el al haredim .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Continental Airlines said Wednesday it has seen a rise in interest from haredi passengers as the community remains on the verge of boycotting El Al for having flown on Shabbat.
"We have had added demand from the haredi market in the last few days and are happy to serve them," said Avi Friedman, Continental's country manager in Israel at a Tel Aviv press conference.
Leading rabbis in the haredi community signed a document Wednesday that would effectively forbid their followers from using the Israeli airline but have put it in safekeeping until the Rabbinic Council for the Holiness of Shabbat officially closes its negotiations with El Al.
Travel agent Mark Feldman, of ZionTours, said that while his religious clients are waiting for the official order before canceling flights they had already booked with El Al, many are not making new bookings on the carrier because of the affair.
El Al has said the haredi market represents around 20% of its passengers and that the New York route would be most severely affected by the boycott, followed by London and Brussels.
Continental is El Al's main competitor on the New York route and operates two flights a day, or 14 per week, between the cities using Boeing 777's.
Israel Airports Authority figures showed Continental flew 28,043 passengers on the route in November, 8.8 percent more than the parallel month last year.
Continental CEO Lawrence Kellner, in Israel for the first time this week for an overview of Continental operations here, said the airline is looking to grow the Tel Aviv market in the long-term.
"Israel is a great market for us and has been consistently strong in both our business and cabin classes," Kellner said. "We want to grow the New York market but will probably add a Houston flight before [adding more to] New York."
Kellner said the company would likely add a third flight from New York in 2009 when it takes delivery of a large batch of Boeing 787 aircraft.
He also said Continental would only add flights when it is ready to do so on a daily basis, dismissing the option of adding one or two flights per week when demand arises.
"We want to fly every day and would rather add a third daily flight using smaller aircraft," he said.
Kellner was in Israel for a two-day visit that included meetings with Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, travel agents and key corporate customers.