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Airlines reroute, cancel flights as India, Pakistan down fighter jets

New Delhi

GLOBAL airlines are rerouting and cancelling flights after fighter-jet combat between India and Pakistan prompted airspace closures and airport shutdowns, disrupting crucial routes for commercial planes.

Singapore Airlines cancelled a Frankfurt-Singapore flight. Westbound trips to London and Frankfurt were forced to divert, causing them to make refuelling stops in Dubai or Mumbai, the carrier said in a statement.

A United Continental Holdings Inc flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Delhi was re-routed to London and later cancelled, while a Newark-Mumbai flight was shifted to Frankfurt. An Air Canada flight from Toronto to Delhi turned back on Tuesday night over Ireland and was scrubbed when it arrived back in Canada. A Vancouver-Delhi flight also was scrapped.

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The South Asian nations are engaged in the most serious military confrontation in decades, after India said on Tuesday that it killed hundreds of militants in a camp inside Pakistan. Pakistan retaliated by shooting down two Indian aircraft and capturing at least one pilot, while India said that it downed a Pakistani jet. Pakistan closed its airspace, while airports in North India were shut for hours before restrictions were lifted.

The disruptions cut off the shortest routes for such flights as Singapore to London, Kuala Lumpur to Frankfurt and Hong Kong to Dubai, based on data compiled by gcmap.com.

United was working on alternative arrangements for customers to reach their destinations, said Charlie Hobart, a company spokesman. "We are closely monitoring this situation and are in contact with relevant government authorities," he added.

Air Canada cancelled service to Delhi from Toronto on Wednesday night, and from Vancouver on Thursday.

Sri Lankan Airlines cancelled flights to the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore on Thursday following the airspace closing.

The United Arab Emirates Aviation Authority suspended flights to Pakistan, Al Arabiya reported.

The impact on some Indian airports weighed on domestic operations as well. IndiGo, India's largest carrier, Singapore Airlines-affiliate Vistara, Jet Airways India Ltd and Go Air said that flights were suspended at several airports.

Thousands of travellers were stranded in Bangkok on Thursday when Thai Airways cancelled all flights over Pakistan after Islamabad closed its airspace. Nearly 30 flights - the majority to and from European routes - were initially affected, the airline said, with three aircraft forced to return to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport and others cancelled or set to be re-routed.

Thai Airways said that nearly 5,000 passengers had been caught up in the drama, as it struggled to find new routes to Europe with Iran "rejecting" a request to travel over its airspace, according to a spokesman for the carrier.

But a few hours later, China gave "permission to Thai Airways . . . to bypass Pakistani airspace", said Pratana Patanasiri, Thai Airways Vice-President, allowing Thursday night's flights to Europe to resume.

But frustration mounted on Thursday at Bangkok's main airport at the sudden delays. "We have waited here for 11 or 12 hours already," said Gerda Heinzel 55, a German tourist flying back to Munich after a holiday in Phuket. "We have not been given anything to eat, anywhere to stay. There are no German-speaking staff to help us." BLOOMBERG, AFP