Israel's El Al has hit a patch of financial turbulence

The Israeli airline has seen a bevy of misfortune in recent weeks.

 FLOWERS AND a card are placed at El Al’s ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport in July 2002, after a gunman killed two people and injured several more before an El Al security guard shot him dead. (photo credit: ADREES LATIF/REUTERS)
FLOWERS AND a card are placed at El Al’s ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport in July 2002, after a gunman killed two people and injured several more before an El Al security guard shot him dead.
(photo credit: ADREES LATIF/REUTERS)

El Al has had an eventful month, but not necessarily in a good way. Labor union trouble, flight cancellations and consumer watchdog reports have stacked up against the airline since the beginning of April, and the company is still experiencing turbulence.

Last week, the airline was forced to withdraw from Israel’s annual Independence Day flyover due to a dispute between its maintenance workers’ and pilots’ labor unions. On the morning of the holiday, El Al’s mechanics walked away from their posts in a coordinated act of defiance.

“We regret that El Al was unable to attend the flyover for Israel’s 74th Independence Day. This is a severe incident,” said El Al in a statement.

According to the maintenance workers’ union, the walkout was taken to protest the cancellation of 11 flights in recent days, which they blamed on the airline’s pilots. “If the pilots can take part in the flyover, they can staff the flights,” the union said. The canceled flights were due to “operational reasons beyond [El Al’s] control,” said El Al in a statement, noting that “with the help of all labor unions and across all sectors,” the company was working to resume services.

The canceled flights caused logistical issues for many passengers who only learned of their cancellation a few hours before scheduled takeoff, according to a report in Israel Hayom. Customers found themselves stranded without any means of reaching customer service.

 : An Israel El Al airlines plane is seen after its landing following its inaugural flight between Tel Aviv and Nice at Nice international airport, France, April 4, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD/FILE PHOTO) : An Israel El Al airlines plane is seen after its landing following its inaugural flight between Tel Aviv and Nice at Nice international airport, France, April 4, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD/FILE PHOTO)

“It’s unbelievable, we were told that our flight was canceled a few hours in advance,” said one traveler. “We’re stuck in Dubai.”

These passengers’ inability to reach customer representatives to sort out their flight logistics shouldn’t come as a surprise, as last month a report from the Israel Consumer Council detailed many similar instances.

These customers were unable to receive refunds for their tickets, which constitutes a violation of Israeli law.

“In most of the complaints, consumers complain about the unavailability of all the company’s contact platforms (WhatsApp, email, fax, regular mail, Facebook, phone) and the inability to get a service representative of the company,” stated the report. “The council has received many complaints against El Al, with similar or identical claims, raising serious and blatant concerns about violations of the Consumer Protection Law.”

El Al promised to investigate the report’s claims, but shifted much of the blame, stating that “the airline and the rest of the world were dealing with the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on travel.”