As the Russia-Ukraine war approaches a grim one-month milestone, people are continuing to feel uncertain about travelling to neighbouring countries. But are these concerns justified?
Hours after the invasion, the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) warned airlines against flying over Ukraine, Moldova and parts of Belarus and Russia. Over the following days, airspace bans and sanctions solidified in Europe - and Russia retaliated - changing the scope of global air travel significantly.
Readers planning to travel to eastern Europe shared their concerns with us. And travel agents are still reporting a ‘nervousness’ around booking holidays more generally - dampening experts' predictions for a travel boom in 2022.
A recent survey carried out by travel agency MMGYGlobal found that the war in Ukraine is now twice as likely as Covid to impact Americans' plans to visit Europe. 62 per cent of respondents were concerned that the invasion would spread to nearby countries, while 47 per cent intend to wait to see how the situation evolves before booking a holiday.
Weeks on from the invasion, and EASA has had no cause to extend their Conflict Zone Information Bulletin (CZIB) to other countries. So does that mean it’s safe to travel in the wider region?
Here we answer your questions on travelling in Europe, based on the latest information from travel bodies and the UK foreign office.
How does the EASA decide which countries are safe to fly over?
The regulator is sharing their assessments on airspace around Ukraine via the Conflict Zone Information Bulletin (CZIB), published here. The 24 February update warns against travelling over the region of Chisinau in Moldova, and Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
It also recommends that air operators exercise caution over Moscow and the southern Russian city of Rostov “due to heightened military”, which could include launching mid-range missiles into controlled airspaces.
EASA takes into account all available intelligence information when updating the CZIB, a spokeswoman told Euronews Travel, working closely with the European Commission and the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation - known as Eurocontrol.
The safety agency has had another CZIB in place over eastern Ukraine since 2016, following the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 during an earlier point in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
Which countries have banned Russian planes?
All 27 EU member states along with the US, UK, Albania, Canada, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have banned Russian flights from entering their airspace. In return, Russia has banned flights entering their airspace too. While Japan does not have an outright ban, it has decided to avoid Russian airspace.
Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus are the only countries to have stopped commercial flights leaving or coming into their borders.
Euronews Travel has contacted all the airlines that fly to Ukraine and surrounding countries. Their responses are in this article, which we are keeping updated.
Is it still safe to fly to bordering countries like Poland and Hungary?
Yes, it is still safe to travel to Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, but always check the latest advice before you go. Poland is currently receiving a large number of Ukrainian refugees across its borders, so tourists planning to visit the country should book their accommodation in advance. Areas of Poland close to the Belarusian border are also closed.
"Hungary remains a safe country, and life continues as normal here. The Hungarian Government is doing its utmost to avoid involvement in the war, and to preserve the safety of both the residents of Hungary and the tourists who visit," a spokesman from the Hungarian Tourism Agency told CNN travel.
There is no change in UK foreign office advice about visiting Poland and Hungary, except to note that Russian military strikes have taken place in Ukraine within 20km of the Polish border. But it’s understandable that tourists, business travellers and those trying to reconnect with family and friends have concerns.
Here are our answers to the questions you asked on Euronews Travel’s Instagram.
"I’m going on a trip to the Baltics in a few days. Starting in Estonia and Lithuania. Safe?"
Airlines are still flying on schedule in and out of the Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - meaning aviation experts consider it safe to do so.
Ex-Soviet nations and NATO members have deployed troops to bolster their borders with Russia and Belarus.
There’s no sign this will affect travel between the Baltics or from other destinations, but tensions in the region are high.
"I fly to Vilnius in a week, I’m concerned about flying over Belarus - what should I do?"
Lithuania declared a state of emergency on 24 February in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
If you are visiting the country you are now required to carry photo ID at all times and must present it to law enforcement officials upon request.
Spot checks may be in operation at border crossings too, but the UK foreign office is not advising against travel to Lithuania, so it is thought to be safe to visit.
"I've got a Baltic cruise booked, is it still safe to go?"
Many cruise ships have had to alter their routes in response to the war. Baltic cruises have been particularly affected, as many liners usually stop in St Petersburg.
"In light of the recent attacks by Russia in Ukraine, Princess Cruises is modifying itineraries on 24 cruises that call in St Petersburg, Russia with alternative ports," Princess Cruises said in a statement.
"Replacement ports will vary by itinerary, including popular destinations such as Stockholm, Sweden (overnight call); Visby, Sweden and Gdansk (Gdynia), Poland. Guests can remain booked on their long-awaited cruises, and have the opportunity to visit medieval architecture, world famous landmarks and natural beauty on these Northern Europe cruises."
While most major cruise liners have made alterations instead of cancelling altogether, some river cruise operators were forced to cancel trips scheduled for Ukraine. Major cruise liner Viking has cancelled Ukrainian river cruises and all operations in Russia in 2022.
“We have cancelled all 2022 departures of our Russia river itineraries - and will replace scheduled stops in Russia for all 2022 ocean itineraries," said a spokesperson.
A list of cruise companies which have altered their itineraries can be found here.