While El Al Idles, United Launches Chicago-Tel Aviv Service; Airlines Smell Blood In The Skies

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El Al operations have been suspended since March 27th. That will come back to haunt them.

Delta and United have been gobbling up market share in El Al’s absence. In fact United will soon fly more flights to Israel than they did pre-pandemic. That’s incredible given that Israel is still not accepting foreign nationals and that United is only flying 33% of its international schedule in October!

In a few hours, United will fly for the first time from Chicago to Tel Aviv. Chicago will be the 4th city with United service to Tel Aviv as United solidifies its dominant US airline position to Tel Aviv. The service is made possible thanks to the 787-9 Dreamliner, a plane designed for long and thin routes like this one.

Ever since the Continental-United merger I’ve been saying that a Chicago-Tel Aviv route would make perfect sense. When I went to a United DO at their headquarters in Chicago’s Willis Tower in 2012 I met with Brian Znotins, who was then VP of United’s network strategy, but has now moved onto American. At the time United only flew from Newark to Tel Aviv and on DDF we had some lively discussions about a United flight from Chicago or San Francisco to Tel Aviv.

He told me that there was a lot of internal debate on that very topic as the revenue guys thought that there was going to be a lot of business class travel between San Francisco and Tel Aviv while the network planning guys think Chicago would make more logical sense as more traffic from across the country can feed into it. He thought the 787-9 would be perfect for secondary cities to Tel Aviv. Of course a 3rd daily flight out of Newark can also make sense as that grabs traffic from NYC as well as the entire country.

In the end, both San Francisco and Washington DC beat out Chicago and El Al announced their intention to fly nonstop between Chicago and Tel Aviv. However COVID-19 pushed off that March route launch and United smartly stole the route and the roughly $850,000 subsidy that comes along with new long-haul routes that have at least 3 weekly flights.

Many people have asked why United is operating the flight from Chicago to Tel Aviv on Monday, Thursday, and Saturdays, not exactly ideal days for Shabbos observant Jews.

United views its Newark flights as targeted to local origin and destination traffic. The Chicago and Washington DC flights don’t have enough origin and destination traffic to support the flights, so they’ll have to rely on connecting traffic. The San Francisco flight also picks up connecting traffic along the west coast.

The Washington DC flight operates to Tel Aviv on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, so having the Chicago to Tel Aviv flight on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday means that passengers connecting from across the country will have the ability to avoid flying through Newark on every day besides Tuesday.

The Tel Aviv to Washington DC flight operates on Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday, so having the Tel Aviv to Chicago flight on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday means that passengers connecting to cities across the country will have the ability to avoid flying through Newark on every day besides Thursday.

United doesn’t think it would make sense to fly from both cities on the same days of the week, but of course if passengers prove them wrong they would be open to changing the schedule. And if the Chicago flights are a success, I’m sure United will make it a daily flight, so locals should definitely try to make the nonstop flight work for them even if the dates are slightly inconvenient.

  • United now flies:
    • 3 weekly flights between Chicago and Tel Aviv.
    • 10 weekly flights between Newark and Tel Aviv in September, moving back to the pre-pandemic 14 weekly flights as of 10/1.
    • 3 weekly flights between Washington DC and Tel Aviv will relaunch starting 10/25.
    • 3 weekly flights between San Francisco and Tel Aviv, moving back to the pre-pandemic 7 weekly flights as of 11/1.

That’s 16 current weekly flights to Tel Aviv that will grow to 27 weekly flights by November. All while El Al, previously known for being Israel’s lifeline, is stuck in neutral and owing passengers more money in refunds than they have available to refund.

In recent years, El Al has tried to deploy their new Dreamliners to fly to more North American cities. If not for COVID-19, they would currently be flying at least 53 weekly flights:

  • 3 weekly flights to Boston
  • 3 weekly flights to Chicago
  • 17 weekly flights to JFK
  • 5 weekly flights to Los Angeles
  • 1 weekly flight to Las Vegas
  • 4 weekly flights to Miami
  • 11 weekly flights to Newark
  • 1 weekly flight to Orlando
  • 3 weekly flights to San Francisco
  • 5 weekly flights to Toronto

But when they do resume flying, El Al will find a very different competitive landscape.

