‘May Day” brings to mind two distinct connotations. The first one being
that May 1st is a celebration of the International Labor
movement. Celebrated as a national holiday in dozens of countries, its
heavily socialist tone came to the forefront at the apex of the communist
movement. Its origins are actually from an event in Chicago back in
The police were trying to break up a public assembly during a
general strike, when someone hurled a bomb at them. Now known as the Haymarket
affair, the police reacted by firing at the workers, killing dozens of
demonstrators as well as several of their own officers.
From tiny acorns
grow giant oaks, and May Day celebrations have often been used as focal points
for demonstrations. “Power to the People” is now resonated in the US, for
example with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
My other cognizance of the
expression “mayday” harkens back to the international signal used primarily in
shipping and aviation circles signalling a life-threatening emergency event.
Instructed to repeat the word three times to avoid any confusion and to
overwhelm any miscellaneous chatter, use of this word demands an immediate
reaction. In fact, making a hoax mayday call in many countries is a criminal
act. In the US, making a false distress call is a federal crime, carrying
sanctions of up to six years imprisonment.
Thus, I tread carefully in my
homage to El Al in asking in this merry month of May: which “May Day” definition
is more applicable?
Just last week the president of the state of Israel elected
to fly Air Canada to Toronto rather than El Al! The airline is hemorrhaging
money left and right. Brighter minds than mine are considering a
multitude of options to turn the ship around. In many corporations, the first
wave of cutbacks is usually internal. Less overtime, less staff and a
reduction in middle management are some of the basic steps companies take to
reduce expenses. El Al has also been seriously reviewing its entire corporate
structure, along with staffing levels and employees’ conditions. Mayday!
than implement them immediately, the head of the Histadrut, Israel’s Labor
Federation, convinced the CEO of El Al not to make any more changes this
month. El Al reluctantly agreed. Other committees at El Al have floated
the proposal that El Al split into two; one El Al to focus on long-range, more
profitable routes, the other company to become a low-cost carrier battling with
the Easy Jets and Ryan Airs that have proliferated throughout Europe, offering
rock bottom prices with meager services.
I am hesitant to pop El Al’s
bubble but until they can get their unions to agree to a massive pay reduction,
there is little chance they could be an effective competitor in the low-cost
marketplace. Burdened by fuel-guzzling aircraft, expensive security procedures
and ground and air personnel earning top dollars, this trial balloon should be
expunged quickly. Mayday, mayday!
Airlines, like so many companies, provide a
service. Airlines are first and foremost in the service industry. Yes clients,
want safety; of course they look for good prices. But in the end how one
is treated from the time he checks in until he reaches his final destination is
what most passengers recollect.
SO WHEN El Al abuses and misdirects an
octogenarian couple on a flight to the US, it elicits a primal reaction: Workers
of the world unite – Mayday. For your kind discernment, here is the woeful
The Kirshes are not youngsters. Hardworking individuals, well into
their senior years, their first issue when booking airline tickets is to seek
out the more reasonable options. No business class for them; these two have
labored for over 50 years and rarely squander their savings.
Mr. Kirsh is
no neophyte when it comes to the Internet. Well-versed in airline
searches, he discovered a combination of El Al to London and American Airlines
from there to Denver. Preferring to use his travel consultant in making the
reservation so he could have some semblance of supervision, he sent his request
to the agency, which made the reservation and issued tickets were issued. The
times were convenient: Depart Tel Aviv at 10:15 am; land in London at 1:35 pm;
switch over to American at 4:05 pm; land in Denver that same evening at 6:45
Arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport for their morning flight, they
completed the check-in process and went through passport control only to be met
with a sign flashing an ominous message: Flight Delayed.
A few hours went
by until El Al sadly announced that their flight was cancelled. Not to worry,
though, El Al ground staff was professional and efficient and re-booked them on
a nonstop flight to JFK. OK, so the flight wouldn’t depart until 10 hours later
at 7:15 pm and they would only land at JFK after midnight, but they were assured
that someone from El Al would meet them to arrange their connecting flight to
Keep in mind that Mr. Kirsh is 86 years young and complied in
full with El Al personnel. The couple was even given meal vouchers to use at
Ben-Gurion before boarding their flight.
Family members and their travel
agent used the time to confirm with El Al that this elderly couple would not be
abandoned at JFK airport when they arrived. In fact, Adi at El Al reassured
their daughter that they would be met, escorted to an airport hotel and be given
ground transportation for their connecting flight the next morning from
They arrived at JFK and the only person waiting was
the wheelchair attendant who took them to collect their luggage, only to
discover that it, too, was a “no-show.”
No luggage, no representative,
they crawled into a cab, went to LaGuardia and spent the night at the airport
waiting for their morning flight. One of their two suitcases never arrived and
has yet to be found.
After fruitless phone calls to El Al, it was
suggested that the Kirshes immediately put into writing all of their complaints
and they did so forthwith. El Al reacted to their email almost immediately with
this reply: “Thank you for your feedback, which we will thoroughly evaluate and
reply to within 15-30 days. We will do our utmost to resolve the issue to your
satisfaction and be worthy of your having chosen to fly with us.”
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours