Ash cloud strands thousands of Israelis

"People are up in the air, so to speak," say relieved returnees.

By RON FRIEDMAN
April 19, 2010 02:18
3 minute read.
Travelers wait for a flight to Geneva, Switzerland

Travelers wait at Madrid airport 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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As the transportation ministers of the European Union convened to decide whether to allow flights to resume to and from the continent, at Ben-Gurion Airport, arriving passengers were just happy to be home in time for Remembrance Day.

Several airlines, El Al among them, plan to renew flights to European destinations on Monday, but on Sunday, the arrival and departure halls at Ben-Gurion were quiet and the electronic signs notifying passengers of takeoffs and landings were blinking red, as more than half of the flights had been canceled.

Like hundreds of airports around the world, Ben-Gurion was suffering from the effects of the volcanic eruption in Iceland that spread a blanket of ash across Europe.

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) said that since the volcano erupted on Thursday, more than 240 flights in and out of Ben-Gurion were canceled, affecting more than 40,000 passengers. Most of the canceled flights were to or from Western Europe, but at least one direct flight from Canada was also called off.

Thousands of Israeli travelers in other parts of the world are also stuck, as most return flights are usually planned with a stopover in Europe.

The IAA urged passengers to check with their airlines or on the IAA’s Web site (http://www.iaa.gov.il/RASHAT/en-US/Rashot) or hotline (03-975-5555) for flight cancellations or delays before leaving for the airport.

Passengers can check with El Al by dialing *2250.

While the departures hall was operating, albeit at a lower capacity than normal, mostly servicing passengers bound to Eastern Europe, the arrivals hall was all but empty. The only people there were airport employees and journalists waiting for interview subjects on the odd incoming plane.

“We were incredibly lucky to be on this flight,” said Benny Glicksman, who together with his brother-in-law, Yoram Dvir, arrived on one of El Al’s flights from Rome. “We managed to rent the last available car at the Bologna airport and then drove all night to Rome in order to make it.”

The pair, who were in Italy for a trade conference, said they rushed to make the flight because they had heard rumors that Rome’s airport would also be shut down and wanted to make sure they’d be home for Remembrance Day and Independence Day.


“We already bought the meat for the barbecue,” Dvir joked.

Glicksman said one of the most stressful things about the trip was the lack of certainty.

“The skies are dark and you don’t know if the city you’re in will be next to have its airport shut down. People are up in the air, so to speak, and it makes for an anxious environment,” he said.

“In order to get things moving you have to look after yourself,” said Dvir. “If we hadn’t made the effort and ran around like crazy from the airport to the hotel and back, all the while making calls to make sure we had room on the plane and that it was leaving on schedule, we would have been stranded.”

An estimated 15,000 Israelis are stuck in Europe waiting for flights to resume. For those who were able to make it to Rome, Athens or Madrid, El Al offered a way back.

Other airlines have also offered alternative flights through unaffected locations. Israir announced it was resuming flights to and from Nice, Berlin and Moscow.

Also stranded in a strange land were some 25,000 foreign tourists in Israel, who were scheduled to return to their homes but found themselves spending more time here than expected.

To help them find accommodations and give them a favorable impression of Israel, the Tourism Ministry ordered the production of a special booklet, highlighting hotels and attractions that tourists could visit while waiting for the flights to resume.   

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