The travel news in full: What you need to know!
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Good afternoon. This is what happened in the world of travel this week: Friday 4th March 2022

THE world has been shaken by the outbreak of war in Ukraine. With concerns for safety, flights have been cancelled and travel operators changed their itineraries. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said flight bookings were down 20 per cent on the previous week.
While there is uncertainty about what is to come in the months ahead, the European Travel Commission led with its response that “travel was a force for peace”. 
Elsewhere in the headlines was news of masks being dropped on flights – and as we work through the alphabet of countries easing travel their restrictions, we heard announcements from Italy, Qatar, the UAE and Western Australia. Let’s see what happened.

Travel updates

Ukraine: On Thursday 24th February Ukraine closed its airspace when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would carry out a “special military operation” in the country. Reuters broke the news.

Day 1: Airlines immediately diverted their planes while Wizz Air and Ryanair, which operate directly between the UK and Ukraine, were grounded. PM Boris Johnson announced that Russia’s biggest airline Aeroflot was banned from entering the UK. Russia then shut its airspace to British airlines. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways rerouted their services around Russia. Full details in the Daily Telegraph.

Airspace: Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, banned Russian aircraft from entering UK airspace. He said: “I’ve signed restrictions prohibiting all scheduled Russian airlines from entering UK airspace or touching down on British soil. Putin’s heinous actions will not be ignored, and we will never tolerate those who put people’s lives in danger.”

Key routes affected: It means longer flight times for passengers on routes from Europe to Asia. Finnair which operates mainly from Helsinki to East Asia temporally halted flights for a week to make changes to bypass Russian airspace – but this will come at a huge financial cost. Quantas said it would change its flight path from London to Darwin and fly through the Middle East and southern Europe.

Japan, Korea, China: Flights to these countries, as well as to India and Pakistan, are also affected with slightly longer flight paths. Virgin Atlantic said its flight from London to India would add another 15 minutes. Further disruption in the weeks ahead is expected.

Flight tracker: Not all airlines are banned from Russian airspace so travellers can book with unaffected carriers, which can fly across the country. Reuters has the list of the banned 36 – mostly European – countries.

Day 4: On Sunday The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen closed EU airspace to Russian aircraft. The United States closed theirs on Tuesday.

Day 5: The Foreign Office on Monday updated its guidance advising against travel to Russia.

Cruises cancelled: Riviera Travel announced it had cancelled “all of our holidays to Russia for the foreseeable future”. Viking Cruises, P&O, MSC Cruises, Carnival Corp and Fred Olsen have also dropped or adjusted their upcoming Russian sailings.

The world’s largest travel firm: TUI released a statement on Tuesday saying it would be adjusting some flight and cruise routes. Its chief executive Fritz Joussen added that “any restrictions or sanctions” against Russian billionaire Alexey Mordashov – its largest single shareholder – “will not have any lasting negative consequences for us as a company”.  The Guardian told us he had resigned on Wednesday “with immediate effect” after being hit with EU sanctions.

Gesture: Eurostar is offering free train travel to Ukrainians travelling to the UK.

Surprise: Welcome aboard, you can now remove your mask. Jet2, which operates flights and package holidays across Europe, became the first airline to announce it would drop face masks on flights between England and Northern Ireland. The Times had the exclusive on Tuesday. The news came as a surprise, as back in January it was reported that airlines would globally “act as one” when the time was right to remove the restriction. Ryanair is set to make a decision after it consults staff according to the Daily Telegraph.

Mediterranean levels of sunshine: While Ryanair said bookings were down by about 20 per cent compared to the previous week, it also announced its largest ever summer schedule from its three London airports, Stansted, Luton and Gatwick. Travel Weekly shared its 14 new destinations including Naples, Maderia and Stockholm.

Bucket list: From old memories to new ones. On the same day Neighbours confirmed the soap would officially end in June, Western Australia reopened its borders after almost 700 days because of the coronavirus pandemic. Having become known as the hermit state, WA opened to international visitors who are double-jabbed. Perth posted “We’re open and can’t wait to see you in the City”.

Action packed: Known as the sunniest region Down Under, Western Australia is blessed with natural treasures. There’s the Outback, 7,800 miles of Coral Coastline and beaches, the world’s largest fringing reef, and one of the planet’s oldest wildernesses in the Kimberley region. It has an award-winning wine region, Margaret River, natural pink lakes plus kangaroos on the beaches and the friendly quokka. If all that wasn’t enough, Australia’s First Nations people are the oldest surviving culture in the world with a history that goes back 50,000 years. More here.

Palermo pronto: Yes please! Italy this week updated its rules, and finally scrapped Covid tests for those who are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated visitors can enter with a negative PCR test. Italy has been one of the strictest countries in Europe but is coming into line with the rest of the EU, which recommended a bloc-wide approach to easing travel restrictions starting from 1st March. How about Sardinia or a city break to Bologna.

More of this: Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and the biggest region in Italy. It’s home to many of Europe’s volcanoes – Etna being the biggest, Vulcano the stinkiest and Stromboli one of the most active on earth. The Valley of the Temples is older than the Acropolis in Athens. The Aeolian islands are outrageously stunning but so few tourists make it there. And if all this is not enough, Palermo has the best pizza on the planet and in Catania they eat ice (granita) for breakfast. Irresistible! Watch this to find out where to start.

Next up: The UAE reopened to fully vaccinated tourists requiring no PCR tests on arrival. Unvaccinated visitors need to show a negative PCR test. That’s seven new destinations: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, and Fujairah. Dubai became a holiday haven in 2021when European hotspots remained deserted and locked down during the pandemic. We had the story.

World Cup Fifa: Perfect timing for the World Cup in November, the desert nation Qatar removed the UK from its red travel list and dropped quarantine requirements for the fully jabbed, but PCR test are still required for the vaccinated and unvaccinated. The Sun had the details.

IT failure: 500 flights were cancelled over the weekend due to a British Airways computer glitch, which led to passengers flooding social media with complaints and requests for their money back. The Independent explains what your rights are when things go wrong.

Fare rise? How come a flight to Sicily is cheaper than a train between Manchester and Leeds? The Daily Mail found a return peak time train between the two English cities cost up to £35.70 while a flight from Manchester Airport to Palermo cost £28. It came as rail fares rose 3.8 per cent on Tuesday – the highest rise since 2013.

Green signal: More train lines opened up this week after timetables were cut across the UK when passenger numbers plummeted during the pandemic. East Midlands Railway brought back its full week-day timetable from Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield into London St Pancras and reinstated regional services. Avanti West Coast also reintroduced trains, a second hourly service to London Euston, and two direct trains to North Wales each day. South Western Railway, London North Eastern Railway and ScotRail have also increase their timetables. 

Coming through: The world’s most famous steam locomotive the Flying Scotsman is back on the tracks tomorrow (Saturday 5th March). At nearly 100 years old, fans can spot the iconic No 60103 as it passes from London Paddington to Worcester and later in the month from London Paddington to Oxford and then from London Victoria to Canterbury. To celebrate its centenary next year, a long line of events is being prepared. Get the bagpipes ready!

Travel not war!

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