United have suspended two routes to India. Finnair has reduced its service in Asia. And the Japanese company All Nippon Airways has suspended flights from London and Paris.
But despite these changes, which stem from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, analysts say the need for airlines to avoid Russian airspace will not have a major overall impact on commercial flights. , especially when it comes to US passengers.
“It’s an inconvenience, something we can do without, but we’ll find solutions,” said John Grant, principal analyst for air travel data provider OAG.
Russia has blocked access to its airspace to airlines from 36 countries, including the UK, EU countries and Canada. Additionally, airlines from many countries outside of these 36 nations, including the United States, avoid Russian airspace out of caution.
But while moving away from this huge swath of airways will impact many Europe-Asia routes, it will only be a major impediment on US flights to a few destinations, including India, analysts say. . In addition, flight operations from the United States to several of the other markets for which flight plans would be most affected, such as mainland China, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul, South Korea, are still greatly reduced due to the Covid restrictions or fully suspended.
John Cox, a retired US Airways captain who is now an aviation industry consultant, mentioned Chicago-Shanghai as the type of route that would have required flight path adjustments to avoid Russian airspace. United and China Eastern flew this route before Covid, but no airline currently serves this route. Similarly, there is currently no nonstop service between the United States and Hong Kong, although six airlines operated in this market three years ago, serving a total of eight American cities, according to timetable data from flight of Cirium.
Yet the lack of Russian airspace as a flight path option is already having consequences for travelers and airlines, even on US service.
United has suspended flights between San Francisco and Delhi and between Newark and Mumbai due to difficulties in operating these routes without flying over Russia. The carrier continues to fly on two other Indian routes, but with modified flight paths.
For example, instead of its usual polar flight path between Newark and Delhi, United now operates the flight in a nearly straight line, south of Russia and through Saudi Arabia. The flight is about 30 minutes longer than Air India’s Newark-Delhi flight, as Air India continues to fly over Russian airspace.
Similarly, FlightAware data shows that airlines are changing routes on some East Asia-US routes. For example, Korean Airlines flattened its Seoul-New York JFK flight path to stay southeast of Russia.
With jet fuel prices in the United States at their highest level since 2014, modest changes to flight plans could still have a marked impact on airline operating costs. But even among some European carriers, which typically have to change more routes than US airlines, the impact will be negligible, according to Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr. Rising fuel costs will be more than offset by savings in overflight fees charged by Russia, Spohr said in a March 3 conference call.
However, not all airlines get off easy. Finnair said it will have to lay off at least 90 pilots and 150 cabin crew due to the suspension of its flights to Russia and over Russian airspace. The carrier suspended service from Osaka, Japan and Hong Kong until at least the end of April and also had to make substantial flight path changes to serve other Asian routes.
Likewise, All Nippon did not fly Tokyo-London or Tokyo-Paris last week and will maintain those suspensions until at least March 15.
But Cox said that for the most part, international travelers from the United States are not likely to encounter major connection difficulties, even when passing through major European gateways.
“If you fly with KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways, Iberia, Air France, you won’t see much of an impact,” he said.