Update: The flight has landed and passengers have entered Israel without issue. However, Israel is emailing vaccinated passengers that arrived today that they will need to quarantine for 3 days followed by another PCR test to leave quarantine. That requirement wasn’t disclosed until landing.
And for now, we wait for when Israel will open again…
Originally posted on 11/28:
Some countries make decisions with advance notice and time for everyone to get on the same page.
Israel is known as startup nation and they have the same “move fast and break things” philosophy when it comes to decision making. Rules are made on the fly, websites are rarely updated in a timely manner, and partners don’t always get the memo.
Israel decided to close to foreign nationals last night and there was lots of confusion in the wake of that decision. What would happen to student visa holders? Did people need to arrive in Israel before 11:59pm Sunday, depart for Israel by 11:59pm Sunday Israel time, or depart for Israel by 11:59pm Sunday local time? Those were all unknown factors last night.
Chaim V’Chessed and Amudim reported this morning that the requirement would be that flights need to depart by 11:59pm local time, before walking that back with a correction that flights would have to depart by 11:59pm Israel time. El Al in JFK also confirmed to me that all flights from NYC would not be able to accommodate foreign nationals as they departed after 11:59pm Israel time. However El Al was changing their Los Angeles flight time from 2pm to 1:55pm to beat that deadline.
But then an El Al executive tipped me off that Israel would be changing the deadline from 11:59pm Israel time to 7:59am Monday Israel time-but only as an exemption for flights from North America to allow for Sunday evening departures. Chaim V’Chessed and Amudim later confirmed that change.
That memo was supposed to go out to all of the airlines flying from North America to Israel, but especially on a holiday weekend, things don’t always go as planned.
Foreign nationals had no problems checking in for Delta, El Al, and United flights, but passengers trying to checkin on American at JFK were told that foreign nationals would not be flying on American tonight.
Without any information published on Israeli government websites, American was not budging.
DDF member and travel agent yandmk alerted me at 8:50pm about the situation unfolding at JFK, with long lines of people arguing with American to be allowed to checkin.
I still have PTSD of dealing with American in JFK and it’s one of a long line of reasons that American is not my top choice of airlines. And I haven’t even gotten around to writing about my nightmare experience on American stranding me overnight yet again earlier this year.
I reached out to Chaim V’Chessed and they confirmed that American has been very slow to get current rules and this was far from the first time that they were an outlier in getting the correct information. They suggested that passengers insist that American call Israeli immigration to get the updated information.
I reached out to a local Cleveland travel agent and DDF admin, Chaikel, who recently met up with American in NYC. The airline is actively working to better serve the Frum Community in order to expand their Tel Aviv market share and wanted to learn more about what they could do and what passengers are looking for. Chaikel reached out to Lourdes Nunez, American’s Eastern Division Sales Manager, to see if she could intervene with the unfolding situation at JFK.
American asked for anything official that was published by Israel, but that didn’t exist and unsurprisingly they didn’t want to make any decisions based on posts on Chaim V’Chessed or DansDeals.
When asked why Delta, El Al, and United were allowing foreign nationals to board, the response was that those airlines will be fined, but American isn’t going to make any exceptions. The JFK station manager was not going to give in based on other airlines and they weren’t able to make contact with anyone official in Israel.
Was American really willing to burn bridges with travel agents and passengers on a critical last flight for foreign nationals to get to Israel?
But just then, yandmk wrote to me that American in Miami had allowed foreign nationals to board their evening departure to Tel Aviv. Surely they must know something that JFK could rely on?
Chaikel got ahold of Ralph Susca, American’s District Sales Manager late at night on a holiday weekend and got the ball rolling with the Miami angle. The JFK station was insisting that they wouldn’t board passengers, but American’s managers and Miami station were waking up their higher-ups up to get authorization to overrule the JFK decision and allow passengers to checkin before it was too late.
It was made clear to the JFK station that if they continued to refuse checkin to foreign nationals, and it turned out that they were mistaken, that heads would roll.
And sure enough, at 10pm tonight, just over an hour after he first contacted me, yandmk sent me the good news from his travel agent group. JFK agents had just announced to the waiting passengers that they would be allowed to checkin for the flight to Tel Aviv!
Chaikel apologized to his contacts for taking up their holiday weekend, but they insisted that there was no need to apologize at all. Had he not reached they would not have known about the situation and would not have been able to throw their weight into resolving the situation.
I have to say, I didn’t think this story would have a happy ending, but I’m happy to have done my part. Kudos to yandmk for the heads up, Amudim and Chaim V’Chessed for their help, Chaikel for his help and contacts, and American for doing the right thing and taking care of their passengers!
Or as yandmk wrote to me at the end of this, נס חנוכה! It’s a Chanukah miracle!
Nesiah tova to the passengers, hopefully there are no issues when everyone on tonights flights arrive in Israel tomorrow!