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El Al will be decreasing its number of flight attendants in order to economize. That's just one of the steps the airline, privatized in 2003, is taking to cope with its sorry financial condition. The company reported an operating loss of $23 million for the second quarter, compared with an operating profit of $25 million a year earlier.

On flights of less than four hours, El Al plans to cut back one flight attendant in coach class, from three to two. It won't be changing staffing levels for business class, which on short flights is served by only one attendant anyway.

On flights lasting more than four hours such as the Tel Aviv-London route, two attendants will be cut from coach, from six to four. Again business class won't be touched; that service gets to keep its two flight attendants.

Labor representatives voiced outrage yesterday. Yossi Levy, head of the El Al trade union, admitted that the cutbacks don't actually violate the collective employment agreement covering the workers, but argued that service to passengers will suffer. Passengers will wait longer to get their meals and could even wind up - hold onto your seat - with cold food.

"Who'd want to continue flying with an airline that serves tasteless food?" Levy asked.