Union lets two El Al flights take off, despite strike

Union lets two El Al flights take off, despite strike

High school robotic team will head to US; fathers of children with cancer depart for some R&R in Romania

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

A boy looks down at El Al jets parked on the tarmac of Ben Gurion International Airport  (photo credit: Flash90)
A boy looks down at El Al jets parked on the tarmac of Ben Gurion International Airport (photo credit: Flash90)

Two El Al flights were scheduled to leave Israel late Sunday night, after a special labor union committee decided that a group of high school students shouldn’t miss an international robotics competition and that fathers of children with cancer deserved their planned vacation in Romania.

Two more El Al flights, to Paris and Madrid, will also be allowed to take off on Monday, the Ynet news website reported.

Israeli airlines have been on strike since 5 a.m. Sunday, protesting a decision by the government to sign an “Open Skies” deal with the European Union, a move they claim will lead to the firing of many employees and the crash of the companies.

On Monday, the National Labor Court will hear a petition by the Manufacturers Association of Israel to have the strike stopped. Labor Court judge Nili Arad told the sides to present their stances by noon, after which she will make a decision.

Should the stoppage continue, on Tuesday it will expand to include all Ben Gurion airport workers, who said they will join in solidarity, a move that would severely hamper all air travel in and out of Israel.

The airport workers are not allowed to launch a full-fledged strike as they did not officially announce a labor dispute. Instead, the airport employees will hold a series of intermittent solidarity strikes, lasting several hours at a time, from Tuesday morning, the head of the Histadrut labor union said.

The union, in charge of all employee disputes in Israel, reviewed the special requests for the flights Sunday night and decided to allow two flights to take off as scheduled. In addition to the students and the fathers, all other passengers who purchased tickets for those flights will be among the few air travelers to reach their destinations on time.

Flight LY001 to New York will leave with 18 high school students from the southern town of Yeruham on board. The group will then head to St. Louis, where it will represent Israel in an international robotics contest.

“St. Louis here we come!” read the Facebook page of the group Sunday night.

“We had come to terms with the fact that we’d miss the competition because of the El Al’s workers’ strike,” one of the relieved students told Channel 2. The group had gone through a lot of hard work to raise sponsors and win the national contest, “and we were afraid all our work would go to waste and we wouldn’t represent Israel.”

A second flight, to Romania, will leave with 100 fathers — to children with cancer — on board. The men will have a few days of vacation, after many months without leaving their children’s bedside, one of the organizers told Maariv. “We turned to the committee to allow this flight to leave as planned,” he said. “To our delight, the workers’ union agreed.”

The Open Skies agreement, meant to lower the cost of air travel by reducing barriers for outside airlines to operate in Israel, was signed with the European Union last July after more than three years of negotiations. Transportation Ministry officials believe the deal will bring about an increase in tourism and open new destinations for Israeli travelers.

On Sunday, the Cabinet approved the deal.

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