El Al Cancels More Flights as Concerns Mount Over Labor Dispute

An El Al airline plane taking off at the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

El Al canceled two more flights on Wednesday night and Thursday, making for a total of eight since the beginning of last week. Passengers on a flight to Mumbai Wednesday night, and to New York on Thursday morning, were told to stay home, or make alternative flight plans. The airline said in a statement that the cancellations were due to “administrative issues.”

The administrative issue in question appears to be a by-the-book slowdown of the ongoing tussle between pilots and management – the former resisting efforts by management to reduce their number, and reduce the power of the Histadrut labor union, and the latter demanding concessions from unions in order to enable the airline to compete against the flood of low-cost carriers that now service routes to and from Israel.

The cancellation of some flights, and major delays on many others – as well as the abandoning of flights by pilots who claim they are being overworked – has been an ongoing feature of the dispute, going back nearly two years. In the past El Al management has several times suspended all its pilots and grounded its planes, outsourcing its flights – and passengers – to other carriers. Sources told Bizportal that there was concern among pilots that the airline would do the same thing this summer.

A report in Globes said that a group of Israeli frequent flyers were preparing to bring a class-action lawsuit against the airline if the delays and cancellations do not stop. According to Israeli law, El Al is required to compensate passengers only if a flight is canceled or delayed eight hours or more; according to rules applying to flights originating in Europe, compensation must be provided after three hours of delays. The lawsuit will demand that El Al observe the European standards on flights to Europe, the report said.

El Al’s share price on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange hit an all-time high in October 2016 – and it has been downhill ever since. The current price is off by 80 percent from that high, with shares falling by 50 percent from the beginning of the year.

A recent report by the Tourism Ministry shows that the government’s “Open Skies” policy, in which Israel has arranged for dozens of carriers – many of them low-cost – to open routes to and from Israel, has had a major impact on lowering the cost of international travel for Israelis, according to the Tourism Ministry. But it has also had a major impact on Israel’s national carrier El Al – which in May lost ground to other airlines.

According to a the report by the Airports Authority, El Al in May carried 491,473 passengers to and from Israel. That was 2.23-percent more than the number that traveled with El Al in May 2017 – but the increase was far behind the average growth of 14 percent for all other carriers.

The slowdown in the number of passengers traveling with El Al is part of an ongoing trend; previous Authority reports showed that between January and May this year, El Al moved 2,141,789 passengers – 1.88-percent more than the same period in 2017, but far below the 16-percent increase in travel by passengers on all carriers at Ben Gurion during that period.

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