Striking back at El Al

A girl walks into a travel agency. Her agent recognizes her from across the room and calls out, “Wanna book a flight on El Al?”

He’s a funny guy, Illia.

Why on earth would I want to book my flight to Prague on El Al? El Al, along with the other Israeli airlines, has called a strike over the “open skies” proposal. I don’t know whether open skies is a good policy or not, but I do know that declaring a strike – leaving hundreds or thousands of passengers stranded in airports or forced to shell out for extra accommodation abroad – is not a way to attract passengers.

People who say that the journey is more important than reaching the destination must have unlimited travel budgets. For most fliers, the airline trip itself is the price we pay for getting where we want to go quickly. Allow me to repeat – GETTING WHERE WE WANT TO GO. Preferably when we want to go there, and if possible without taking out a second mortgage.

So, no. I have to be in Prague for an event I’ve spent the past six months preparing for. In addition to airfare, I’ve paid my registration fee and reserved a hotel room. Why would I jeopardize that by booking a flight that might or might not take off as scheduled?

It’s no wonder that El Al is in financial trouble. For years, Israel’s national air carrier has buckled under pressure from the haredim to ground its services on Shabbat, limiting options for non-observant travellers. Again, it’s amazingly simple. If an airline wants to maintain its passenger base, it needs to get people where they want to go when they want to go there, at a competitive price.

Every so often haredi leaders come out with belligerent statements that if El Al will not accommodate their needs, they will fly with other airlines. I believe that at one point an idea (or threat) was even floated to establish a special airline for the haredi public, one that would presumably offer to shrink wrap cohenim if the flight passed over a cemetery.

Let them. If El Al escaped the stranglehold of the haredi passenger cartel and operated seven days a week, it would probably make up its lost business and then some. Especially since so many Israelis cite the number of haredi passengers as one of the main reasons they prefer to fly with foreign airlines.

But no matter what El Al has to do to save its business, I have my own matters to attend to. I need to be in Prague on May 10, so I bought a ticket on an airline that isn’t striking. Let’s hope El Al takes the hint.

About the Author
Noga Martin has worked for The Jerusalem Post,, and Ynetnews and is now an editor at a publishing company. She lives in south Tel Aviv and has been blogging for the Times of Israel on a myriad of topics since July 2012.