What it’s like to fly to Moscow as the sky closes

Moscow (CNN) — The closure of European skies to Russian planes has created real problems for travelers trying to fly to and from the country as it continues its invasion of Ukraine.

This led to a scramble for the latest incoming and outgoing planes. For some passengers, it was a race against time, with successive airlines canceling flights to comply with airspace restrictions or logistical problems created by newly imposed sanctions.

On Sunday, trying to reach CNN’s office in Moscow from London, I encountered some of the challenges that other passengers have faced, trying to cross borders as they closed.

I originally booked an early flight from Heathrow to London on a Lufthansa flight via Frankfurt. Everything seemed OK earlier today, even though the UK and Russia had already cut direct air links.

More airspace closures followed in the hours that followed, but Lufthansa stayed on track until 11 p.m. – just eight hours before check-in – when I found out my flight had been canceled because Lufthansa had disconnected all routes to Russia. .

The next few hours were a frantic search for an alternative flight that was in no danger of being grounded.

One possible plan might have been to fly via Casablanca on Air Maroc, but despite the prospect of a brief trip south of the cold European winter, it was quickly dismissed as an option. The risk of being stranded in Morocco if the second leg of the trip was canceled for similar reasons was too great. It would also have taken too long.

Instead, flying on Aegean Airways in Greece and transiting through Athens seemed like the best solution, even though my flight was due to arrive at 4am on Monday – a harrowing hour before what was likely to be a busy work schedule. .

As I drove to Heathrow on Sunday and more and more airlines stopped flights to Moscow, I started to feel more pessimistic about my chances of reaching Moscow.

In-flight reversals

It was entirely possible that while I was in the air on the first leg of my trip, Greece or the wider European Union would impose sanctions, possibly forcing the airline to suspend flights to Russia .

If that happened, I could be stuck in Athens and having to organize a frustrating flight home.

On Saturday, Air France subsidiary KLM was forced to cancel two flights while they were flying to Moscow and St Petersburg, over fears EU sanctions could prevent the airline from sending spare parts aviation in Russia.

This could have meant that airliners were stranded in these cities if they developed technical problems.

There seemed no other alternative than to take the risk without any other viable option to reach Moscow quickly.

As expected, the first leg of my trip was uneventful. As the plane grounded at Athens airport late Sunday evening, I sought news of further announced sanctions or other airline cancellations as soon as I could. So far nothing.

I boarded the second plane after a brief layover in the Greek capital, with each step of the usually mundane take-off procedure taking on added importance given heightened fears of flights being canceled or turned around. Doors closing. Aircraft taxiing. Lift-off! Nothing could go wrong now.

It is not – although while I was in the air the EU announced that it would close its airspace to Russian traffic.

My plane flew over snow-covered Moscow from the south, bypassing Ukrainian airspace which is currently closed following the invasion, and landed safely.

The question now, following the closure of Russian airspace to 36 countries on Monday, is when and how I will make the return trip.

Top image credit: Peter Wilkinson/CNN

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