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Russia flight bans in Europe increasing uncertainty for travellers

Canadians planning to travel to or from Russia could soon be forced to divert their plans after several European countries shut their airspace to Russian carriers in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement that Canada’s airspace remains open to Russian airlines ‘at this time,’ but the department is actively monitoring the situation and working with the U.S. and other key allies.

Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot operates multiple flights per day through Canadian airspace en route to the U.S. and beyond.

Its carrier permit has since been banned by the U.K. along with Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic which have closed their airspaces to Russian travel. Russia has since retaliated against the U.K. and implemented its own ban on British carriers to its country.

That news is unsettling for Calgarians like Oksana Alkhatib who recently flew to her hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia to visit her parents for the first time in nine years.

Alkhatib is set to fly back home to Calgary on March 22 through London, but her son Malek told CTV News that flight has since been cancelled and new plans are needed to get her home.

“It’s crazy times and never-ending it seems versus the coronavirus and now with this conflict who knows how many more things are going to get canceled,” he said.

“Some of my friends are even worried about travel plans to Russia and my mom was worried about Russia getting completely blocked off by airlines so she’s wondering if she might not even be able to go back home.”

Malek says the best option to get his mother back home to Canada is to have her fly through Latvia, but with uncertainty looming over the conflict with Ukraine, that may not be an option in one month’s time.

He adds that prices for flights are also increasing.

“I'm sure demand for those flights has gone up, because I'm sure that my mom isn't the only one that's planning on traveling to London,” he said.

“The ex-pat Russian community is huge in London and many of them are afraid of not being able to go back home and so they'll kind of start booking their flights as soon as they can to go back so obviously, that'll increase the price for those flights as well.”

Commercial flights are also no longer operating out of Ukraine, Moldova and parts of Belarus, taking away further options for those with family, business or travel plans in Eastern Europe.

The recent disruption in travel has already sparked some cancellations and flight delays in Calgary.

Liam Milner was trying to fly back to the U.K. Saturday morning, but his flight was held up.

“We heard it was a security breach issue on the flight coming here from the U.K. which delayed us by an hour, which means we're now going to miss our connection and just trying to sort this out while we’re stranded,” he said.

Other travellers like Justin Stimmel are also reconsidering any future flights overseas.

“If I was going anywhere near the Ukraine conflict I would cancel my trip and stay where I am because of personal safety, we don’t know where it could escalate from here.”

As uncertainty disrupts travel plans, experts suggest purchasing travel insurance.

CTV News spoke with travel agent Arif Alam with SkyWorld Travel who says that option could give some people peace of mind if they have an upcoming trip overseas.

“That will cover you to reschedule your flight if you need to in advance or are uncertain of heading to Eastern Europe right now,” he said.

“If it’s not that urgent to travel you of course can always postpone your trip to Europe because the situation is so uncertain and it may be easier to wait and watch.”

Alam notes that travel insurance isn’t necessary if airlines cancel flights due to travel bans related to the Russia/Ukraine conflict, but it gives an extra layer of protection for those that may be hesitant on following through with a trip.

“Most of our customers are also switching their plans too and travelling to Asia instead because we don’t see any future restrictions on those types of flights so it’s best to avoid Eastern Europe if you can right now.”