Skies to reopen over Israel, but for whom?

International carriers have announced flights will resume to Tel Aviv, though significant obstacles remain to international air travel.

al-monitor El Al Israel Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, March 10, 2020.  Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

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lockdown, covid-19, coronavirus, el al, israelis, air travel, flight

Apr 29, 2020

Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air announced on April 25 that it will resume flights from London to Tel Aviv as soon as May 1 after being grounded by the novel coronavirus crisis. Already on April 22, Israeli news outlets reported that the US airline Delta plans to resume flights from New York to Israel in early May. According to these reports, the US Federal Aviation Administration assured Delta that Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport was safe and that its aircraft will be thoroughly disinfected before takeoff. Flights from JFK to Ben Gurion are already available for booking on the company’s website.

British Airways also plans to resume flights to Israel in May. The company was hoping to relaunch flights on May 2, but strict health regulations forced the company to push the resumption of flights back two weeks. Booking is now available on the company’s site for flights beginning May 16.

Other airlines are planning to resume flights to Israel in June. Air India wants to reopen flights from New Delhi, and Alitalia hopes to resume flights from Rome.

Still, it is not at all clear whether flights to Tel Aviv will indeed happen so soon. Clearly, the airlines are keen on resuming them after canceling all flights to Israel in mid-March. But several issues stand in the way.

First, there is the issue of passengers. Israel has banned the entry of foreign nationals until at least May 16, which means that only Israelis or permanent residents are allowed to enter the country. Israelis returning to their homeland are currently obliged to enter a 14-day quarantine, which obviously does not incite passengers to book flights for short trips. And in any case, can the airlines operate flights only for Israeli citizens? Would they eat the cost of half-empty airplanes? Israelis living abroad would surely be interested in coming home to see their families and friends after the coronavirus crisis. But it’s another story for local Israelis to fly abroad. The Schengen space is currently closed to all non-Europeans and is expected to stay that way for several more weeks.

And what about the crew? Will non-Israeli crews be allowed to land at Ben Gurion? Will they have to stay at the airport and leave on the same flight? Such a solution could perhaps be envisioned for short flights from Europe, but probably not for longer flights.

Some experts claim that the airlines prefer to operate flights rather than see their airplanes stuck at the airports, as keeping airplanes on the ground also has a high cost. And then there is the price of petrol, which has gone down drastically in recent days and is certainly another motivation for the airlines to get their airplanes in the air. Even more so, the airlines are keenly aware of Israelis’ passion for flying, anytime and anywhere.

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