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How Russian sanctions could affect travel to and from Germany

The Local Germany
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How Russian sanctions could affect travel to and from Germany
A sign announces a cancelled flight at Munich Airport. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Andreas Gebert

In retaliation for EU sanctions, Russia has closed its airspace to German aircraft - and that of other European nations. Here's how it could affect travellers heading east from Germany.


What's going on?

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, much of the western world hit back with a raft of sanctions aimed at Russian banks, oligarchs and businesses. Last Sunday, Germany joined a rapidly growing list of nations, including Finland, Estonia, Portugal, France, Italy and Norway, that had shut its airspace to Russian planes.

Since then, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has announced that the entire bloc will be closed to Russian aircraft. With Canada and the US also introducing airspace bans, Russian airlines now have very few options when flying west. 

Outraged at the new sanctions, Russia has retaliated by closing its airspace to flights from EU countries like Germany. At the same time, flights are bypassing Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova for safety reasons. 

READ ALSO: Zeitenwende: How war in Ukraine has sparked a historic shift in Germany

How will this affect air travellers? 

With Ukraine, Belarus, Russa and Moldova all off-limits, the change is likely to have an impact on customers flying east of Poland - particularly if they are heading to far-eastern countries like China, Japan or South Korea. 

Of course, it also means that there will be no more direct flights from Germany to Russia, and the same is the case for Belarus. 

If you are thinking of travelling to either of these countries, it's still possible via an EU third-country - though it will take much longer than it ordinarily would.

For example, flying to Moscow now generally involves travelling with a Turkish airline and incorporating a stopover in Istanbul. Flying to Minsk, meanwhile, could require both a transfer in Istanbul and a transfer in Moscow, which may put the flight-time up to around 20 hours. 

You should also be aware that the Foreign Ministry has issued a travel warning to both countries. That means that non-essential travel is not recommended and you may not be eligible for a travel insurance payout if bookings are cancelled or postponed. 

Germany's Lufthansa is no longer flying to - or through - either country and has confirmed that some of the routes that previously went through Russia will now be diverted.

"Lufthansa continues to fly to Japan, Korea and mainland China," a spokesperson for the airline told The Local. "Routing was changed so that Russian airspace can be bypassed. As a result, the flight times are somewhat longer."

It appears that many of these flights will now be redirected through Turkey to the south of Russia. 


This could also affect people travelling to Australia, since many flights from Germany involve a stopover in China.  

According to Emirates, the largest airline of the United Arab Emirates, some of their flights from Germany will also bypass parts of Russia as well as the whole of Ukraine. 

Flights to southeast Asia that previously involved a transfer in Russia are also likely to be cancelled or rebooked. Equally, some flights returning from Asia to Europe could be problematic as many of these involve stopovers in Russian airports. 


Who should I contact for updated flight information?

If you'd like to get updated information on your flight, your first port of call should be the customer services department of the airline you're flying with. 

For flights booked as part of a package deal, get in touch with your travel agent for more information. 

What happens if my flight gets cancelled? 

Normally if your flight is cancelled, you'll get up to seven days' notice of the cancellation and the chance to either rebook or ask for a refund on your flight. If you're only informed of the cancellation at the airport on the day of travel, you should also receive compensation and a meal allowance from the airline or travel company.


Unfortunately, EU regulation that allows customers to claim up to €600 in compensation for cancelled flights wouldn't be valid in most cases related to the Ukraine crisis. That's because the regulation includes a carve-out for "exceptional circumstances" such as war and unrest.

Is it safe to fly at the moment?

The general consensus is that it is. As mentioned above, global airlines are making a concerted effort to bypass Ukraine, Belarus and nearby Moldova in their flight routes, and Russia has recently become off-limits to EU aircraft in any case. 

Speaking to Focus Online on Wednesday, travel safety expert Michael Trinkwalder explained that there was no particular risk to passenger airlines at present.

"It is understandable if many passengers are feeling uneasy due to the events in Ukraine," he said. Nevertheless, it's "extremely unlikely" at the moment that a passenger plane would be accidentally shot down in or near Ukraine, especially as these aircraft will be avoiding this area entirely. 

Lufthansa flight

A Lufthansa flight lands in the fog at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Can I cancel my flight if I'm concerned about travelling?

You certainly can, but you may not be entitled to a full refund unless those terms had been agreed with the airline or travel agent beforehand. 

In most cases, if you cancel a booking, the airline will deduct a certain amount from your refund as compensation, minus taxes and fees. This is partially to deter people from cancelling at short notice when they may not be able to fill the seat.

The situation is slightly different for people who can no longer travel to a country due to restrictions. For instance, if the country you're supposed to be flying to suddenly bans people of your nationality from entering the country, you should be entitled to cancel free of charge. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany’s latest travel rules

Will flights become more expensive?

Unfortunately, they may well do. Travel expert Trinkwalder believes that the severe restrictions in international flights due to the Ukraine crisis are likely to lead to cost increases for people flying beyond eastern Europe.


Focus Online reports that several flight operators are currently working on a "paraffin surcharge" which could make up for the additional fuel costs incurred when taking longer routes around countries like Russia and Ukraine. 

For people who've already booked their flights, however, there is some good news: according to legal experts, price increases for tickets that have already been booked are pretty much impossible, even if the flight route has changed. 


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