Escalating tensions in and around Kashmir between Pakistan and India has led to chaos in the skies with passenger services to Europe cancelled and flights diverted.
Numerous planes have been forced to avoid Pakistan following the closure of its airspace after two Indian military jets were shot down, meaning routes that would ordinarily take around two hours are now lasting longer than five.
British Airways, Air India and Singapore Airlines are among those airlines forced to reroute services that would normally fly over northern India, with many forced to make additional stops to refuel.
BA services stopped at Bucharest, while Singapore flights were operating via Dubai or Mumbai. Pakistan International Airlines has suspended all its flights.
Thai Airways made the decision to cancel all its flights to Europe, all of which it said would resume by Friday. On Thursday afternoon, a London-bound service took off from Bangkok, heading north over China.
On Wednesday, one Spicejet service from Kabul to Delhi that should have been in the air for an hour and 40 minutes, instead took five hours 40 minutes. Other major disruptions included an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Delhi on Tuesday that turned back over Sweden after seven hours in the air and returned to Canada.
Eamonn Brennan, the director general of Euromonitor, which handles European airspace, said it was working with the airlines “to minimise the impact on European air traffic”. Euromonitor estimated 400 flights daily have been affected, with severe impact on services to Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
There were hopes of a thaw in relations on Thursday when Pakistan said it would release a captured Indian pilot as a “peace gesture”, but the country’s air space is set to remain closed until Friday morning.
Other political incidents to have affected flight times in the past include the war in Ukraine in 2014, forcing carriers to go around much of the east of the country, and more recently the Qatari crisis when four of the country’s Middle Eastern neighbours banned its flag carrier from flying overhead.
What does the Foreign Office say?
The Foreign Office advice advice, updated this week, reiterated guidance against travel to Kashmir and surrounding areas.
It advised against all travel to “the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan [and India], other than at Wagah… Jammu and Kashmir, with the exception of travel within the city of Jammu, travel by air to the city of Jammu, and travel within the region of Ladakh”. It advised, too, against all travel to Manipur, except the state capital Imphal, where the FCO advises against all but essential travel.
It added that the tourist destinations of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg are included within the prohibited areas.
“Following a terrorist attack in Pulwama on February 14,” the FCO said, “there are heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, particularly across the Line of Control.
“There may be disruption to air travel in Jammu and Kashmir and northern India at short notice. You should continue to exercise caution, monitor news reports and keep up to date with this travel advice and the advice of local authorities.”
The escalated tensions might be of some concern to British Airways which last year announced it would be returning to Pakistan for the first time in 11 years. From June, the airline will fly to Islamabad three times a week from London Heathrow.
Can I can claim compensation if my flight is cancelled?
If your flight is cancelled, you have a right to a refund or a seat on an alternative service.
A spokesperson for Thai Airways said that any passenger who hold tickets on affected routes may change their itineraries free of charge.
A spokesperson for Singapore Airlines said any passengers affected should email SQ_support@singaporeair.com.sg with their six-character booking reference number and contact details for any assistance.
If your flight has been delayed, then you are eligible for compensation as set out by EU law, providing you are departing an EU airport or arriving at an EU airport on an EU carrier.
The airline must provide food and drink appropriate to the time of day (this is often in the form of a voucher) and a means of communicating your delay or a refund on the cost of essential calls.