Israeli Passengers Exploit COVID Loophole After Landing at Tel Aviv Airport

Due to omicron, public transportation is prohibited from picking up passengers at Ben-Gurion international airport, but Israelis are finding ways to bypass these new rules

Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane
Passenger walk inside the arrivals area of Ben Gurion international Airport.
Passenger walk inside the arrivals area of Ben Gurion international Airport. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane

Loopholes in regulations meant to combat the spread of the omicron variant are being abused by Israelis returning home from Ben-Gurion airport.

The Transportation Ministry recently barred buses and trains from picking up passengers at the airport, and travelers caught using public transportation are subject to fines of 500 shekels ($160) per person.

One such loophole is the free shuttle meant for people returning from Eilat. When passengers board this shuttle, nobody asks what country they returned from.

Moreover, there’s no need to present a Green Pass when boarding any form of public transportation.

Yoav, who returned from Eilat this past weekend on a flight to Ben-Gurion, described how the shuttle system works.

Travellers exit the coronavirus testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport as Israel imposes new restrictions near Tel Aviv, Israel, in November.Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

“I landed at Terminal 3,” he said. “Because there’s no public transportation, and it’s impossible to board a train or bus, I looked for a way to return to Tel Aviv and saw that a special shuttle operates for free at Ben-Gurion. When I boarded the shuttle, nobody checked me. They didn’t ask for a Green Pass or ask where I was coming from.

“Granted, I really was coming from Eilat,” he added. “But people returning from abroad could also easily board it, despite the restrictions.”

Under the new regulations, buses and trains can let off passengers at the airport but not pick them up. Consequently, travelers have only four options for leaving the airport – a car they have left parked, being picked up by someone, a private taxi, or a shared taxi that’s no more than 50 percent full and is going to only a single address.

To encourage people to use private cars, long-term parking rates at the airport have been cut in half for as long as the ban on public transportation lasts.

But the other options create additional loopholes. For instance, people could take a private taxi to a nearby location, like Airport City or Lod, and then board a bus or train there.

“Ever since the regulations were enacted, people have been looking for ways to circumvent them,” a source in the aviation industry said. “We know of people who get in a taxi and get out a few kilometers away. Afterward, they take public transportation and risk infecting the public.

“There’s nothing to do about the shuttles either,” he added. “The Airports Authority has no oversight authority on this issue.

“People manipulate the system and the courts won’t help,” he concluded. “The problem is there’s no real oversight by the Transportation Ministry, either.”

No comment was received from the ministry.

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