U.S. Travelers Struggle with Fallout of El Al Strike

An El Al airline plane taking off at the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport. September 3, 2014. Photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90

As El Al is entangled in a labor dispute with its pilots’ union, the ongoing strike is taking an increasingly disruptive effect on American travelers.

One Monsey resident who traveled to Eretz Yisrael last week told Hamodia on Sunday that he was supposed to have returned home in the morning, but found himself “stuck.” He had spent over an hour on hold with El Al trying to rearrange his plans.

“Last week, I heard that some people were starting to have problems, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Motzoei Shabbos, I saw a bunch of people whose flights had been cancelled going around all nervous, and I started to worry a bit myself. Not long after that, I got a call that my flight was also cancelled,” he said.

After going through several rebooking options presented by El Al, the earliest of which involved a 16-hour stopover in Europe, the Monsey resident accepted a flight for Tuesday night, but was later contacted by the airline that a seat on a flight Monday evening had become available.

“People are very frustrated and they are letting out their anger on the airport staff, but really there’s no one to blame,” he said. “I heard that the airport workers’ union was threatening to stop servicing El Al unless they settle this.”

Main Street Travel in Monsey acts as a wholesaler for El Al, and over 200 of their customers were affected since the strike commenced. Nevertheless, they have been successful in re-directing customers to other flights, albeit at delayed times.

“All of our clients have been rebooked. Passengers scheduled to fly from Tel Aviv to New York on Motzoei Shabbos and Sunday morning were mostly redirected, with stopovers on Sunday and Monday,” a representative told Hamodia. He added that while bookings with El Al will drop over the coming days, he did not think it would affect long term reservations.

The representative said that regarding schedule changes listed since Sunday, Main Street Travel had successfully rebooked almost all its customers on other airlines which were able to provide direct flights.

“Since we are able to search for availability on alternative options and reticket on our own, the process is a lot simpler than for clients not booked via a travel agent who need to wait on the phone for an El Al representative’s assistance,” he said. “By nine o’clock this morning [Sunday], all of our clients on today’s flights were already redirected.”

A representative of Do All Travel in Boro Park had also been on hold with El Al for over an hour working to rearrange flights for affected clients, when she took a call from Hamodia.

“We’ve been very busy advising our clients of their flight changes or delays, and in many cases rebooking them on alternate flights. We had our staff working overtime and we don’t get compensated for it,” she said. “I think El Al should compensate all the passengers that have been inconvenienced, and the travel agents who are working overtime for them, too.”

Several people who have been in touch with El Al throughout the ordeal said that the company has been working to rebook passengers on later flights that have been put together in an attempt to accommodate all those with reservations, but that clients are taking precautions.

“People who are purchasing new reservations have been requesting to be booked on other airlines because they are afraid of getting stuck in Israel, which we can certainly understand,” said the representative.