United stole El Al’s thunder from their hometown of Chicago, and El Al would be downright foolish to try to compete there at this point. San Francisco has also been a very tough route for El Al as United’s prized tech mega-hub is located there. The Boston route has also long been troubled. Those routes and routes like Las Vegas and Orlando are probably never coming back.

But worse yet, El Al’s flagship routes are also under attack.

American will fly from JFK and Dallas to Tel Aviv in 2021. Don’t be surprised if they also add Miami-Tel Aviv service as well.

Delta will move to year-round 2 daily flights between JFK and Tel Aviv starting on 12/12/20. And starting on 1/5/21, they will offer business class suites with doors and premium economy seating.

If El Al continues to stay closed, I would not be surprised to see United launch 3 weekly nonstop Los Angeles-Tel Aviv flights.

Virgin Atlantic is flying 3 weekly flights between London and Tel Aviv. They plan to move up to 7 weekly flights starting on October 11th. And they plan on moving to 14 weekly flights starting on March 28th, 2021.

British Airways plans on resuming 14 weekly flights between London and Tel Aviv starting on October 1st, with widebody 777 or 787, and A350 service including business class suites with doors. And they plan on moving to 21 weekly flights starting on March 28th, 2021.

El Al has violated the primary rule in the Middle East, never look weak. American, BA, Delta, United, and Virgin are now all taking advantage of El Al’s weakness. Meanwhile, El Al has illegally held onto their customer’s funds for far too long. Why should their customers trust them in the future?

There’s a bidding war for El Al now and that surprises me. Sure, the airline could be turned around. They can become customer-centric. They can create an exciting new route network and even offer connecting flights, thanks to new overflight permissions. They can create a new competitive mileage program from the ground up that will be more profitable for them and more rewarding for customers. But the problems there seem so entrenched that it will be quite the battle to save the ship.

What is your preferred airline to the holy land?

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65 Comments On "While El Al Idles, United Launches Chicago-Tel Aviv Service; Airlines Smell Blood In The Skies"

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We try to fly El Al for safety concerns.


Overblown. Most airlines have added measures on the TLV flight anyway (e.g. Delta requires you to go through a metal detector and xray machine a 2nd time at the gate).

Also, we found out with the UAE flight that one of the selling points of ElAl (Safety due to missile defense system on all planes) turned out to not be true.

UAE was probably shocked by the landing of a narrow-body plane. “What is this” 🙂


When is United launching MIA-TLV?


American Airlines doing MIA to TLV would be a much better chance. It’s their hub


And that’s just the start of El Al’s problems.

With all the peace agreements unfolding, there’s going to be a lot more quality airline options coming to Ben Gurion. Airlines they can’t compete with.

LY’s TLV-ORD flight serves people in Chicago and Israel. UA’s TLV-ORD flight serves people in Chicago and Israel….. and the 100 other cities that UA fly to from Chicago. They’ll face the same problem going against Etihad and Emirates in the UAE.

Either TLV starts becoming a connecting airport a la DOH, or they will become an airline that transports jews between NYC/LON/CDG and TLV.

One can argue the time has never been better to make that happen because a lot of airports in the region that they couldn’t previously serve will now be an option.


UA all the way


Us Bostonians need our direct flight to Israel. It’s quite obvious that El Al will never fly the route again, but I’d there any chance they’ll keep it going?


How often did you fly that route? Based on friends and colleagues that did, it was almost never even close to full. We also have to see what happens to all the post-docs on the heels of COVID19. There are many Israeli post-docs who packed thier bags as soon as COVID19 hit. This route relied on the strong Boston medical, education, and tech markets. If that doesn’t come back strong, there’s no chance anyone would attempt such a route, especially given the proximity to NYC. Pre COVID19 there were about 80 daily flights BOS-NYC including 20 on B6 and DL each. It made connecting in NYC too easy.


I’ve been on this route many times. J was always packed, and it’s the only time where they offered me to downgrade to Y.

As you said this was pre-Covid. Without business traffic I don’t see the point


How much do you think United is willing to float on these new/resumed routes, as Israel doesn’t seem to be in a rush to reopen borders anytime soon?

