The Travel Adviser: Festival of Lights
Enjoy this festival. Delve into the joys it offers. And never forget, Israel is the Land of Miracles.
Elal plane Photo: Courtesy
When the Hasmonean family overpowered the Greeks, they searched and found only a
small jar of pure oil. It was enough to light the menorah for a single day, but
a miracle occurred, and they were able to light the menorah with this oil for
eight days. From the following year, they established these eight days as the
festival of Hanukka.
In that spirit, I present to you some near-miraculous
items that have transpired of late.
1. El Al’s net profit in the third
quarter of this year was over $37 million – a 79-percent leap. Its revenues for
that same quarter amounted to $605m.
El Al continues to deal with the
world economy being in deep crisis, which impacts the airline industry. Around
the globe, airlines are taking painful steps to streamline their operations and
laying off thousands of employees. Adding in the complicated geopolitical
reality that defines the Middle East makes these figures even more
Somehow, El Al is finding opportunities to compete with the
Open Sky policy, with limited access to any of the world’s airline alliances.
Still overstaffed, technologically challenged, stymied by strong unions, El Al’s
results are well nigh miraculous.
People often ask me, when planning
their trips to Israel, what is the best airline to use. The short answer is
usually El Al, which feeds tourists in from dozens of countries and allows them
to experience the Israeli persona. While their fleet is slowly being updated,
the days of surly staff have long since been assigned to the dustbin, and rarely
do we receive complaints about poor service or cuisine. The other major airlines
that do fly in and out of Ben-Gurion Airport offer one thing that El Al cannot,
though: service on Saturday.
This leads me to miracle No. 2.
United Airlines. Its merger six months ago with Continental started off
abysmally; clients were left on hold for hours, and the online reservation
system had more bugs than a cesspool. Pulling back the first-class curtain, you
could see the “friendly skies” weren’t so friendly after all. New routes were
added, new planes were bought, yet customer satisfaction dropped dramatically.
Spring turned into summer, and frequent fliers flocked to Delta and other
airlines, tired of waiting for the kinks to be worked out.
But get worked
out they did. Slowly the crews were mixed, and the far friendlier ex-Continental personnel influenced the more serious United employees. As summer
turned into fall, United saw an uptick in customer satisfaction, and when the
first Dreamliner, Boeing’s 787, entered its fleet, it dawned on CEO Jeff Smisek
that the worse was behind them.
Business school students will study this
merger for years to come; while I’ve never seen a bumpier one, the results this
Hanukka have shown that United is now flying high and should enter 2013 as a
3. Israeli hotels. Yes, their room rates reach rare
heights, but the number of new properties being spruced up and built have now
reached a fever pitch. The Tourism Ministry, headed by the effervescent Stas
Meseznikov, has gone around the world promoting our small country, assuring
tourists that a visit to the Holy Land will be a life-changer. Properties as
diverse as the Waldorf Astoria will be opening their doors next year, while the
Jerusalem Tower Hotel in the center of the capital has spent millions
modernizing the place, with some of the best room rates around.
hotels exist throughout the country, offering innovative rooms with haute
Bed & Breakfast establishments can be spotted everywhere.
With incoming tourists arriving in record numbers, it feels as if a miracle in
the hospitality industry has taken form.
Three million tourists should
grace our shores this year – no small feat at all.
4. British Airways
versus American Airlines.
A mother and daughter flew to New York to
attend a family wedding. Dressed in their finest clothes, they enjoyed the
exchange of nuptials, followed by a festive feast. A few more shopping days in
the Big Apple, and they made their way back to their American Airlines flight,
operated by British Airways from JFK to Tel Aviv, via London. They boarded their
7:35 p.m. flight around 9 p.m., which in light of the horrific weather was a
The plane taxied away from the terminal to the
runway, and then stopped dead in its tracks. Periodic broadcasts informed the
passengers that there was a delay due to deicing.
Sadly, after five more
hours, at 2 a.m., the BA flight crew announced that the flight was cancelled.
Only at 4:30 a.m. were the passengers allowed to disembark; sleepdeprived and
feeling like zombies, they stood in a meandering line to be updated.
mother and daughter had obviously missed their connecting flight from London to
Being religiously observant, they could not take a later
flight, as it would arrive after Shabbat had commenced, so Sunday morning their
travel agent rebooked them on American Airlines, which reissued their tickets
and put the blame on British Airways. BA has yet to decide what level of
compensation they will receive.
Astute readers will ask: If everyone sat
on the plane for an entire night, how could I put this in my Hanukka list? My
retort is simple: Solving stranded passengers’ predicaments is the largest
challenge travel agents face. Throw in a little hurricane, the rush of holiday
travel and the luck of the Irish (or British, in this case), and getting them
rebooked qualifies as a miracle.
5. Israelis. Beleaguered and besieged,
surrounded on all sides by neighbors who don’t welcome our shekels with open
arms, we travel the world, loquacious at best, obnoxious at worse. The country’s
taxi drivers always seem to have broken meters; restaurants have prices too
often fit for a king. We cajole and discuss our positions incessantly; we have
more political parties than most democracies in the Western world.
salad bowl of immigrants grazes the Sabras, intermingling to create an
Are we a light among nations? Going back to the Book
of Isaiah, where that term originated, it takes little imagination to realize
that while we have much to prove and our path shall continue to be strewn with
obstacles, Israel and its people have indeed shone much light.
was my favorite holiday in the Diaspora. No doubt the smugness of having eight
days of holiday while my Christian friends had just one day created a level of
confidence that has never wavered.
Enjoy this festival. Delve into the
joys it offers. Realize that family is one of the most important assets you can
have, along with your health. And never forget, Israel is the Land of
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours