El Al Slates Direct Flights to Silicon Valley

Nonstop flights between Tel Aviv and San Francisco to begin in fourth quarter, airline says

An El Al jet.
Courtesy

El Al Airlines said on Wednesday it would begin nonstop flights between Tel Aviv and San Francisco in the fourth quarter, as it continues to expand into North America.

At the same time Israel’s flag carrier said it would drop its low-cost Up brand as of October after four years of service to five European destinations and instead offer passengers three levels of economy class.

The new Silicon Valley route will have three weekly flights on the carrier’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

“The acquisition of the Dreamliner enables us to expand our long-haul network,” said David Maimon, El Al’s CEO, at a news conference. “San Francisco is an important strategic city for El Al. Our target is to take the business segment.”

El Al will be competing on the Silicon Valley route with United, which launched flights between the two cities in 2016 to accommodate Israel’s flourishing high-tech sector.

In November, El Al started nonstop flights to Miami from Tel Aviv, after starting flights to Boston in 2015. It also flies nonstop to New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. Maimon said El Al plans to add more long-haul routes but a decision would likely not be made until later in 2018.

He said El Al would have liked to have started San Francisco flights sooner but it did not have the proper aircraft.

El Al in 2017 started to receive its delivery of 16 new 787 aircraft that will be delivered through 2020 to replace its aging long-haul fleet, which the airline hopes will win back customers lost to competitors.

Maimon, who is set to step down in a month after four years on the job, told reporters that a new CEO is expected to be named in the coming days.

In place of the Up brand, El Al said it would merge all European routes under the El Al brand and no longer operate flights from Ben-Gurion International Airport’s Terminal 1 for low-cost carriers.

“The Up brand doubled the number of travelers on the routes it plied, but that wasn’t enough,” said Gonen Usishkin, vice president-commercial at El Al. “We have customers that want to fly business class ... on these routes.”

In Up’s place, the carrier said it would offer fliers three options starting in April.

The first will be a low-cost “lite” option for those traveling without checked baggage and act as a substitute for UP. Travelers will have the option of paying extra for checked baggage and reserved seating.

El Al said pricing for the three tiers of services would be announced closer to the April launch date for the new service.

The second option is called Classic, which will include carry-on baggage, reserved seating, meals, checked baggage in the price. Cancellations, however, will entail a charge. El Al estimated the difference in airfare between Lite and Classic will be about $60 to $80, depending on the destination.

The airline’s Flex offering will offer flyers the most options and cost about $100 more per ticket than the Classic. Passengers will be allowed to check suitcases, and other amenities.

El Al said it plans to refurbish all of its Boeing 737 aircraft to Europe with new seats in economy and in business class during 2019.