El Al airplanes sit on the runway 370 (R).
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Barring an unexpected last-minute decision by the government to table approval of
an Open Skies agreement with the European Union, Israeli carriers El Al, Arkia
and Israir were set to begin a strike early Sunday morning.
the agreement would introduce greater competition, which could theoretically
bring down prices and force airlines to make difficult business
El Al announced Saturday evening that cancellations and
changes would apply to flights departing from 5 a.m. on Sunday.
airline advised passengers to turn to the El Al website for updated information
about their specific flight.
For many of the flights, including one that
had been scheduled to take off for New York at 10:40 a.m., the airline pushed
ahead departure times to significantly earlier hours.
For example, the
10:40 a.m. flight was moved to 1:10 a.m., while all others scheduled for between
6 and 9 a.m. were changed to between 4:10 and 4:40 a.m., according to the El Al
Israir also warned customers that due to the strike, most
flights after 5 a.m. on Sunday would be either canceled or changed. Two Israir
flights to Europe were moved to earlier departure times, while two Israir
charter flights were still scheduled to take off as scheduled.
flights to and from Eilat, Israir said customers would be eligible for refunds
and could buy tickets for buses departing from the Sde Dov, Ben-Gurion, Haifa
and Eilat airports.
Arkia meanwhile asked passengers to remain updated
about their flights by checking online statuses, and ensured that the airline
would do all in its power to allow for smooth travel.
On Friday, Finance
Minister Yair Lapid told some 30 airline workers demonstrating outside his home
that while the government would not abandon Israel’s workers, it was unlikely to
forego the agreement, Israel Radio reported. Transportation Minister Israel Katz
told the station earlier in the day that there was no avoiding passage of the
agreement, the details of which he finalized in July after three years of
negotiation with the EU.
The Open Skies Agreement, Katz argued, would
decrease prices for passengers and create an influx of tourism into Israel. He
accused Israel’s monopolies of protesting reforms that benefit the
The Histadrut labor federation announced the strike on Thursday
afternoon, calling it “an existential strike for the future of Israeli
“The meaning of the agreement in its current form is the
elimination of Israeli airlines and the direct and indirect firing of tens of
thousands of workers,” it said, arguing that the government should take full
responsibility for airline security in order to remove the onerous burden on
Israeli airlines and level the playing field.
“We are not against
competition, but we are in favor of equal and fair competition,” said Avi Edry,
head of the El Al workers union. “Israeli airlines, and most of all El Al, are
the only companies that fly in times of crisis and provide the first response to
the State of Israel.”
Arkia workers union chairman Yigal Cohen added:
“This is a battle for survival that could be the last following the devastating
and irresponsible decision of the transportation minister.”
for one of the European carriers, who asked not to be named, agreed that Open
Skies would improve consumer choice and give discount airlines more of an
opening to enter the market, but added that the situation would be tough for
non- Israeli airlines as well.
“The legacy carriers of Europe are just as
open to being negatively affected by the Open Skies agreement as El Al or the
other Israeli carriers,” he said. “These airlines have a legacy in terms of
union and labor agreements, while the discount airlines don’t.”