With Israel getting ready to partially reopen the skies on Sunday, flights to the United States are quite full for the next two weeks, said Ziontours Jerusalem CEO Mark Feldman.
“What is happening now is something I have never seen before. Israelis are booking flights to leave next week, and they don’t care about coming back for Israel’s March 23 elections at all,” Feldman said. “All other years, Israelis have felt that they had a patriotic duty to wait until after the elections before leaving for the Passover holiday, but this year, I am hearing clients from both sides of the political spectrum say ‘Enough! I don’t care anymore.’”
Israel will be going back to the ballots for the fourth time in two years in what seems to many to be an endless cycle of political deadlock. Many are also eager to finally travel after more than a year of limited opportunities to fly, capped by the country’s recent airport closure, which has left countless individuals stranded and unable to see loved ones.
Under the new guidelines approved Tuesday, Israelis will be able to travel to the cities of New York, Paris, Frankfurt and Kiev, and possibly London, starting Sunday. Up to 3,000 vaccinated Israelis will be able to enter the country each day without special permission, while those who are not vaccinated will need to apply for permission.
Ben-Gurion Airport is expected to reopen completely on March 14, according to reports.
“The main people booking flights now are olim [immigrants] from America who want to spend the Passover Seder with their families back home,” Feldman said. “That, and people looking to return to Israel from abroad. No one is booking skiing vacations to Europe or anything like that.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand to fly right now,” Feldman said. “Planes to the US are basically full for the next two weeks, but after the Passover holiday, things are wide open. Flights are only available for Israelis, so American Jews aren’t coming for Passover, and no one is coming from abroad for Easter this year.”
Flights for the spring season look to be very affordable, Feldman said. “You are looking at about $900 round-trip to New York on United, Delta or El Al, about 15% less than it was during this season two years ago. The fact that American Airlines plans to start direct flights from Ben-Gurion to JFK Airport in New York on May 8, and to Miami on June 10, is another factor that will keep spring and summer prices low.
“It’s a great time to use frequent flier mileage if you have it,” Feldman said. “It has never been so easy to cash in miles for tickets.”
Feldman called American Airlines’ entry into Israel “a major vote of confidence in Israel’s tourism market,” although he noted that the addition to the market of a new competitor to El Al would add another threat to the financially ailing national carrier.
Looking ahead to the summer, Feldman said it is too early to try to anticipate how and when the European market will open. However, he noted, demand for Royal Caribbean cruises has been “exploding.”
Earlier this week, Royal Caribbean International said it would begin sailing from Israel for the first time, with cruises to the Greek Isles and Cyprus on its newest state-of-the-art cruise ship beginning in late May for people holding green passports.
“Royal Caribbean seems to be using Israel as a test case to see whether vaccinated Israelis will feel comfortable traveling,” Feldman said. “And the answer so far is 100% yes. I am getting bombarded with emails from people who want to book. I think this will be a phenomenal success.”
Regarding kosher food options on the cruises, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean said Wednesday that a small portion of the ship’s main dining room, as well as individual restaurants and bistros spread out around the vessel, will offer full kosher food service.