A time for spring renewal: El Al's first female CEO

TRAVEL ADVISER: While this is the 2nd CEO whom the controlling owner of El Al has put into place, he’s giving her the backing to succeed.

 NEW EL AL CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia.  (photo credit: EL AL)
NEW EL AL CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia.
(photo credit: EL AL)

The US Supreme Court may have appointed its first female black justice, but El Al’s recent announcement that, for the first time in its history, a woman will be the CEO not only shattered the glass ceiling but eviscerated it.

Dina Ben Tal Ganancia, at age 48, has been with El Al for 14 years and has seen six previous leaders of El Al fall by the wayside. Most resigned before they were fired for malfeasance. Some, like Eliezer Shkedy, took responsibility. He said that his inability to reach a new collective labor agreement left him unable to continue in his role. Other CEOs, like David Maimon, were abysmal failures with myopic vision, leading to a 50% drop in El Al's shares.

One wants to believe that Gain has seen enough of the total hypocrisy inside El Al to wield a broom and clean up the cobwebs. That Rozenberg chose her over anyone else augurs well for her success. Her previous role of Ella in El Al was running the revenue management department, so perhaps her first step of Ella will be the easiest. Sell ​​off El Al's frequent-flier program.

This is not reinventing the wheel; it's looking at what other airlines have done to dramatically increase their revenue.

When the bottom fell out of air travel, loyalty programs stood out for their resilience. Although people had stopped flying, they continued to spend with program partners, specifically the co-branded credit cards. Accrual from non-air sources (activities other than flying) now account for more than half of all thousands earned in major programs. This type of spending has come to provide a natural hedge during downturns.

the plane (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)the plane (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

Frequent-flier programs are tremendously valuable and profitable assets for airlines. The programs generate revenue through sales of frequent-flier thousands to various partners, including financial institutions that offer co-branded credit cards. The banks then distribute the thousands to customers as rewards for spending.

It’s true that El Al’s new CEO seems to have little experience with consumers. Experience with commercial agreements as well as managing billions of dollars does not mean she understands what El Al is.

It is not a transportation company; it is not an employer of thousands of workers. Yes, that is what El Al does, but first and foremost El Al is a service provider. It is what the new owner of El Al has promised; it is what the employees working with Israeli travel agents have now imbibed. It must be hammered: El Al is a service provider.

Look what happened in the last month. With the increase in demand for flights to the United States, El Al added to its global reservation system a second daily flight to Newark. Thousands of tickets were sold at reasonable fares, and United Airlines, with its twice-daily flights to Newark airport, was understandably concerned. But then something happened – those afternoon El Al flights to Newark were canceled.

The reason for the cancellation was not because of weather issues, nor because the planes were being used on another route, nor because of a lack of pilots. The reason was that someone high up at El Al never bothered to get permission from the airport authority at Newark airport for El Al to operate a second flight.

Were the people behind this debacle fired? Of course not. Ask those flyers whose flights to Newark were canceled what monetary compensation El Al offered them. To date, it has been a big fat zero.

There are countless reasons that flights get canceled. When this happens, many airlines usually give some kind of compensation, refund or incentive. It is not the best thing, but flight cancellations in principle should happen only for the good of the passengers. In reality, though, the passenger is the one getting shafted.

IT IS always better to be prepared, so here are the most common reasons that flights get canceled (or delayed, at the least).

1. Security reasons vary from the mundane to the critical. Airlines have also heightened a lot of their security measures due to the many incidents in the more recent past.

2. Weather conditions are one of the most common reasons for flight cancellations. It is all well and good when it’s sunny and dry, but strong rains, winds and snow can keep the planes on the ground for long periods. Even reports of thunder lead many an airline to stay out of the skies.

3. Lack of a crew. This is one of the more frustrating cancellation reasons. Here is how it goes: You sit in the departure area, you see your outbound commuter aircraft get rescheduled later and later, then eventually it gets canceled because the plane was too late. Seems simple, right? But there’s also the factor of the cabin crew. They work at specific times, and those delays eat up their shift hours. By the time they get to the destination, they have run out of time to make the flight back.

4. During the pandemic, lack of passengers has been a strong factor in canceling flights. Flying a plane is expensive. Aside from the fuel and maintenance of the aircraft, there are several fees and other payments airlines have to make for the mere use of airports. While there have been exceptional cases of flights pushing through with barely any passengers, flights get canceled if it is not economical to make the flight. Those who were supposed to be on the flight get bumped to other flights, usually with some form of compensation.

Not to pick on El Al, but it has been in the forefront of announcing flights to a destination, say Las Vegas, but when enough tickets aren’t sold, El Al elects to scrap them completely. In our part of the world, El Al has been the leader in this type of client-be-damned mindset.

5. Flying planes is serious business. The pilot crew always consists of a pilot and a first officer, sometimes also a second officer. All three need to be in good flying condition, to ensure the safety of the passengers and the crew. When one of the pilots becomes “unfit to fly,” the flight won’t be operated.

I have never heard of any El Al pilot being declared unfit to fly. In fact, I would wager that, with the military training they receive, short of a physical ailment, this has never occurred. This is unlike foreign carriers, where too often we have read about an inebriated pilot being forcibly removed from the cockpit.

6. Mechanical issues can be broken down into a million different things. Anything remotely out of sync in the aircraft will be cause for either delay or cancellation. Aircraft are complex and sensitive, and with the extreme conditions they encounter in the air, every part of the plane needs to be in perfect condition.As a result, flights are often set back by warnings in the cockpit, or anything found during maintenance or preparation.

7. Computer glitches are one of the most sensitive glitches. Flight patterns and schedules all depend on many computations and algorithms. Wherever you are in the world, a slight computer glitch in the system of the airline can affect your flight.

AIRLINES DO not want to cancel their flights. They are not out to get you or make your life miserable. Canceling a couple of flights to fix glitches can prevent the cancellation of a massive number of flights later on.

The best thing to do is just to keep a cool head. Calling customer service will get your flight rebooked much faster than yelling at the gate. Even better is to call your travel consultant, who can see all the flights on all the airlines that exist and not just on that specific airline. This enables you to advise the airline quickly and make the process go smoother.

At the end of the day, flight cancellations are not out of the ordinary. As long as you are prepared for anything to happen, you can just chalk it up to being part of your adventure!

I am certain that El Al’s new CEO will not place herself firmly in the corner office but, rather, will go forward meeting travel professionals and top El Al fliers to hear their concerns.

I’m positive she’ll meet with the hundreds of Israel-based companies desiring to give El Al more business only to be thwarted by a myriad of reasons. I have no doubt that, as a mother of two, her listening skills are phenomenal.

I am appreciative that while this is the second CEO whom the controlling owner of El Al has put into place, he’s giving her the backing to succeed.

What I am less certain of is whether she can translate everything she hears into strong actions. This is the time to make bold changes and announce that, finally, El Al is in the service business; and in that business, the customer comes first – yes, ahead of shareholders, ahead of employees. In these times, the customer is king and should be treated as such.

Otherwise, once more we will see that the emperor has no clothes.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem, and a director at Diesenhaus. For questions and comments, email him at [email protected]