At 3am this morning I got messages from several readers about a sudden IAA (Israel Airports Authority) strike that threatened to halt outbound and inbound traffic. The IAA wanted a firm date when Israel would allow foreigners back into the country, but with COVID-19 cases there spiking, that seems unlikely anytime soon.
I quickly took a look and saw an Air Canada flight 80 from Toronto had just landed, but the strike potentially threatened United flight 90 from Newark, El Al flight 14 from JFK, and El Al flight 108 from Los Angeles that were due to land Friday afternoon.
I suspected that the timing was an IAA ploy. Threatening to divert multiple planes from the US on a Friday would be a PR nightmare for Israel.
But I know that lots of Sabbath observant Jews were on those flights. In fact if you want a nonstop from LA to Tel Aviv this month, El Al’s only option is on Thursday arriving some 4.5 hours before Shabbos. El Al has also made Thursday flights from JFK a priority.
Don’t get me wrong, I get that it’s convenient to fly to the US on a Saturday evening and have a full work week before flying back to Israel for Shabbos.
But today’s passengers could have easily wound up being dumped in another country and being put into quarantine upon arrival.
A couple of years ago I implored religious Jews to rethink taking flights close to Shabbos after several El Al Thursday night diversions and late arrivals. Passengers think they can just get off the plane in case of a delay, but I’ve been forced to fly after long tarmac delays.
An El Al pilot even once lied to passengers about returning to the terminal before taking off and being forced to divert to Athens for Shabbos. That was done so the company would be able to fly the plane back to Israel on Shabbos and then operate its Saturday evening flight back to NYC. Going on a Thursday evening flight to Israel certainly increases your odds of being diverted.
Today’s close call is just another reminder of the risks you take by choosing a flight arriving in Israel on a Friday.
Do you take Thursday evening flights to Israel?