Tourist tip #139 / Israel's airport: Be clever, plan ahead
Do consider travel times to and from the airport in calculating your costs; don't assume the airport will be conveniently empty at 3 A.M.
The process of processing at the main Israeli airport isn't entirely predictable. You may glide through Ben Gurion International Airport's customs on the way in with just a question or two, if any, but undergo a downright interrogation on the way out. You may confidently assume nobody would possibly be at the airport to check-in at 3 A.M. only to show up to one of the most crowded and chaotic departure halls you’ve ever seen and barely make your flight (true story).
So it's best to allow plenty of time to negotiate the unknowns when it’s time to fly home. And who couldn’t use more time in Duty Free anyway?
Then there's the issue of getting to and from the airport: not all cities are created equal. "Sheruts" – public taxis that seat 10 people – depart from Ben Gurion Airport 24/7 to Haifa and Jerusalem but are not an option for those heading to Tel Aviv. Tourists heading in that direction have the option to grab a quick, easy and inexpensive train into town (see Tourist Tip #5) or pay up for a cab, which can run about NIS 150-170 depending on how many people and how much baggage you bring (physical baggage, that is).
Prices go up on Shabbat because, well, you have no other choice.
While the train is a great option, pay close attention to running times. Service stops between about midnight and 5:30 A.M. and trains don’t run on Shabbat. So if you arrive on a Saturday and have to check-in at 3 A.M. when you leave, you’ve just added about $100 to what you thought was a bargain plane ticket (true story).
Cabs beyond Tel Aviv will be mightily expensive (upwards of NIS 250+), which is why the sheruts exists, some of which will even pick you up at your home or hotel if you call ahead. Cost is about NIS 60 per person and, because they pick up several people along the way, you may be given a pick-up time much earlier than you expect.
Why start or end your visit on a stressful note? Plan your transportation ahead and aim to get to the airport three hours before your flight, just to be safe. Bring a book, grab a coffee, relax in Ben Gurion’s impressive departure hall and have a safe flight.