Israel's Airport Shutdown Due to COVID Restrictions Likely to Delay Package Delivery

Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
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An empty baggage claim area at Ben-Gurion International Airport early in the coronavirus pandemic.
An empty baggage claim area at Ben-Gurion International Airport early in the coronavirus pandemic, April 19, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz

The decision to shut Ben-Gurion International Airport may result in delays in package delivery times, shipping companies have warned.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, Israeli consumers experienced several periods when packages from abroad were delayed due to the small number of flights entering the country and the changes in shipping policies at various e-commerce companies, among other reasons.

Now, delays are likely to worsen because passenger flights have been halted entirely.

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The Israel Airports Authority says there shouldn’t be a problem with cargo flights and therefore shipping times shouldn’t be impacted. But shipping companies say that’s not true, since some packages arrive on incoming passenger flights. The shipping industry underwent significant reorganization in the past few months due to the drop in the number of passengers as a result of the pandemic, but the decision to halt passenger traffic to Israel entirely this week created more pressure on cargo flights, and demand for space now exceeds supply.

“The current situation resembles the first lockdown,” stated Ronen Cohen, vice president of marketing and sales at UPS Israel. “We run six flights a week, but we couldn’t increase the number of cargo flights, since the global company couldn’t enable this. The pandemic, and the increased need for shipping that it brought, are not unique just to Israel.”

Small- and medium-sized packages marked for fast shipping should not be delayed, but larger packages are likely to be delayed by a week or two, said Cohen, adding that customers who paid for fast shipping get preference. In comparison, online commerce companies – including many major, well-known ones – often choose cheaper shipping methods, and these packages are likely to be delayed because they’re not going to be given priority.

“The customer making an order doesn’t always know if he or she is getting fast shipping, because companies that sell small items such as shirts or shoes sometimes choose to group the shipments into one big shipment, and ship it at lower cost,” Cohen said. “Consumers should know that there could be delays right now.”

How can you know if your package is likely to be affected? Shipping options that offer a delivery time of six days or less are probably using an express shipping service, and those are unlikely to be delayed, explained Yonathan Ivgi, VP of commerce at DHL Express. Sites that commit to delivery within two to three weeks are likely using other options such as the post office, and these packages are prone to arrive more slowly.

Many commerce sites have already started warning that deliveries will be delayed. Only 15% of packages come via express services, states Ivgi; the remaining 85% will likely experience delays.

Israel Post stated that there are currently no delays resulting from the airport lockdown.

The longer the airport is shut, the more this will impact package delivery times, say sector sources.

According to IAA data, in 2019 some 108,000 tons of goods arrived via passenger airplanes and another 98,000 tons came via cargo flights. In 2020, 39,000 tons of goods arrived on passenger flights, while 157,000 tons arrived on cargo flights.

Some 196,000 tons of goods arrived by air in 2020, versus 206,000 tons in 2019. Sector sources say the difference is due to the drop in economic activity, not due to a decline in private consumption.

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