We are approaching almost seven weeks since the horrific massacre of October 7, a day that will live with us forever. Already by that evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared this was war.

That pronouncement led to dozens of airlines running from Israel with their tails between their legs. It did not matter if they carried a US insignia or an Indian one; they could be representing the king of England or a German carrier. We were abandoned. El Al, Arkia, and Israir, buttressed by a $5 billion insurance policy, continue to fly. Add in a couple of Arab airlines, Etihad and Fly Dubai; mix in an Ethiopian airline, and that pretty much explains how Ben-Gurion Airport is running at 25% capacity.

Like many of you, I am exasperated by all the talking heads pontificating and espousing what will be the “day after.” However, a fool’s folly it may be, here are some facts to share some light on how the travel industry will unfold in the short term.

Almost every travel agency, whether it has a physical office or is a virtual agency, is issuing to most geographical locations only El Al.

Want to fly to the United States? El Al. Need to visit a company or family in Canada? El Al, with one major exception.

An El Al Israel Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on its final approach to Newark Liberty International Airport. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An El Al Israel Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on its final approach to Newark Liberty International Airport. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Planning to decompress from the continual stress from the war? Arkia and Israir offer flights to a few European destinations.

In fact, El Al is adding two cities to its international network, planning to fly to Warsaw and Krakow in early December.

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This reality will not change in the short term; it may not even change this year. El Al may have lost the leisure clientele who are not flying in the middle of a war, but has locked up North America almost exclusively for itself.

True, one can buy a round-trip ticket on El Al to Europe and a separate ticket on, say, United or Delta to the US, but most clients prefer one ticket all the way to the United States. The first option is far more expensive and adds a challenge to one’s trip. With two unlinked tickets, if the flight on the first ticket is delayed, the airline on the connecting flight has zero responsibility if you miss its flight. Schedule changes on El Al flights are common this time of year for a myriad of reasons, so best to avoid adding any unnecessary risk to your trip. Try to plan on one ticket to your destination, no matter how many stops or airlines it may require.

Frequent fliers of American, Delta, and United have jumped ship and are flying exclusively with El Al. They have requested and received frequent-flier status from El Al. They have been flying the last few weeks on El Al, they are making reservations in December on El Al, and most new bookings in January are also on El Al.

Many of them reveal that their return to El Al may last longer than the war. The last seven weeks and the next few months will offer El Al an opportunity to increase its market share once the foreign carriers return.

That Delta has announced it will not resume flying nonstop to Boston and Atlanta until 2025 only increases the odds that El Al may benefit from their absence. Plug in the fact that El Al and Delta have announced a code sharing arrangement due to commence early next year, and that means that Delta’s footprint in the Israeli market will underperform its internal expectations in 2024.

To North America, there is one exception, one airline, that took the initiative to join forces with El Al and offer reasonable fares to the United States: Virgin Atlantic. Yes, this second-tier player in the UK market, founded back in 1984 by the legendary Richard Branson, had the insight to reach out to El Al.

Virgin Atlantic allows you to fly with El Al to and from London and switch to Virgin Atlantic on the transatlantic routes. Your luggage is checked through, and it is all on one ticket. The flights from London to many cities in the US on Virgin are quite inexpensive. It offers an excellent value option for those who prefer switching planes in the UK versus the East Coast of the US.

When Delta and United are asked when their operations at Ben-Gurion Airport will resume, the answer is the same: When the war ends.

Buying airline tickets assuming the Israel-Hamas war will end

CLIENTS WHO want to be a prophet on the war’s end and buy a ticket on a foreign airline do not run the risk of losing their money. Rest assured, if the airline is not flying, you will get a full refund. Not a voucher, but a cash refund. The problem is that Delta and United have only been canceling flights a few weeks in advance. So, while your Hanukkah reservation may still look as if it is flying, if it is canceled, you will end up paying quite a lot more to fly El Al.

It is a two-edged sword. On one hand, the overwhelming number of seats being sold on flights from Israel are originating in Israel. We have a few solidarity missions coming over, some visiting cowboys, but for the large part, almost nobody is flying into Israel – neither for Hanukkah nor for Christmas. Thus, many people foolishly believe that the El Al planes should be relatively empty and very reasonably priced as we approach the winter months. Surprisingly, this is not true.

El Al is a business, and I will be the first to congratulate it for keeping the skies open, bringing back everyone who wanted to join their army unit. It has arranged flights for many of the survivors on October 7, and it deserves all the kudos.

However, as it has almost no competition, El Al, on most of its flights to most of its destinations, removed any possibility of purchasing the lower-priced tickets, whether in economy, premium or business class. The flights may have seats, but if you wish to fly, you will need to pay much higher prices than the season would normally cost – in many instances 50% higher. Some clients understand the huge increase, realizing that with next to zero competition, El Al can pretty much ask for what it wants.

Price elasticity is a relevant concept, but to date El Al on its nonstop flights to the East Coast is finding thousands of clients ready to pay these sky-high fares. There has been some grumbling from other clients about how steep the fares are this winter, but if they must fly, there is little choice.

It is a bit incongruous, but when flying to the East, two Arab airlines, Etihad and Fly Dubai, are flying daily between Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Tel Aviv. So, if you need to get to Sydney or Singapore, they are the best and only way to fly. Surprisingly, Ethiopian Airlines has decide to resume its flights to Tel Aviv from December 3. Believe what you want about the architects of the Abraham Accords, but the reality is that amid a war with a terrorist entity, two of a paucity of foreign airlines flying in and out of Ben-Gurion Airport are situated in the United Arab Emirates.

None of us know when the war will end. What you need to do, if flying in early 2024, is to find out exactly what the cancellation fee is on an El Al ticket. In buying the ticket, protect yourself by knowing what happens if you cancel. This way, when the foreign carriers come back, and the prices drop due to a surplus of airline seats, you can make an educated decision whether to stick with your El Al ticket or go back to your regular carrier. El Al allows free changes on all its tickets to North America, provided there is space in the same class.

WE ARE cognizant that incoming traffic to Israel will take months to recover. Groups that had planned to fly into Israel for Hanukkah and Christmas, along with the hundreds of thousands of individuals, will not step foot on a plane. Will they keep to their Passover and Easter plans? Too soon to predict.

Will Israelis suddenly return to their traveling overseas frenzy when the war is over? Again, very hard to know. I am certain that many returning soldiers will want to go abroad to decompress. But it is hard to imagine how quickly Israelis will consider a ski holiday in Europe or a week in Phuket soaking up the sun.

The travel industry, like all of us, has been traumatized. It will recover far faster than the wounds of the nation. We are all living in history, and trying to find perspective on how we will behave the “day after” is something I leave to the talking heads who take pleasure in espousing their half-baked ideas. When the CEO of one of Israel’s smaller airlines has the audacity to state that he sees a full recovery by early 2024, I fear he has been exposed to uncirculated cabin air.

The sky is not falling; the war will end. Airlines will return to Israel. Survivors and displaced residents from the North and the South will check out of their hotels, and tourists will replace them. How soon until we hear the normal complaints of high prices and poor service remains a mystery. We are all living in the middle of the storm, but the one certainty is that one day in the near future we will be able to enjoy the sunshine.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem, and a director at Diesenhaus. For questions and comments, email him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il •

Article source: https://airlines.einnews.com/article/670854758/SYyyRRibf9wPhS6p?ref=rss&ecode=vaZAu9rk30b8KC5H

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