The Jewish Holidays Wind Down: 2014 Travel Season, in Numbers

Holiday travel season to be capped Sunday with 63,000 passengers at airport; Ryanair probably will not be flying to Israel, concentrating instead on higher-volume route.

Airports Authority

An estimated 63,000 passengers are expected to pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport on Sunday as the fall Jewish holiday season winds down. All told, about 1.4 million air travelers have arrived or departed the airport during the holiday season that began with Rosh Hashanah and drew to a conclusion last week with Simhat Torah.

The preferred destination of Israelis this Sukkot holiday were Greece, Italy and the United States. Turkey was also a major destination, but many of those travelers were flying there to make connections to other locations.

The travel season this fall came in four waves, TheMarker has found, with peak travel days coming on September 28, following Rosh Hashanah, with 68,000 passengers on 430 flights; on October 2, a day before the evening onset of Yom Kippur, with 63,000 air passengers on 400 flights; on October 7 a day before the onset of Sukkot, with 60,000 passengers on 375 flights; and on October 12 with 65,000 passengers on 415 flights. During September alone, 511,000 Israelis traveled abroad, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported, while during the first nine months of this year, 4 million Israelis took trips outside the country, a 6% increase over the period from January through September last year.

Ben-Gurion International Airport has seen an expansion in air traffic between Israel and countries of the European Union since the signing last year of an Open Skies agreement with the EU that liberalized air travel to and from Europe. There has also been speculation that Ireland-based discount carrier Ryanair will begin flights to and from Israel, competing head-to-head with EasyJet, which already has a major presence here, as do a number of other low-cost carriers. But Ryanair’s chief commercial officer, David O’Brien, who is in charge of doing deals with airports to add to the airline’s 1,600 routes, has now told Reuters his carrier will focus on higher-frequency routes and more domestic flights in core European markets rather than venturing further afield.

It has bid for Cyprus airlines to use its routes beyond the EU and management has floated the idea of routes to Russia and a hub in Israel. But with five operating planes in Cyprus, it is never going to be a core offering, O’Brien said. Russia, where the airline may start operating next year, would only be two routes to Ireland, unlikely more than three times a week. Israel has potential, but in the big picture it is small, complicated, protectionist and “very, very expensive”, O’Brien said.

“All of this would be pressing and a concern if we didn’t see there was sufficient opportunity to deploy our capacity within Europe,” he commented. “They are essentially not material to our growth plans.” Instead, Ryanair intends to focus on “old reliables” like the United Kingdom, Poland, Italy and Germany, specifically on short, high-frequency routes, many of them domestic.