El Al Israel Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, was forced to cancel four flights at the last minute Thursday when the pilots failed to arrive.
The canceled flights had been scheduled to depart for London, Budapest, Munich, and Bucharest.
Disappointed travelers were forced to head home after waiting through several unexplained delays in their departures. Passengers said that no one from El Al explained what was happening, and that they found out about the missing pilots from the press.
“They said 9:30 takeoff, ignored us, didn’t explain anything, then said 10 o’clock,” said Nir Cohen from Petah Tikva. “At 10, no one explained what was happening, and simply canceled and said they would tell us outside what is happening. We went out, no one received us.”
“At the beginning they said they don’t know, someone from the staff didn’t arrive,” said Boris Appelman from Kiryat Motzkin, who had planned his trip for two months.
Many passengers were furious and shouted at the gate attendants, but some were somewhat sympathetic to the pilots.
“I imagine they’re fighting for their rights. It’s seems our rights are less relevant,” said Appelman.
“It’s not nice, but what can you do,” said Assaf from Kiryat Ata. ” I have my feet on the ground; we don’t need to go nuts.”
The no-shows come as El Al and its pilots union negotiate over conditions for its pilots. A source involved in the talks told Ynet that the pilots feel they are “exalted,” presenting demands like private taxis to work, business-class seats on flights without business class, and more time to spend abroad when they travel.
“We are sorry about the company’s travelers who were harmed,” said a statement by the pilots union. “Unfortunately, an impossible situation was created in our 737 fleet in which, within a day, there were between five and 10 flights without pilots assigned. The pilots need to agree to do these flights in addition to the busy existing flight plan. One cannot demand that the pilots fly tired when they are already doing well beyond the number of hours acceptable around the world. We hope the company’s management will find a quick and effective solution as quickly as possible, and we will of course pitch in as always.”