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?