Last week, El Al CEO Avigal Soreq announced that he would be stepping down after just 1 year at the helm.
It didn’t take long to replace him. Earlier today, El Al named Dina Ben-Tal Ganacia as the new CEO. She’s El Al’s first female CEO and has been with the airline for 14 years.
It’s a shift in strategy for El Al, which has typically hired Israeli Air Force veterans for the CEO position, like Soreq. He had previously been COO of Delek US and will now return to Delek US to be CEO after his year at El Al.
If I had to pick an airline CEO, I’d go with someone like former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune, or his successor Larry Kellner, to run the airline. Bethune was universally beloved by employees, shareholders, and passengers and his book on how he turned around Continental from a bankrupt basket case to the most respected airline in the industry is eye-opening. Kellner was hand-picked by Bethune and continued that legacy and paid close attention to frequent flyers, though he was forced out when he refused to merge with United, an airline that Bethune once took flak for calling “HIV-positive”.
But while Soreq didn’t have commercial aviation bona-fides, he told me that he was a United 1K and had a Southwest Companion Pass, which he loved. He understood loyalty, maybe we had what to work with. 😀
During his first week on the job last January, Soreq asked me what I thought his top 3 priorities should be. Here is what I told him and much of the same advice still applies today:
- Burn Matmid to the ground and start over.
- Yes, I understand the program makes money in Israel, but with a revamped loyalty program denominated in regular miles and competitive elite status levels, it can make orders of magnitude more money across the globe, as has been demonstrated to the tunes of billions of dollars by many highly successful airlines. I suggested that having someone familiar with US loyalty programs working in tandem with the Israeli team would be a winning combo.
- As part of fixing Matmid, create a US co-brand credit card with a value proposition that makes sense for customers and the airline. Pro tip: This isn’t it.
- Secure a spot in an airline alliance.
- In the past, an El Al CEO once claimed that Anti-Semitic airlines won’t allow El Al into an alliance. The truth is that El Al just needs to have something of value to offer an alliance. In order to accomplish this, the airline needs to lobby the state of Israel to allow for secure transit so that a passenger can fly to Tel Aviv on say, AA or Delta, and seamlessly connect to an El Al flight to the Seychelles without going through Israeli immigration.
- Fix the El Al website.
- It’s embarrassing that the flag carrier for the Start-up nation is woefully behind other airline websites. Passengers should be able to easily change and cancel flights (with waived fees for airline schedule changes) and check live flight status and inbound flight status, and so much more without resorting to trying to reach live help. The website refresh also made it nearly impossible to find saver award tickets, which still needs to be fixed. And that’s ignoring the persistent bugs and error messages.
- Some of the other things I mentioned were:
- Improve customer service and corporate culture to improve brand perception and loyalty.
- Improve mehadrin food offering and make that a reason for people to fly on El Al.
- Create more loyalty partnerships and enable earn and burn capability online.
- Fix the airline’s reliability problems.
- Match US airlines in permanently removing change fees.
- Looking into merging with Arkia. (The ball started rolling on this in October).
- Create a solution for davening onboard. (This is now being trialed).
- Figure out a solution for Charedi seat assignments to avoid a Dr. Dao situation. (A Daf Yomi section?)
- Look into switching the Miami flight to Fort Lauderdale for better access to local market and with additional feed from JetBlue. Plus that avoids competing head to head with dominant American Airlines in Miami.
- Rather than fighting a bruising battle with United in their hometown of Chicago, look into challenging them in the capital with service to more convenient Baltimore compared to Dulles.
- Improve pricing of flights including codeshare to entice people to connect to El Al.
- Look into Thursday evening flight times to avoid Shabbos diversions.
It’s a laundry list of items, but I wish the best of luck to the new CEO in tackling it! What advice would you give the new CEO?