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Is it safe to travel to Poland because of the war in Ukraine?

Europe is currently facing a crisis with monumental consequences. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put questions of defence and energy security on everyone’s lips, it is also having an effect on travel.

After the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, commercial airlines are taking no risks in flying over conflict zones, leading to longer journeys, especially from Asia. But even on routes that go nowhere near the region, fuel costs are rising because of the huge increase in the price of oil driven by the conflict.

On November 15, a missile struck eastern Poland and killed two people. It’s an escalation that saw Nato leaders scramble to convene over next steps and raised questions about whether it’s safe to travel to Poland. Here’s what you need to know.

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Main photo: an Aeroflot plane; the Russian airline is banned from UK airspace (Getty Images)

Is it safe to travel to Poland?

Up to now, the conflict has been restricted to Ukrainian territory. And while there have been Russian military strikes within 20km of Poland, these have not crossed the borders.

But on November 15, following an extended shelling in Ukraine, a stray Russian-made missile landed on the village of Przewodów, located in the Lubelskie province of eastern Poland. Two Polish citizens were killed. The incident is still under investigation but has raised fears of Nato forces being drawn into the war in Ukraine.

There is no travel advisory against travelling to Poland or its borders from the UK Foreign Office. The advice remains: “Russian military strikes have taken place in Ukraine within 20km of the Polish border. There is a real risk to life.”

What about visiting other countries that border Ukraine?

The UK Foreign Office has made no changes to its advice for most of Ukraine’s neighbours to the west, including Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, which means they are not considered as being at risk. Avoiding those countries’ borders with Ukraine is wise though, not least because of efforts to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping the conflict. The same is true of the Polish border.

However, the UK Foreign Office advises against travel to Moldova’s Transnistria region on its eastern border with Ukraine and the crossing here has been closed. Moldova declared a state of emergency and closed its airspace on February 24. Lithuania, which borders Belarus north of Ukraine, declared a similar state of emergency, with everybody there required to carry photo ID at all times.

The Foreign Office advises against all travel to Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Which flights are banned from the UK?

The government banned Aeroflot and other Russian carriers from British airspace on the first day of the invasion — a measure that was soon reciprocated by Russia. The UK Foreign Office has since advised against all travel to Russia and most of European airspace now barred to Russian planes and vice versa.

The knock-on effects will go well beyond Russia, and travellers to destinations in Asia may have to get used to longer, more circuitous flights. It’s an echo of aviation during the Cold War, when airlines from outside the Soviet Union could not use the most direct routes to the Far East over Siberia.

On flights from the UK, the need to avoid Russian and Ukrainian airspace will affect travel to any destinations between Pakistan and Japan. The extra mileage needed grows the further east you go, so a flight to Mumbai might only be an hour longer, while one to Tokyo would be considerably more.

However, aviation could be less affected than it was during the Cold War for a number of reasons: some destinations in east Asia, including China and North Korea, are still largely closed to visitors because of Covid restrictions; planes can fly longer distances now and — unless Russia returns to a Soviet-style ban on overflights by any foreign carrier — various Asian airlines will still be able to offer the most direct routes. While the world of long-haul travel may not yet see a revival of Anchorage, Alaska, as a refuelling hub as it was before the Iron Curtain fell, any distance added to flight routes will of course translate into higher ticket prices.

Why are flights so expensive, and will this impact my holiday?

The attack on Ukraine and the implications of sanctions on Russia helped to push the price of Brent crude (the international benchmark for oil) above $100 a barrel for the first time since 2014. Although this has since fallen, prices remain high.

It is hard to disentangle the impact of the war in Ukraine from other global economic factors, such as supply chain issues that have been driving the price of oil up since the first Covid lockdowns of 2020 when it tumbled below $20 a barrel. Inflation has made headlines across most sectors this year, not just at the petrol pumps.

The share of fuel in the price of a plane ticket is usually smaller, since you are paying for a lot more than just the fuel, but it is still significant. To give a very rough example of how fuel price rises could affect a ticket, if a £150 ticket includes £30 for fuel, then a 50 per cent rise in the cost of that fuel should in theory result in the same ticket being priced at £165 after the increase. It is more complex than that, of course, thanks to airlines purchasing fuel in advance and having different fuel charges.

Airlines typically hedge against rises in jet fuel prices to protect that portion of the ticket cost from volatility, but if oil prices remain high, they will inevitably have to pass on that cost to passengers.

So it does seem likely that travellers will pay somewhat more for plane tickets than in the last “normal” pre-Covid of summer 2019, when oil prices were about 60 per cent of current levels. On the other hand, given the wild swings that the price of a ticket routinely goes through over its months on sale, driven by competition, changes in demand from leisure and business travellers and algorithms known only to the airline, the increase may not be as evident as it is at the petrol station.

