It’s time for some cold hard facts: 1. It will snow somewhere in the world this
2. You will see pictures of passengers huddling in some
3. Airlines will do a miserable job of updating
4. Internet sites will not be able to stand up to the
5. Customers will continue to complain that they don’t receive
Let’s be equitable and assume that the blizzard that shut
down the East Coast of the US last month was one of the worse snowstorms in many
years. Let’s accept the presumption that although forecast well in advance,
airline executives fervently hoped that their airlines would be spared. Let’s
further take for granted that, in the country with the greatest technological
advances in the last 50 years, airlines and airports know exactly how to respond
to snow. Surely airports such as JFK and Newark have the wherewithal to deal
with any crisis.
It boggles the mind that from storm to
storm some airlines know how to respond, while others flounder. As we dissect
the major carriers who fly between the US and Israel, keep in mind one
overriding fact: If you’ve been bumped from your flight and are postponed to a
later one, you do not take precedence over someone who is already holding seats
on your new flight.
Ignorance of this basic tenet leads to major
disagreements between customers and airlines. So often travel consultants are
cajoled and challenged to bump someone off the new flight so that the injured
party may get to his or her final destination.
So with apologies to
Clement Moore, let’s set the tone. ’Twas the night after Christmas and all
through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
week between December 25 and January 1 is usually a quiet week. Most Western
business travelers remain on the ground.
Most travelers are primarily
leisure travelers who unwittingly tend to accept whatever poor treatment is
dished out to them. Like hungry orphans when receiving any morsel, they tend to
be passive in their demands.
There are four airlines that operate out of
Israel, flying nonstop to the US. Let’s focus on them, starting with the head of
the pack, El Al, with more flights to both Newark and JFK than any other
Reality check: EL AL never contacted a single passenger on any
of the delayed flights for more than 48 hours. Calls to El Al were received by a
request that customers go to its website. On the website, all that was written
were the two most offensive words: flight cancelled.
No hint of when the
next flight would be, no answers to what you were supposed to do.
OFFICE received almost 100 requests for help. Andrea’s plea was indicative of
how well El Al treated its clients. Due to fly home with her infant, she and her
husband elected to return on different days. On the first day of the storm, El
Al cheerfully told her to head for JFK, as the flight was flying as
Naïvely, she bundled up her baby and headed to JFK. Passing
through security, she reached the check-in counter and was told that the plane
was delayed. Politely asking how long, she was firmly told it could be a few
Grabbing a seat, she mollified her baby and informed her husband
and travel consultant to update her if they had any
Nighttime stretched into early morning, with El Al’s
personnel still offering optimism that soon the flight would commence
Her husband’s flight was schedule for 12 hours later and he
contacted me directly.
He had received no updates from El Al on his
wife’s flight, and he had no idea if she was going to be stuck at JFK another 24
Moreover he was unclear if his flight would depart as scheduled.
When I informed him that his wife’s plane was still on the ground, along with
three other El Al planes, he lost his composure.
My first concern was
asking if his wife could leave the airport as El Al had decided not to offer
hotel accommodation. With his negative response, I urged him to somehow get
himself over to JFK and provide her with both moral and physical
I reminded him that as the storm subsided, the planes would
depart, and that physically being there was his best chance of getting the three
of them on one plane.
Keep in mind that the skies here were clear and El
Al was working at full capacity.
Why it chose to keep silent at this
critical venture is a question that management has not answered. In the end, the
husband did get himself to JFK, was reunited with his family and, with a lot of
assistance from this side, they both managed to get seats on El Al’s first
flight to Israel, but only after an additional 12 hours.
Suffice it to
say, they won’t be offered any compensation.
Delta Airlines elected to
keep its flight schedule from JFK to Israel a state secret.
communication was given to the travel industry; no e-mails or faxes were
received, no SMS messages sent. It’s as if Delta erased the daily flight from
JFK from its consciousness.
Continental Airlines took a different route.
E-mails were quickly sent, informing clients and the travel industry that dozens
of flights were cancelled. Instructed not to head to the airport, passengers
were able to stay put in their homes or hotels, praying that the storm would
US Airways, with daily flights between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv,
proved the most imaginative. Freeing clients from the burden that they could
only fly on an American airline, they rebooked passengers on any available
flight, be it Swiss via Zurich or BA via London.
This truly open sky
policy proved to be the best response of the four airlines.
One can only
hope that the airlines will learn from their mistakes. There is no excuse for
Nobody can control the weather, but how one
responds is the bellwether of an airline I’ll be happy to promote. Consumers are
cognizant that weather delays are inevitable. They simply don’t need to accept a
snow job from an inept airline.The writer is CEO of Ziontours,
For questions and comments, e-mail him at