The first direct flights between Latin America and Israel in six years are set to begin in December, when Latam, Latin America’s largest airline, begins service, Israel’s Tourism Ministry said last week.
Since Israel’s El Al Airlines terminated the only direct flight from Latin America, passengers have had to take flights which have stopovers in Europe or Africa, increasing the total travel time to at least 18 hours.
“This is a unique service for passengers across much of Latin America,” said Jerome Cadier, CEO of Latam Airlines Brazil, which was formed in the 2012 merger of Chile’s LAN and Brazil’s TAM. "No other airline connects Latin America with Israel."
From December 12, Latam will operate a flight three times a week, that starts in Santiago, Chile and makes a stopover in Sao Paulo before continuing on to Tel Aviv. The Sao Paulo market includes Brazil’s 120,000-strong Jewish community as well as pilgrims from the world’s second-largest Christian population. The Sao Paulo-Tel Aviv leg will take 13 hours, with the return trip lasting 15 hours. Airfares will start at $999.
The flying times are about 90 minutes less than it took El Al when it flew the route, which tourism industry sources said was due to the fact that the Israeli carrier didn’t fly over certain African countries.
“The launch of the direct route from Israel to Brazil and Chile is an important achievement,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “We believe that the new route will strengthen the cooperation between Israel and Latin America and increase the flow of tourists traveling between the two regions.” Latam Airlines is set to receive subsidies amounting to 750,000 euros ($922,000) a year from the ministry.
In the first two months of 2018, the latest for which figures are available, tourist arrivals from Brazil numbered 55,000 — a 90 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. A ministry survey found that the average Brazilian tourist stayed in Israel for ten days and spent $1,900. Just over a third came as religious pilgrims, the ministry said.