British Airways passengers on an Airbus A380 from Johannesburg to London Heathrow went on a 10-hour “flight to nowhere” when Niger’s airspace was suddenly closed late on Sunday night.
Other flights between the UK and South Africa have being re-routed or diverted to take on extra fuel or have returned to their starting points as a result of the closure.
After a military coup ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, the Ecowas regional bloc has threatened intervention to restore the leader.
In response, the ruling junta, led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, closed the vast country – which is six times the area of Great Britain – to overflying aircraft.
The closure took effect at 11.22pm British time on Sunday, when several UK-South Africa flights were already airborne.
Airspace over Sudan and Libya is already closed to commercial aviation. The addition of Niger means there is now a block to north-south flights across Africa stretching around 2,600 miles from western Niger to the Red Sea.
British Airways flight BA56 from Johannesburg flew as far as Chad before turning back to its starting point. It was operated by an Airbus A380 “SuperJumbo”, with space for nearly 500 passengers.
Flight BA64 from Nairobi to Heathrow took a similar path, turning back after three hours to return to the Kenyan capital.
British Airways flight BA58 from Cape Town to London Heathrow was also diverted via Lagos. It took off as normal early on Sunday evening and followed a normal track over Namibia, Angola, Gabon, Cameroon and Nigeria.