British Airways re-routes jets after Russia flights ban

LONDON (AFP): British Airways has suspended flights to Moscow and re-routed planes flying over Russia after Moscow banned UK carriers due to the Ukraine crisis, parent group IAG said Friday.

“We have suspended our flights to Moscow and also the use of Russian airspace, following the confirmation of Russian government restrictions,” BA said in a brief statement.

IAG, which owns several carriers including Iberia and Vueling of Spain, normally operates three BA flights per week from London Heathrow airport to Moscow.

BA stressed it was monitoring the situation “closely” and would offer full refunds for cancellations caused by the Ukraine crisis.

Re-routing of some services may lead to longer flight times, it added.

The news came one day after the UK government banned Russian carrier Aeroflot from flying over Britain as part of a series of sanctions against Russia following its assault on neighbour Ukraine.

Moscow in retaliation on Friday banned all UK-linked planes, including transiting flights, from its airspace.

IAG earnings

Separately Friday, IAG revealed that its net losses more than halved last year as governments lifted Covid travel curbs.

Loss after tax narrowed sharply to 2.9 billion euros ($3.3 billion) from a record 6.9 billion euros in 2020, when the coronavirus emergency paralysed air travel and grounded flights worldwide.

IAG said passenger capacity last year was 36 percent of its pre-pandemic 2019 level, but this reached 58 percent in the fourth quarter.

“The easing of government-imposed travel restrictions as the year progressed resulted in improving travel demand, in particular following the opening of the US border to foreign travellers” in early November, IAG said.

Total revenues climbed eight percent to almost 8.5 billion euros in 2021.

“We are confident that a strong recovery is underway,” said chief executive Luis Gallego.

IAG said the Omicron Covid variant, which emerged late last year, had only a “negative short term impact” on group performance.

Yet IAG expected a “significant” operating loss for the current first quarter, and cited seasonally weak demand, ongoing Omicron uncertainty, and rising costs.

The group then anticipates a return to profitability in the second quarter, but sounded a cautious note over this outlook.

“This assumes no further setbacks related to Covid-19 and government-imposed travel restrictions or material impact from recent geopolitical developments,” it said.

IAG aims this year to return to 85 percent of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity.

Its share price rose 1.4 percent on London’s rebounding stock market as investors shrugged off Ukraine worries.

“The closure of Ukrainian airspace is unlikely to have a major impact… with regard to their operations,” said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Laura Hoy.

“The larger concern is one of confidence and whether passengers will still want to fly… if the crisis continues to escalate,” she told AFP.