It’s just a 50-minute flight from Tel Aviv to the southern resort city of Eilat, but a family keen to avoid hours of driving has to shell out hundreds of shekels on airfare. However, someone wanting to fly to Eilat to escape the harsh Eastern European winter will pay just $100 for a round-trip flight on the Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair.
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Ryanair announced a month ago that for the coming winter it would operate six weekly flights from Budapest, Kaunas in Lithuania and Kharkiv in Ukraine to Uvda Airport, near Eilat, with tickets costing a mere 30 euros ($33) each way.
Like other low-cost flights, Ryanair’s airfares don’t include additional costs for checked baggage, in-flight food and drinks, or reserved seats.
Still, a Ryanair flight originating in Kharkiv in November and December, which takes up to 4.5 hours, ranges from 310 to 360 shekels ($82-$95), plus another 140 shekels for checked baggage. Flights from Tel Aviv, meanwhile, cost 380-500 shekels on Arkia and 390 shekels on Israir, not including luggage charges.
One reason for the ultra-low Ryanair airfares is that, unlike domestic carriers, it gets an Israeli government subsidy.
Ryanair had long sought to start flights to Eilat, but approval was delayed for years over the carrier’s conditions, which included a cash bonus from Israel’s Transportation Ministry. In the end, the Tourism Ministry relented: To help boost tourism, it allocated 15 million shekels to airlines and tour operators flying tourists directly to Eilat this winter season.
The subsidiary amounts to 45 euros per passenger, for up to 80,000 passengers in the 2015-16 season. To that, the Eilat Hotels Association kicked in with another 15 euros to Ryanair alone, which adds up to a crucial 60 euros per passenger.
Another factor to take into account is that they’re flying to Uvda – an hour’s drive from the Red Sea resort – not Eilat’s city airport, which deposits passengers right in the middle of town, noted Gil Stav, deputy CEO for marketing and sales at Israir Group.
“When you do a comparison, you’re not comparing apples to apples,” he added.
In the red at the Red Sea
“Low-cost airfares are for landings at Uvda. We’re talking about a distance from Eilat – and the cost of a taxi to and from the city can add up to hundreds of shekels. Low-cost airfares don’t include checked baggage or fees for credit card payments, additions that double the base price for a ticket. So if you look at the complete cost of getting to your hotel in Eilat, the cost is quite high – certainly compared to Israeli airlines.”
Stav contended that, at $50 each way, Ryanair will be losing money on its Eilat route this winter. It’s willing to take on the red in order to develop the market, and is limiting its losses by offering the price on a limited number of seats.
A spokesman for Arkia concurred, saying the cheap airfares Ryanair is offering are only for a small number of seats. Also, they’re available only for travelers booking four months in advance.
“The chances of finding cheap tickets are low, and are [used] for marketing purposes only,” the Arkia spokesman added. He also pointed out that European low-cost carriers don’t have the same security requirements as Israeli airlines and enjoy cheap labor costs, with no union representation for workers.
Ryanair’s arrival will no doubt boost Eilat’s tourism industry. But it also benefits ordinary Eilat residents, who suddenly are a short drive away from cheap flights to all over Europe. “This is the year of ‘Eilatis’,” said Erez Bousso, CEO of Smartair, an online reservations platform. “Eilatis will have all kinds of options to discover Europe on a dime. We can only hope the new routes survive and continue in the years ahead.”
Bousso also revealed that Turkish low-cost airline Pegasus is thinking about coming to Eilat, with three weekly flights. That, too, will offer more options – because Istanbul will then act as a stopover, offering connecting flights to the rest of Europe.