In the wake of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring that COVID-19 is now pandemic, the Russian government has imposed restrictions on air connections to Europe.
From March 13, direct flights to Germany, France, Italy and Spain may be operated only by state-owned flag carrier Aeroflot and to seven nominated destinations, explains Tatiana Golikova, Russia’s vice-prime minister, who is also heading the government’s coronavirus response effort.
The ban is in effect for most airlines, including international carriers, whilst Aeroflot is entitled to continue flights from Moscow Sheremetyevo to Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and Rome. Charter flights are also approved for bringing back stranded Russian travellers from Europe. Earlier bans on air connections with China and South Korea are still in force with the exception of Aeroflot’s flights from Sheremetyevo.
Prior to the latest official ban, many Russian airlines had already cancelled their flights to Italy, where the virus outbreak is particularly severe. For instance, Aeroflot’s low-cost division Pobeda Airlines suspended its service to Bergamo, Rome, Rimini, Pisa and Treviso up to March 31.
Aeroflot’s flights from Moscow to Alicante, Valencia, Malaga, Palma-de-Mallorca, Tenerife, Marseille, Lyon, Nice, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hanover, Stuttgart, Milan, Venice, Naples, Verona and Bologna have all been suspended until April 30 and the airline is offering reimbursements to passengers who have to return their tickets.
The on-going travel turmoil, along with the plunge of the rouble against the Euro – all in the middle of the early reservations season for the upcoming summer holiday travel season – are threatening Russian airlines’ financial futures. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that the influx of international tourists — inclusing Europeans — into Russia is drying up as well, according to the coutry’s travel operator association.
Losses racked up by travel agents may be the highest in the last two decades, the association warns, whilst beseeching the government to provide support to the industry. “The combined cost of cancelled tour packages between March and May has [already] exceeded 500 million roubles,” the association states.
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