El Al Summer Flights at Risk of Cancellation

By Shimon B. Lifkin

An EL AL plane at Ben Gurion Airport. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM – El Al Airlines has been struggling with crew shortages and flight cancellations, problems that are likely to persist in the coming summer months, Globes reported on Monday.

Hundreds of passengers with tickets to Vienna, Lisbon, Milan, and Kyiv, among other destinations, were notified at the last minute on Sunday that their flights were cancelled, a recurring experience that has reportedly damaged public confidence in the airline.

Other airlines around the world are having similar problems in rehiring staff that was laid off during the pandemic, among other issues, but advance notification of schedule changes enable passengers to rebook tickets in time for planned trips. El Al’s practice of late notifications compounds the exasperation of passengers who may be forced to delay their plans.

In addition, El Al is embroiled in an ongoing labor dispute with its pilots that threatens to disrupt the entire summer travel season.

The pilots are demanding that pay scales be returned to pre-pandemic levels now that the post-pandemic business has improved better than expected. They are also demanding the right to negotiate with the company as a separate union, as opposed to being represented by the Histadrut.

In a court petition filed by El Al last week, the airline said that its current financial condition does not allow for the pay raise. Among other things, El Al cited an  accumulated debt of $1 billion, according to Globes.

Meanwhile, pilots have been reporting in sick, at a rate of 13% in May this year, compared with 3% in May 2019, the airline charged, as it sought an injuction against them.

El Al intends to bring into service four Boeing 777 wide-bodied aircraft for the summer, but the retraining program to qualify pilots to fly them has stalled because the pilots refuse to participate.

As a result, over 30,000 tickets already sold for upcoming flights are in jeopardy.

Globes said that “the expectation of the court, the management, the pilots, and of course the passengers, is that the parties will shortly resolve their differences” and put an end to the uncertainty that is hobbling the nation’s flagship carrier.

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