From July 8th, Russia will ban all passenger flights to and from Georgia, under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Announced by the Kremlin on June 22nd, the ban has been brought in in response to anti Russia protests in Tbilisi.
Protests broke out in Tbilisi over a visit from a Russia lawmaker last week. The protests went on for days, with some 3,000 people hitting the streets of the Georgian capital. In response, Putin announced that all flights would stop both to and from Georgia for an unspecified amount of time.
According to the BBC, the reason given for the ban is to “ensure Russia’s national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities”. It has been estimated that the flight ban could cost Georgia as much as $300m, and that the six Russian airlines operating flights to the nation could lose $47.7m in refunds.
The ban initially only affected Russian airlines traveling to Georgia. On the 21st June, Interfax reported that the Kremlin had announced that no more flights would be allowed by Russian airlines into Georgia. However, on the 22nd June, they extended this ban to cover not only Russian carriers but also other carriers operating passenger flights from Georgia to Russia.
The ban comes right at the start of the busy season for tourism, and it’s expected to hit the travel industry in both countries hard. Georgia is one of the top destinations for Russian holidaymakers, thanks to its beautiful Black Sea resorts, with 1.3 million visiting last summer.
It’s not the first time Putin has suspended flights to Georgia. Back in October 2006 and again in August 2008, the nations were cut off from air travel between them.
Not taking it lying down
Some seem keen to disrupt Putin’s plans. The Armenian Prime Minister has said that the nation is poised to provide a buffer between the two countries, and to provide air links in both directions. As such, Armenian airlines may add more capacity for flights between the countries.
ETurboNews reports that three airlines have already expressed a willingness to provide more links between Georgia and Russia. They are Atlantis European, Taron Avia and Armenia. The Prime Minister’s adviser Hakob Tchagharyan posted on Facebook that,
“I am happy to note that three airlines – Armenia, Taron Avia and Atlantis European – are ready to participate in settling the crisis that has emerged between brotherly peoples, with five designated aircraft, the number of which can grow with another two. The Prime Minister has been briefed on the results,”
Russia’s largest airline Aeroflot has suggested passengers can travel to Georgia via the north Caucasian Vladikavkaz or Yerevan. From there, they can connect on to Georgia via land or air. They have advised that passengers who already have tickets booked with them can either contact them for a refund or can change the date of their travel with no penalties imposed.
Georgian Airways too are not taking the ban lying down. They have said they will offer transit flights, traveling Tbilisi – Yerevan – Moscow. It is expected that such a detour would add around an hour to the travel time, although Georgian Airways are yet to indicate how this may affect the ticket price.
Have you been affected by the Russia-Georgia flight ban? Let us know in the comments.