Flying on Pesach? Not if You Haven't Booked Tickets

Passover is a holiday in which families travel to and from Israel. Three months before the Seder, which falls this year on April 2, it's hard to find seats on flights, especially to and from the United States.

Travelers who have tried complain of booked flights and waiting lists. This is particularly true regarding flights departing from Ben-Gurion airport in the week prior to the holiday, and returning during the week following Hol Hamo'ed (intermediate days of Passover), on or after Tuesday, April 10.

TheMarker has also received complaints from travelers and tour organizers about the rising cost of flights from the U.S. to Israel.

Ami Etgar, CEO of the Incoming Tour Operators Association, says prices on El Al flights to Tel Aviv during Passover range between $1,600 and $1,700, including taxes, and seats are already short. "These are extremely high prices," say sources in the travel field. Etgar notes that other airlines have also raised their prices, regardless of Passover. "Tickets for November-December 2007 now cost $1,200, compared to $1,000-$1,050 for the same period last year, an increase of 15%."


"Flights from the U.S. during Passover are very expensive. Tickets are in very high demand and travelers are already being asked to pay for their tickets today," says Sha'anan Kraus, CEO of Isram, an American tour organizer with an Israeli branch. Ophir Tours CEO Boaz Waxman also sees the market teeming with activity toward Pesach.

El Al's response is that "the company is working to adjust flights to the market's demands, according to its ability and the fleet's availability. Each year close to Passover, the company updates its flight schedule and increases the frequency of flights to sought-after destinations. This year the schedule for North America has been adjusted, and special flights were added to accommodate traffic to and from Israel around the holiday." The airline's statement continues: "During the 24-hour period beginning on Saturday evening, March 31, the company will operate 10 flights, three of which have been especially added to the schedule. As in every other year, this year the company will monitor the demand on various routes, and in the coming months more flights will be added to various destinations, according to need."

Avi Friedman, chairman of the Foreign Airlines Association, says this is a yearly recurring phenomenon and that demand peaks on certain dates before the holiday, and on Passover eve and during Hol Hamo'ed. Foreign airlines, including Brussels Airlines, decided to add special flights during the holiday. Ruby Hershkowitz, general manager in Israel of the new Belgian carrier, says the company will add two special flights to its regular schedule: one before Passover eve on April 1, the other on April 10.

The director of Lufthansa in Israel, Ofer Kish, says it is too early to speak of adding special flights on the regular route to and from Israel during the Passover season. He notes there is indeed an increased demand for the days before and after the holiday, but that anyone who is willing to be flexible and travel early or during Hol Hamo'ed should have no problem finding seats.

Avner Gordon, director of Swiss International Airlines in Israel, says the company does not intend to add more flights, unless an exceptionally high demand becomes apparent at the last moment. Gordon says the airline's regular schedule, two daily flights from Zurich to Tel Aviv and back, should meet demand.

Shauli Dor, assistant marketing director for the Shalom Plaza hotel chain, says the company expects all four of its hotels to be fully booked during the holiday. The chain's Hacienda Forestview hotel, in the Western Galilee, which was damaged during the war in the summer and is now being renovated, will reopen just before the holiday under a new name, the "New Hacienda in the Forest." Hotel guests during Pesach will mostly be Jewish tourists from South Africa and the U.S. The chain's Tiberias hotel will host mostly traditional Israeli Jews and religious Jews from Belgium. The Neve Ilan hotel is expected to be fully booked with Israeli groups. The Eilat hotel, also undergoing renovations, which are due to be finished i n March, will also be mostly full with Israelis.

According to Rafi Beeri, assistant marketing director for the Dan Hotels chain, the company's Jerusalem properties, the King David and the Dan Panorama Jerusalem, should be almost fully booked, mostly by American tourists. The Dan Accadia, in Herzliya, will be mostly full with Europeans. According to Beeri, demand for the upcoming Passover is higher than that of last year.

The Sheraton Israel chain expects its hotels to be full with tourists during most of the holiday, and the same goes for the three Jerusalem hotels of the Prima chain. The Rimonim chain reports that full capacity is expected at its Galei Kinneret hotel in Tiberias. The Ruth Rimonim in Safed already has reservations for half of its capaci ty, and is expected to be fully booked. The Eilat Rimonim Neptune hotel is also expected to be at full capacity, and all of the chain's hotels will have a mixture of Israelis and tourists.