Before war, over 150 airlines flew here; only some 45 resumed

Tel Aviv flight cancellations, ‘astronomical’ air fares play havoc with Passover travel

Major foreign carriers cancel routes to Tel Aviv amid Iran tensions, forcing some 50,000 Israelis to nix their travel plans during Passover or pay unjustifiably high prices

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)

Just days before the Jewish Passover holiday, which begins on Monday evening, a raft of major foreign carriers again decided to suspend their operations to Tel Aviv, leaving thousands of Israelis who had been planning to go on vacation stuck at home, and others stranded abroad contending with very few flight options and sky-high ticket prices.

Hours after Friday’s reports of an Israeli strike on an Iranian airbase, most major foreign carriers — from Germany’s Lufthansa to Dutch flag carrier KLM and United Airlines — halted their services to Ben Gurion International Airport. That’s after several foreign carriers had partially resumed routes to Israel in recent weeks as rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel have largely abated during the ongoing war with the Hamas terror group.

“In hindsight, this is a very poor business decision, and not rational, to stay away out of fear of a wider retaliation strike by Israel following Iran’s attack, which never materialized,” Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel. “We were surprised and it left travelers frustrated after many foreign carriers had already resumed their services to Israel amid the ongoing war.”

“The airlines translated their cowardice into an economic decision,” Feldman charged.

Some 50,000 Israelis have had their flights cancelled in recent days, leaving many unable to travel during the Passover festival, or stranded abroad, Channel 12 estimated in a report on Sunday.

“Our phones kept ringing on Friday from passengers seeking alternative flight arrangements,” said Feldman. “We were able to change flights and connections for those who were willing to pay astronomical prices and wanted to spend Passover in Israel or with their families outside the country.”

Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours. (Courtesy)

Feldman added that airfares soared more than 100 percent. Those passengers who were booked on low-cost airlines were priced out, and were the most heavily affected by the cancellations.

Plane ticket prices to and from Israel have more than doubled in recent months due to surplus demand and a shortage of supply of flights, as foreign carriers sluggishly resumed services to Israel amid the ongoing fighting with Hamas in Gaza. When war broke out in the aftermath of the terror group’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel, almost all major international airlines suspended flights to Tel Aviv.

Since the start of the year, with rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel having largely abated, a few foreign carriers started to resume their Tel Aviv routes on a reduced schedule, while others indicated that they planned to restart, raising expectations that the fares would start to stabilize.

The hopes were dashed when Iran launched an unprecedented missile and drone attack on Israel during the night of April 13.

Israel shelved plans for an immediate response to Iran’s direct attack when it became clear that it had thwarted most of the Iranian missiles and drones with the help of a US-led coalition. Israel has not officially acknowledged responsibility for the alleged counterstrike overnight Thursday-Friday on Iranian air defenses near the Natanz nuclear site, though several of its leaders have intimated responsibility, and Iran has played down the significance of the response and not directly blamed Israel.

The heightened regional tensions were the trigger for Swiss Air to suspend flights to and from Tel Aviv until April 25. United Airlines announced that it would cancel its daily flight from Newark to Tel Aviv through May 2, while Air Canada said it was pausing operations until the end of June.

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)

Air India suspended services to Israel until April 30. UK’s EasyJet, which restarted services to and from Israel on March 25, last week suspended flights to Israel until October 27, citing the security situation in the Middle East.

Out of more than 150 foreign carriers that were flying to Israel before the outbreak of the war, only about 45 have resumed some of their operations to and from Israel, according to the latest data from the Israel Airports Authority (IAA).

In recent days, Polish national airline LOT restored flights to Tel Aviv, and other foreign carriers, such as Austrian Airlines and Air France, which initially canceled the Tel Aviv route over the weekend, have resumed some of their schedules to the country.

Among the foreign carriers that have continued flying to and from Tel Aviv are Emirates, flydubai, Ethiopian Airlines, Hungarian airline Wizz Air, Italy’s Neos, Aegean Airlines and Bluebird Airways. Flag carrier El Al Israel Airlines, and other local smaller carriers such as Arkia and Israir continued their operations throughout the recent months since the outbreak of the war, selling air tickets at high prices.

Israel’s Competition Authority is reportedly launching a probe into El Al Airlines to examine whether the carrier has taken advantage of the war situation by charging exorbitant airfares in the face of a scarce supply of flights.

“Local and foreign carriers who continued to fly in recent days have stepped up and increased the number of flights ahead of the upcoming Passover holiday,” said Feldman.

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

The IAA said that on Sunday about 57,000 passengers on 339 flights were expected to pass through Israel — a record number since the beginning of the war. In total, about 33,900 passengers left on international flights, and about 23,600 passengers entered Israel that day.

Last week, the IAA was still optimistic that in the coming months, passenger traffic will continue to recover. The IAA forecast that in May about 1.4 million passengers would pass through the airport, and in June, about 1.6 million.

However, that is still much lower than the 2.1 million passengers who traveled through the airport in May 2023 on 14,863 international and domestic flights, and the 2.3 million passengers who came through in June on 15,629 international and domestic flights.

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