File under: Man bites dog. But is it kosher?

Earlier this week, the Israeli Government approved an Open Skies agreement with the European Union. Under the agreement, the number of flights to and from Israel, as well as the number of destinations is expected to grow, tourism to go up dramatically, and prices to drop over the course of next few years.

So the government actually did something to benefit the middle class. Mmmh. Definitely file under: Man Bites Dog.

 But is it kosher?

A funny thing happened on the way to what I intended would be a serious post on the current airline strike in Israel and the country’s adoption of an Open Skies agreement with the European Union. And what happened is that I turned on the radio and listened to a large amount of so-called experts voicing their opinion on the deal. From within all those voices, a particular  strain stood out: the Airline Blowhard. As soon as news that the government would approve the treaty were reported, legions of Blowhards fanned out the width and length of the spectrum, all of them looking for the opportunity to throw a temper tantrum because the government was going to take away their protected status.

 A sample:

Radio Interviewer: Why are you opposed to Open Skies?

Airline Blowhard: Because it’s a bad agreement. It will hurt the Israeli public.

RI: Really? How is the public hurt by lower prices and more choices?

AB: Open Skies is a bad agreement. It will make it harder for the Israeli companies to operate.

RI: I get it that it’ll make your life more difficult. Until now you’ve enjoyed the benefits of a protected market and you’re about to lose that. But how’s that bad for the public?

AB: This is a bad agreement. We cannot compete like this with the Europeans. I’ll tell you this much, if this agreement goes through, one of the five Israeli airlines will close within a year.”

Translation: Mooooooom! The ref won’t let me cheat! Moooom! Tell them to let me cheat! Mooom! How can I win against the Europeans if I don’t cheat? Mooom!

You don’t get visuals on radio, but I swear that I could hear the interviewer rolling his eyes.

 

So, four years of planning and negotiations and these clowns weren’t aware the agreement was coming? Out of the blue, poof, an Open Skies agreement suddenly drops into their lap. Oh the horror, the horror, the surprise. What are they to do? Well, if you are El Al and have enjoyed a near monopoly and a protected market for much of your existence, the logical reaction is to cry and bitch and moan about it. I mean. How dare the government take your candy away? And that is pretty much what we heard.

You might be thinking: “but that’s management, right? I mean, you’d expect that from the fat cats that got fat off the public’s money. What about labor?”

 As it turns out, labor are a very similar kind of brat. Only these ones can call for a strike and ground Israeli’s puny little civilian fleet any time they feel like it. So while airline management are cry babies, labor are equal parts cry baby, bully, and that sore-loser kid that takes the ball home when the game is no longer going his way. So in order “to protect the Israeli consumer” the first thing that the brats decided to do was to cancel all flights on Israeli airlines, grounding thousands of said consumers. Because clearly the best way to protect consumers is to, you know, screw them.

So what will Open Skies really do? No one knows for sure. But consider this, a flight from London to Tel Aviv (no Open Skies) is twice the price of similar flight from London to Cyprus (with Open Skies). Granted, Cyprus is a little bit closer to London but that’s like saying that a flight on a New York – San Diego route should be twice as expensive as the comparable New York – Los Angeles one.

You could sympathize with the Blowhards if you’re so inclined. That was a difficult, thankless task the had. To go on TV and radio and tell us all that we really should be against this new policy that will make our life better “because… because… well, because we kinda like the fact that we have a protected market, we’re making a lot of money with the way things are, and we’d like to keep it that way. Thank you very much.” That’s a tough gig alright.

So no, no sympathy for the blowhards here. El Al and the other airlines need to take this like grown ups. There’s a whole year before the agreement goes into effect. That’s twelve months for them to learn how to be more efficient, more responsive, give better service, and better value for our money. They can either use that time efficiently, or they can use it to milk the Israeli market for another year, at the end of which Israelis will drop them like the bad habit they are.

I’m not taking bets on what El Al and the others will do with the time they have left.

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Postscript. I wrote the above last night, before the strike ended. Now that it’s ended (after some minor concessions from the Treasury) I would like to change my mind a little. I stand by what I wrote even though it is now clear that ‘labor’ are more of a bully than anything else. This strike was only partially about Open Skies. At a deeper level the strike was about the coming budget fight. Yair Lapid, the Treasury Minister is no great fan of the labor monopoly and I anticipate some mighty clashes in the weeks ahead. The airline strike was just a shot across the bows, just to keep everyone on their toes.