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Russian roundabout: how flights are avoiding Russian airspace

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Since the beginning of March, at least 21 airlines have routed flights around Russian airspace either as a result of reciprocal bans issued by Russian authorities on their aircraft or to avoid any potential issues flying through Russia. Routes between Europe and Asia have been most affected as airlines have either routed around Russia adding time and distance to their flights or canceling flights outright.

Status quo — February 2022

Just one month ago, European carriers used Russian airspace as the most efficient routing between their hubs in Europe and their destinations in Asia.

European Airlines over Russia 10 February 2022

Flights avoiding Russia

Most airlines with flights between Europe and Asia have shifted their flights south to avoid Russian airspace. Instead of heading east through Russia and then south to destinations in Japan, South Korea, China, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, flights now first travel south to cross via Turkey, Central Asia, China, and Mongolia. Traveling eastbound, this adds approximately one hour of flying time. On the return trip, flights can now take up to three hours longer.

Going polar

Finnair’s flight between Helsinki and Tokyo and Japan Airlines’ flight between Tokyo and London each formerly routed through Russia for a majority of the flight, but the airlines are both now avoiding Russian airspace. For these particular flights both airlines have adjusted the routes to avoid Russian airspace by going north.

Japan Airlines JL43

JL43 between Tokyo and London averaged 12 hours 12 minutes when traveling over Russia. After a week with its new routing over Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Iceland the flight time now averages 14 hours 38 minutes.

Finnair AY73

Finnair’s flights from Helsinki to Tokyo took advantage of geography to give travelers a relatively quick 8 hour 57 minute flight from Europe to Japan. On 9 March Finnair adjusted the flight for AY73 to route around Russian airspace by taking the polar route, heading north from Helsinki over Svalbard towards Alaska and then skirting Russian airspace in the Pacific toward Japan. The new route adds four hours of flying time.

Who is still flying through Russia?

Other than Russian domestic flights, Chinese airlines continue to use Russian airspace between Europe and China.

Chinese Airlines over Russia 10 March 2022
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