As pilots crisis escalates, El Al adjusts cancellation policy

El Al has announced a temporary change of its cancellation policy and will allow customers to cancel their tickets for a full refund and without incurring a cancellation fine.

Baggage carts are seen on the tarmac near an El Al Israel Airlines plane at Venice airport (photo credit: REUTERS)
Baggage carts are seen on the tarmac near an El Al Israel Airlines plane at Venice airport
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The work-to-rule strike orchestrated by El Al’s pilots committee entered its second week on Sunday as more flights were postponed or canceled. The escalation in the conflict has prompted El Al to take extraordinary measures regarding its cancellation policy.
Three flights to New York and one to Berlin were canceled on Sunday morning, joining five other flights canceled over the weekend, while other El Al scheduled flights have been delayed.
In light of the situation, El Al has announced a temporary change of policy, and will allow customers to cancel tickets for a full refund without incurring a penalty. The change will be in effect on all El Al flights scheduled through November 30, and will also allow passengers to reschedule flights free of charge.
Seven El Al officials resigned in recent days because of the crisis, including the chief pilot, Ido Sharon, and the fleet managers and chief pilots of a number of El Al fleets, Channel 2 reported on Sunday night.
Sources close to El Al management revealed to The Jerusalem Post that a solution to the crisis is not expected soon, unless there is an intervention by a third party, such as the government, the labor courts or even the Histadrut labor federation.
MK Eitan Cabel, chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, dubbed the goings-on “a crisis” on Sunday, and will convene an emergency session of the committee on Thursday. Cabel announced that he will be meeting the representatives of the pilots and the management, separately, before the committee meets.
Meanwhile, both sides remain adamant in their positions and continue playing a blame game while fighting for public opinion.
“Unfortunately, El Al pilots are continuing their outrageous behavior. Seventeen captains and 16 first officers refused to man a flight, causing damage to the company, clients and fellow El Al employees,” an El Al representative said on Sunday.
The El Al pilots committee, on the other hand, lays the full blame on the management and denies the allegations against the pilots. In a statement issued by the committee on Sunday, the committee said, “[El Al] management is harming hundreds of passengers tonight. Flights were canceled despite there actually being enough pilots ready and available to man them.”
Indeed the pilots are available to fly, but pilots are only willing to man flights in one direction and demand being flown back in business class.
The common practice in El Al, and indeed in every major airline, is for pilots to fly the aircraft in both directions. If pilots are only willing to work on one direction, it means El Al has to dispatch two crews with every flight, paying double the number of work hours as well as for the non-working crew’s business class fares.
Until last week, El Al management begrudgingly accepted this practice in order to keep things running smoothly. Eventually, however, with no resolution to the dispute in sight, the airline decided to take a harder line.
“In the past few months we have been witnessing severe disruptions in El Al’s activity due to steps taken by our pilots. In light of this ongoing behavior we have decided to take serious steps in order to stop the chaos created by the pilots and restore El Al’s working routine,” an airline representative said on Sunday.
The steps include petitioning the Tel Aviv Labor Court to rule that the pilots are organizing an illegal strike, and chartering foreign airliners to replace flights canceled due to the pilot’s strike.
“We will no longer tolerate this behavior. The disruptions have reached the point of no return, and are jeopardizing the livelihood of the company’s employees. I have decided to put an end to this immoral and uncontrolled behavior, which is harming the entire company,” El Al CEO David Maimon said.
Speaking on behalf of the pilots committee, Avi Edri, chairman of the National Transportation Workers Union, told the Post last week that the pilots are protesting against measures taken by management that would “harm the pilots work hours, and are in breach of their collective work agreement.” This allegedly includes hiring low-cost charter companies to carry out El Al flights in order to save costs.
However, an El Al source explained to the Post that all pilots are still allocated between 75 and 85 monthly flight hours, as per their collective work agreement, and that all the flights being canceled are flights allocated to pilots beyond the 85-hour cap. And that the practice of chartering out El Al flights, known as “wet chartering,” is only done ad hoc in cases when a regular flight cannot be manned.
“We have decided to stop giving in to the extortion by our pilots, and will no longer allow them to only fly one way at the expense of other passengers. Sadly, our resolve caused them to step up their refusal to fly in general,” an El Al representative said. “Thus we were forced to make use of chartered planes in order to prevent some flights from being canceled.”