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AN announcement of flight cancellations is posted at the Thai Airways ticket counter in Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Thursday.—AFP
AN announcement of flight cancellations is posted at the Thai Airways ticket counter in Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Thursday.—AFP

BANGKOK: A temporary closure of airspace over Pakistan and India snarled air traffic on Thursday, especially between Asia and Europe, though some airlines adjusted by re-routing their flights.

In Bangkok, an important and busy hub for transcontinental flights, thousands of travellers were stranded. Bangkok airport officials said over 4,000 travellers were affected. Thai Airways cancelled nearly 30 flights, affecting 5,000 passengers. “All THAI flights from Bangkok to Europe departing near midnight of 27 FEB through early 28 FEB and from Europe to Bangkok departing on 27 FEB have been cancelled due to Pakistan airspace closure,” the airline wrote on its Twitter page. The decision affected its servi­ces to London, Munich, Paris, Bru­ssels, Milan, Vienna, Stockholm, Zurich, Copenhagen and Oslo, but the airline said at around 0530 GMT that it was resuming normal operations to Europe.

Thai Airways struggled to find new routes to Europe with Iran “rejecting” a request to travel over its airspace, according to a spokesperson for the carrier. But a few hours later China gave “permission to Thai Airways ... to bypass Pakistani airspace,” according to Pratana Patanasiri, Thai Airways Vice President, allowing Thursday night’s flights to Europe to resume.

India also suspended flights to the US and Europe out of New Delhi. A United flight from Newark, New Jersey, to New Delhi was re-routed through London and later cancelled, and Air Canada cancelled flights from Toronto and Vancouver to the Indian capital.

According to Bangkok airport officials, over 4,000 travellers have been affected

Air Canada suspended flights to Mumbai and New Delhi, diverting an India-bound flight back to Toronto, while seven services from Istanbul to Pakistan were cancelled.

Malaysia Airlines also said in a travel advisory on its website that it was avoiding air space over Pakistan and northern India “until further notice”.

Singapore Airlines was also forced to direct flights to Europe to re-fuel, while a flight to Frankfurt was cancelled.

As of mid-morning on Thursday, Chinese airlines had changed the routes of seven flights due to the closure of Pakistani airspace while foreign airlines were allowed to divert 40 flights through Chinese airspace, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said on its website.

Air China cancelled its flight on Thursday from Beijing to Islamabad. According to an employee of the airline’s publicity office in Beijing, the status of other flights would be decided later.

The closing of Pakistan’s airspace saw Gulf Arab airlines, which serve as a link between East and West in global travel, rapidly reshuffle their flights.

In the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, civil aviation authorities immediately halted their flights to Pakistan. Airlines in those countries include the long-haul carriers Etihad, Emirates and Gulf Air.

Saudi Arabian Airlines and Oman Air similarly cancelled flights to Pakistan.

In Russia, two flights from Moscow to Vietnam and St Petersburg to Thailand had to turn back to Russia while a Bangkok-bound flight had to land at Uzbekistan.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2019