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Airspace closures, flight bans, and the war in Ukraine

This pales in comparison to the tragedy unfolding within Ukraine itself, but travelers should be aware of potential side-effects of the conflict impacting air travel. There have been some already, and we can probably expect more as things escalate and all parties settle in for a long conflict.

The Russians are attacking airports in Ukraine; some may still be open, but it's reasonable to expect air travel to/from the country to become increasingly challenging, eventually impossible. Not a surprise when there are combat air missions taking place.

Flying over Ukraine has always had some higher potential for Bad Things happening (Russian separatists have shot down airliners, commercial flights have effectively been hijacked by pro-Russian allies to snatch opposition figures). Now that a full-blown war has broken out, most airlines are going to steer clear of Ukrainian airspace, maybe for a long time. If nothing else, some flights may get longer as aircraft fly around the region to avoid potential dangers.

The UK has already banned the Aeroflot (the Russian national airline) from their airspace. The Russians have reciprocated. There will probably be more such bans and retaliations.

If the airspace bans do continue and spread, this has the potential to impact a lot of worldwide air service: many long-haul flights (headed to destinations nowhere near Russia) cross Russian airspace.

Then there's the potential for cyber-warfare impacting many systems. So far, it seems the worst fears of potential widespread Russian cyber-attacks (and rumored US retaliation) have not materialized. Let's hope it stays that way. If that starts and escalates, it has the potential to mess with many things we use every day, even when we are not traveling.

Posted by
5568 posts

Yep, that's a good example.

Issues with crossing Russian airspace will have their greatest impact for those in northern Europe flying to southeast Asia (popular holiday destinations). Flights from northern Europe to Japan/Korea, too (those often go almost entirely over Russia). Japan/Korea still remain restricted due to COVID, but like other Asian destinations, they are starting to open up, and they do get transit flights. Any flights from North America to the Middle East that go over the north pole -- lots of flights to the airline hubs in Dubai, Doha, etc. -- cross a lot of Russian airspace.

Posted by
9692 posts

David, interesting thread. I had not seen that about UK banning Aeroflot.

Tom, that is very interesting. I usually think I'm pretty good with geography but it's flat map geography, lol, not flight route geography, lol. Thank you for that link.

Posted by
13532 posts

Sure, but let's try and be accurate and factual.

Flying over 90% of Ukraine had been as safe as anywhere in the world. Russians shot down one flight from within the Ukraine. Not airliners (plural). The one flight that was referred to as having been hijacked was diverted. Although the circumstances of that, in their entirety, should have been held by the world as a criminal act.

When the war ends favorably for Ukraine, I would expect the commercial flights to return quickly to support the economy.

I can not think of a destination in Europe that will become less accessible by US tourists due to Russia being closed.

Russians hacking computer systems in the west could trigger NATO, so I suspect the Russians will be cautious on that count especially if lives could be lost.

Posted by
5568 posts

As I said, the greatest impact here -- today, right now -- is going to be flights from northern Europe to Asia. That's today, in the first hours of this war. Anyone who says things are just fine and they're going to remain unchanged is naive or worse. And of course there are no shortage of trolls and apologists out doing Putin's work for him (nothing new there).

Ukraine appears to be fighting back hard and bravely digging in for a long, costly conflict. Analysts are expressing surprise that the Russian advances have not been as swift and successful as many expected, but the Russians will prevail. Putin has staked a lot on his plans for a quick, "clean" victory, and he may end up with something more akin to what happened to those who occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. We will see how that goes and what impacts it has for those hoping to fly over Ukrainian (and Russian) airspace. Nobody should be surprised if things continue to go downhill, it's still very early. I would not suggest any travelers panic and cancel flights (although I certainly wouldn't advise anyone to plan travel to Ukraine anytime soon, you would have to be delusional). But I would suggest anyone planing flights that go through or near the region pay attention to current events and be prepared to be flexible, as things change going forward.

Posted by
6627 posts

Don't forget potential impacts of higher fuel costs.

Posted by
6869 posts has maps of virtually every airport in the world, and you can see the airplanes in the sky, their speeds, altitudes, where the flight started and the destination airport.

I often watch for the airplanes coming into our airport, and that often includes the huge Russian Antonov 225 carrying who knows what into The Rocket City. Our local industries include rocket engines, missiles, defensive missile systems (THADD) Army Aviation (helicopters) and the ICBM program (headquartered here.) Who know what they trust Russia's airplane hauling, but it's cargo must be large and extremely expensive.

