Desperate times call for desperate measures, as Israel’s flag carrier will be operating flights on a Saturday for the first time in over 40 years.
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EL AL’s tradition of not operating flights over Shabbat
Since 1982, EL AL Israel Airlines has had a policy of not operating flights over Shabbat (from Friday evening until Saturday night). When you look at the carrier’s schedule, you’ll always notice a gap of well over 24 hours, as planes on the ground in Israel will stay there, while planes at outstations will simply be parked there for 24+ hours.
It goes without saying that economically and logistically, this is a really challenging policy. Planes don’t make money when they’re parked, so the airline basically has 15% less time than competitors to generate revenue. Given the razor thin margins in the airline industry, that’s a major hit to the carrier’s bottom line.
Furthermore, the logistics are complicated. It’s not just that you can’t schedule flights over Shabbat, but you have to add quite a buffer, to account for any irregular operations. Whether it’s a weather delay, or a maintenance issue, the airline refuses to operate over that period.
In the past, we’ve even seen some EL AL flights divert in order to avoid being in the air over Shabbat. That’s how seriously the airline takes this policy.
EL AL operating Saturday flights from New York & Bangkok
Along those lines, this is going to be quite an unusual weekend for Israel’s largest airline. EL AL has announced that on Friday, October 13, 2023, the airline will operate flights from New York (JFK) and Bangkok (BKK). These flights will be in the air over Shabbat.
These services are specifically being operated for the return of fighters with Order 8 and Security and Rescue Forces. These flights will be free of charge for eligible passengers, and are co-funded by EL AL and American financial institutions.
EL AL emphasizes that it hasn’t flown on a Saturday in over 40 years, and has been worried to preserve this status line. The airline states that these flights are defined as “soul supervision,” and received all the relevant Halacic certifications.
For the first time in 41 years, EL AL will be operating flights over Shabbat. The airline will be operating flights on Friday from New York and Bangkok to Tel Aviv, which violate the carrier’s traditional policies. In this case the airline is offering tickets free of charge to bring reservists back to Israel.