Juggling war, plans and planes

With news being fed and available to us 24/7 the danger of erroneous reporting being broadcast and disseminated is even higher.

By
July 13, 2014 05:44
El-Al passengers waiting to board flight

El-Al passengers waiting to board flight 370. (photo credit: Sukree Sukplang/Reuters)

I have a fairly good knowledge on how hurricanes are named; can grasp how one defines a war; but for the life of me have no concept how the moniker Operation Protective Edge was chosen. It is incredibly beneficial from the tourism industry’s outlook that this operation has not morphed into a war... yet.

With news being fed and available to us 24/7 the danger of erroneous reporting being broadcast and disseminated is even higher.

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When intelligent clients elicit my reaction to airlines ceasing to fly here, my gut instinct is that the Hamas propaganda machine is greatly more effective than its missiles.

First salvo came from Dan, who initiated our correspondence by telling me that LOT airlines, with flights from Warsaw, had ceased flying to Israel. Reporting it matter-of-factly he asked if I thought Turkish Air would also stop flying. He raises the most pertinent questions: 1. What are the chances that other foreign airlines will follow LOT and stop flying here? Hamas is certainly trying to hit Ben-Gurion Airport.

2. Before we take off, if Turkish Airline stops its flights, what can we do? Is this a Turkish problem or is it my problem? 3. We have already paid for the hotel and rental car. Should I buy trip insurance? If so, how? 4. If we depart Israel, and then Turkish Airlines stops flights, how do we get back? Again, whose problem is it to get us back? Your advice would be appreciated. :-) Another veteran flier, Carl, offhandedly commented to me that he heard Turkish Air no longer flew to Israel.

So first let’s set the record straight: Not one airline has ceased to fly to Israel. Hamas may publicly announce it is going to be targeting Ben-Gurion Airport, but while some airport crews are guardedly cautious, no airlines have ceased to fly here.

As for Dan’s first inquiry about the odds that foreign airlines will stop flying here, a basic understanding of airline policy is needed.

Many of the airlines are characterizing the “situation” as civil unrest. As if the nation had been ripped apart through violent demonstrations.

United Airlines and American/US Air both sent out strongly worded statements, warning that “due to the civil unrest in Tel Aviv, Israel, customers are permitted to make voluntary changes to travel planes for original travel through July 18.”

American Airlines went even further, stating that “American Airlines flights from Israel may be subject to delays and cancellations.”

Please understand that unless the situation escalates and war is declared, the airlines insurance companies will continue to provide coverage. The summer months to and from Israel are the busiest times of the year for airlines.

Flights are filled coming to Israel with youth groups and tourists from every corner of the world. Business travelers from China and India are arriving in large numbers to deepen their business ties with Israeli companies.

To date there have been very few cancellations and none of the airlines wants to cease flying here.

As in previous “operations” the European airlines and their heavily unionized employees will be the first to respond to the unrest.

KLM was the first airline whose crews were too petrified to spend too long a time in Israel and has ordered all of its flights from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv and back to land in Larnaca, Cyprus, to refuel. Far too dangerous for the Dutch to have their precious crew risk an errant missile attack. Other European airlines will most likely follow suit. Kudos to the US airlines: United, Delta and US Air/American have chosen to not make this adjustment.

Dan’s second question about airlines stopping to fly here before he’s begun his journey is a no-brainer.

If an airline stops flying due to the declaration of war you have the right to demand it put you on an alternative airline. In these cases that are outside the airline’s control, it’s called a force majeure event. In such an event, if you haven’t commenced your trip, a full refund will be given. Those fortunate enough to have booked with a reliable travel consultant will not need to negotiate with the airline. Their travel agent will simply cancel the ticket and as quickly as possible refund the full amount. If booked online, you’ll be asked if you want a credit that you can use for the next 12 months; stand up for your rights and demand the refund.

Readers of this column have often commented that my opinion of El Al is not always complimentary. Not under these circumstances.

El Al will not stop flying; no matter the danger to aircraft, or if God forbid all-out war breaks out, it will stay the course. El Al in the past has sent empty planes to bring back passengers stranded by a foreign airline.

Dan’s last question about departing on his trip and then Turkish Airlines stops its flights is more perplexing.

Historically, airlines that had clients stranded abroad after starting their trip have tried their best to accommodate their passengers. Online-booked passengers will have to patiently demand such accommodation from the airline, while those who’ve booked with a travel agent should find their trip has been rescheduled on an airline still flying to or from Israel.

In asking about paid services abroad, be it an organized tour, hotel accommodations or a rental car, it will need to be negotiated directly. A hotel in Slovenia, while sympathetic to the fact you were not able to fly there, has no legal nor moral obligation to waive the cancellation fee. Carnival Cruise Lines embarking upon its voyage to Alaska will not waive its cancellation fees because you were not able to join it in Vancouver.

This is same for the plethora of packages abundant this time of year to Greece and European cities. If those charter airlines are involved, you will find it quite expensive to cancel.

Your basic travelers insurance will be of no assistance. Force majeure events have no coverage unless you take out a costly policy ahead of time.

Now to the issue on which we’ve been bombarded with emails and requests. Operation Protective Edge keeps you on edge and you desire to cancel your ticket. What are your options? El Al came out first and in addition to the ability to change your dates, free of charge, offered a Get out of Jail pass. Anyone for any reason could cancel his or her ticket if scheduled to fly by Tuesday, July 22 . Yes there were a few restrictions, but El Al’s largesse was unexpected.

Turkish Air, with its six daily flights from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, went even further. All tickets to and from Tel Aviv could be canceled for travel up to July 31. Initial reaction was it was being overly pessimistic that the operation would last that long, but it endeared it to the travel industry.

United Airlines, while not officially permitting cancellations, did waive all change fees for travel through July 18.

While the situation can change, here are tips to assist you and your loved ones.

1. Use the site of the airline for exact, up to date and timely news.

2. Try to avoid the “news” your friends send you on WhatsApp, ignore the Facebook postings claiming inside information.

3. If you work with a travel consultant, use his or her resources; they may not be able to predict what will occur, but they very much can tell you if an airline has stopped to fly.

The nation appears to be unified; rockets being fired through large swaths of Israel will have that effect. Staying calm both during a siren and in your travel decisions is the best advice I can proffer.

Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il


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