AviationLonger flight times are here and fuel surcharges are on the way back.

Blocked and rocked: Airlines reel from Ukraine conflict

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European airlines have to look for new and longer routes to reach Asia.
European airlines have to look for new and longer routes to reach Asia. Photo Credit: Melnikoff/iStock/GettyImages

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is playing havoc with flights between Europe and Asia, as blocked airspaces force aircrafts to fly longer routes to circumvent areas of conflict.

And if passengers are unhappy with more time in the air, there is another shock on the way: the rising cost of aviation fuel will see the return of fuel surcharges. Air Asia Malaysia has led the way with a rise in fuel tax from 8 March. Thai airlines are also eyeing a fuel surcharge.

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights with flight analyst ForwardKeys, said, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made an immediate impact, stalling what had been a strong recovery in travel since early January.

“However, these are early days in a global political and economic crisis; so, what happens to travel will certainly be affected by the progress of the war and the impact of sanctions.

“Over the coming weeks, I expect we will see inflation and possible fuel supply issues pulling back what would otherwise be a strong post-pandemic recovery, as Covid-19 travel restrictions are progressively lifted.”

FlightRadar24's real-time flight tracker shows most aircrafts have changed their routes to avoid flying over Russia and Ukraine.
FlightRadar24's real-time flight tracker shows most aircrafts have changed their routes to avoid flying over Russia and Ukraine. Photo Credit: FlightRadar24

The European Union and Moscow have issued tit-for-tat airspace bans which have resulted in longer flight times for European airlines flying to Asia.

Asian carriers don’t face the same restrictions, although some have opted to steer clear of Russia airspace.

The European Union’s decision to refuse entry to Russian airplanes, including the private jets of the country's oligarchs, is one of several economic measures aimed at forcing Russian president Vladimir Putin to halt the conflict in Ukraine.

Among the European carriers, Finnair has been impacted most significantly. Figures produced by Reuters show that on February 27, Finnair’s Bangkok to Helsinki flight took 10hrs 31mins. A day later, avoiding Russia airspace, the flight, diverting south, took 13hrs 44mins – an additional 3hrs 13 mins.

Another challenge: Some airplanes flying close to the Russian border near and south of Finland have reported unusual activities with their GPS system.

Those Asian airlines still flying through Russia airspace are leaving European rivals in their slipstream. An Air China flight from Frankfurt to Beijing on 3 March touched down in Beijing after 8hrs 35mins. A Frankfurt flight by Lufthansa on the same day took 10hrs 13mins to reach the Chinese capital after avoiding Russian air space.

The only European air corridor left open to Russia is via Serbia, which has become a hub for onward travel to Cyprus, France, Switzerland, Italy and elsewhere.

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