Etihad Airways, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, began Tuesday selling Israelis connection flights in its home airport in Abu Dhabi.
It marks the first time the UAE airline is collaborating with an Israeli agency, Tal Aviation, which sells the tickets on the airline's behalf.
Although Etihad plans to eventually offer direct flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, for now Israeli passengers will have to catch a connecting flight to Abu Dhabi International Airport in Athens, Amman or Istanbul. Once in Abu Dhabi, they can fly to many of the airline’s destinations. The main ones of interest to Israelis are India, Thailand and other Asian destinations.
Flying via Abu Dhabi can cut three to four hours from flight times. Israeli airlines flying to East Asia are barred from Saudi Arabia’s airspace (although an El Al Airlines flight carrying an Israeli and U.S. delegation to the UAE for normalization talks did fly through it for the first time this week), which adds about three hours to the journey. Foreign flights originating in Amman can fly to Abu Dhabi directly over Saudi Arabia.
Until now, Israelis could only enter Abu Dhabi if they had a second, foreign passport or were a diplomat or businessperson who received special permission. The agent selling Etihad tickets locally, Tal Aviation, said the initiative aimed at capturing what it expects to be considerable air traffic between the two countries after an agreement on normalizing ties is completed.
It also comes as coronavirus restrictions on air travel have gradually been eased and Israeli are getting the travel bug again, said Tal, which represents some 30 foreign passenger and cargo airlines in Israel.
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen an increase in demand in the Israeli market and a desire to get back to flying. We are excited at the opportunity of working with our new partner, Etihad, and to be able to offer our Israeli customers the ability to experience the airline’s superior levels of in-flight service to many destinations across its extensive global route network,” said Nissim Sagis, Tal’s chief commercial officer.
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The lowest airfare Etihad is offering right now, on a flight via Istanbul, is $790, but Sagis said prices would be coming down. “We’ll be working over the next few weeks of offer more attractive prices,” he said.
The second-largest UAE carrier after Emirates, Etihad has a fleet of over 100 Airbus and Boeing planes, serving over 17 million passengers in 2019 and is regarded as a top brand in the global aviation industry. As such, it presents a serious competitive threat to El Al and Israir, which can’t compete on flying times to popular East Asia destinations or on service and route network.