The High Holy Days travel season began yesterday; before it's over, less than one month from now, some 1.2 million people will have pushed and shoved through check-in and passport control and vied for seats in airport lounges and restaurants en route to their flights, the Israel Airports Authority estimates.

The number, which includes all the travelers passing through Ben-Gurion International Airport between September 13 and October 11, marks a 10% increase over the holiday period in 2011, the authority said.

Yesterday the "air convoy" of Bratslav Hasidim heading for the Ukrainian city of Uman, the burial place of sect founder Nachman of Bratslav was launched. Around 8,000 Hasidim and others boarded 48 flights, the first of about 130 that are expected to carry an estimated 20,000 Hasidim to Uman before the start of the Rosh Hashanah holiday at sunset on Sunday. Ninety of the flights are chartered, while the remainder are on scheduled carriers.

Airport officials estimated that some 68,600 people passed through its gates yesterday, of whom 36,400 were departing passengers. About 425 flights were scheduled, 200 of them outgoing and the rest incoming, officials said.

On Wednesday thousands of passengers were affected by a slowdown declared by airport employees to protest what they say was foot-dragging by the treasury in approving a new contract that was agreed on two weeks ago.

Yesterday's passenger numbers was expected to be a record for the year but the airport will remain very busy throughout the next few weeks. Over the holiday period some 7,700 flights will land at or take off from Ben-Gurion airport. The most popular destinations are Greece, Italy, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Ben-Gurion airport will close for Yom Kippur at 1 P.M. on September 25, at which time Israeli airspace will also be closed. The final incoming and departing flights are scheduled for 12:25 P.M. and 12:55 P.M. that day, respectively. The airspace above the airport will reopen at 9 P.M. the following night, with the first outgoing flight scheduled for 10:30 P.M., the airports authority said.

The authority said it was increasing staffing to cope with the heavy holiday traffic. Passengers are advised to check the agency's website, http://www.iaa.gov.il/TLVFlights/ for schedule changes.