Luggage held up for hours at Ben Gurion, sparking chaos as summer travel peaks

Passengers complain of waiting up to 2 hours for bags; airports authority says it’s working to address problem while union cites manpower shortage, denies speculation of strike

Illustrative: The baggage claim area at Ben Gurion Airport,April 2018. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative: The baggage claim area at Ben Gurion Airport,April 2018. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Travelers on Friday experienced flight delays and long waits for their bags at Ben Gurion Airport, apparently due to too few staff and too many flights at the height of the summer travel season, though an unverified report also blamed the slowdown on a wildcat labor action.

The delays created an atmosphere of chaos inside the airport as piqued travelers scrambled for their belongings or answers. Many left without their bags, while others eventually forced their way into an area of the tarmac where they found bags sitting untouched.

The Israel Airports Authority acknowledged a “temporary delay” in the unloading and loading of baggage from planes, which it said it was working to address. In a statement Friday afternoon, the IAA said it expected the matter “to soon be solved.”

The airport workers union attributed the issues to a lack of manpower while denying the delays were the result of a slowdown meant to protest labor conditions.

However, Channel 12 news reported that baggage handlers it spoke to confirmed that the slowdown was likely meant as an intentional protest after years of unanswered demands for better conditions. It described the action as a “warning strike,” though such moves must usually be declared as part of an official labor dispute.

“There are hundreds of people near every conveyor belt and they’re just not working,” Harel Cohen, a Ra’anana resident, told the Ynet news site. “There are people here who think maybe there is a strike.”

According to Cohen, hundreds of arriving travelers waited for an hour by the conveyor belt before the IAA informed them of the delay.

“We’ve been waiting here already for two hours, it’s crazy,” a passenger who arrived from Italy told Channel 12 news.

She said that airport staff had begun to hand out water to passengers.

“People gave up and simply left their suitcases, others tried to go to the tarmac and search for their cases,” Noam, another arrival who waited two hours, told Kan news.

Roni, who returned from a trip to Georgia, told Ynet he sent his daughter back home after she came to pick him up from the airport.

“I set her back because I realized that this will take time. We’ll take a taxi,” he said.

“El Al suggested that we don’t go home, arguing that it will be hard for us to get our things back, so we are waiting even though none of the conveyor belts are working,” he added.

Later, passengers appeared to break into an area on the tarmac where they discovered carts filled with their bags idling on the pavement.

Despite the delays, an IAA spokesperson told the Walla news site that passengers could continue to check in as usual to ensure a quick departure once flights resumed.

Earlier this year, Israeli authorities also attributed staffing shortages to extended delays for arriving non-Israeli travelers at passport control.

Over a decade ago, in 2011, Israel identified an urgent need for another international airport that would relieve some of the congestion at Ben Gurion Airport but has struggled to implement the decision.

According to Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority, Ben Gurion Airport will reach its maximum capacity of 40 million passengers and 250,000 flights annually by 2029.

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