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I urgently need a one-way ticket to Bucharest, Romania. In the last two weeks, I booked with Wizz-air from Luton, flight got cancelled, booked again, cancelled again 3 times with the reason given by airline staff: "airport restrictions". They are not prepared to say any more than that.

Flights were not available to buy before June and now they are, which had made me hopeful, however it's hard to know whether this is an ongoing issue with the origin or destination airport, or whether I've just been unlucky with the days I picked somehow clashing with multiple one-day restrictions.

Has anyone actually flown from London to Bucharest in recent days, or does anyone have tangible evidence of an airline doing that journey with passengers for real?

(I understand I may be subject to quarantine, so to be clear, that is not what I am asking)

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    Here's a reframing comment. You don't have to fly direct: it may be possible to fly to Bucharest from somewhere else, and to easily reach that "somewhere else" from London. – DavidSupportsMonica Jun 22 at 22:58
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    @DavidSupportsMonica: On paper, there are a lot of flights out of London. How should OP determine which ones will actually exist? Also: OP, I would not recommend booking separate tickets under any circumstances. Even with a multi-day layover, this is not the time to gamble with flight cancellations. Either get a single ticket with multiple flights, or get a nonstop. – Kevin Jun 23 at 7:48
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    My Dad is having a similar problem trying to fly home from Thailand. The flights are scheduled, but when they don’t sell enough tickets to make the flight financially viable they cancel it. – Darren Jun 23 at 7:58
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    @gerrit Gotta pass through 5 borders for that, do you think that will work right now? – pipe Jun 23 at 8:24
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    @pipe Yes, EU borders have mostly reopened and for urgent essential travel were never closed to begin with. OP may have to quarantine on arrival or return. In particular if OP is driving infection risk is low, probably lower than on a flight. The situation is very different from three months ago. OP should check the current specific rules for each transit country in this case though. See this Romania-Netherlands question from last month and its answers for a case study from before EU borders mostly reopened. – gerrit Jun 23 at 8:42
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FlightAware showed me out of the last week, only one Ryanair flight flew from Stansted to Bucharest. Everything else from all three major London airports, including those Wizz Air flights, was cancelled. There is another Ryanair flight (1007) scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, if you want to try your luck.

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    Thanks. It seems that flights between the UK and Romania are suspended gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/romania/entry-requirements - The FlightAware site is helpful in that it shows the flights that are definitely cancelled. I do note that today's Ryanair and Blue Air flights are shown as scheduled (even after the planned departure time), but don't feature on the departure boards for the origin or destination airports, so I suspect they are not real either. I've been advised Romania may revise its rule on flights from the UK on 17 July. – Sterl42 Jun 23 at 17:13
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This doesn't depend on regulations or restrictions, and isn't imposed by any government or airport either. It depends entirely on the airlines.

According to this Corriere della Sera article (in Italian), airlines are intentionally selling tickets that they know will be cancelled, because COVID-19 brought them to their knees and these "ghost" tickets let them earn some money.

The key point is that operating a flight with very few passengers is too expensive. Cancelling it is cheaper. Why, then, don't airlines simply stop selling those tickets?

The newspaper interviewed executives of two low-cost companies, who provided these reasons:

  1. The flights were loaded on the sales system months before the epidemic broke out, and have never been removed. A very weak excuse, for sure.
  2. The flights are still for sale because this helps the airlines identify the most profitable routes in these anomalous times. This has a value to them.
  3. Another reason, subtler: when passengers buy a ticket, they pay with real money. When the airline cancels the flight, it gives them a voucher. Possibly worth a bit more than the ticket's price, but still only a voucher. So the airline gets to keep the money. Please note that this isn't allowed by consumer protection regulations, but they are still doing it. They are really desperate, and really broke.

The article estimates that in the week between June 15 and June 21 a total of 17.8 million seats were sold, but only 3.9 were real. That's around 22%.

So, how does knowing the airlines' strategy help you find a ticket that doesn't get cancelled? You can try choosing the most expensive flight you can find. Why? Well, if a ticket doesn't get cancelled it must be because it was bought by many passengers, and in that case it's reasonable that its price has risen due to the high demand. But of course it's still a bet, and a risky one.

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    You can also buy a last minute ticket a few hours prior to departure – JonathanReez Jun 23 at 21:28
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    "Possibly worth a bit more than the ticket's price, but still only a voucher." And possibly worth nothing after the airline gets bankrupt and your money sunk with it? – Stéphane Gourichon Jun 24 at 17:04
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    The voucher also locks you into that airline, so you no longer have that money to book with someone else. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 24 at 18:50
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I tried to make contact with airlines, and Blue Air emailed me back to let me know they were running two repatriation flights to Bacau (not Bucharest) and to book online.

Today’s one actually flew with about 60 passengers on board from a very quiet Luton airport, so my own problem has been solved. They say the next one is Sunday 28 June.

To get a level of confidence before buying a ticket with a new airline the following helped:

FlightAware’s origin/destination search tool has been useful in highlighting flights that didn’t fly (Ryanair and Wizz Air), but it didn’t return real Blue Air flights (which are maybe unscheduled), so I started keeping an eye on the airport departure and arrival boards online, which must be the most accurate way of identifying unscheduled flights, or those cancelled by their airline.

Once I knew about an unscheduled flight I would use FlightAware to search for Luton Airport until I saw the plane flying over their live map, and I would check they’ve landed on the arrivals board. Knowing an airline has real flights to/from the country gives me more confidence they will honour my ticket.

The relatively high cost of the ticket and looking at the “reserve a seat” screen showing a map of the seats on the plane to see if many seats are taken before committing felt like another good indicator.

Often the same carrier has an inbound flight showing on the airport’s arrivals board about an hour before the outbound flight is shown on the departure boards (the same plane), so if the inbound flight is real, the outbound flight is more likely to be real too.

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