Hundreds Stranded in Tel Aviv Airport as El Al Pilots Go on Surprise Go-slow

Passengers left waiting at Ben-Gurion Airport terminal as pilots demand upgraded conditions.

Zohar Blumenkrantz
Yoram Gabison
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An El Al jet at Ben-Gurion Airport. Credit: AP
Zohar Blumenkrantz
Yoram Gabison

El Al pilots launched surprise labor sanctions Thursday night, disrupting the airline’s flight schedule to protest the deadlock in negotiations over a new labor agreement.

Several flights were delayed, while others were canceled, including a flight to Munich, Germany.

Hundreds of passengers were left waiting in the terminal at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Several flights were merged and flown by Jumbo 747s, which are relatively expensive to operate compared to the more standard Boeing 737s generally used to fly to destinations in Europe. One journey with a 747 costs the company 300,000 to 400,000 shekels ($87,000 to $116,000) more than it would with a 737.

El Al was also forced to have some flights flown by competitor Israir. The flights were staffed by Israir’s air crews.

The pilots apparently called in sick shortly before they were scheduled to fly. El Al pilots have been known to take similar action during labor disputes. The pilots are demanding that they be allowed to fly business class even on flights operated via UP, El Al’s low-cost airline, which does not actually have a business section. They are also demanding longer breaks, and personal taxis to and from the airport, instead of being forced to split taxis with other El Al employees.

El Al has been struggling to adapt to Israel’s Open Skies agreement with Europe, which exposes Israeli airliners to competition from European companies.