Is it safe to travel to Turkey?

The Foreign Office has not added any new warnings about travel to Turkey linked to the war in Ukraine. There have long been parts of Turkey to which the FCDO advises against all or all but essential travel, but these are in the southeast of the country, particularly along the border with Syria, rather than on the Black Sea coast closest to Ukraine and Russia, or the Mediterranean coast, which is the most popular with British visitors.

Turkey has very recently shifted from fairly good relations with Russia to criticism of the invasion of Ukraine, and has invoked its right to close the straits that lead to the Black Sea to foreign warships. Turkey is also a Nato member.

What will the impact be on cruises?

The picture for cruises in the Black Sea and Baltics is more mixed. Obviously, none will be sailing to the Ukrainian port of Odessa, and Russian stops are also being dropped from itineraries across the board with alternative destinations swapped in — although itinerary changes are fairly standard in cruising. In all cases, check with your cruise operator if they haven’t already explained what changes or cancellations they have made.

Some previous crises have shown that people will cancel travel plans even for destinations far from the affected region: the 1990-91 Gulf War led to a major fall in visitor numbers not just in the Middle East but in Europe too, while an epidemic of the Ebola virus mainly in three West African countries in 2014-16 saw a drop in tourism to east African destinations such as Kenya, despite parts of Europe being closer to the outbreak.

Crew are also impacted by the crisis. Royal Caribbean alone has some 500 Ukrainian crew on its ships and says it is supporting them in getting home if they want to, or helping crew on leave in Ukraine to return to their ships earlier.

How are travel companies reacting to the war in Ukraine?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted travel in many ways, from flight bans to the effects of rising fuel prices, but the industry has also reacted with initiatives of its own. Some companies are going further in their boycotts of Russia to try to apply pressure wherever possible for a return to the peace table.

In the crisis over refugees fleeing Ukraine, some big travel businesses have offered free flights, train seats and temporary accommodation to move displaced Ukrainians away from the border areas. And for some tour companies with long experience in the region and local partners in Ukraine, it’s been a case of helping to bring direct support to refugees in Poland and other neighbouring countries as they start to rebuild their lives.

Is It Safe To Travel To Europe Now? – During The Ukraine War

Is It Safe To Travel To Europe Now? - During The Ukraine War

Following the invasion, the U.S. embassy in Ukraine advised Americans to leave immediately, and the US Department of State issued a Level 4 travel warning for Russia, citing Russia’s ”unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian forces in Ukraine.”

On the same day, the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) warned airlines against flying over Ukraine, Moldova and parts of Belarus and Russia.

In the days that followed, airspace bans and sanctions in Europe were tightened, and Russia struck back, imposing flight bans on 36 European countries and its allies.

According to a recent survey conducted by travel operator MMGYGlobal, the conflict in Ukraine is now the most significant issue preventing Americans from visiting Europe.

  • “62% of U.S. travelers cited concerns about the war in Ukraine spreading to nearby countries as a factor impacting plans to travel to Europe, which is twice the number (31%) who cited COVID-19 health and safety concerns as a factor.
  • 47% of travelers want to wait and see how the situation in Ukraine evolves before making plans to visit Europe this year.
  • 50% of respondents said they were concerned about possible delays and cancellations of flights, trains and cruises, as well as the potential for border closures.”

After more than a month of invasion, there is no reason to believe that it is dangerous to travel to any country, other than Ukraine, in Europe.

Is It Safe To Travel To Europe Now? Latest Updates

April 12 – EU blacklists 21 Russian airlines over “serious safety concerns.”

Due to grave “safety concerns,” the European Union has placed 21 Russian-certified airlines on a blacklist, including national carrier Aeroflot.

The Russian president last month authorized the seizure of U.S.- and European-leased commercial aircraft and allowed their registration and the issuance of local certificates of airworthiness to maintain Russian domestic service and make it more difficult to reclaim the aircraft.

“The Russian airlines concerned have deliberately violated important international safety standards,” EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said in announcing the suspension.

The full list of banned airlines

  • The commission said the following airlines are part of the ban:
  • Aeroflot
  • Aircompany Ikar
  • Alrosa Air Company
  • Aurora Airlines
  • Aviastartu
  • Iraero Airlines
  • Izhavia
  • Nordstar Airlines
  • Nord Wind
  • Pobeda Airlines
  • Rossiya Airlines
  • Rusjet
  • Rusline
  • Siberia Airlines
  • Skol Airlines
  • Smartavia Airlines
  • Ural Airlines
  • Utar Aviation
  • UVT Aero
  • Yakutia
  • Yamal Airlines

Local Disruptions

There are, however, a few flight and border disruptions. Poland, for instance, does not allow American or other visitors coming from the Belarusian land border to enter the country. All in all, perfectly reasonable.