Earlier today, there were a few commercial jets flying east and west in Southern Belarus. But to the south, there were so many planes going to and from Europe to the Far East that it looked like a traffic jam on the map.

Posted by
5618 posts

At present, it’s still possible to fly to/from Britain, from/to Russia, but only by connecting somewhere in between.

On the flip side, it appears just about every well-to-do-Russian with plans for their usual ski vacation in Courchevel, France, has cancelled. Maybe they’re choosing not to go, or can’t find a way to be able to access their finances, or the no-go decision was made for them. The place’ll be pretty empty without them.

Posted by
1797 posts

Done. In addition to a couple of other small groups I personally know housing orphans, who are preparing their resources to help their village neighbors.

David, in response to your flight thoughts, I checked my next month flight to Dubai via a connection in Doha and it appears to be flying - just not over Russian airspace. So airlines will figure that out.

Posted by
1016 posts

The one flight that was referred to as having been hijacked was diverted. Although the circumstances of that, in their entirety, should have been held by the world as a criminal act.

Just so I'm clear...if a person in the aircraft tells the pilot there is a bomb on the plane and to land at this airport instead of that one, it's a hijacking. If the person giving the bomb threat does it over the radio, and sends up a fighter jet, it's a diversion.

Posted by
1016 posts

James, I agree with you. What struck me was that, in this case, whether it was a diversion or a hijacking was a distinction without a difference.

Posted by
5568 posts

Individual nations that have now closed their airspace to Russian air traffic:

  • Ireland
  • UK
  • Slovenia
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • Lithuania
  • Latvia
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria

Today the EU also proposed a ban on Russian air traffic (I assume EU bureaucracy requires a more lengthy process).

Again, this probably is not going to have a great impact on most people flying between North America and Europe (I assume that Russia will retaliate by closing their airspace to aircraft from these countries). And nope, the US has not yet banned Aeroflot, which seems odd (maybe because it could damage the real estate market in south Florida?).

Airspace exclusions keep expanding and some routes will definitely be impacted. An extreme example: Belavia (the national airline of Belarus) has a flight between Minsk and Istanbul that takes about two hours -- or at least it used to, flying a direct route. That flight now takes almost six hours, because they are diverting as far east as the Caspian Sea (that's further east than Tehran, Iran) -- that is a long detour. Look at the crazy route here. I doubt anyone here is planning to take that flight, but it shows how airspace closures can play havoc with flight plans.

From New York to Paris, it's not going to impact that. For flights crossing other parts of the globe (Northern Europe to Asia, in particular, or over-the-pole flights from North America to the Middle East), it's probably going to require stretching those flights.

Posted by
1216 posts

Considering the State Dept is telling US citizens to consider leaving Russia, it's more than probable that more sanctions and restrictions(air?) are coming. That said, unless American's are actually going to Russia, most won't enter their airspace.

Posted by
3198 posts

I often watch for the airplanes coming into our airport, and that
often includes the huge Russian Antonov 225 carrying who knows what
into The Rocket City.


Who know what they trust Russia's airplane hauling, but it's cargo
must be large and extremely expensive.


Posted by
5568 posts

Well, that gigantic AN-225 -- the world's largest plane -- was destroyed yesterday in Russian attacks on Kiyv. It had been stuck on the ground at a Kiyv airport (Antonov's home base, where it was built) undergoing engine maintenance when the Russians struck, so they were unable to fly it away to safety.

There was only one, and it was quite the behemoth. It once carried the Soviet Space Shuttle, in more recent years it specialized in moving extremely large/heavy cargo around the world, sometimes delivering supplies to areas hit by natural disasters. The plane's loss is very sad. The Ukrainians vow the plane will be rebuilt -- at Russia's expense -- but that seems like a dream that probably won't be realized (estimated cost for that is over US3 billion, but nobody knows the aircraft's condition, and to "rebuild" a unique aircraft that was damaged in a battle may be unrealistic).

Posted by
1016 posts

James, agree. My original point was that I view both scenarios as hijacking, and found the use of the word "diversion" to be underplaying what occurred. Perhaps, looking back, you were being ironic (not a first for you, I know!) As you noted, to those on the plane, they don't care--a bomb threat is a bomb threat--but in my mind for a State to make such a threat under the color of authority is the greater of two evils.

Posted by
218 posts

According to articles in The Points Guy today, the US is closing its airspace to Russian operators. Also, United is ending its use of Russian airspace and suspending SFO-DEL and EWR-BOM for the time being. Apparently the latter two flights cannot operate without additional refueling or other technical stops.

The articles note that airlines pay to transit a countries' airspace, so this amounts to another form of cutting Russia off.