Europa League final chaos highlights lack of air connections in Caucasus

Minutes after Arsenal sealed their place in the Europa League final with a win over Valencia on May 9, thousands of fans of the London side began searching for flights to and from the Azerbaijani capital Baku, where the final will be held on May 29. Half an hour later they were joined by thousands more supporters of Chelsea, who claimed their own place in the final with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Eintracht Frankfurt.

Fans of both sides were disappointed to discover that Baku is served by just three direct flights from London a week, meaning that most will need to fly via Istanbul, Kyiv or Moscow. The quickest journey by air on the day of the final takes six hours 55 minutes, with the majority lasting more than 10 hours. Costs are high, with no flights currently available for less than 500 euros.

Even those fans based in the Caucasus are having problems. Emerging Europe’s editor-in-chief Craig Turp, a Chelsea supporter who will be on assignment in Georgia the week of the final said that one of few available flights from Tbilisi to Baku on the day of the game cost 700 euros and required a return via Bahrain.

“Baku is a fine city and will no doubt host the final with aplomb,” he said, “but even at the best of times it is not an easy place to get to. All of the major cities in the Caucasus suffer the same problem. That two teams from London have qualified for the final places extra pressure on these poor air connections.”

Arsenal and Chelsea have also complained that they will each receive only around 6,000 tickets for the match.

Arsenal described as “disappointing” their 6,000 allocation for the 68,700-capacity Olympic Stadium. Chelsea confirmed they had been allocated even fewer tickets: 5,801.

A further problem is the presence in the Arsenal squad of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian. There are no diplomatic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan because of the longstanding conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and Armenians are not usually issued visas to enter Azerbaijan.

While playing for Borussia Dortmund in 2015, Mkhitaryan did not travel for a Europa League tie against Azerbaijan Premier League side Gabala because of security concerns.