Meanwhile, the government of Moldova has partially reopened its aerospace as of March 21, 2022, to allow flights to and from Chisinau International Airport through a corridor to Romania. It was closed since the invasion started.

Apart from this, there have been no other major disruptions recorded across Europe.

Instead, continuing traveling to Europe appears to be a way to support hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have been welcomed into most EU countries and need jobs in hospitality and other sectors.

Should travelers rethink Europe plans because of the war in Ukraine?

People stroll in Puerto Banus luxury marina and shopping complex in Marbella on March 2, 2022. - Marbella is one of the favorite destinations for Russian tourists and residents in Spain. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP) (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images)

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(CNN) — With many travel restrictions finally relaxing in early 2022, Gabriele Antoni booked a trip she’s been wanting to take for a while: several weeks in her home country of Germany, followed by a 12-day cruise in Norway with friends.

The 64-year-old Florida resident and US green card holder hasn’t been back to Germany since her mother died in February 2020. At that time, Antoni had to abruptly return to the United States, where she’s lived for decades, to avoid border closures as the pandemic gained steam.

But ever since, she has longed to return to her small hometown of Sonthofen to “properly grieve” her mother, she says, by visiting cafes they frequented together and hiking where they once did in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps.

In the lead-up to her trip, Antoni is busy booking hotels and flights, making arrangements with friends — and, like many others with plans to visit Europe, keeping an eye on the horrifying headlines coming out of Ukraine since it was invaded by Russia on February 24.

“I am doing everything, but in the back of my mind, I tell myself, you might not be able to do this, you might not be able to get there,” Antoni told CNN Travel.

Europe bookings have slowed since mid-February, according to travel site Hopper.

Antoni isn’t alone in her concerns. According to a recent survey conducted by MMGY Travel Intelligence, the research division of marketing research firm MMGY Global, the war in Ukraine is now twice as likely to impact Americans’ travel plans to Europe as the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 350 adult US travelers with upcoming plans to visit Europe who were surveyed, 62% said the invasion is a factor for planning their trips, compared with 31% who cited Covid-19 health and safety concerns. In addition, 47% said they’re taking a “wait and see” approach on how the situation evolves before making plans to visit Europe this year.

According to a report from flight tracker app Hopper, searches for round-trip flights to Europe from the United States were on the rise as the Omicron variant wave subsided, indicating a strong rebound for transatlantic demand.

But as news of Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine started making headlines in mid-February, that demand started to taper. According to Hopper data, since February 12, Europe has dropped from 21% to 15% of international bookings — a notable decrease from the approximately 30% of international bookings in the same time frame the region accounts for in a pre-pandemic year such as 2019.

People sit outside on a sunny afternoon in Dordrecht, Netherlands, on March 10, 2022.

‘You can travel safely’

Ukraine and Russia currently have Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warnings from the US Department of State, but the department has not issued similar advisories for European countries that are affected by the crisis.

Poland, which is receiving the majority of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, is listed at a Level 4 advisory but for Covid-19 concerns, not the current conflict.

A spokesperson for Rick Steves’ Europe said via email that the tour company “intend[s] to run all Eastern Europe itineraries, including the Best of Poland tour,” adding that the only tours it has canceled are those with stops in Russia.

Indeed, Europe remains open for travelers despite the crisis unfolding in Ukraine. And after limping along for two years during the pandemic, the tourism sector is more eager to welcome visitors than ever.

And while concerns over traveling during a war are valid, security experts also emphasize that many of Europe’s most popular tourist areas, such as Barcelona, Rome and Paris, are many hundreds (if not thousands) of miles from the current conflict in Ukraine.

“You don’t need to have this sort of heightened state of anxiety, [which] is the one thing that I’m seeing the most right now,” said Greg Pearson, CEO and founder of Care & Assistance Plus, a newly launched travel and crisis assistance service by global firm FocusPoint International.

“People are maybe prematurely canceling their plans, and I don’t think we’re there yet. It’s anybody’s best guess as to what’s going to happen next, but as it relates to travel to western Europe, I think you can travel safely.”

The island of Gotland in Sweden is a popular vacation destination. The town of Visby is pictured on March 3, 2022.

The island of Gotland in Sweden is a popular vacation destination. The town of Visby is pictured on March 3, 2022.

Pearson estimates that about 30% of CAP’s customers over the past few weeks have either canceled or postponed trips to countries including the Czech Republic and Germany, neither of which border Ukraine. Other travelers have shifted their itineraries farther away from the conflict to western Europe.

