PALO ALTO — Israelis living in Silicon Valley are fed up with the long, exhausting indirect flights to Tel Aviv from San Francisco, and they don’t want to take them any more.
A group of prominent Bay Area Israeli entrepreneurs, including Waze CEO Noam Bardin, are trying to convince airlines that it is worth their while to start a 14 ½-hour-long non-stop route linking Silicon Valley and Silicon Wadi. The group has started a petition, which has been signed since early January by some 6,500 people who agree there has to be a better way.
“It takes about 24 hours door-to-door right now,” Adi Bittan, a member of the group, tells The Times of Israel about current indirect flights, which typically involved a long layover in Europe or a harried (and sometimes missed) connection in New York. El Al flies non-stop to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles, but Bay Area residents still need to fly down to LAX to make that flight.
Bittan is CEO of OwnerListens, a start-up that has developed an app that lets companies do private communication with customers in real time. Like the other approximately 40,000 Israeli adults living in the Bay Area, she travels back to Israel for work and family often. Bittan and her group estimate that half of all Israelis living in Northern California go to Israel at least once every year or two. The hi-tech crowd flies there considerably more frequently.
‘The frequent direct flight to Silicon Valley is like a lifeline for the company’
The flow of traffic the other way is also critical. “Specifically from an [Israel-based] entrepreneur perspective, the frequent direct flight to Silicon Valley is like a lifeline for the company with quicker access to customers, partners, and a huge and essential ecosystem you cannot find anywhere else,” says Shuly Galili, a partner in UpWest Labs, a Palo Alto-based accelerator for Israeli start-ups.
It’s not just the hi-tech entrepreneurs who are interested in the direct flight.
“Investors would go more to Israel or would invest more in Israeli companies if they could get there more easily,” Bittan contends. “Venture capitalists want a direct flight because they have to get to Israel a lot.”
Galili warns that Israel is losing out to other countries because there isn’t a non-stop flight to Tel Aviv.
“For the thousands of Silicon Valley investors, it is easier to fly to Shanghai, Bangalore, London and Tokyo than to Tel Aviv. With the layover and unreliable connection Israel is simply too far and complicated to get to,” she says.
Bittan believes Jewish and general tourism from the Bay Area to Israel would increase, as well. Grandparents and other family members living in Israel would also be more inclined to make the trip westward if six or more hours were shaved off the travel time.
According to Bittan, the group is confident that airlines will be willing to consider their request for a thrice-weekly non-stop flight if they can show that there is a demand for 35,000 round-trip tickets per year (the petition asks signers how many round-trip flights they estimate they would take). The petition count is up to almost 27,000 so far.
“We can also show that twenty percent of those people would be flying first class or business class, which is important in terms of revenue for the airlines,” Bittan says. “Every big company in the Bay Area sends people to Israel, and they fly business class.”
So far, the idea for the new non-stop route doesn’t seem to be flying with the airlines. Amir Mizroch reported in the Wall Street Journal that spokespeople for El Al and United had nothing committal to say, only that their companies are always monitoring possibilities for new routes.
“We recognize that a lot of work goes in to opening a new route,” Bittan says. “But we think we can show them it’s worth it to them, we can make the business case.”
As Israelis who have built companies, Bittan and her group are up for the challenge.
“We’re taking the entrepreneurial approach. We’re trying to change things,” says Bittan, hopeful that the group’s idea will soon take off.