As foreign carriers return to Israel, will sky-high airfares finally drop this summer?

Foreign airlines resume their routes to Israel though at reduced capacity, with Israelis seeking short breaks from the war in Eastern European destinations seen as safe

Sharon Wrobel

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Passengers at the departure hall in the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on April 14, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Passengers at the departure hall in the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on April 14, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

While the resumption of flights by some foreign carriers to Israel and the reopening of low-cost Terminal 1 are welcome moves, they appear to be too little, too late to make much of a difference to the high prices faced by Israeli travelers looking to book their summer breaks.

With the outbreak of the war in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas terror assault, most foreign airlines grounded their flights to Israel, leaving travelers from Ben Gurion Airport almost entirely dependent on Israeli carriers El Al Israel Airlines, Israir, and Arkia.

In recent weeks, many foreign airlines, including some US carriers, started to resume their operations to and from Israel, and Ben Gurion International Airport in June decided to reopen its Terminal 1 — mainly used by low-cost airlines — for the first time since October, fueling hopes that the renewed activity will provide some relief for Israeli consumers who have been paying stratospheric airfares.

“Most of the foreign airlines have returned to Israel, but they have resumed their operations in a reduced capacity of flights, while some airlines came back with smaller aircraft and a smaller number of seats,” Yaneev Lanis, co-founder of online booking site Secret Flights, told The Times of Israel. “It means that the supply remains low and the demand stays high, so prices are not coming down.”

“Although ticket prices are a little lower with some more competition, we expect flight prices in the upcoming summer season, starting at the end of June, to soar due to the expected seat shortage and growing demand,” Lanis added.

Earlier this month, Delta Airlines and United Airlines both resumed flights to and from Israel for the first time since October 7. United, which briefly renewed flights in March only to suspend them again a month later due to Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel, initially scheduled renewal of its Israel route on May 1. Meanwhile, American Airlines, which had sought to resume Israel flights in May, announced in February that operations to Israel would be postponed to the end of October 2024.

Yaneev Lanis, co-founder of online booking site Secret Flights. (Courtesy)

Other foreign airlines that have returned to Israel in recent months, albeit partially, are Lufthansa Group, which includes Swiss and Austrian Airlines, and Air France, all operating at a smaller-than-usual scale.

Among European low-cost airlines, Hungary’s Wizz Air, Italy’s Neos, Dutch Transavia Airlines, and Greek carriers Aegean Airlines and Bluebird Airways have continued flying to and from Tel Aviv on and off this year. On May 1, Transavia announced that it is canceling routes from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam until September 1 “due to the situation in the region,” while other routes to Paris are still in place.

With the reopening of Terminal 1, Irish low-cost airline Ryanair resumed its operations to Tel Aviv at the beginning of June. “The carrier is offering flights to seven destinations versus more than 20 before the war,” according to Lanis.
He estimated that Ryanair resumed 15% to 20% of its prewar operations in Israel.

UK’s EasyJet, which briefly restarted services to and from Israel on March 25, suspended flights to Israel in April until October 27, citing the security situation in the Middle East.

“The summer is completely gone,” said Lanis. “Even if the war ends soon and we have peace we are not likely to see the carriers come back early because airlines plan their schedules long ahead, and once they decide to cancel the summer season to Israel, these planes are allocated to different routes.”

For example, a carrier like Easyjet has already diverted aircraft and crews to profitable routes across Europe and sold tickets for those aircraft, and it’s very “unlikely that they will be making last-minute moves of allocation of aircraft and staff to different routes,” he said.

This year, prices are soaring even higher as most Israelis are not booking as ahead of time as they used to due to the uncertain war situation, according to travel and tourism provider Issta Israel.

“Before the war, Israelis would usually book their July-August summer holidays during April or May and this year for the first time, they are booking only now in late June because they are afraid to book during the war period,” said Issta VP marketing and sales Tal Noy. “Israeli customer behavior changed, which makes vacations even more expensive; not just the airfares but also overseas hotels as occupancy is already full regardless of the Hamas war.”

Tali Noy, VP Sales and Marketing at travel and tourism provider Issta Israel. (Courtesy)

Both Lanis and Noy said that due to the security and political situation, the map of top travel destinations has changed as Israelis are mostly interested in booking a short vacation of either four days in nearby locations such as Greece and Cyprus, or two weeks further away in such places as Thailand.

“Turkey and Morocco, popular destinations with Israelis in recent years, have vanished from the booking sale channels,” said Noy. “There is an increase in demand for travel destinations in Eastern Europe where Israelis feel safer, instead of Western Europe, due probably to the political situation and as the daily spend and trip are cheaper.

“Before the war, Rome, Barcelona, London, and Paris were in the list of top destinations. Now other cities, like Budapest and Bucharest, and countries like Montenegro and Bulgaria, are in demand,” she added.

Booking a return ticket with Transavia from Tel Aviv to Paris in July will cost between $400 and $640 and in August, between $500 and $960. On El Al, tickets to Paris start around $870 in July, rising to between $800 and $1,000 in August.

Flying with Arkia to Athens in June and the beginning of July, a round-trip ticket starts around $370 and can cost up to around $700 depending on the dates. In the first half of August, airfares are already higher starting at around $468, and in the second half of the peak summer month prices range from $596 to $1,056 for a round-trip ticket. Tickets with Wizz Air from Tel Aviv to Athens are in a similar price range during July and August.

Comparing summer airfares in 2024 with prices before the outbreak of the war, a ticket to Athens with Wizz Air has more than doubled, soaring 139%, according to data by Secret Flights.

A Ryanair plane at Ben Gurion International Airport, outside of Tel Aviv. March 2, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/ Flash90)

Flying Arkia to Rome in July, airfares start at $321 and go up to $700. In August prices start at just under $600 and toward mid-August they jump to $750 to $1,027.

“If you want to secure your vacation, you should book with Israeli airlines,” said Noy. “What we are seeing during the war is that many of our web customers shifted to book offline with a travel agent to recommend destinations and to be there to help if flights get canceled, as they want to have a contact while they are abroad.”

Lanis agreed that “purchasing tickets with a foreign carrier is still a risk, whether low-cost or not, because any little drone from Iran or a missile from the north would probably stop flights of foreign carriers.”

United and Delta are back in Israel with reduced capacity, but they have not resumed direct flights to many destinations, including Chicago and San Francisco, which means that if customers want to fly direct from Tel Aviv to many cities in North America, they still have to depend on Israel’s flag carrier El Al, Lanis remarked.

“The reopening of Terminal 1 was very late and is not enough, and any further inaction keeps Israelis trapped with foreign airlines that are not fully functional during these days, while paying a higher price flying with those airlines,” he said.

Lanis called on the government to provide incentives and more support to foreign airlines to boost competition for the Israeli market, as tourists are not likely to come back for a longer period amid the ongoing war.

Pictures of Israelis held hostage in the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists, at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv on December 26, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

“The government could provide discounts on taxes, open up the airport 24/7, and give slots to any airline that wants to come to Israel at any time or any day,” Lanis suggested. “They can guarantee or ensure the safety of any foreign airlines’ aircraft and crew because insurance is also a very high cost of a foreign airline flying into a war zone.

“If the security situation stays stable and more capacity and seats by foreign carriers are added to Israel, prices will gradually come down, but it will also take a few weeks, or possibly even a few months, for Israelis to gain their trust back in foreign airlines that have played with their schedules in recent months,” Lanis said.

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