EXPLAINER

Are airlines returning to Israel, despite the war on Gaza?

The number of airlines flying into the country has crawled back up to 45, from a low of just seven in December.

El Al Israel Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel in 2020 [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]Published On 28 Feb 202428 Feb 2024

Almost as soon as Israel’s war on Gaza broke out on October 7, many airlines suspended or cancelled their flights to Israel.

Last week, Yossi Fattal, director general of Israel’s Chamber of Inbound Tourism Organisers, complained that Israel had become isolated – “like North Korea” – as dozens of airlines remained reluctant to fly there.

Keep reading

list of 4 itemslist 2 of 4

Iran says Israel behind attacks on gas pipelines

end of list

The war has significantly affected Israeli tourism and flights. Yet, things are beginning to change.

The entrance hall at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel, on December 25, 2023 [Alexi J Rosenfeld/Getty Images]

Which airlines have resumed flights to Israel?

United Airlines announced on Wednesday last week that it will begin flights to Israel again from March, becoming the first United States carrier to resume flights after suspensions at the start of the war.

United plans initial flights to Tel Aviv from New York and New Jersey in the US on March 2 and 4, with a goal of having daily non-stop service restored from March 6. The carrier said in a news release that it had undertaken a detailed safety analysis before making this decision.

British Airways, which used to operate two flights between the United Kingdom and Israel daily, will resume operations on April 1, operating one flight daily for four days a week.

German airline Lufthansa, Switzerland’s flag carrier Swiss and Austrian flag carrier Austrian Airlines resumed flights to Tel Aviv on January 8. Meanwhile, Spanish airline Air Europa resumed flights to Tel Aviv on February 19. The Greek and French flag carriers, Aegean and Air France, both restarted flights to Tel Aviv in January.

Italy’s ITA Airways will resume flights between Tel Aviv and Rome from March 1, starting with three return trips weekly.

Brussels Airlines, the Belgian carrier, also announced on Wednesday last week that it will resume flights from March 24, with three flights per week from Brussels to Tel Aviv.

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) also announced that the US-based Delta Air Lines will resume flights to Israel in May. Delta has not officially confirmed this yet, but the last update from the carrier said that flights will be suspended between New York and Israel until April 30.

Still, that’s only a fraction of the flights Israel used to attract before the war.

An El Al aircraft rests on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in December 2021. El Al was one of only seven carriers operating into Israel in December last year [Maya Alleruzzo/AP]

Which airlines do not plan to resume flights to Israel any time soon?

American Airlines has halted flights until October 28. Emirates, Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines have also suspended flights to Israel until further notice.

TAP Air Portugal has suspended flights to and from Tel Aviv indefinitely, while Finland’s flag carrier, Finnair, announced it had cancelled its flights to Tel Aviv until October 29. Icelandair has cancelled flights to Tel Aviv, without any further update on its website.

Bulgaria Air cancelled all flights to and from Tel Aviv, also without providing details about a timeline to restart operations.

How has the war affected air travel in Israel?

The number of international travellers arriving in Israel by air rose from 19.2 million in 2022 to 21.1 million in 2023, the IAA reported on January 21.

In November 2023, however, the number of aircraft arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport was 68 percent lower than the same month the year before.

Fattal said that while 250 airlines had been operating in and out of Israel before October 7, the number dipped to just seven last December. It has since crawled back up to 45.

In the three-month period from October 7, 900,000 tourists had been expected to visit Israel. However, the Israeli daily Calcalist reported that only 190,000 people had actually visited.

Prior to October 7, more than 300,000 people visited Israel every month. In November 2023, that figure reportedly dropped to 39,000.

The number of travellers using Ben Gurion airport in November 2023 was 78 percent lower than in November 2022.

The tourism industry in Israel accounted for 2.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, before falling to 1.1 percent in 2021. Both foreign and domestic tourism in Israel have flatlined since the start of the war.

Which airlines have continued to fly to Israel throughout the war?

In December, when only seven carriers were flying to Israel, around 80 percent of passengers were carried by Israel’s national carrier, El Al, followed by smaller Israeli carrier Israir at 10 percent and FlyDubai at 3.2 percent.

With almost all airlines suspending and cancelling flights after October 7, El Al saw a 32.5 percent rise in passenger numbers to 5.5 million for 2023 at Ben Gurion airport, which has continued to operate throughout the war.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies