Confidence in El Al Sags Amid Frequent Cancellations

By Shimon B. Lifkin

An EL AL flight seen at Ben Gurion International AIrport. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

YERUSHALAYIM – Air travelers are growing wary of booking flights with El Al Airlines amid frequent cancellations in recent weeks, in particular just before the traditionally busy Shavuos season, Globes reported on Tuesday.

The last-minute schedule changes were attributed to a shortage of personnel to fill out crews on its Boeing 737s in short-haul flights, along with the sidelining of a Boeing Dreamliner due to an engine breakdown.

El Al planes bound for Brussels, Vienna, Nice, Tblisi, among other destinations, were cancelled on Monday. Passengers received a message informing them of the cancellation of the flights “due to unforeseen operational circumstances.”

El Al claims that alternative arrangements have been found for the vast majority of passengers whose flights have been cancelled, but as other flights fill up it will become harder to find seats for them. Meanwhile, consumers should know their rights: by law, the company must repay their fares and pay compensation of between NIS 1,300 and NIS 3,100, depending on the flight distance.

Globes wrote that “El Al is paying a high price for the flight cancelations: not only does it have to pay compensation to passengers who don’t accept any alternative offered to them, but it could be sued for other damage caused to passengers by flight cancellations. The real price, however, is the loss of confidence in the airline on the part of potential customers, confidence that it needs more than ever, in order to rehabilitate its revenue after two extremely challenging years.”

El Al stated in response: “We regret the inconvenience caused to our passengers by unexpected disruptions in operating a flight. El Al staff are doing all they can to find alternative solutions, through another El Al flight or through flights of other airlines.”

Behind the obscure phrase “operational circumstances” is an ongoing bitter dispute between the airline management and the pilots.

At issue is the pilots’ demand for recognition of a union for them separate from the general union at El Al and for them to act as an independent bargaining unit. Such arrangements are common for different segments of the workforce in the airlines and other industries. Currently, the pilots are represented by the general union at El Al and the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), which strongly opposes separate representation for the pilots.

Wages are also an issue. El Al pilots are demanding that, in view of the airline’s swifter than forecast recovery, their pay should be restored to its pre-pandemic level. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the pilots had to agree to a 31% cut in their basic pay in a labor agreement valid until 2026. El Al CEO Dina Ben-Tal Ganancia has said that there will be a compromise with the pilots and that the sides will talk, but at this stage it looks like “operational circumstances” will continue to disrupt flight schedules for some time to come.

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