Australians who may have been apprehensive that the coronavirus might cause President Reuven Rivlin to once again delay his visit to the island continent, can rest easy.
News that El Al had decided to suspend its flights to Hong Kong raised a tremor of alarm among Australian Jews, as the Chinese city is the most frequently used connection route for flights from Israel to Australia and vice versa, with Korea as a second choice – for people who don’t mind staying overnight in Seoul.
But Rivlin is taking another, somewhat longer route for his official visit to Australia in under two weeks’ time.
He is going via Los Angeles and returning via Johannesburg. The flight time for the return journey will be more or less the same as the journey would be via Hong Kong or Bangkok. But the flight to Australia via Los Angeles will entail a much longer flight tim, meaning that the president will be up in the air for about six hours longer than he would have been had he taken the more common route.
Even if he could rearrange his calendar to take El Al’s inaugural direct flight to Melbourne, which will cut flight time by six hours, Rivlin would still disappoint a lot of people, as the prime purpose of his visit to Australia in the last week of February is to launch the United Israel Appeal campaigns in Sydney and Melbourne.
When El Al does land in Melbourne in April, it will not be the first time a plane with Israel’s national insignia will be seen on an Australian tarmac.
When president Chaim Herzog visited in 1986, he took a large delegation with him in an IDF plane that had been painted over with El Al insignia, and which landed in Perth, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Townsville. Herzog, the first Israeli head of state to visit Australia, took a much longer route via Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand on the way there, and Sri Lanka and Kenya on the way home.