Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing against El Al. I have everything against El Al’s incompetent management, which seemingly has not a clue about how to properly run a viable 21st century airline. Trust me, I’d love nothing more than to be singing El Al’s praises.
I’d like to officially welcome El Al to 1994.
Their business and first class are woefully behind the competition. They have bled out business travelers that aren’t forced to fly on El Al to airlines like Air Canada, Delta, United, and USAirways that have high-quality lie-flat beds in business class.
And how are they doing that?
EL AL is redesigning the look of its seats, enlarging the pitch between rows for the comfort of its Business Class passengers, and upgrading to “Bed Like” seats for a comfortable, more pleasant experience on flights to/from New York (JFK).
Yay. “Bed-like.” While many years ago every other major airline has upgraded their business class to true lie-flat beds, El Al will be making it more “bed-like”
At least 1 plane has been converted and reports are that the new “bed-like” is extremely hard and there’s an awkward gap between the top third and the middle cushion that makes it a literal pain in the back. Plus it’s now harder to climb over your aisle seatmate. Compare that to business class on Delta or USAirways where every seat has direct aisle access. Air Canada is launching 787 Dreamliner service to Israel in a few months and will offer state-of-the-art business class, also with every seat getting direct aisle access. That will leave United as the only other airline not offering all business class passengers direct aisle access, though at least they have true 180 degree flat business class seats.
El Al doesn’t miss the opportunity to say that they offer the only first class service between North America and Israel. The problem with that statement is that their first class seat is not nearly as good as the business class offered by the other airlines.
So what are they proud to announce?
EL AL offers its First Class customers an intimate, newly restyled cabin with a prestigious look. The seats have been redesigned and re-upholstered in a faux leather fabric, bestowing a fresh and elegant look to the seats and to the entire cabin.
They are going to reupholster them in shiny new plastic and hope that people will line up to pay for them! And there’s nothing quite as prestigious as a faux-leather that offers practically no privacy. Just look at all that shiny goodness:
It’s the sorriest looking 3 class international first class I’ve ever seen.
First class is being cut from 12 seats to 8 seats, probably because very few are paying for it anyway. They are also eliminating the first class bathrooms, so now first class passengers can prestigiously make their way into business class to use the bathroom.
Compare that to a real first class on a foreign carrier where they scrub down the entire bathroom after every first class passenger uses it.
Now people will say, but they have the best kosher food in the sky! I’ve got news for you:
1. People paying for business class care about the hard product, getting a good night’s sleep and privacy. The business class on El Al’s competition offers far more privacy and comfortable seating than El Al’s first class. And most offer direct aisle access so that you won’t be woken up in the middle of the night by your seatmate going to use the bathroom for the 5th time.
2. Bring a double wrapped meal from a restaurant or Pomegranate onboard and have the flight attendant heat it up for you and it will be way better than any rubbish served onboard an airplane.
While other airlines invest in actually improving their product so that people will want to pay for it, El Al has put lipstick on a pig. Airlines live and die by their international premium cabin profits. The capital cost of new seats is nothing compared to the revenue gain of business passengers paying for flights. To refurbish an extremely dated cabin so that it still is light years behind the competition. Are you guys kidding me?
Instead El Al is plowing money into a costly venture named “Up” to try to compete with European low-cost carriers. It’s a losing battle as the new airline within an airline has the same high legacy costs that El Al has while they compete against airlines with ultra-low cost structures. Continental (Lite, 93-95), Delta (Song, 03-06), United (Ted 04-09), and USAirways (MetroJet 98-01) have all tried to create airlines to compete with the low-cost carriers and they’ve all failed miserably and shut down. Airlines with high cost structures can’t compete on price with airlines that have ultra-low cost structures. They need to compete on service and product, but seemingly nobody at El Al gets that.
Who in the world is in charge of making terrible decision after terrible decision at this airline?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
1. El Al doesn’t compete on price, service, or product right now. They need to figure out where to excel if they are going to survive.
2. Israel now pays for El Al’s security costs. Now is the time to tackle labor costs head-on. El Al has far too many employees and managers per aircraft that they own, far and beyond the worldwide average. The unions will be the real death of El Al unless they can be tamed.
3. El Al needs to invest in true 180 degree lie-flat seats in business class that have direct aisle access if they want to compete for business class passengers. They ought to ditch First Class just as everyone else already has and focus on making business class something that will sell itself instead of something travel agents push on people because El Al pays top dollar to them to get those seats filled. If you’re going to keep First Class then make it something that people will actually pay for, offering the ultimate in privacy and comfort, not something that is worse than business class on most airlines.
4. The Matmid program needs to be scrubbed and redone from the bottom up. It’s confusing, it’s not rewarding, and it stinks. Hire an executive familiar with loyalty programs and how mileage programs have created billions of dollars of annual revenue for other airlines and make a program that everyone will want to earn miles with.
5. Outgoing CEO Eliezer Shkedi has said that the alliances were being anti-semitic and refused to allow El Al to join. Regardless of the claims veracity El Al can safely forget about alliances as they are slowly becoming things of the past anyway. Create strategic partnerships with more airlines and have it all tied into a new Matmid program that earns real miles like every other network carrier in the world. Ditch annoyance aspects like expiring points even with activity and fuel surcharges, and have robust partner options. People will then be happy to collect El Al miles while banks fill El Al’s coffers with cold hard cash. Airlines like American and United make all of their money from selling miles, the actual flying aspect loses money and exists only to sell more miles to the banks. Perhaps El Al can take a page from their book.
6. The El Al website needs to thrown away and redone from the bottom up as well. How is it possible that the flagship airline of such a high-tech country seems like it was designed as a 4th grade school project from 1994?
7. Hire Gordon Bethune to run your airline and turn it around the way he did for Continental 😀 OK, half kidding here, but seriously, hire someone in the airline industry to run your airline and loyalty program, not ex-military folk with no aviation or business background! El Al’s CEO and CFO are both on their way out, now is the time to make a critically important hire.