Let us first state that for now, very few airlines are flying in and out of Israel. This may change, but if you need to travel in the next few weeks, your options are quite limited.
We know that Arkia, Israir, and El Al are flying and will continue to fly; even if they have to move flights to Ramon Airport near Eilat, they will keep our skies open.
Surprisingly, two Arab airlines are flying twice daily, Etihad from Abu Dhabi and Fly Dubai from Dubai. Could this change if the situation in Gaza worsens? Of course, there are no guarantees during war. But do note how far we have come when two airlines from the Arab world have not stopped their flights.
All US and Canadian carriers have ceased flying. Be it American or Air Canada, Delta or United – they are not operating here. Some, like American, have shown no confidence in the IDF and have postponed their flights until December 3rd. United and Delta have canceled flights until November 1st, but if the war is not yet over, the cancellations will continue.
I do want to believe that when we win the war, they will scurry back.
The main reason for this situation is not concern for the safety of the airline crews; rather, no insurance company will cover them during a war.
However, the Cyprus carriers – Cyprus Air and Tus Airways – have managed to find coverage and are flying into Israel while immediately returning home to minimize the risk.
Ethiopian Airlines is also flying in and out of Israel along with Air Serbia, which flies to Belgrade.
Insurance, refunds, and freezing tickets
If you are holding a ticket on an airline that has canceled, you should request a full refund. They will offer you free changes for the foreseeable future; do not opt for it. Take your money back. Keep in mind that this is not Covid; the only country affected by the war is Israel. Those same airlines that have stopped flying to Israel are still flying around the world, and there is no risk that they will not be able to refund you. Take the cash!
If you are holding a ticket on an airline for next month but are not sure you want to take the trip, then you must tread carefully.
If you cancel before the airline has canceled their flights, you will have to pay the cancellation fee. No airline would waive the fee if it is still flying, although the foreign airlines would allow you to make changes for free. Each airline has different conditions as to how long a flight could be delayed, so be sure to understand them clearly.
EL AL, however, is flying – today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future. It has added flights to dozens of cities in the absence of foreign airlines. If you purchased an El AL ticket with a cancellation fee, you have two choices: Either swallow the cancellation fee or cancel the flight and freeze the ticket.
Freezing the ticket is advised if your destination is to a place where you plan to return at some point, such as visiting family in the United States. Odds are high that if you do not travel in the near future, you will go the following year. On the other hand, if it’s to a city for a conference or business meeting and you have no reason or desire to go there later, then cancel the ticket and get back the money minus the cancellation fee.
Tickets cannot be exchanged, and for every passenger that lets me know that El Al is changing its flight times or using outdated equipment, I want to share with you something that one of my favorite clients told me. When she asked the El AL flight attendant on a recent flight if she was heading home for a few days, the reply was so succinct: “This is our way to help, as messengers to bring Israelis home, because who else will?”
I am also getting a lot of requests for travel abroad next month; some for work, others for an event such as a wedding or a bar mitzvah. The day after will arrive. People will go abroad. But make no mistake, we have been traumatized both individually and collectively.
Do you want to purchase a ticket from an airline that is not flying this month? Do you want to risk scrambling to find a different airline in case the war has not yet ended? There is no easy answer, and I do not profess to know the answer. El Al’s fare due to lack of competition is not inexpensive; however, we know they will be flying. You should be using a travel professional or a site that is very user friendly and allows a way to communicate with you 24/7 should questions arise. This is not the time to cut corners.
THIS IS what all of us in the travel community have been doing since the war commenced: bringing back anyone who wants to come home and sending out those who must leave. Walking clients through every possible option. Holding their hands as their doubts and anxieties are surfaced. We are doing this 24/7 with love in our hearts. We are One People, One Country. And all of us wish we could do more.
Stay safe, stay strong!
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem, and a director at Diesenhaus. For questions and comments, email him at Mark.Feldman@diesenhaus.co.il