Finnair pauses Asia routes following the Russia invasion of Ukraine

Feb 28, 2022

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Finnair canceled some of its most popular routes to Asia this morning, hours after Russia banned airlines from 36 European countries from using its airspace.

The Finnish flag carrier made the drastic move after admitting its current “fast” routes to the Far East were no longer “economically sustainable” if it can’t fly over the warmongering nation.

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Over the weekend, the EU closed its skies to all Russian planes as part of a raft of punitive measures over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, meaning all planes, including the private jets of oligarchs, will now be unable to land in, take off from or fly over any EU nation.

And today, Russia hit back with its own ban on European planes as the tit-for-tat intensified.

Related: How Russia banning UK airlines from flying in its airspace will affect travel

Without access to Russian airspace, Finnair would have to take a longer flight path to get to Asia, which would add hours to flight times and bring one of its key selling points as the fastest European airline to Asia crashing to the ground.

As a result, the Finnish flag carrier said it has been forced to ground a number of its most lucrative routes to Seoul, Osaka, Tokyo, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as canceling all flights to Moscow and St. Petersberg in Russia. These flights will currently remain grounded until at least March 6, 2022.

Related: More cruise lines drop Russia, Ukraine calls in wake of invasion

“The crisis in Ukraine touches all Europeans, and we understand the EU’s decision to close its airspace,” Finnair CEO Topi Manner said. “We are implementing our contingency plan as the situation has a considerable impact on Finnair. Bypassing the Russian airspace lengthens flight times to Asia considerably and, thus, the operation of most our passenger and cargo flights to Asia is not economically sustainable or competitive.”

The airline has reportedly reached out to customers booked on the canceled flights, and passengers will be able to apply for a refund for the unused ticket to South Korea, Japan or China between Feb. 27 and March 13. A full refund is also possible for flights to Russia.

Why does Finnair need Russian airspace?

While all Asia-connecting European airlines will suffer as a result of the closure of Russian airspace, Finnair has probably the most to lose.

Access to Russian airspace is a key selling point for Finnair, which boasts the fastest flights between Europe and Asia thanks to a bilateral agreement that allows the airline to fly over Siberia.

That, combined with Finland’s northerly position in Europe, allows the airline to shave valuable hours off a journey that takes other airlines considerably longer from farther south.

Related: How pilots deal with sudden airspace closures

As part of the agreement, Finnair flies some 80 routes through Russian airspace per week.

Finnair has not, however, completely stopped flying to Asia, and is continuing to service destinations in India, Thailand and Singapore.

But these flights will follow what other European airlines flying to this part of the world will do — pass south through Turkey and then the Middle East, at a cost of up to an hour on flight times.

Whether the measures pose an existential threat to the airline remains to be seen, and largely depends on how long Russia’s war with Ukraine lasts.

But Manner was keen to reassure stakeholders and passengers that Finland’s flagship airline was focused on further contingency plans should they be required.

“The State owner has stated that Finnair is a company of strategic interest,” said Manner. “Under these new circumstances, we as a company feel that functioning flight connections are even more important for the Finnish economy, safety and security of supply. The company is considering different solutions in case the situation prolongs, and it has an active dialogue with the state of Finland.”

Currently, airlines from 36 countries have been banned from Russian airspace, according to Reuters.

Swiss International Airlines, which is owned by Germany’s Lufthansa and did not appear on the list, said it was nevertheless halting all flights to Moscow and would not be using Russian airspace.

Featured image courtesy of Daniel Bockwoldt/picture alliance via Getty Images.

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