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UPDATE: What do Russia flight bans mean for international travel from Switzerland?

Russian airspace is closed to Swiss and European airlines. What does this mean for international travel?

Swiss airlines are no longer allowed to cross into Russian airspace. What does this mean for travel? Photo by Fabian Joy on Unsplash
Swiss airlines are no longer allowed to cross into Russian airspace. What does this mean for travel? Photo by Fabian Joy on Unsplash

Russia has closed its airspace to Swiss and European airlines until March 31st, as a response to a Swiss and EU ban on Russian flights. 

Swiss airlines announced a suspension of all Russia-bound flights until the end of March after the announcement was made. 

Prior to that, Swiss had flown from Zurich to Moscow five times per week, from Geneva to Moscow twice a week and from Geneva to St Petersburg once per week. 

The ban applies to both commercial and private jets and the only exception to the ban is for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic flights. 

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

What does the closure of Russian airspace mean for Swiss flights?

While the direct impact of Switzerland closing its airspace to Russian aircraft may be primarily symbolic, the closure of Russia’s sizeable airspace makes a significant impact for those on long-haul flights eastward. 

In addition to Russian airspace being closed, conflict has led to the closure of airspace in Ukraine, Belarus, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. 

Flights from Switzerland to China and Japan are particularly impacted by delays, with the duration to be between one and three hours longer. 

“The result is longer flight times between Zurich and Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing,” a spokesperson for the airline told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes. 

In addition to the longer distance, the flights are now more subject to further delays. 

For instance, a longer flight time can mean more weather-related delays, while the closure of Russian airspace looks set to lead to bottlenecks in certain areas, such as above Iran. 

Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes confirmed that airspaces in several countries are organised in an “old-fashioned way”, which means flights need to follow after each other rather than above each other, as takes place in other countries. 

Hansjörg Egger, a Swiss aviation expert, told news outlet Blick that bottlenecks lead to additional fuel usage. 

“The planes have to constantly change altitude in order to avoid one another. That needs more kerosene,” Egger said

Due to the longer flight distance, the planes will require more fuel, although Swiss said the costs would not be passed on to consumers. 

Egger told Blick that although closures of airspace are relatively normal for airlines, Russia’s breadth makes this closure significant. 

“It’s not just any country, it’s the largest country on earth with eleven time zones!,” he said. 

Where are flights not affected? 

Flights to south-east Asia are not subject to delays at this point, as they do not normally fly over Russian airspace. 

Swiss tabloid Blick reports that flights to Singapore and Thailand, for instance, are not subject to delays at this stage. 

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For members


Power outage: Swiss cantons set up plans for emergency services

There has been much talk lately about how electricity shortages would impact Switzerland’s essential infrastructure, including access to emergency services. This is how some cantons are preparing for this ‘worst-case’ scenario.

Power outage: Swiss cantons set up plans for emergency services

Though Switzerland buys most of its natural gas through various European distribution channels, almost half of the country’s supply — an estimated 47 percent — is of Russian origin. 

As gas is used to generate electricity, it is no wonder that Swiss authorities are worried about what would happen to essential services if the power goes out.

“We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland. In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us”, Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said during a press conference in June.

She added that “the energy crisis could hit us hard. That’s why we are concerned about preparing for emergencies.”

READ MORE: ‘It could hit us hard’: Switzerland prepares for impending gas shortage

When the power goes out, telephone service for fixed lines does too. While mobile phones will continue to work for as long as their batteries are charged, they too will ‘die’ if electricity is cut for an extended period of time.

For instance, Swisscom’s current backup power supply “consists of one hour of autonomy on all networks”.

This means that emergency calls for ambulances, police, and fire services will no longer be possible after this timeframe.

Emergency plans

However, some cantons have made contingency plans to manage such crises by setting up the so-called “emergency meeting points” — specially designated areas where residents could drive or walk to if they needed help quickly.

According to Diego Ochsner, head of the Office for Military Affairs and Civil Protection in the canton of Solothurn, these meeting points “are equipped with a Polycom device and an emergency power supply”, allowing unfettered communication with emergency services.

Polycom is a secure radio network used by authorities in crisis situations.

Most of these points are set up in community halls, schools, and sports facilities. You can find your nearest emergency point here.

However, while meeting points exist in a number of cantons — including Bern, St. Gallen, Aargau, Nidwalden, Lucerne, Schaffhausen, Zurich, and Zug — they are lacking in other regions, especially in the French-speaking part of the country.

READ MORE: MAP: Which Swiss cities will be most impacted by a gas shortage this winter?

“From our point of view, the ideal would be for more cantons to set up these points and for the federal government to take charge”, Ochsner said. “Unfortunately, we are still a long way from that.”

The government has not gotten involved in establishing more meeting points because it considers this task to be a cantonal, rather than a federal matter.

What should you do if you live in cantons that don’t provide this service?

The best approach is to inform yourself as soon as possible about the logistics your community has in place for reaching emergency services in case of a power outage.

You can obtain this information from your local civil protection office, which is usually listed on the official website of your canton.