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Late Arrivals Plague El Al

Tzippy Yarom

Who’s holding up Israeli airline flights?

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

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NO TIME TO SPARE Sometimes flight delays can be more than just bothersome: on the Friday after Succos, a late departure from New York meant that passengers landed at Ben Gurion Airport just a few minutes before Shabbos

Every Landing Always Late.

That was the acronym for Israel’s national carrier — once applied jokingly — that today is a little less funny.

Official statistics from FlightStats show that just one third of El Al flights departed on time in September — one of the busiest travel months — ranking the airline dead last among 40 global airlines surveyed.

And even if you’re lucky enough to get off the ground on time, transatlantic flight times have lengthened significantly, making an already arduous trip even more trying. The average El Al flight from Tel Aviv to New York is now 12 ½ hours, up from 11 hours and 50 minutes in 2006.

Considering that the size of the globe has not expanded, there must be another factor at work. In this case, it’s a labor dispute between the airline and its pilots, who are demanding higher pay. A collective bargaining agreement signed between El Al, the pilots, and the Histadrut labor union forbids most strikes and job actions, and the occasional wildcat strikes have usually been settled within a day or two.

But pilots don’t have to strike to disrupt air travel.

All El Al employees are entitled to 30 fully-paid sick days per year. Many pilots have taken advantage of that liberal benefit, forcing the airline to hire replacements who receive up to 230% of the regular wage.

On average, an El Al pilot earns the equivalent of $157,000 a year, while captains can earn as much as $280,000, which is slightly higher than comparable pay for pilots and senior captains at major US airlines.

El Al pilots are entitled to additional pay for flights over 12 hours. Some pilots have admitted to extending flight times from Tel Aviv to New York to earn overtime, plus the additional perk of a seat in business class if they return to Israel as passengers.

During a work dispute in June, El Al filed documents in the National Labor Court reporting that the average pay for an El Al pilot had spiked to 96,756 NIS per month — some 17% higher than the same period last year. It was the second time in a little more than six months that El Al asked the Labor Court to intervene.

After pilots staged a sick-out in December 2015, forcing El Al to reroute passengers on several flights to and from Barcelona, New York, and Brussels, El Al filed a motion against what they called illegal job actions, but in January 2016, the court ruled that El Al had failed to prove their case. Sometimes flight delays can be more than just bothersome On the Friday after Succos, a late departure from New York meant that passengers landed at Ben Gurion Airport just a few minutes before Shabbos. A veteran travel agent tells Mishpacha that she already advises customers not to reserve flights on El Al unless they are nonstop and to be aware that the airline’s customer service is less than responsive, especially when it comes to issues pertaining to connecting flights.

Recently, when El Al changed the scheduling for a flight five weeks before takeoff, one of her customers was left without a connection. El Al claims it gave enough notice, but the ticket had been purchased five months ahead of time and by the time she received the notification, prices for connecting flights had risen significantly. A customer service representative told the travel agent that it was “not [the airline’s] responsibility.”

On other occasions when there are work stoppages, El Al has been unabl

e to find replacement pilots and has been forced to cancel flights altogether or lease planes from foreign airlines, prompting complaints from Hebrew-speaking passengers that they couldn’t communicate with the flight crew. When El Al uses the planes of other carriers, ensuring kashrus can become an issue.

“When I book a flight on American Airlines, I order a kosher meal and get a mehadrin meal,” says Carl Sherer, a US-born attorney who lives in Jerusalem, and is a frequent flyer. “But on El Al connecting flights I get a regular meal. Their claim ‘All our meals are kosher.’ ”

Similar complaints were lodged by other passengers who did not receive mehadrin meals on their flights. They were told by El Al that all meals on the airline are kosher.

El Al’s spokesman for the chareidi community, Aryeh Frankel, told Mishpacha that each such plane El Al uses must have a kashered kitchen and only use crew members trained in understanding how to handle kosher food.

In general, Frankel, says El Al has been hiring more employees for its customer service department, including many chareidi women from Beit Shemesh, Elad, and Kiryat Sefer, but as in any large company, a disruption in one department leads to strains on other divisions.

“It all stems from the sanctions, which result in a flood of calls that even our large customer service department has trouble coping with. Under normal conditions the service is excellent. Perhaps at peak seasons, it is not as evident,” Frankel says.

As for the problems with meals, Frankel says that there is a general problem with the Amadeus system, which is the program El Al and most travel agents use for reservations and flight management. “We are looking for new ways to take care of this and are working with them.”

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