El Al: A passionate commitment to Israel

El Al has constantly made the case that it is the only airline which can be relied on to continue flying to and from Israel through thick and thin.

By ILAN COHEN
May 26, 2015 17:08
El Al plane

El Al plane. (photo credit: PR)

 
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It was July 22, 2014, when a Hamas rocket landed not 1 mile from one of Ben-Gurion Airport’s runways.

The summer war between Israel and Hamas, Operation Protective Edge, had been raging for two weeks, and would continue for another five.

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The only thing that seemed remarkable about the rocket was that it had landed in an urban area; most others were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome.

Within several hours, though, the rocket’s significance became clear – as incoming flights from the US made emergency landings in places like France, or turned around altogether.

America’s Federal Aviation Authority had imposed a travel ban on US airlines flying to Israel. Its European counterpart, the EASA, soon followed suit.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz said the move gave a “prize to terror.”

Almost every international airline stopped their flights in the 36-hour period that followed, and some didn’t start flying again until a week later. At that moment, as Israelis stranded abroad started panicking, as tourists in Israel felt stranded, one thing was clear: El Al would keep flying.

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“There is no chance we will stop operations,” David Maimon, El Al CEO affirmed at the time: “We will keep on flying and bring Israelis home”.

Indeed, El Al has constantly made the case that it is the only airline which can be relied on to continue flying to and from Israel through thick and thin. When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein launched scud missiles at the Jewish state during the 1991 Gulf war, El Al was the only one that kept flying.

To help rescue the Israelis stuck abroad, El Al added flights to Athens and Zurich and put bigger planes with more seats on its route to Rome.

The company takes its role as Israel’s national airline seriously. In September, after the war was over, the company “airlifted” over 125 parents of lone soldiers who fought in the war; 21 flights from 10 cities around the world got the parents to Israel in time for Rosh Hashana.

It also sent 20 soldiers who were wounded in the war on a trip to India when they completed their service.

“El Al is proud, as part of it being the national air carrier, to take part in the flagship project of the Friends of the Zahal Disabled Veterans organization – “tiul shichrur” (discharge trip) and fly, under its auspices, a group of wounded and disabled veterans to India” Said Maimon.

“We’re happy to be part of this unique project and allow the wounded soldiers to receive some closure, take their discharge trip and open to new experiences and opportunities.

As part of the preparations for the flight, we have held a touching introductory meeting between the trip’s participants and the flight crew, which helped assuage the combat soldiers’ fears, the first stop on the heartwarming trip to come”.

The fact that the airline goes out of its way to pitch in during times of war is particularly impressive, given the financial hit that it and other tourism companies take as a result of conflicts.

The hit came as the company was on the upswing. Recent airline liberalization in Israel has helped introduce a slew of low-cost airlines into the market; El Al responded by introducing its own low-cost brand: Up.

The carrier started off with weekly flights to Berlin, Prague, Kiev, Budapest and Larnaca, offering fares as low as $69.

“We are joining the trend in the international airline industry of and the major world airlines, while being attuned to a variety of customer preferences,” Shkedy said at the time. “I am convinced that this process will improve our competitiveness, widen our customer base and respond well to passenger needs, and all at reasonable prices.”

The company is also set on improving the Jewish state’s image in the world. In cooperation with Stand- WithUs, a pro-Israel group, the company sponsored its pilots and flight attendants for advocacy training, turning them into “El Al Ambassadors.”

Instead of spending their days off shopping in New York or enjoying the weather in LA, while abroad they attended training programs, discussions and lectures.

“Hundreds of pilots and flight attendants offered themselves for the project, which is purely voluntary.

From them we chose those with the best language skills, rhetoric and necessary presentation, for representing the beautiful, positive and apolitical face of the State of Israel – a face that is not necessarily seen in the foreign media,” explained head of El Al services Yehudit Gresario.

But even as it helps Israel put its best face forward, the company remains in service of the people at home.

When a devastating earthquake hit Nepal in April, Israel sent more people than any other country to assist in the rescue operations. But in addition to the Israelis who were stranded there and needed to be evacuated, there were dozens of Israeli babies, some of them premature, born to surrogate mothers in the region.

El Al sent two jumbo jets to their rescue As the captain who flew the plane, Dror Gorlick, said: “We can be proud. It’s touching to see the evacuees after everything they’ve been through It’s part of El Al’s core as the national carrier”.

Innovations in El Al


Recent airline liberalization in Israel has helped introduce a slew of low-cost airlines into the market; El Al responded by introducing its own low-cost brand: Up.

The carrier started off with weekly flights to Berlin, Prague, Kiev, Budapest and Larnaca, offering fares as low as $69.

Starting June, 2015 El Al will operate 3 direct flights on Boeing 767-300 class planes on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays to the city’s international airport. The flights will operate on a 767-300 class plane which seats 218, out of which 22 are bed-seats in Business class and 28 are Economy Plus seats. The flights to Boston will join some 34 weekly flights on El Al’s summer schedule to North American destinations – New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.

David Maimon, El Al CEO: “El Al sees strategic value in strengthening its North American activity. As part of this, El Al has made it a goal to expand and grow in flights to the continent, meeting demand of trends and needs of the business and touristic sectors and nurturing incoming tourism to Israel. Boston is an extremely popular destination for business travel and with this opening of the new line we believe it will also become a popular holiday destination for Israeli families”.

As part of El Al’s strategy of continuing to upgrade its product and consumer experience, it’s currently in the midst of the process of flattening all of the seats in the Business class of the company’s 777 planes and in two of the 767-300 planes, intended to fly to Boston.

At the end of the process, these planes will join the fleet of 747-400 planes, already equipped with such seats.

These days El Al is negotiating the purchase of wide-bodied planes.

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