More Trouble for El Al: Passengers Suing Over Pilot Delays

YERUSHALAYIM -
An El Al airline plane taking off at the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport. September 3, 2014. Photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** àì òì èéñä èéñåú îèåñ ùãä úòåôä îèåñ
An El Al airline plane taking off at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Talks are still going on between El Al management and pilots who have been conducting sanctions, after “understandings” reached in talks between both sides earlier this week collapsed. But the ongoing work sanctions by pilots has aimed a spotlight at the company’s situation, including the alleged intentional delays of flights by pilots seeking to rack up overtime – and it is that detail that has prompted a NIS 50 million lawsuit against the company.

Both management and the pilots have slammed the other side with claims, insults and lurid stories of unfairness. The basis of the lawsuit, filed this week in a Tel Aviv court, is based on the contention by management that pilots delay takeoff of flights on the routes to New York in order to extend the flying time – which begins from the moment a pilot sits down in the cockpit – to over 12 hours. According to their contract, flights that extend more than 12 hours qualify the pilot to two free business class seats on any El Al flight on that route, which they can give out to friends and family.

Industry statistics cited by the company show that the average time for an El Al flight to JFK is 12 hours and 20 minutes, while other carriers that conduct direct flights have a flight time of 11 hours and 30 minutes. Flights on other routes are also delayed in order to provide pilots with more flight time, which means more benefits and salaries, the company says.

El Al has vociferously complained about the practices, and has said that it is determined to stop them, no matter what. But attorneys who filed the lawsuit said that the airline was not the only entity harmed. “It’s like a taxi taking a tourist from Holon to Bat Yam via Ramat Hasharon,” an unnecessary and distant detour, the lawsuit states. “No consumer could possibly fathom how, because of the personal greed of pilots, they will be forced to delay their plans, with their precious time stolen,” it states.

Although it is a “victim” of an unauthorized work action, it is El Al that is ultimately responsible for passengers’ lost time. “El Al management knew about this practice for many years, and has publicly complained about it. But it never considered that it needed to inform its customers about this ‘minor’ issue. It goes without saying that there are no plans to compensate passengers. It simply tried to hide the facts, in the belief that customers would swallow whatever they were fed. With this action, we say that we will no longer tolerate this behavior.”