El Al’s CEO foresees “difficult days ahead, and it is possible that we will be required to take dramatic steps and make painful decisions.”
In a recent email sent to employees and later disseminated to the media, Gonen Usishkin said the current period is “a test for countries around the world, including Israel, the aviation sector and El Al.”
The email was sent shortly after El Al notified the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that the company was in a financial crisis not of its own making due to the spread of the coronavirus.
El Al said it was forced to cancel flights to and from Beijing and Hong Kong and to reduce flights to Bangkok by 50% in recent weeks. Additionally, a growing number of travelers are canceling their plans – not only to East Asia but around the world – for fear of catching the potentially lethal virus, it said.
So far, according to the World Health Organization, 70,548 cases have been confirmed, including 1,770 deaths.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry added additional restrictions on travelers, requiring those who return to Israel from Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Thailand to adhere to a 14-day quarantine.
“We are in the midst of a global event, and it is too soon to predict the impact,” Usishkin said in the email, adding that the airline will ensure that “safety and security will always be our top priority.”
There are still more than 5,000 Israelis in Thailand who are scheduled to return to Israel via El Al, he said. The company is committed to flying these Israelis home “without endangering air crews and following the Health Ministry’s instructions,” he added.
Crew members who travel to Thailand will spend one night in a hotel room near the airport, avoid contact with locals and adhere to strict personal-hygiene requirements. Upon return, they will not have to be quarantined like the travelers, El Al said.
“I assure you that we will do everything we can to successfully get through these days, and we will do so responsibly, transparently and without haste,” Usishkin said.