United Airlines and Delta Air Lines passengers to New York were totally bewildered after both companies were forced to cut one of their two daily flights in and out of Israel this week in the latest round of coronavirus measures implemented by Israel’s government.
The airlines canceled their flights to protest the government’s policies, media outlets reported earlier this week.
That’s “fake news,” Ziontours Jerusalem CEO Mark Feldman said.
“I’ve had literally 60 emails from clients flying later this month who thought their flights have been canceled,” he said.
Over the weekend, Delta and United were told by the Israeli government they could only fly seven flights a week to New York, instead of the 10 flights to New York and four flights to San Francisco they had previously scheduled, Feldman said. This is because the government changed its mind and decided that only 1,000 people could be let into the country each day, instead of the 3,000 that had been previously agreed, he said.
Both airlines were forced to cancel their afternoon flights and keep their nighttime flights, Feldman said, adding: “That means that if you were booked for a late flight, you’re fine. But if your flight was in the afternoon, either your travel agent is booking you on alternative flights, or you are on your own.”
However, a United representative told The Jerusalem Post the government earlier on Tuesday had rescinded the limit and allowed United and Delta to restore those flights beginning next Tuesday, March 16.
It was likely that public outrage over the cancellations had forced decision-makers to reconsider, people familiar with the matter said.
El Al is continuing to fly its two daily scheduled flights with no changes. Passengers on all flights are required to present a negative coronavirus test from within three days before the flight, as well as a signed health declaration.
Former MK Dov Lipman, who has been working to help travelers stranded abroad or in Israel since the airport closures started in January, called on the government to present a clear plan.
“I am bombarded with people asking me about their flights being canceled,” he said. “There is chaos. People either get approval or are told they don’t need approval, and then their flights are canceled. They don’t know when to take their corona tests or how to plan accordingly.
“The government must announce a clear policy. Everyone is willing to adjust and accept clear policies even when it’s to their detriment. But what they can’t handle is confusion, misinformation and being misled.”
Lipman warned that Passover travel may be further complicated.
“It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that this Pesach will be a difficult one for many of you,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “After just one day of dealing with the new rules and the new committee, it is clear to me that most requests for non-Israelis to enter Israel will be denied and that most requests for non-vaccinated Israelis to travel abroad will be denied – even for children. And even for those who receive approval, there is a serious scarcity of flights. I just have to tell it to you like it is.”
“I am not saying that it’s not worth applying for approval, and I will continue to guide those who ask for assistance through the process,” Lipman added. “I even told parents of young children to just show up for their flights last night, and they all got onto the plane. And we will continue to fight for the rules to change and for more flights. But the reality is still the reality.”
Avi Lieberman, a comedian living in New York who frequently visits Israel, said he has been struggling to get out of Israel for a week.
“In the past week, I have booked and canceled tickets on Swiss Air, Austrian Airlines and Turkish,” he said. “Every morning, I would get a new round of messages that my flight is canceled. I finally have a flight booked on El Al for next Sunday, with Dov Lipman’s help. The whole situation is completely incomprehensible. I wonder if the politicians even understand how much they are damaging people’s lives.”
Meanwhile, in addition to the chaos, Feldman said he was concerned about other decision-making factors at play.
“What’s very disturbing to many of us is that Ethiopian Airlines has been refused a permit to fly, meaning there is no way available to get to Africa,” he said. “That really stinks of racism. The government allows flights to London, Paris and New York, which have the largest populations of religious Jews, and it is incredibly disturbing to believe that a decision about airlines is made based on the color of people’s skin and not on the needs of the people.”