted multiple tit-for-tat airspace closures and a surge in oil prices, creating havoc for airline operators already crippled by covid-19.

The EU said it would no longer allow any Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Russian-controlled aircraft in its airspace. That means planes are prohibited from landing, taking off, or flying over Europe.

“This will apply to any plane owned, chartered or otherwise controlled by a Russian legal or natural person,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. “So let me be very clear. Our airspace will be closed to every Russian plane—and that includes the private jets of oligarchs.”

The UK was the first to announce a ban on Russian flights and it moved to block the country’s ships from its ports. Canada has also blocked its airspace to Russia.

The US has not followed suit, but the White House has not taken the option off the table, Reuters reported.

“There are a lot of flights that US airlines fly over Russia to go to Asia and other parts of the world and we factor in a range of factors,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said, according to the news agency.

In response, the Russian Civil Aviation Authority closed off its airspace to the carriers of 36 countries on Monday, forcing airlines into a major redraw of their route maps.

Aircraft range has improved substantially over the years, said aviation analyst Alex Macheras, but routes between the UK and far east will require a fuel stop such as Anchorage, Alaska without access to Russian airspace.

Western embassies urge citizens to leave Russia

Several countries, including the UK, France, and the US, have urged their citizens to leave Russia as flight bans compound. Thousands of Ukrainians have fled their own country, too, and many Africans in Ukraine have complained of being stranded there. Ukrainian authorities reportedly refused to let them board trains or cross borders, highlighting the difference in treatment of refugees depending on skin color.

The travel havoc follows air closures from last week in and around the conflict zone. Ukrainian airspace closed to all civilian aircraft, as did parts of Russian airspace along the border. Moldova, southwest of Ukraine, and Belarus to the north also stopped civilian flights entering their airspace.

“In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft,” the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said.

In 2014, Malaysian Airlines MH17 was shot down by Russian-backed rebels over Ukrainian airspace. All 298 people on board the flight traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed.

Global travelers are likely to feel the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis no matter their destination. News of Russia’s military action caused crude oil prices to surge past $100 a barrel, a seven-year high. Russia is the second biggest exporter of crude oil, and is also the world’s largest natural gas exporter. Investors sharply sold off Asian airline stocks as the rising cost of jet fuel shrink airlines’ margins. Travelers should expect to see higher airfares this year as a result.

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