The Travel Adviser: A guide for the perplexed over Pessah

Following these simple suggestions may not guarantee you a worry free holiday but will certainly ease the pressure.

By
March 27, 2010 20:22
The Travel Adviser: A guide for the perplexed over Pessah

airport travel 88 248. (photo credit: )

In the upcoming holiday season, more than half a million passengers will traipse through Ben-Gurion Airport and fly on one of approximately 3,500 flights. Flight bookings for Pessah and Easter are up over 20 percent and airline fares for the holiday, like hotel rates throughout the country, are at near historic highs.

I have been inundated with e-mail requests the last few weeks and am taking this opportunity to reply.

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I don’t know how far in advance I should arrive at the airport; my travel agent says at least two hours while some Web sites say four hours?
In principle, the Israel Airport Authority recommends a minimum of three hours in advance for checking in at Ben-Gurion Airport. However, during the holiday period, one must take into consideration the additional pressure and add 30 to 45 minutes to this framework. If spending money at duty free is your forte than give yourself even more time.

Is it worth checking in on-line?
Emphatically yes. While I personally abhor the idea of having the passenger go to the airline site, and spend five minutes putting in his or her passport information, there is no argument this reduces your time at the check-in counter.

Moreover there is one added advantage, the ability to lock in your seats. While many airlines do allow you to book your seats in advance, keep in mind this is simply a seat you have requested. While you may see it as an implicit promise on the part of the airline to give you said seat, the truth is that airlines for a variety of reasons often move one’s seats. This could be due to a change in aircraft, or a late minute booking of someone considered more important than you, or simply a computer error. But all airlines encourage you to check on-line from 24 hours prior to your flight to confirm your seat request.

Once you have confirmed your seat request, it is far harder for the airline to change your seat. All passengers should print their boarding pass, thus making it near impossible for your seat to be changed. Even if you don’t have a printer, you can make a virtual print of your boarding pass.

El Al has recently updated its site so that all passengers flying on a Saturday night can now check in on the Friday before rather than try to check in a few hours before their flight.

How do I know if my plane is departing on time?
These days, the vast majority of airlines do not require reconfirming for one’s flights, so you must learn to rely upon your own skills to double check your flight. One can try calling the airline and asking if the flight will be departing on time. Though quite time consuming, this easy tip has saved millions of clients wasted hours when showing up for a flight that has been delayed. For every flight, get in the habit of making sure your flight is departing on time. Going to the Internet site of the airline can be a faster way to elicit the same information.

And the simplest way to check the Ben-Gurion Airport site is to simply click on its link: http://www.iaa.gov.il/Rashat/en-US/Airports/BenGurion/InformationforTravelers/OnlineFlights.htm. Go to Online Departures and you’ll find the up to date information. To find out when your loved ones are landing, Online Arrivals will provide that answer.

My Israeli passport is not valid over six months; can I leave the country?
If you are in possession of only that Israeli passport then the vast majority of countries will not permit you to enter and thus you will not be allowed to depart Ben-Gurion Airport. There is an Interior Ministry office at the airport that can, for an obscene amount, extend your passport. However if your passport has been extended once, you need a new passport which cannot be issued at the airport.

If you are in possession of a second passport, which is valid, than you will be permitted to fly. The most common example is a dual passport holder of an Israeli and a US passport. Let’s say each is only valid for 60 days. You are permitted to leave Israel on your Israeli passport and enter the US on your US passport. Simply put, the six-month rule is only applicable if you’re entering a third country on a foreign passport. Both the US and Israel will allow you to enter their respective countries even if your respective passport is valid for one day!

I asked for a special meal; how do I know it’s been ordered?
Ordering your special meal, whether it be a kosher meal, a diabetic meal or even a vegetarian meal, is the easy part. The challenge is actually getting it when you’re sitting on the plane. Too often due to a time change or a change of equipment, your meal request has been lost. We’ve had clients who, not trusting the computer printout confirming the meals, have taken the next step to call the airline to verify from a human voice that their meal is in the system, only to be surprised that inside the aircraft nobody was aware of it.

The best advice is to double check your meal has been ordered when you check in at the airport. Sometimes if an error has been made they can put another meal on your plane. Kosher and glatt kosher meals can be problematic.

Delta, Continental and US Airways have taken the intelligent way out. All of their kosher meals are glatt, and during Passover will be kosher for Pessah. El Al has yet to make that move and you must be resourceful to make sure that, if needed, you have a glatt kosher meal. To El Al’s credit, though, for any last-minute booking, one can be certain that the meal will be kosher.

Is it worthwhile renting a car abroad while still in Israel?
Always. Whether you rent a car from your travel consultant, via the Internet or directly from the rental car firms, you will save money doing it in advance rather than showing up at an airport rental car counter where you are a captive consumer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a gold member with Hertz or a wizard with Avis, renting a car when you arrive is throwing good money away.

What happens if my airline goes on strike?
British Airways has already announced a four-day strike to coincide with the start of Passover. Management is hopeful that it can be avoided and has promised passengers that their ticket will be good for one year from its original date. This is all very responsible but does nothing to assist the client who may be stranded in London at a time of year when flights are heavily booked. Plan ahead and make alternative arrangements. Find out what your options are and know ahead of time what those alternative flights are. You will do far better when calling the airline with specific flight details rather than waiting for it to proffer a suggestion.

My father is not well; will I be able to find a seat during the holidays?
It does not matter if it’s the busiest travel period, if you have to travel, you will find a seat. In my experience in the industry, what truly sets Israel apart is the deep empathy to someone’s loss. El Al, especially, along with other airlines, will actually bump a passenger to get someone to a funeral. My colleagues and I always give the same message. You make sure your travel document is up to date; no matter when you call us, we will get you on a plane.

I wasn’t planning on flying but now find I can take the time; are there any “deals” left?
There are still tickets to be had to fly abroad, but using the word deal would be offensive. In the simple matter of supply and demand, the supply side economics wins this battle handily. You will pay handsomely to fly during the holiday period. Even if you find a seat at a reasonable fare to get you out of Israel, the pressure as soon as the holiday concludes is just as high.

My best advice is to fly during the intermediate days of the holiday and plan to return several days after it ends.

What can I bring back to Israel?
Aside from all the bargains you will no doubt find on your trip, you are permitted no more than one liter of hard alcohol, two liters of wine and no more than two cartons of cigarettes. The value of any single item that you can bring in tax fee is not to exceed $200.

Following these simple suggestions may not guarantee you a worry free holiday but will certainly ease the pressure.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions and comments on all travel related topics, e-mail him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il.


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