Saudi decision to open skies will save Israeli travelers time and money

Airlines will no longer have to bypass kingdom on flights to and from Tel Aviv, while Muslims traveling from Israel will fly direct to hajj pilgrimage

An illustrative photo of an El Al flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, outside Tel Aviv, October 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of an El Al flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, outside Tel Aviv, October 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israelis are set to enjoy cheaper and shorter flights to destinations in the east, while the country’s Muslims will be able to fly directly to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage, as a result of Saudi Arabia’s announcement Friday that it will open its airspace to Israeli aircraft.

Flights to Asia from Tel Aviv had to circumvent the Arabian Peninsula until now, as a consequence of the kingdom’s non-recognition of Israel, adding between two to three hours travel time.

Things began to shift in 2020 after the Abraham Accords were signed and Saudi Arabia began allowing Israeli airlines to fly over its territory in a special air corridor for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain. The latest change means flights to and from India, Thailand, China, and other locations in the east can pass over the Saudi peninsula.

Oz Berlovitch, CEO of Israeli carrier Arkia praised the “dramatic move,” and predicted that the shortened flight paths “will reduce the price of flights to the East, for example to India and Thailand, by at least 10 percent.”

Travelers boarding a plane from Israel to Bangkok will have their flights shortened to eight hours and 25 minutes from approximately 11 hours, while flights to Mumbai will be shortened from approximately eight hours to five hours and 15 minutes.

The new flight paths cross over Oman, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and also does not currently allow Israeli aircraft to cross over its airspace. However, it is expected to follow suit in line with Saudi Arabia’s decision.

An El Al plane seen on a flight tracking website as it makes the first commercial flight between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, by crossing Saudi Arabian airspace, on August 31, 2020. (screen capture: FlightRadar24)

The opening of Saudi skies would also allow a 15-and-a-half-hour direct flight to Melbourne, Australia, as well as a six-hour flight to the Maldives if airlines decide to operate such routes.

In addition to being a boon for tourists, the decision will also benefit Israel’s Muslims wishing to participate in the hajj, as direct charter flights to Saudi Arabia will be made available annually for the pilgrims.

Though the kingdom accepts Muslims arriving from Israel seeking to take part in the pilgrimage, they are currently forced to travel through a third country, ultimately adding to the costs of the trip.

The pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for all Muslims physically and financially able to make the journey, which takes them along a path believed traversed by the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago.

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