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Key Words: EU closes airspace to Russian flights, and Russia responds in kind. Meanwhile, tour operators and cruise lines shun Russia.


The European Union and the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine — restricting certain Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system and banning transactions with the country’s central bank. As Russian tankers and fighter planes surrounded Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, airlines, tour operators and cruise lines also took steps to shun Russia.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft are forbidden from landing in, taking off or flying over EU territory. The ban also extends to chartered Russian jets, she added. “So let me be very clear,” she said. “Our airspace will be closed to every Russian plane — and that includes the private jets of oligarchs.”

On Monday, Russia’s federal air transport agency Rosaviation responded to countries that had already taken steps to ban Russian flights from their airspace, banning flights from the 27-member European Union among other countries from flying over Russian airspace. Many of the world’s biggest international airlines fly over Russia every day en route to the Far East.

“‘When we bring travelers to another country, we also bring their dollars — dollars that would support Putin’s aggression.’”

— Rick Steves, travel tour operator

As the full-scale invasion continued, Ukraine had already closed its airspace to civilian flights, while Russia also closed some of its own airspace due to the conflict. “The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a high risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels,” the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said on Friday.

Airlines were warned not to fly over Ukraine, or in Belarus or Russia within 100 nautical miles of Ukraine’s borders. “In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft,” it added. In 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Four men are standing trial in the Netherlands for the attack.

On Thursday, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings canceled all calls at St. Petersburg, Russia for the rest of the year. “Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises. Together, the three lines had about 50 sailings on their schedules for the year that included stops in the Baltic port,” The Points Guy travel site reported. “Viking late Thursday canceled its entire summer season of ‘Kiev, Black Sea & Bucharest.’”

Several other major cruise lines said they were “monitoring” the situation. Atlas Ocean Voyages said it would skip the port in St. Petersburg this summer. “We have adjusted our voyages,” Alberto Aliberti, the company’s president, said. “Guests will enjoy these unique and rarely visited destinations and immersive shore excursions to take in the rich cultures and breathtaking vistas of the Baltic.”

“‘The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a high risk for civil flights.’”

— The European Union Aviation Safety Agency

Last week, Rick Steves, a TV personality and travel consultant and operator of his eponymous European travel company, said his company would cancel all tours with stops in Russia. “When we bring travelers to another country, we also bring their dollars — dollars that would support Putin’s aggression. Therefore, as of today, we have canceled all 2022 tours that include a stop in Russia.”

“Of course, we will keep a close eye on unfolding events and monitor any travel impacts through the rest of Europe. But it is important to keep geographic realities in mind and remember that a war in Ukraine is as far from our European vacation dreams as a war in Guatemala would be from Texas or Florida,” he wrote on his blog, entitled “Comrades No More.” Other tour operators have taken similar steps.

“The tragic reality unfolding in Ukraine only reminds me how important it is for Americans to keep on traveling and to do so in a way that makes us better and more engaged citizens of our world. I’m flying to Europe next month for a 40-day trip through a dozen great cities from London to Athens — and I’m proud that thousands of my fellow travelers will experience the European trip of their dreams,” he added.

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