Shortly before the airline strike came to a close on Monday, Mark Feldman, a travel adviser and CEO of Zion Tours in Jerusalem, offered suggestions to thousands of stranded Israelis and tourists on finding their way home.

On Sunday, Israeli carriers El Al, Arkia and Israir grounded their fleets, protesting the government’s decision to pass an Open Skies agreement with the EU. The agreement looks to introduce greater competition and is intended to decrease prices.

According to Feldman, the airlines are attempting to exploit the agreement to get the government to cover expenses unique to the Jewish state.

“The problem is that Israeli airlines have higher security costs than other airlines... they want all those costs paid by the Israeli tax payer,” Feldman said. “That is really the crux of why they’re on strike. They’re exploiting the change of the new [government] administration to flex their muscles to say: ‘We want you to pay for security costs.’” Feldman described the impasse as “total chaos.”

“Nobody is paying for [stranded passengers’] out-of-pocket expenses, including hotels, food and phone calls,” he said.

Feldman added that those affected by the strike must move quickly to re-book their tickets.

“Stranded passengers do not have first priority [on subsequent flights] because the passengers already scheduled for that flight can’t be bumped,” he said. “So they must rebook immediately, as if they have no ticket at all.”

Feldman strongly recommended that stranded travelers have their travel agents deal directly with the striking airlines to make alternate plans.

“As travel agents we have better connections with people at the airlines, higher up the food chain,” he said. “This way we can get them home faster.”

Feldman said that while he is providing full refunds for clients forced to cancel their trips in advance, there are no refunds for those presently stranded.

“For our clients stranded in London, we brought them back on British Airways and for our clients stranded in Amsterdam, we had them book flights on KLM. [El Al payed] for it by endorsing the ticket over, which covered all [flight] costs,” he said.

Feldman said he has 345 stranded clients, and his agency was on the phone nonstop with airlines to endorse passengers’ tickets to other carriers. He noted that travel insurance does not cover strikes and said agents can defray further costs by having the striking airline endorse their tickets to another airline.

“Unfortunately, there are no refunds for people stranded because there is no insurance that will cover them,” he explained.

Travelers stranded by strikes have three options, he said.

“One, wait until the strike ends; two, buy a brand new ticket on a different airline out of [your own] pocket; or three, have [the striking airline] endorse the ticket to another airline, without paying out-of-pocket.”

Feldman said all three striking Israeli airlines had endangered their passengers and seriously compromised their reputations.

“When all the dust settles, the senior management at El Al, Arkia and Israir have a lot of explaining to do,” he said. “And it will take a long time to regain their clients’ trust.”

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