Passengers on a British Airways Airbus A380 flight from Johannesburg to London Heathrow experienced a 10-hour “flight to nowhere” when Niger’s airspace suddenly closed late on Sunday night. The closure of Niger’s airspace resulted in other UK-South Africa flights being re-routed or diverted to take on extra fuel or return to their starting points.
The closure of Niger’s airspace came after a military coup ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, leading to threats of intervention by the Ecowas regional bloc to restore him. In response, the ruling junta, led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, closed the vast country to overflying aircraft.
The closure went into effect at 11:22 pm British time on Sunday, affecting several flights already airborne between the UK and South Africa. This closure, combined with the already closed airspace over Sudan and Libya, means there is now a block to north-south flights across Africa spanning approximately 2,600 miles.
British Airways flight BA56 from Johannesburg and flight BA64 from Nairobi both returned to their starting points after flying as far as Chad. Virgin Atlantic’s flight VS450 from Johannesburg was diverted to Lagos to take on more fuel, resulting in a nearly four-hour delay.
Passengers on these flights are not entitled to compensation as the diversions are considered “extraordinary circumstances.” British Airways flight BA58 from Cape Town to London Heathrow was also diverted via Lagos, while the early evening BA departure from London Heathrow to Johannesburg was cancelled. However, the later flight was able to take off on a westerly course and is expected to land about one hour late. The British Airways flight from Heathrow to Cape Town took off shortly before 1 am and is anticipated to arrive approximately three hours late.
The Independent has reached out to British Airways and Virgin Atlantic for comment on the situation.