Airlines Cancel Flights to Tel Aviv as Fighting Continues; Tourists to Israel Take Wait-and-See Approach

Delta Airlines
Delta Airlines

U.S. tour operators were scrambling to re-book Israel-bound customers Tuesday after three U.S. carriers suspended flights to Tel Aviv over security concerns. But the largest of those operators said there’d been few cancellations on the part of travelers.

“It’s pretty busy today,” said Ilana Apelboim of New York-based Isramworld, which has daily departures to Israel. “We’ve re-booked people, or they’re making alternative plans. A lot of people are calling about future (trips), but most are taking a wait-and-see approach.”

The FAA on Tuesday prohibited U.S. airlines from flying to Tel Aviv’s airport after a rocket landed nearby. Delta, United and US Airways have suspended service. Many travelers were being re-booked on El Al, Israel’s national airline, whose flight schedules are uninterrupted.

A U.S. spokesman for the Israel Ministry of Tourism noted that no European airlines have suspended flights. “Hopefully the situation will be clarified within the next few days,” said tourism spokesman Geoffrey Weill.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department updated its February travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, advising travelers to postpone nonessential travel to Israel and the West Bank and to avoid all travel to Gaza.

Great Britain’s foreign office issued a similar advisory against travel to Gaza and areas in Israel within 25 miles of the Gaza border – which does not include Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Australia and Canada also have issued alerts advising travelers to avoid Gaza.

In the midst of receiving calls from frantic travelers, Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours, an American-owned travel agency in Jerusalem, said the “immediate cessation of services amounts to abandoning hundreds of passengers with little or no notice. Moreover, the airlines have yet to arrange alternative forms of transportation.”

Of the 3.5 million visitors who traveled to Israel last year, 623,000 were Americans — the highest number from any one country.

Those on the ground say that for the most part, it’s business as usual.

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SOURCE: Jayne Clark
USA TODAY