Israeli airlines pick up some slack from canceled flights

Israeli airlines pick up some slack from canceled flights

El Al and Arkia boost flights after world airlines halt traffic to Tel Aviv, but inflated prices draw criticism

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A traveler stands in front of a departure time flight board displaying various cancellations at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (photo credit: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
A traveler stands in front of a departure time flight board displaying various cancellations at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (photo credit: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Israeli airlines announced on Wednesday that they would boost their services between Tel Aviv and destinations all over the world after the Federal Aviation Agency directed US airlines to cancel their scheduled flights to Ben Gurion Airport in the wake of a rocket attack on the nearby city of Yehud.

The FAA barred flights to Israel Tuesday evening for 24 hours, citing security concerns, then extended the ban on Wednesday evening for at least another 24.

Before the FAA announcement, the Delta airline said it was indefinitely suspending flights between the United States and Israel. At the same time, US Airways said it was suspending flights, but only until Thursday.

After the FAA issued its initial directive on Tuesday, Canadian, European, Arab and Turkish airlines were quick to follow suit. As of Wednesday afternoon, only Israeli airlines El Al, Arkia and Israir, along with British Airways, Spain’s Iberia and Vueling, Georgian Airways, and a number of Greek and eastern European companies, were flying in and out of Tel Aviv.

On Wednesday, all American carriers, KLM, Swiss International Airlines, Air France, easyJet, Austrian Airlines, Wizzair, Brussels Airlines, Air Serbia, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, Royal Jordanian, TUIfly, Air Berlin, Finnair, Germanwings, Alitalia, Croatia Air, Lot Polish Airlines, Cyprus Airways, NIKI, Turkey’s Tailwind Airlines, and Transaero suspended flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport — affecting many thousands of passengers.

In all, 160 flights at Ben Gurion were canceled as of Wednesday, 80 incoming and 80 departing, Transportation Ministry director-general Uzi Yitzhaki told Channel 2.

He said some companies, including Alitalia, were set to resume flights on Thursday. Israeli air officials said on Wednesday afternoon that US Airways and United would restart flights on Thursday as well.

But on Wednesday, passengers flying out of Ben Gurion Airport were confronted with departure boards displaying a slew of cancellations in bright red letters.

In response, Israeli airlines El Al and Arkia announced they would try to provide solutions to passengers who were stranded in Israel and abroad by using larger planes with more seats and expanding their flight schedules.

“In the past few days, El Al has made efforts to boost its flights and customer service. The company has scheduled two more flights to Greece and Cyprus and allocated wide-bodied aircraft that can hold hundreds more passengers in flights to European destinations. The company has also extended the hours of operation of its customer service hotline to ensure that solutions are provided to as many Israeli passengers around the world as possible,” read a statement by El Al.

However, El Al in particular came under fire Wednesday for offering stranded passengers seats at almost double the advertised prices. The rates for one-way tickets from popular European destinations to Israel were said by many frustrated passengers to have skyrocketed in a matter of hours, with economy-class tickets being sold for over a thousand dollars.

A one-way ticket from London to Tel Aviv on Thursday was priced at $982 on El Al’s website, as was a one-way ticket from Tel Aviv to Paris on Friday. A flight to Rome on Friday cost $972 one way.

As for flights to North America, a one-way El Al ticket to New York on Sunday was being sold for $1,774.82, and to Toronto for $1,776.33. Israeli media reported throughout Wednesday that ticket prices had almost doubled between Tuesday and Wednesday, with the prices of flights to Europe that would have cost several hundred dollars had they been booked on Monday almost doubling after the FAA’s announcement, and return flights to the US costing upwards of $2,500.

However, El Al remained adamant that the fares were not higher than normal, and were set in advance due to the airline’s expectation of high demand and low availability during the summer holidays.

The airline’s recently appointed president, David Maimon, said that when a flight is nearly full, the prices of the remaining seats rise.

“The last seats will always be expensive,” Maimon told Channel 2. “That is how we allocate seats.”

He added that despite a lack of pilots — some of whom are reservists who were called up to serve in the Gaza Strip — El Al was making every effort to accommodate the stranded passengers.

Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.

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