Israeli Supreme Court Backs El Al in Ruling on Cancellation Fees

Online buyers of multiple tickets will have to pay a penalty on each ticket after a cancellation

Travelers at Ben-Gurion Airport, 2016.
Travelers at Ben-Gurion Airport, 2016. Kobi Gideon / GPO

Airlines are entitled to charge customers cancellation fees on each ticket if a number of tickets were bought in a single sale in a non-face-to-face transaction, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The decision, which required the court to interpret a provision of the consumer protection law, came in the rehearing of the case before an expanded panel of seven justices. The wider panel upheld the decision by a Supreme Court panel of three justices.

Tuesday’s decision was a unanimous one in the panel headed by Justice Salim Joubran.

On the broader question of whether the same rule should apply to industries outside the airline sector, Joubran was willing to apply it, but other justices decided against a blanket rule and said the matter had to be judged on the individual circumstances.

The case began with a lawsuit filed by a lawyer, Lior Tzemah, who had ordered two tickets online for a round-trip flight to Berlin on El Al Israel Airlines. The following day he reconsidered and sought to cancel.

El Al told him he had to pay a $27 cancellation fee on each of the two tickets. Tzemah filed suit in the Haifa District Court claiming that treating his reservation as two separate tickets was artificial and that it should simply be viewed as a single transaction.

The district court accepted El Al’s position that it could sustain separate losses as a result of the cancellation of more than one reservation. The court also ruled that an airline ticket should be viewed as the airline’s commitment to provide service to each individual passenger, and therefore the sale of each ticket should be viewed as a separate transaction.

After Tzemah appealed to the Supreme Court, the panel of three justices ruled in the airline’s favor, a decision that the expanded panel has now confirmed.