The Travel Adviser: Mad as hell about flight safety in Israel

If it's really in "a catastrophic state," we shouldn't be waiting 90 days - something should be done now!

Ben Gurion 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Ben Gurion 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In the film Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky, Howard Beale shouts out: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." While his rant was principally directed at a US television network slated to be purchased by a Saudi Arabian conglomerate, the diatribe resonated strongly with me whilst reading two recent news releases. After the last on-site inspection of Ben-Gurion Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration stated that our international airport suffers from serious flight-safety shortcomings. It went on to cite Israel's especially crowded airspace as a serious safety concern. The subcommittee's final report will be made available in 90 days and could have serious ramifications for flights that Israeli airlines are permitted to make to the United States. This vital piece of information was barely reported amidst all the other security and political news affecting our region and smack in the middle of a US presidential campaign. Surely, though, the Transportation Authority took the report, not even couched in diplomatic niceties, under immediate consideration. We're talking about the security of both our citizens and the millions of tourists who visit Israel every single year. Not a chance! The curt reply was simply that "the Authority will deal with the findings of the full FAA report when it is issued in 90 days." You might remember that a public committee headed by the former head of the Israel Air Force, Amos Lapidot, issued stern findings over a year ago highlighting severe shortcomings in flight safety at Israeli airports. His committee went so far as to state that aviation safety in Israel is in a "catastrophic state." Back in August of 2007, his report declared that civilian flights are highly unsafe. "Ben-Gurion Airport suffers from a list of deficiencies and handicaps," it said, and called on the government to "take the necessary steps to address the problem." Lapidot faulted decades of neglect, saying "they were responsible for the problems that Israeli aviation is facing today." Listing dozens of remedies to this chaotic condition, his findings too were ignored by the government. In fact, three months ago, Lapidot resigned from his post as head of the committee as the government would not implement his recommendations. I shudder to think what disaster needs to occur to get the relevant government bodies to take up their responsibility and make the changes so obviously needed to solve this situation. We're not discussing very complex issues here; the paramount role of any government is first and foremost to protect the security of its citizens. I beseech our civil servants and politicians to stop warming their cushy seats and get mad as hell. My second bone of contention is the abuse thrown at the travelling public with respect to travel agents and airlines charging an extra "fuel levy" after plane tickets have been reserved and paid for. This abusive behavior has been noted by the Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry, which has warned of its illegality. I have no problem with airlines raising their fares on an almost daily basis due to myriad factors. Be it the price of fuel or a weak currency, airlines are free to set the price of their commodity. "Buyer beware" has always been my motto and in an unfettered free market, consumers are usually wise enough not to be taken advantage of. Let's be very clear how it should work. You do your research for your trip, decide how you wish to fly, investigate all of your options and make an informed decision. You confirm your itinerary with your travel agent, receive a final price quote and pay the travel agent. No different from purchasing any other commodity. Once the transaction is completed, you should receive what you purchased. Be it an electronic ticket or some other document, once you have paid in full for the services, no travel agency or airline has the legal right to ask for more money. If the travel agent or the airline chooses not to issue your ticket, the entire risk of a price increase falls upon them. If they chose to invest your money in oil futures or buy a flat screen TV, it's their choice. And at their risk! That the Israeli Consumer Council has received dozens of complaints from passengers just highlights the absurdity. That any travel agency would attempt to gamble with their passengers' money strikes me as ethically wrong. That any airline would try to pass on its latest fuel increase to a gullible public who have already purchased their tickets, borders on criminal. Expecting the relevant government authority to step forward and offer you protection is not some naïve hope. Hold firm to your beliefs and tell any such offender exactly how you feel. Trust me, your voice will be heard. Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments e-mail him at