It’s actually brilliant. Europe’s top budget carriers–including EasyJet, Ryanair, and WizzAir–have been invited to start service to St. Petersburg, Russia…but there’s a catch.
Tourist Boom Coming To Russia’s St. Petersburg
In 2020, expect a boom of tourism and cheap flights to St. Petersburg (LED), Russia’s fourth largest airport. The Russian Federation is trying to expand tourism in the Russian port city and has taken two unusual steps to accomplish that.
Simplified Visa Requirements
First, it has simplified the visa requirement for 53 nations arriving into St. Petersburg by air (North Korea made the cut, but not the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom). Travelers from eligible nations can now apply for an e-visa in advance, which jettisons the need for an invitation letter and just takes a few moments to fill out online. With the exception of the UK, all other European Union nations are eligible.
An Invite To Budget Carriers
Here’s where it really gets interesting, at least from my perspective.
St. Petersburg now allows “seventh freedom flights” (a flight between two foreign countries without a link to the home country). It’s essentially a unilateral Open Skies agreement. So for example, a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Budapest to St. Petersburg, if it existed, would be a “fifth freedom” route from BUD to LED because the flight originated in Frankfurt. But if Lufthansa decided to operate only between Budapest and St. Petersburg, that would be considered a seventh freedom flight.
Thus, EasyJet, Ryanair, and Wizzair have applied to offer direct flights from 33 countries. These services will be concentrated in the summer, but remain operational year-around.
But there’s a catch. These rights have been granted for a five-year trial period. Over this period, Russia will be watching very closely which routes work and which routes do not. Leonid Sergeyev, the head of St. Petersburg Airport, said that after the five years the new routes that have proven successful “could be either handed to Russian airlines or stay with the foreigners.”
Did you catch that?
Now a lot can happen in five years, but Russia will use budget carriers to see what works then may say thanks, we’ll take it from here. In any case, Russian carriers are not happy about the new competition on short-term basis.
For Europeans looking to visit Russia, your best gateway will likely be St. Petersburg. Look for a proliferation of cheap flights in 2020.
image: Mark Harkin / Wikimedia Commons
Just visited Moscow earlier this month and found it to be a remarkable city. I have yet to visit St. Petersburg.
The visa is a POA to get and demands a pretty rigid standard as to your hotel and schedule. It ended up costing me over $400 to obtain using an expedited service company. Not to mention the absurd amount of forms and letters needed. The trade off, I guess, was you can walk around Red Square and the Christmas decorations in virtual silence at night. The city is completely devoid of tourists other than a few Chinese groups.
Regarding the e-visa to fly in to St. Petersburg…would this also allow onward travel to Moscow etc?
I believe the answer is YES, but you must also leave Russia from LED via boat or air, not train.
Matthew, I don’t think the free St Petersburg e-visa allows you to leave the city and surrounding region. In 2021, the same countries — not the U.S./UK/Canada — should gain access to a $50 e-visa, which would apply for the whole of the country.
Nope. You’ll have to stay within the Leningrad Oblast per the e visas rules. And I wouldn’t mess with Russians regarding visas…
Unless these carriers also get an exemption from the ridiculous Russian Data Localization Laws, there’s no way any of them would be interested in this scheme. They would have to create data centers and siloed operations in Russia for just the operations within Russia, and for what, only 5 years? HA!
With Russia there’s always a catch.
Pass ( in any case, ineligible..). I give up on Russia: from being strip-searched at the border, decades ago, through a few less than stellar visits, to a last one a couple of years ago that included total PITA visa application ( arranged months in advance only to get the visa with 30 minutes to spare on the day of departure). Once or twice is enough…