Russian airlines halt most Turkey flights in summer

Russia's flagship airline Aeroflot has said that it was canceling most flights to Turkey for June and that it awaits the Russian government's decision to resume flights to and from Turkey. Russia's S7 Airlines later joined Aeroflot in its decision.

Duvar English - Reuters

Russia's S7 Airlines on May 18 joined Aeroflot in its decision to cancel flights to Turkey this summer as they await a government decision to lift flight restrictions introduced over COVID-19.

Turkey is a destination for millions of Russian tourists each year, and Moscow's decision to halt flights until June 1 because of a growing number of COVID-19 cases there has dealt a blow to the Turkish tourism industry.

But uncertainty over whether the government will extend the period prompted the airlines' decision to suspend flights beyond June 1.

"We have stopped sales and canceled all flights to Turkey for June, with the exception of two flights per week permitted by the [coronavirus] taskforce so as not to inconvenience passengers due to possible cancellations," Aeroflot said in a statement on May 17.

A day later, S7 Airlines said it had canceled all flights to Turkey until the end of the summer because of uncertainty surrounding its ability to fly there.

"We will be ready to resume sales as soon as the epidemiological situation stabilizes and flights resume," S7 said.

An airline industry source told Reuters that Russia had decided to extend the ban on flights to Turkey until June 30, but the government coronavirus taskforce said it could not confirm that such a decision had been made.

A separate source told Reuters that Moscow had yet to decide on resuming flights to Turkey, where nearly 500,000 Russians traveled in the first quarter of the year, according to Russia's Association of Tour Operators.

Moscow's decision to halt flights has rattled the Turkish tourism industry, which relies heavily on a steady influx of Russian tourists.

"There is no other market to replace the Russians," said Cem Polatoğlu, general manager at Istanbul-based Andiamo Tour. "The decision [to halt flights] seriously affects sales in the July-August peak season."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's spokesperson İbrahim Kalın and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy were in Russia on May 17 to discuss issues including tourism and vaccine shipments.

"We reached an agreement for the Russian vaccine to come to Turkey as soon as possible as well as steps to be taken for the tourism season, the starting of flights and speeding up the process," Kalın said.