Four European airlines have stopped parking their planes overnight at an airport in Kyiv as fears mount over a possible all-out Russian invasion.
Germany’s Lufthansa, Dutch KLM, Austrian Airlines and Swiss International Airlines have made sudden changes to their Kyiv flight schedule so that their planes and crew would be spending fewer hours in Ukraine amid heightened tensions, according to Flightradar24’s data from Jan. 22-23.
The unexpected flight schedule change caused chaos and frustrations at airports.
In Munich, the flight to Kyiv scheduled for the evening of Jan. 22 was postponed to the next morning.
Before departure, Lufthansa informed the passengers that the crew was no longer allowed to stay overnight in Kyiv due to "political tensions," Evropeiska Pravda reported. The airline giant covered hotel expenses, one of the passengers, Liubov Tsybulska, told the news outlet.
The flight scheduled on the same day from Germany’s central city of Frankfurt to Kyiv had also been postponed, according to Flightradar24’s data.
The other three airlines followed, abruptly canceling flights to avoid an overnight stay in Ukraine.
It’s fairly common for airlines to be volatile to the situation and make sudden changes to their flight schedule if they sense some danger, Ukrainian aviation lawyer Andriy Guck said. He explained that the air carriers are trying to reduce the risks of continuing their operation in Ukraine by spending less time on the ground, calling it a “normal” safety measure.
Airlines see that the situation is becoming more dangerous every day but it's not at a point that all flights need to be canceled, he explained.
Over the past few years, airlines have learned to be cautious when flying near high-risk zones where an armed conflict could put passengers’ lives at risk, the expert said. The 2014 downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight by Russian-led militants over eastern Ukraine that killed 298 people and the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 downed by Iranian forces in 2020 that killed 176 people taught airlines to carefully assess the risks in any armed conflict.
Even with the threat of a full-scale Russian invasion looming in the air, Ukraine is still an important market for international airlines, Guck explained. Air transport has been one of the hardest-hit global industries since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the gradual recovery of the global air traffic in 2021, the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant has evaporated passenger demand once again.
Amid a reduction in weekly travel volume and travel restrictions imposed, it’s unlikely that an airline would halt operation in a country where there is still air traffic unless there is a very severe reason, according to the expert.
“Any available market is valuable now,” he said.