G r o u n d e d
N o A r r i v a l s
N o D e p a r t u r e s

By Moshe Gilad | 25.5.2020 |
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Some things you have to see to believe. The flight timetable at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport is one of them. Air traffic in Israel and abroad has almost completely halted in the past two months. To some, the deep rumbling of a jet engine passing above the roofs of the city may suddenly sound like Leonard Cohen singing "Hallelujah."

April 2019

On an ordinary day in April of last year, 225 international flights and dozens of local flights landed at Ben-Gurion. The activity in the airport's two terminals caused tremendous crowding.

April 2020

A year later, only seven international flights appeared on the flight timetable. In the past two months, there was a 99 percent decline in the number of passengers and 90 percent decline in the number of flights.

April 2019

Some 107,000 passengers flew from Tel Aviv to New York and back on 668 flights, as 16,800 passengers made their way to and from San Francisco on 105 flights, 10,300 to and from Los Angeles on 62 flights, and 22,000 to Toronto and back on over 100 flights.

April 2020

This year, about 2,700 passengers flew on 60 flights between New York, a coronavirus hot spot, and Tel Aviv. Flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto disappeared from the timetable entirely. Zero passengers on zero flights.

April 2019

Tel-Aviv-Istanbul was the top route last year: 159,000 passengers flew there from Tel Aviv or arrived from there on 995 flights. In a single month, 101,000 passengers flew to and from Paris on 630 flights. There were 48,000 passengers on flights to and from Madrid, 91,000 on flights to and from Moscow, and 43,000 passengers passed through Chopin Airport in Warsaw.

April 2020

Air traffic from Israel to the largest city in Turkey shrank to only 175 passengers on five flights. There were 583 passengers on 15 flights between Paris and Tel Aviv, 490 passengers on 12 flights on the Moscow route, and only 39 passengers landed in Warsaw or took off from there to Ben-Gurion.

Comparing last year's flight departures board with that of the past two months depicts air traffic nearly paralyzed: a decline of 99 percent in the number of passengers and 90 percent in the number of flights. What seemed on screens as a swarm of tumultuous and hardworking ants flying to and from Israel turned into a row of a few isolated ants, who could be seen wandering over the face of the globe. It's a picture that should be saved and remembered.

Direct flights from Tel Aviv to destinations in the United States on April 30, 2019 compared with April 28, 2020.

TLV to USA
AirlineFlightDestinationTimeStatus
El AlLY 025New York00:05
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 001New York00:45
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 015Boston00:50
Departed Canceled
UnitedUA 91New York00:55
Departed Rescheduled
El AlLY 019New York01:05
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 019San Francisco01:05
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 005Los Angeles01:05
Departed Canceled
UnitedUA 257New York04:50
Departed Canceled
UnitedUA 9470Washington07:15
Departed Canceled
UnitedUA 9287New York08:00
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 009New York09:00
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 9451San Francisco09:00
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 007New York13:30
Departed Canceled
UnitedUA 3290New York16:05
Departed Canceled
UnitedUA 955New York17:10
Departed Canceled
El AlLY 011New York19:15
Departed Canceled
UnitedUA 91Washington23:55
Departed Canceled
DeltaDL 235New York23:55
Departed Canceled

The past months have made the importance of air travel and tourism to our lives clear to anyone who may have forgotten. Many praised the rest given to the planet and the clean air. These are important things, and the air quality really has improved. But we must not for a moment ignore the fact that, for hundreds of thousands of people in Israel, closing down Ben-Gurion means putting their lives on hold: Airline employees, the Israel Airports Authority, providers of auxiliary services, taxi drivers, bus drivers, tour guides, hotel receptionists, security guards and dish washers in Jerusalem restaurants.

These are also those employed at the newer Ramon International Airport in Eilat, at the border crossings with Egypt and Jordan, the pilots and the porters, the salespeople in the duty-free shops and hostel cleaners in Tel Aviv. They all put food on the table thanks to the arrivals at Ben-Gurion. For them, this timetable is evidence of a catastrophe, rather than an improvement in air quality.

There's room for optimism. The flights are gradually starting to return. First, they will return as part of agreements between countries in which the coronavirus has been contained, and afterwards in additional countries as well.

But there are optimists who think that it's even possible to save the tourist season this coming summer. In Greece, for example, there is simply no choice. A country whose economy is based on summer tourism finds it difficult to give up on an entire year. The skies will open and the impressive timetable above will remain a distant and threatening memory.

If only we could look at it, smile and say: It was bad – good thing it's over.