It was right after Independence Day, which took place in mid-April this year,
when Yael decided she wanted to get away. She loved being in the country but
relished the chance to pop over to Europe for a long weekend.
that the end of May would be the best time to find a bargain, before passengers
and airlines begin to stick their toes into the summer travel
Like many a seasoned traveler, she looked at a few sites, perused
a few ads and decided to travel to Berlin. Knowing it was one of the least
expensive cities in Europe and hearing from friends what it had to offer, she
contacted her trusty travel consultant.
Emunah saw that both Lufthansa
and El Al wanted close to $700 for the particular weekend Yael wanted to travel,
but found a far more palatable solution on Sun d’Or Airlines for $569, with
every tax known to womankind included. A charter airline with draconian
cancellation fees, Yael elected to take the risk and purchase travel insurance,
and her ticket for the end of May was issued.
Most of you have never
heard of Sun d’Or – so let me educate you, please: Sun d’Or was created back in
October 1977 as El Al Charter Services Ltd., a subsidiary of El Al, at a time
when the airline was fully owned by the state. The airline changed its name in
1981 to Sun d’Or, choosing to add “International Airlines” to its name to create
Sun d’Or International Airlines.
Her creation was for two specific
purposes: 1. To operate on Shabbat; and 2. To compete in the burgeoning charter
marketplace. Since April 2001, Sun d’Or had grown to become a significant player
in the Israeli charter market. The airline also operated flights for incoming
tourists, on behalf of European and Israeli operators. In January 2005, Sun d’Or
became a private company following the privatization of El Al, operating two
leased aircrafts from her mother company, El Al.
Sun d’Or International
Airlines remained a fully owned subsidiary company of El Al and as such, its
passengers could take advantage of this association. Benefits included the
ability for passengers to accumulate El Al frequent flyer points on Sun d’Or
flights. El Al also provided ground services, air crews and aircraft for Sun
In March 2011, the Civil Aviation Authority announced the
suspension of Sun d’Or’s operating license effective April 1, 2011. The CAA, in
its decision, cited non-compliance with Israeli and international airline
management standards – mainly lack of self-owned planes and crew. In other
words, a pot by any other name was still a pot.
No problem: A Chinese
wall was created, and now Sun d’Or’s flights are not only operated by El Al, but
also by Arkia and Israir, the two other Israeli airlines.
reservation to Berlin, perchance, was operated by El Al, so when Emunah at the
travel agency received the startling email from Sun d’Or one week prior to the
flight’s departure date, she was perplexed: Hi Emunah, Please note that the
Flights EL AL #5491 from Tel Aviv to Berlin, and El AL #5492 from Berlin to Tel
Aviv, are canceled.
Please note we don’t have alternatives for these
Please note I will just issue a full refund for the ticket to
Please advise your passenger.
Best regards, ...
Okay, I’m not that cruel and won’t put in the name of the moron at Sun d’Or who
sent this email.
Emunah called the airline employee immediately and was
told that while he was most sorry, they were canceling the flight and he would
graciously refund the entire ticket! Emunah asked the obvious question: Why not
put her on the El AL flight that same day at the almost identical time? Sorry,
she was told, we can’t do that. We are only authorized to refund the amount in
full, was his meek retort. Fuming, she asked to speak to his supervisor, who
parroted the party line and declined to endorse the ticket over to El Al,
claiming it would cost them too much money.
Emunah is a calm woman, a
woman of faith, who truly believes that people are not out to hurt her. At this
stage she contacted me and I asked the following simple questions: Was the
ticket purchased? Had 14 days passed since that purchase when the email was
received? A quick affirmative to both queries meant that Sun d’Or was legally
responsible, according to the Israeli Consumer Protection Law (known as Tibi’s
law), to offer one of two things to the passenger: 1. Refund the cost in full to
the passenger without any additional compensation, as the flight was canceled
more than 7 days before the actual departure date; or 2. Offer comparable
flights to the same destination.
Yes, the law stated that Sun d’Or had to
ASK the passenger what she wanted – a strange concept in the field of customer
service according to Sun d’Or.
Emunah and Yael quickly checked out
alternatives and found the fares had risen to over $750, so they politely asked
that Sun d’Or put her on the El Al ticket.
No, said their legal
representative, we don’t interpret the law that way.
Finally deciding I
couldn’t believe the blarney that was being uttered, I spoke to their legal
“Sorry,” I was told, “that’s not how we understand
the law. All we need do is refund the money.”
I pointed out to her that
El Al still owned Sun d’Or, and that it should be a very simple act to endorse
Moreover, I discovered that the return flight was still being
operated, so Sun d’Or would still gain revenue from 50 percent of her
As if talking to a wall, she remained stiff-lipped and steadfast
in her interpretation.
Having several tools in my bag, I contacted David
Sprecher, the lawyer who worked with the Knesset on writing the legislation. I
asked him if perhaps my interpretation was wrong. Quite the contrary, he stated,
and was kind enough to send me the relevant paragraph – which I forwarded to the
travel consultant, so she could negotiate with Sun d’Or from a stronger vantage
Like getting water from a stone, the legal representative at Sun
d’Or replied that Mr. Sprecher was wrong and refused to endorse the ticket. Now
that his reputation was being impugned, I meekly asked Mr. Sprecher if he could
drop her an email, and he readily agreed.
Not 30 seconds later, Sun d’Or
called Emunah at the travel agency and said they would make an exception for her
client, and endorsed the ticket over to El Al.
Yael never knew what
Emunah had done to make it happen; she had complete confidence that it would be
There was a larger issue though: Sun d’Or had sold over 100 seats
on the plane, with the vast majority purchased online. While Sprecher sent the
Sun d’Or representative an email thanking her for capitulating so quickly, he
chided her for not offering the same terms to the other passengers, who were not
as fortunate as Yael.
Thus, every other passenger who purchased the
ticket was “relieved” to get their money back in full. They were a bit upset
that they had to spend a few hundred dollars more – but none of them realized
they had been royally ripped off by the airline.
As we move into the
summer season, keep in mind the rules and regulations, realizing that many
airline representatives and travel consultants are not well-versed in the
As I always say, an informed passenger is a savvy shopper, the one
who always find the best flights. Here are a few helpful things to know, the
four major drivers of airfare prices: 1. Competition: Lack of competition
generally means high airfares, and Open Skies or not, travelers are exposed to
this when flying to less popular destinations; 2. Fuel prices: Higher fuel
prices generally mean more expensive airline tickets, but while oil prices are
not cheap, they have been relatively stable over the past several weeks; 3.
Capacity: Airlines have been cutting, not adding seats over the past few years;
4. Demand: Right now, demand is excellent and so far, airfare hikes have pushed
fares up 6% from last summer.
Finally there are three sure-fire ways to
save money on summer vacation flights:
1. Fly early in the season, before July
2. Fly late in the season, around the last week in August;
3. Fly on the less
popular days to travel – Tuesday and Wednesday. Even if you can’t do this both
in directions, doing it one direction will yield savings.
So make your
plans, book your flights, and make sure you have a little faith.
Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions & comments, email
him at [email protected]