AIRLINES were forced to divert flights midway when Niger’s military junta abruptly closed the country’s airspace late Sunday night, citing the threat of a military intervention from ECOWAS. The closure left about 500 passengers en route to the UK stranded, with their British Airways flight diverted back to Johannesburg.
One of the passengers on the diverted British Airways flight, John Foreman, shared his ordeal on X (formerly Twitter), ‘We had done the full flight and thought we were going to land in London, and were told we had gone back to Johannesburg – I mean, it was quite right [the airline crew] didn’t want to tell anyone. It was a bit of a shock, and you thought, ‘Why can’t they go somewhere else?’ Apparently, they didn’t have enough fuel.’
Passengers on the affected flights described chaos at the Johannesburg airport upon landing, with limited information provided by the airlines. ‘Some people were crying, and they were incredibly upset, confused, and frightened. They didn’t have a clue,’ lamented Foreman.
Another British Airways passenger, who wished to remain anonymous, recounted being informed six hours into the flight that the plane had to return due to the airspace closure. ‘Everyone was fine and calm on board as what else can you do? There were people who were going to miss their connecting flights, though.’
The closure of Niger’s airspace has far-reaching implications for air travel in the region, as it now extends the area where commercial flights are off-limits. Flights between Europe and southern Africa will now have to travel an extra 620 miles, causing significant disruptions and delays.
A spokesperson for British Airways apologised for the disruption, saying, ‘We’ve apologised to those customers affected for the disruption to their journeys. Our teams are working hard to get them on their way again as quickly as possible.’
The political situation in Niger remains tense, with ECOWAS leaders giving the coup leaders a week to restore the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum before considering military action. However, the deadline passed, and the mutinous military leaders closed the airspace, accusing foreign powers of preparing an attack.
As the situation unfolds, Ecowas is divided on a course of action, and regional tensions have escalated since the coup. The closure of Niger’s airspace adds to the challenges of air travel in the West African region and further restricts commercial flight options.
Meanwhile, stranded passengers are left uncertain about when they will be able to continue their journeys home. The impact of the airspace shutdown in Niger continues to resonate across the aviation industry, leaving many passengers in limbo and airlines grappling with the consequences of the political crisis.