Passengers waiting at Ben-Gurion airport
Employees delayed flights and grounded passengers at Israel's major airport to pressure the Finance Ministry to approve a new labor agreement. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Airport Authority employees launched unexpected labor sanctions yesterday that disrupted takeoffs from Ben-Gurion Airport into the evening and complicated travel plans for thousands of passengers.

Airport authority employees staged the action over what they call the Finance Ministry's foot-dragging in approving an agreement reached two weeks ago. That deal would boost salaries and address the complaints of low-level veteran staff who say the pay scale contains discriminatory distortions.

For its part, the Israel Airports Authority said it was in intensive talks with the Finance Ministry to resolve the crisis, adding that a situation room had been opened to monitor developments.

Separate from the wage dispute, airport authority employees received an installment in their September salaries on a productivity bonus due to the airport's increased traffic. The second installment is to be paid at the end of 2012, based on the number of flights and passengers at the airport this year.

About 1.21 million passengers are expected to pass through the airport over the fall Jewish holiday season on arriving or departing international flights, the airport authority says. Between September 13 and October 11, the airport is expected to see some 7,700 takeoffs and landings.

One of the peak travel days is expected tomorrow with 65,800 departing or arriving passengers. On September 25, as the country shuts down for Yom Kippur, Israel's airspace is scheduled to close at 1 P.M., with the last departing flight expected at 12:55 P.M. and the last landing at 12:25 P.M.

The country's airspace will reopen at 9 P.M. a day later. The first departing flight is scheduled for 10:30 P.M.