Hundreds of Liverpool fans are seeking alternative routes to reach Kiev for Saturday’s Champions League Final, after several charter flights from Merseyside to the Ukrainian capital were cancelled. But how did it all go wrong?
21 September 2016: Uefa announces that the Olympic Stadium in Kiev will host the 2017-18 Champions League Final. Ukraine’s capital is the first Eastern European city to host the event since the Moscow final between Manchester United and Chelsea in 2008.
1 May 2018: Real Madrid qualify for their third successive final with a 2-2 draw at home against Bayern Munich, winning 4-3 on aggregate. Their fans book key connecting flights via Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Prague and Vienna to Kiev.
2 May: Roma beat Liverpool 4-2 in their semi-final second leg, but the Merseyside team win 7-6 on aggregate. Liverpool fans find that many air fares have increased above £1,000 return due to the surge in demand from Real supporters.
Agents start arranging charter flights on carriers including Windrose Airlines of Ukraine, the Spanish airline Vueling and Ethiopian Airlines – the leading carrier of Africa.
17 May: Ethiopian Airlines agrees to put on two flights from Liverpool and one from Manchester to Kiev on behalf of Worldchoice Sport.
The carrier contacts Boryspil airport in the Ukrainian capital to request slots, and also reserves slots at Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris for the “positioning” flights necessary for the charters. With no immediate response from Kiev, Ethiopian asks its ground handler at Borispyl, EuroJet, to contact the airport and reserve the required slots.
21 May: “All stakeholders were advised by EuroJet that they were not able to get the required slots due to slot congestion at the airport,” says Ethiopian. “The organisers then asked us to secure a slot to Lviv which we did the same day.” Lviv is six hours’ drive from Kiev.
23 May: Ethiopian deploys flight crews at European airports to fly the contracted routes. But rumours start spreading on social media that all is not well with the flights.
24 May: “The organisers decided not to follow through with the Lviv plan and tried to get authorities to support the application for Kiev airport,” says Ethiopian.
At 3.30pm Worldchoice Sport announces all operations are cancelled, saying: “We have applied for slots in the correct manner and timeframe with the authorities.
“We feel terribly let down by Kiev airport.”
Passengers are told to expect full refunds within a week. It is said that dozens of private jets have been granted permission to use Boryspil airport.
After the announcement, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson contacts Vitaly Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician, who is now mayor of Kiev.
After some robust discussion, two pairs of slots at Boryspil are assigned for the Ethiopian Airlines flights. But the inbound flight for one of the slot pairs requires a three-night stay in Ukraine.
Worldchoice Sport decides not to proceed with that pair of flights, saying: “With no accommodation in Kiev being available it was decided that in such a short space of time it would not be possible to utilise this slot and risk the safety of our customers.”
25 May: One Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 flies out to Kiev, along with jets from several other airlines.