The backlash against Russia has a very visible consequence. Tens of thousands of Russians are stranded abroad in cities and popular vacation hotspots. It comes as many airlines drop flights to Russia and national carrier Aeroflot suspends international flights. Compounding the problems of stranded Russians – suddenly their Western-branded credit cards no longer work.
Russia remains accessible but may involve a detour
If you want or need it, Russia remains accessible by air. Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines continue to fly to Moscow. This means a detour to one of the Gulf hubs or Istanbul, but it’s easily doable. Other lesser-known carriers also keep Moscow on their departure list.
Turkish Airlines, a prominent member of Star Alliance, serves Moscow four times a day and St. Petersburg twice a day. Simon Calder in The Independent reports that Belgrade-based Air Serbia is also doing a roaring trade on the Belgrade – Moscow route. The airline has increased its flights to the sector from two to three per day. The newspaper adds more than half of the passengers of Air Serbia flights departing from Moscow transferred to Belgrade on another flight to travel elsewhere.
But most airlines have suspended flights to Russia, impacting thousands of travelers already outside that country trying to get home. One of the latest is Air Astana, which suspended all flights to and over Russia at the end of last week.
Air Serbia, based in Belgrade, continues to serve Moscow and has increased its flights. Photo: Jake Hardiman/Simple Flying
Stranded Russians face canceled flights and canceled cards
On one level, the cancellations and challenges to and from Russia are similar to those many international travelers faced during the height of the pandemic – getting a flight could be tricky and involve detours and expense additional. But for Russians abroad, the Russian financial sector lockdown adds another layer of complexity. Most do not have access to the funds to pay for a plane ticket on one of the few airlines that still serve the country.
Associated Press reports that some 6,500 Russians are stranded in Phuket, Surat Thani, Krabi and Pattaya. Before the pandemic, Thailand was a popular vacation spot for Russians and was just starting to see tourist numbers picking up. Aeroflot normally flies to Bangkok and Phuket.
But many have had their return flights cancelled, whether on Aeroflot or another airline. They must buy another ticket or extend their stay. But most major credit card companies blocked their Russia-based customers, and the international banking system stopped processing financial transfers in and out of the country. Those who hold substantial amounts of hard currency or China-issued credit cards like Union Pay fare better.
Aeroflot has suspended international flights, including those to Thailand. Photo: Sumit Rehalimage/Simple Flying
Russia is still possible but the advice is not to fly
With thousands of Russians effectively barred from their own country, Thailand has extended visas and is sorting out some low-cost accommodation options. Thai tourism authorities are exploring out-of-the-square payment alternatives. Airlines are also exploring alternative options.
“Due to the suspension of Visa and MasterCard services in the Russian Federation, card payments are currently not possible with cards issued by Russian banks. Air Serbia is working to find an alternative option for online payments,says Air Serbia’s website.
Although access to Russia remains open to those without blocked credit cards and a willingness to detour, the US State Department strongly advises people against traveling there.
“Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified attack of Russian military forces in Ukraine”, their advisory readings. This adds the potential for harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, restricted flights to and from Russia and arbitrary enforcement of local laws. law as reasons to fly elsewhere at this time.
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