Israeli Pilots Refuse to Fly to Seoul to Pick Up Rapid COVID Tests

Airline asks court for immediate injunction to force pilots to fly as part of government contract. Pilots say that 'they need to stay home to watch the cat,' company says

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Workers unload a cargo containing Pfizer's antiviral pill in Seoul, South Korea, last week.
Workers unload a cargo containing Pfizer's antiviral pill in Seoul, South Korea, last week.Credit: Jung Yeon-je /Pool via REUTERS
Omer Carmon
Omer Carmon

Arkia asked the Tel Aviv Labor Court on Monday for an urgent injunction to force its pilots to fly to South Korea in order to fill a government contract to transport rapid antigen tests.

Cargo flights to South Korea scheduled over the next few days will have to be canceled due to pilots’ labor sanctions, the company said.

The company has a contract to run six cargo flights to pick up rapid coronavirus tests, an important deal at a time when there are almost no international flights and a lifesaver for the airline, which is in dire financial straits, Arkia told the court. Most of the pilots are sitting idle at home, an airline representative stated at the Monday hearing.

The first two flights were scheduled to take off on Tuesday morning with 12 pilots abroad. Two pilots from each flight were scheduled to disembark in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and stay at a five-star hotel, while the rest would continue on to Seoul. The pilots staying in Tashkent were supposed to fly the flights back to Israel, while another two pilots were scheduled to disembark there on the return flight and wait for the next round of flights from Israel to Seoul.

Each flight from Israel to Seoul is about 30 hours. They are scheduled to be flown in two legs, with a stopover in Tashkent.

The pilots “said they are afraid of being infected with COVID in Seoul, or that they need to stay home to watch the cat,” said the company.

The union stated in response that the way the 16-hour flight legs were being scheduled would require some of pilots to spend almost a week away from home. The company didn’t even bother to tell the pilots where they would be staying in Seoul, the union said, adding that the company’s management is trying to use the court to force its will on the pilots.

The current labor agreement permits pilots to decline unplanned flights without giving a reason, said the union. Some pilots have children who are sick or in quarantine, among other valid reasons, and they do not have to upend their lives for an unscheduled flight after two years of pandemic, said the union.

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