Note: DDF member thaber recently flew to Israel under the first degree relative exemption and offered to share this trip report for the benefit of other DansDeals readers. Here is his Trip Report, in his own words:
As soon as there was a possibility for foreign entry to Israel we began discussing the potential of attending a family Bar Mitzvah the week of Parshas Emor, which until then had not even been on the table.
I emailed the Consulate General of Israel – New York Consular.Services@newyork.mfa.gov.il with all the details of who was traveling (at the time, five of us) and how we are related to my wife’s sister who is a citizen and was making the bar mitzvah. [Important to note that the first-degree relative is important, the bar mitzvah is not].
I received a reply on 4/7 detailing the new and more arduous regulations that went into place that day. Hesitant to spend money without having an Ishur (permit) I filled in TBD for the flight information, and submitted it for all of us. The regulations specified one pdf per person, less than 5 MB, so I sent 5 PDF attachments all filled out on 4/11/21.
The Consulate (coming from that same email address throughout) replied that they need all the PDFs for all the travelers in one PDF, less than 5 MB. This is an image heavy PDF, but they recommended using ilovepdf.com to shrink it down, which was a funny thing to hear from a government official. So I combined them all, shrunk them and resubmitted on 4/12.
On 4/13 they responded that we are missing travel insurance and flight info. Yaacov Hoffinger of Elyon Travel sent us to www.travelexinsurance.com who was able to give us the insurance, and a letter stating that we are covered in Israel for Corona, which is what was required. Yaacov also gave us reservations for our dates. At this point, two of our travelers dropped out, so we were down to three travelers. Two flying from LAX and one from NYC.
I resubmitted on the afternoon of 4/14 with everything. All of a sudden, the response time slowed down, and no word from the consulate. This was presumably due to Yom Hashoah, Yom haatzmaut and a Lag Baomer influx.
In the meantime, there was talk on DDF of people in Israel being successful getting the Ishur at the Misrad Hapnim in Israel from 8-10 am. So my sister in law went there on 4/21. But of course on Wednesdays they don’t process them…
On the afternoon EST of 4/21 the NY Consulate finally answered, and said they needed my birth certificate to show I am a first degree relative to the person in Israel. Frustrated, I shot back an email saying that I am the spouse of the first degree relative, and he had the marriage certificate that showed that.
On 4/22, my sister-in-law went back to the Misrad Hapnim. After four hours in line, they processed her and gave her the ishur! We were in business!
At 4:30am EST I received an email with the Ishur from the NY consulate, but from a different person, whose title indicated a superior position. We were not and are not sure if this was because of the Israeli intervention, or randomly simultaneous. The email also contained links for the forms to fill out prior to departure. The links and forms were somewhat glitchy, but we got that done.
I did receive another email from the original contact at the consulate, later on 4/22, saying that our application was submitted and we’d receive a response within 7 days (for a 4/26 departure). I still have not heard back.
So with two sets of Ishurs in hand, we were ready to go!
We took a PCR test at the brand new testing center that opened last week in the LAX International Terminal. The appointment was made online in advance here, and there was no line. It’s located across from the El AL counter and is different than the site that’s been outside for the last while. They guarantee results within an hour, and we had a 10am appointment. No one else seemed to know about this yet and there was no one there. The charge was $200 per person prepaid when you make the appointment.
The flight was at 1:30pm, there was a small line at the check in, I went over to confirm they’d be ok with results via email (that’s the only way they give them) and walked around a bit. Got results at about 10:50am, and came back to a zoo. On the business class line, we had a humbling 55 minute wait. There is a lot of yelling, crying, screaming and such from people who do not have the right PCR test, right paperwork, and so on.
We finally got to the front, where we happened to have a manager process us, I’m pretty sure the pre check in security also checked passports, they took them and brought them back. Generally, the check in person was distracted, glanced at the ishur, glanced at one of the PCR tests on my phone, he had no idea they were testing across the way, so he was excited about that, and handed over boarding passes.
We went to the regular security line as El Al does not recognize precheck (humbled again). One of our passports was not dinging right, So I went back down, got a new boarding pass from the same guy, and all good.
The lounges in Tom Bradley International Terminal in LAX are all closed. The AA flagship in terminal 4 just reopened, I was there last week and definitely wasn’t worth the airside walk. There was oddly no boarding call, we just noticed everyone going on the flight so we did too, and rearranged seats fairly easily to be next to each other. The flight was very full, the staff was very kind, and we finally took off an hour late for unknown security reasons, and had an uneventful flight.
General word for the religious traveler – when flying direct from the West Coast to TLV (LAX, LAS, SFO) your window to daven Shachris is very small, and on the Dreamliner, where they dim the windows, can be easily missed. Myzmanim has a great tool to help with knowing when to daven).
14 hours later, we landed, taxied, and deplaned. They do biometric passport upstairs in the arrival walkway, and no more crazy passport lines. (Hopefully this is permanent!)
My wife’s scanned, mine did not, there were two agents set up next to the biometric passport machine and they processed mine.
The biometric machine spits out an entry visa. Depending on how well you filled out your pre admission paperwork online, as well as other criteria, it either allows you to proceed to luggage, or to some tables set up in the hallway where they were reviewing quarantine paperwork. Again, minimal line and quick.
Then luggage and customs, as usual, and then you are routed to a huge tent right outside where you get your Covid test. If you made an appointment with check2fly.co.il (Dan’s Note: Readers have reported getting this test for free with code: FREE1) then it goes really quick, they scan the QR code you were given, send you over to a tester who does a cheek then nasal swab (same swab for cheek then nasal, and twice, one for each nostril), and you get a bracelet that lets you out of the airport.
Getting tested in TLV:
We had prearranged for antibody testing at the airport, which is hit or miss depending on the airport regulations of the day, and pretty strange, but she was waiting for us by the taxi stand, sat on a bench, rolled up our sleeves, and we were done pretty quickly and smoothly. Company is called Tenecare, you can Whatsapp them at +972 52-354-7650 or email email@example.com
Antibody test by the TLV taxi stand:
Start to finish, it was under an hour from touchdown to getting in the car. The process felt smoother and easier than Pre Covid arrival in Ben Gurion, and we were very impressed and pleased!
It was already 2:30pm by the time we did the antibody test, at 9pm we got a text message that the corona test was negative and at 4am we got a text message that we were out of quarantine. At 8:30 am (when their office opened) tenecare sent us the official record of the same.
Our third traveler was flying from NY, had a similarly smooth experience. She had her test done in Jerusalem by Ayala, who gets same day results if the test is before 12:30pm. She had her test at about 12pm, and was out of quarantine before 3pm! Ayala’s contact is +972 52-690-0576
I tried to apply for a green passport, but does not seem to work without a kupat cholim account.
On Motzai Shabbos we checked into the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. To get into the building (guest or not) they ask for a green passport. Showing an antibody test result from Israel was fine, and once they recognized us, they didn’t ask for it again. The rest of check-in was a breeze, status was acknowledged, and upgrades given.
Have you flown to Israel since the borders have opened, what was your experience?