Turkish Terror Attack Doesn’t Deter Israelis From Istanbul Flights

Few are actually flying to Turkey but are using Ataturk Airport to make connections to other destinations.

A stewardess walks past a cordoned off area at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, June 29, 2016.
Ozan Kose, AFP

The terror attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport Tuesday was having virtually no effect on the heavily traveled Tel Aviv-Istanbul route, Turkish Airlines and travel agents said Wednesday.

The reason is that few Israelis flying to Istanbul ever leave the airport. Even as tourism to Turkey plummeted after bilateral diplomatic relations soured in the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid, convenient flying times and low airfares have made flying through Istanbul a popular choice for connecting flights to Europe, the United States and the Far East.

Dana Lavi, deputy CEO at the online travel site Gulliver, said she had set up a desk at Ben-Gurion Airport to help travelers whose flights had been canceled. But few customers wanted to rescind the reservations, even with Turkish Airlines.

The attack, which left 41 dead and 239 injured, occurred just outside the terminal.

“People see the airport in Istanbul as a place for connecting flights, so they’re just passing through,” said Lavi. “Without a doubt what happened has aroused fears, but we’ve been there before. The attack also didn’t lead to cancellations or stop people from going ahead with reservations to other destinations – the summer season is going ahead as normal.”

Turkish Airlines, which operates nine daily flights between Istanbul and Tel Aviv, said people who had made reservations for Wednesday or Thursday could cancel them at no charge, switch to other destinations or change their flight times to any date up through July 31.

Based on its connecting-flight business, Turkish Airlines has been the biggest foreign carrier operating out of Ben-Gurion since 2013 – only El Al Airlines flies more passengers. Last year Turkish Airlines flew 823,000 people, a 19% increase over 2014. Four years ago it was flying 25 flights week and nowadays it is flying 45.

The attack came just a day after Israel and Turkey reached a rapprochement ending the six-year diplomatic rupture, but travel sources said it was too early to say whether the deal would revive Israeli tourism to Turkey.

Earlier this week, before the attack, travel agents reported growing interest in vacation packages to the Mediterranean resort of Antalya, which had been a very popular destination for Israelis, but they said few people had made reservations.