In addition, Pearson says, some travelers are concerned about whether they should take part in shore excursions during river boat tours of eastern Europe.

“The advice we’ve provided them has been ‘Absolutely get off [the boat],'” Pearson told CNN Travel. “They need those tourism dollars, they want to see you, they want you to visit their restaurants and shop and stay if you can, so we want people to do that. Our mantra here is to travel fearlessly, but to travel informed and stay connected.”

‘This uncertainty is really difficult’

Not surprisingly, some European tourism officials are concerned about the potential disruption to travel — yet another setback facing the beleaguered industry after two challenging years.

In Prague, Czech Republic, the tourism board is focusing its summer marketing campaigns on domestic tourism and visitors from other European countries, instead of the US and Asia, the organization said in a statement shared with CNN Travel.

Christian Tänzler, a spokesperson for Visit Berlin in Germany, also said that while he expects Europeans to travel as usual throughout Europe for spring and summer holidays as long as the Ukraine crisis does not spill over into other countries, the US market is a tougher sell.

In non-pandemic years, US travelers made up the second-largest group of international tourists behind the United Kingdom, Tänzler said.

However, in light of the current crisis, those travelers appear to be in a wait-and-see mode regarding booking, although the organization hasn’t seen a noticeable uptick in cancellations so far.

“Nobody knows, really, if people will start canceling because of the situation,” he said. “This uncertainty is really difficult.”

In addition, Tänzler noted, US-based travelers may not have an accurate account of the current situation in Germany, which he said is “absolutely safe.”

“Last weekend in Berlin, the cafes, bars, restaurants were all packed,” Tänzler said. “Everything was crowded. Everybody was sitting outside. It was like a normal spring day.”

But even for travelers who know Europe well — such as Antoni, who grew up in Germany — the specter of possible nuclear war, or fallout from war-damaged nuclear reactors in Ukraine, can add an extra layer of trepidation.

It’s a fear that Antoni understands firsthand: Following the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986, she decided to cancel a trip from the United States to Germany with her young children.

“It was a big deal,” Antoni said, recalling memories of warnings over possible food contamination and other health scares in Germany. “I hope and hope and hope that this is not happening again. But I always say, ‘ I’ll cross the bridge when I get there.’ No use worrying now.”

People walk in Piazza del Campo near the Palazzo Comunale on March 4, 2022, in Siena, Italy.

‘Always have an emergency plan’

As some travelers reconsider upcoming travel plans to Europe, security and risk experts note that it’s always a good practice to stay informed about current events no matter where you’re headed. They also emphasize the need to have a solid plan in place should things go awry, whether it’s the coronavirus or a war.

“The worst time to figure out what to do in a crisis is in the middle of a crisis,” said CAP’s Pearson.

As two years of pandemic-caused cancellations and disruptions have demonstrated, reliable travel insurance and flexible booking policies for airfare and accommodations are more important than ever.

Before leaving, make copies of important travel documents such as passports and vaccine certificates, and US citizens and nationals should be sure to register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service that connects travelers with embassies and consulates in their destination country. The service also provides travel and security updates.

Figuring out where you’ll go ahead of time in case of an emergency situation, such as wartime conflict, also is crucial.

“If war spreads across Eastern Europe or into one inch of NATO soil, you should have a plan to evacuate or relocate to a safer area,” says Tim Hentschel, co-founder and CEO of HotelPlanner, a service provider for the global hotel sales market. “Always have an emergency plan anytime you travel to a city that’s foreign to you.”

Pearson also advises travelers to share a copy of their itinerary, hotel and flight information with friends or family back home. Regular check-ins are important too, he said. Also, don’t forget about the basics, such as “how to dial the phone internationally while you’re abroad.”

In addition, travelers headed to Poland or other countries receiving a large influx of refugees should also be aware of the constraints on transportation infrastructure and hotel room availability.

Protests and demonstrations, meanwhile, continue in popular European tourist destinations, and while most of them are peaceful, travelers should always be vigilant and avoid conflicts with security.

Finally, while a devastating invasion and humanitarian crisis shouldn’t prevent people from taking a much-anticipated vacation, what’s happening in Ukraine can also offer travelers a profound sense of perspective, especially in light of common on-the-road gripes such as long security lines.

“I talk to people within my own circles that are interested in traveling, and one of the things I say to them is, ‘Don’t be an ugly American,’ ” Pearson said. “Of course, enjoy yourself, have a great time, but just be sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of people recently displaced and struggling right now.”

Top image: People stroll in Puerto Banús marina and shopping complex in Marbella, Spain, on March 2, 2022.

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