Dan\'s the Man

I think El Al needs totally new thinking. I think they need to work with Israeli government to set a new transit section at Ben Gurion airport. El Al never was able to do transit passengers because of 2 main reasons: 1. Security: El Al has extensive security needs including interviewing all passengers at check-in. 2. Lack of good transit options.

By creating a “sterile” transit area there would be no need for transit passengers to be screened at all at Ben Gurion. These passengers already were screened at their origin airport by El Al / Israeli security. I’m talking about a whole transit terminal including good shops, restaurants, kid’s play areas, hotels. They can even market Israel “stopovers” with touring. Obviously if the passengers leave the airport they would need to be re-screened but their checked luggage wouldn’t need to be. They can set up an express re-check-in area at Ben Gurion. For someone who has never been to Israel even going for a 8-12 hours stopover they can get a decent quick tour of Jerusalem.

Now that El Al has flyover rights they can market and actually pull off good transit options. For people traveling to countries without many (or any) good non-stop connections El Al can offer offer competitive fares. People flying from the US to Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey, many Eastern European countries, even India and Italy can be good options. Even routes that seem to be “out of the way”. Aereoflot, for example, offers good fares on people flying from the US to Western Europe and many passengers fly via Moscow in order to save some money. Not to mention the connections possible for passenger originating in Europe. If El Al would fill up their planes (even at lower fares) they can increase their bottom line. Obviously this is all predicated on the fact that El Al needs to massively slash costs.

Yes, El Al needs to get ride of Matmid and start a new plan from scratch. Even get rid of the Matmind name/brand. Hire Dan as a consultant. Have him introduce El Al to Chase, and get a good El Al credit card with transfer program from Ultimate Rewards.

Dan\'s the Man

Also forgot to mention if peace deals with more African countries come they can be a great connection to certain African countries.


It look like ELAL’s best bet is to become ISRAEL’S FLAG CARGO AIRLINE


I know a lot of older folk who only fly EL AL to Israel, no matter what the price or circumstance is. And these are paying customers, not miles/points.
Always surprises me, but each has their reason: Safety, giving business to Israel etc. (especially when neither applies….)


But if EL AL doesn’t fly?


UNITED has a flight on Monday, Sept 28 which is Yom Kippur. The next flight is Thursday arrives Friday afternoon. Who at United is making these decisions? They are excluding a large segment of the religious / observant population, especially on Yom Kippur?? So instead of direct , I have to connect in Toronto waiting over 4 hours on Tuesday, Sept 29th. At least I could book the direct return on a Monday 1:00 am flight.


You’re obviously missing something here. UA is flying Tuesday & Wednesday…


Wait until Emirates airlines enters the theater.
Their service is superb.
Everybody will love them.


No! The elderly and Zionist die-hards will continue to support an overpriced disgusting local airline, El Al, despite the fact that better options have been around for some time and that much better options look like being on the horizon. I have never understood how the frum community can support a Jewish owned mechalel Shabbos airline unless there is a clear need to do so, such as a route only LY flies or at times that are genuinely the only ones that work. There are then established heterim but otherwise ……


Real question is, when will United fly JFK-TLV. Now thats a punch that EL AL may not be able to recover from


The same chance that United will fly JFK to FLL, LAX, or ORD. They aren’t doing any business at JFK


What are the chances of a TLV-LAX route? And how soon would you expect it to start?

Maier Solomon

“and the roughly $850,000 subsidy that comes along ”
Who’s subsidies? And why?


When will a airline have a first class like Lufthansa Air France or Swiss to isreal !!! If elal will do a nice first class like Air France just 4 seats that will be great


Dan – What’s the chance that El Al would be able to join an alliance now? This could help them remain an important cog if they do focus on transit and they would be able to have better code share options for their benefit.


Is any airline considering flying out of Philadelphia?


Air Canada had been my preferred airline for a number of years, coming from Baltimore, Dulles, or Reagan. After flying nonstop IAD-TLV on United, there is no comparison. Best flight ever in many ways. Price, convenience, friendliness of staff. It was an absolute pleasure.


What is a “thin” route?


A route that doesnt have that much demand for it. Less people


Do you think AA will reinstate PHL/TLV (as a feeder), given the new JFK/TLV route?