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Work dispute forces El Al to cancel participation in Independence Day flyover

Mechanics leave posts, accuse pilots of canceling several commercial flights in recent days; pilots’ union says mechanics playing ‘petty politics’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

El Al workers seen at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, on March 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)
El Al workers seen at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, on March 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Israel’s national airline El AL canceled its participation in this year’s Independence Day flyover due to a work dispute between the company’s pilots’ labor union and its maintenance workers’ labor union.

The company’s mechanics reportedly left their posts as part of the dispute on Thursday morning, preventing El Al from joining the festive flyover.

“We regret that El Al was unable to attend the flyover for Israel’s 74th Independence Day. This is a severe incident. We are learning the details and will address the issue so it does not repeat itself in the future,” the company said in a statement.

Thursday’s incident came after the cancelations of several commercial flights in recent days, with passengers being notified their flights were canceled due to “operational circumstances.”

The maintenance workers’ labor union has blamed the company’s pilots for the cancelations of 11 flights in recent days. The mechanics’ protest, the union said, was coordinated with other El Al employees and was intended as an act of solidarity with the passengers whose flights have been canceled.

“If the pilots can take part in the flyover, they can staff the flights,” the union said.

Israeli air force aerobatic team perform a flyover on Israel’s 74th Independence Day celebrations in Saker Park, Jerusalem, May 05, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Another employee told the Ynet news site that “the pilots have no shame. We didn’t have any work for two years [amid the COVID pandemic] and now that we’re finally back, they’re doing whatever they want to. It’s unacceptable that hundreds of El Al passengers are suffering because of their conduct. Flights are not leaving and people are stuck but the festive flyover continues normally? It doesn’t make any sense.”

The pilots’ labor union rejected the claims, saying that the pilots “work in accordance with the law and safety protocols.” The union noted, however, that El Al’s management asked pilots from bereaved families “to pitch in” during the last few days and even miss ceremonies held on Wednesday’s Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers.

A representative speaking on behalf of the pilots’ union criticized the maintenance workers for only caring about “petty politics.”

“Maintenance workers should focus on maintenance and make sure flights take off safely, and stop dealing with the petty politics of labor unions,” he said, claiming that “the salaries of general employees and maintenance workers were not changed while the salary of pilots was cut by 50%.”

Workers load packages of Israeli humanitarian aid for Ukraine onto El Al aircraft, at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, on March 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Some passengers were notified about the cancellations of their flights just a few hours before they were scheduled to take off, according to Israel Hayom.

“It’s unbelievable, we were told that our flight was canceled a few hours in advance. We’re stuck in Dubai,” one Israeli passenger told the Hebrew-language newspaper.

Other passengers said they struggled to receive any response from El Al while calling the company’s customer service numbers.

El Al said in a statement that it was “forced to cancel a number of flights due to operational reasons that are beyond our control. With the help of all labor unions and across all sectors, we are making efforts to resume services. El Al teams are working at these very moments in order to find other flights for our customers or adequate alternatives.”

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