Pilot trouble, lack of staff lead to canceled El Al flights, wait times

“We regret the inconvenience caused to our passengers because of unforeseen disruptions to flight operations.”

 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)

Ben-Gurion Airport is undergoing some serious trials and tribulations, as understaffing issues brought on by the pandemic compound with pilots refusing to man El Al flights. These major setbacks have culminated in a recent wave of exorbitant wait times and flight cancellations. The Israel Airports Authority’s advice: leave your suitcase at home.

According to the Israel Airports Authority’s spokesman Ofer Lefler, the airport is understaffed by about 1,400 people, and travelers hoping to jet set this summer should “come with patience” and avoid bringing luggage that needs to be checked in to avoid even longer waits.

That understaffing can primarily be explained by El Al’s difficulty rehiring employees that it cut loose during the height of pandemic travel restrictions. While at the time, it seemed like a smart move in order to cut expenses and survive the indefinite period of limited travel, at present, the move has come back to bite the airline in a major way, with flights to Kyiv, Vienna, Milan and several other destinations have been canceled due to a lack of airline manpower.

On top of that, many of El Al’s pilots have been less than willing to cooperate with the airline, and have called in sick en masse: according to El Al, there were 419 instances of pilots failing to confirm their assignments on the grounds that they were under the weather. This has thrown a monkey wrench in the gears of the airline, which typically opts to man 20-30% of its flights on an ad hoc basis.

 : 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)

The issue

The issue stems from a 31% basic pay cut for pilots, alongside a per diem allowance cut of 39% made by El Al in 2018, and signed by the Histadrut, the organization which represents the pilots’ workers union. The pilots have sought to reopen these terms, which are only set to change in 2026 (and include a pay raise of only 5%), but have so far been unsuccessful.

Israel isn’t the only airline to experience last minute cancellations. In London, Germany and the US, flights have been impacted by the massive increase in travelers following the ease of pandemic restrictions. In fact, said Lapler, Israel is in an “excellent position” compared to the staffing issues in other countries’ airports and airlines.

As lines for departing flights extend out the doors of Ben-Gurion’s Terminal 1, that position seems far from excellent, however. “We regret the inconvenience caused to our passengers because of unforeseen disruptions to flight operations,” said El Al in an official statement. “El Al staff do all they can to find alternative solutions, whether through another El Al flight or through flights of other airlines.”