Closure of Pakistan air space snarls flights across Asia

0
1094
A group of 25 Danish students stay overnight at Suvarnabhumi Airport after they were unable to board a connecting flight Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Bangkok, Thailand. A temporary closure of air space over Pakistan snarled air traffic Thursday, especially between Asia and Europe, though some airlines adjusted by rerouting their flights. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) — A temporary closure of air space over Pakistan snarled air traffic Thursday, especially between Asia and Europe, though some airlines adjusted by rerouting their flights.

In Bangkok, an important and busy hub for transcontinental flights, thousands of travelers were stranded. The closure of a main route for many flights to the Middle East and Europe was likely to be costly for airlines having to carry extra fuel and take longer journeys than usual.

Bangkok airport officials said over 4,000 travelers were affected. Those needing help were getting access to accommodations and alternative travel arrangements, they said, though some of those stranded complained they were getting no help at all.

The terminal was so crowded that the chief of Thailand’s immigration police, Surachate Hakparn, tweeted a warning to “Please spare your time for your trip!”

The disruptions brought a month-long tropical holiday for a group of 25 Danish students unable to board a connecting flight in Bangkok to an unhappy end.

“The guard over there just said we have to go down to the basement to sleep. So we can’t get any help or information,” said Sara Bjerregaard Larsen, 21.

Thai Airways says it had rerouted flights to Europe outside Pakistani air space.  Malaysia Airlines also said in a travel advisory on its web site that it was avoiding air space over Pakistan and northern India “until further notice.”

The first available flight to London on Thai Airways, according to its booking website, was Thursday, March 7.

Pakistan aviation authorities said the country’s air space would reopen as of midnight Thursday (1900 GMT). The government closed it Wednesday after Pakistan said its military had shot down two Indian warplanes and captured a pilot, escalating tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

India also suspended flights though some of its northern airports on Wednesday. Those facilities were back to normal on Thursday, but flights both to the U.S. and Europe out of New Delhi were affected.

A United flight from Newark, New Jersey, to New Delhi was rerouted through London and later canceled, and Air Canada canceled flights from Toronto and Vancouver to the Indian capital.

As of mid-morning 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 canceled its flight Thursday from Beijing to the Pakistani capital, 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. Pakistanis work in a variety of blue- and white-collar jobs across the Gulf Arab states.