El Al Losing NIS 1M Daily Over Conflict With Haredim

The crisis that broke out between the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) and El Al two weeks ago is beginning to affect the company. An El Al source said yesterday that the company estimates it is losing NIS 1 million per day, which may worsen if the ultra-Orthodox community declares an official boycott of the carrier.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to minimize its losses with a more energetic marketing campaign among the secular public, with emphasis on weekend packages for couples. Haaretz has learned that the airline alloted 3,500 tickets for the special offers aimed at secular couples interested in a weekend vacation abroad.

A Wednesday meeting between El Al CEO Haim Romano and the rabbinic committee on safeguarding Shabbat did not bring a solution any closer.

The crisis erupted two weeks ago, following an El Al decision to allow a number of its flights to take off after the beginning of Shabbat. The flight schedule had been disrupted when airport workers participated in a nationwide strike two days earlier.

The rabbinic committee on Shabbat represents all ultra-Orthodox groups, and would like El Al to appoint a rabbi to decide whether the carrier may schedule flights in exceptional circumstances on Shabbat.

Both sides reported that the meeting Wednesday was held in a "very positive atmosphere" following instructions by leading rabbinic leaders to "do everything possible" to reach an agreement.

At the meeting, Romano said El Al considers its Haredi customers important clients, and vowed to "do everything so that they would continue to fly" with the carrier.

The ultra-Orthodox community has imposed a de facto boycott on El Al, even though one has not been officially declared by community leaders.

Nonetheless, when the Haredi public seeks the advice of rabbis on the matter, their view is unequivocal: stay off El Al. The Haredi press is also stating that leading rabbis, both in Israel and abroad, have chosen to use other airlines.

Other carriers appear to have taken advantage of the opportunity to tap into the Haredi market. Air Canada advertised Wednesday in a Haredi newspaper, promising benefits to passengers and Glatt Kosher meals.

In its efforts to counter its losses, El Al is offering packages of $399 per couple for flights to Athens and Istanbul, while similar packages to western Europe are on offer for $599.

According to company sources, the package is tailored to suit the Israeli public, which likes taking short winter vacations.