Israeli backpackers airlifted home from around world

Israelis fly back from Slovenia  / Photo: PR

El Al, Israir and Arkia have been sending out special flights to as far afield as India, Peru and virus ravaged Europe to being home desperate Israeli travelers.

light schedules from all over the world have been juggled about worldwide as stranded tourists and especially young backpackers are desperate to get home. For Israelis these efforts began with private initiatives, initiatives by airlines, and initiatives by the business sector. There has been enormous confusion. Thousands of Israelis are staying overseas, and some of them want to return home, but the policy of various countries is to close their gates and some of the Israelis are in countries with military regimes.

Starting today, India, where 3,000 Israelis can be foundf, is closing its skies for a week. Last Saturday night, two El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) flights took off from Mumbai on their way to Ben Gurion Airport. In contrast to the Israelis who flew from Peru, where private businesspeople and El Al donated the fares, these passengers paid for their one-way ticket. Anyone who purchased an El Al ticket can change the ticket date without any additional payment; others have to pay.

A third flight, also by El Al, which will land today in India, was made possible when Elbit Systems agreed to do without the cargo slated for transportation on a plane that it leased, so that the plane could be used to transport 300 Israelis from India.

El Al is in a situation in which it cannot afford to forego payment for flights, and it is unclear why the passengers from Peru were exempted. Three flights were funded by the business sector, and one by the state. The cost of each such flight, with a double crew on a 17-hour flight landing and taking off after refueling, is $350,000.

Amsalem Tours also helped bring Israelis back from Peru. The company chartered flights by Latam Airlines, which flew 550 Israelis from Mexico to Lima, where El Al planes were waiting for them. The passengers paid $340 for this flight.

Another flight will take off for India tomorrow. The FLYeast company chartered a plane from Arkia Airlines, and is paying the full cost of the flight, estimated at $140,000. The cost of a ticket from Tel Aviv to Goa is $972 (keep in mind that the plane is flying empty in one direction, and that the price reflects the cost in both directions).

FLYeast Yariv Fisher said, "I call on all the parents and families of people with children, brothers, or other close relatives in Goa to contact them and explain the urgency of getting out of India. It appears that India will close its skies in the coming days."

FLYeast decided that even if not all of the seats on the plane are sold, the company would pay for the cost of the flight, "for reasons of conscience and humanity towards those Israelis who registered and wanted to return to Israel," Fisher explained.

Israir is also continuing its efforts to bring Israelis back to Israel. The airline has so far flown 2,000 Israelis on 12 flights from various destinations in Europe, and Israir will now conduct two special flights from Italy - one from Rome and one from Milan - in order to return Israeli students and other citizens residing in Italy who want to return home, while at the same time, Italian citizens living in Israel want to return to their homeland.

The flights from Italy require special preparation, including consular approvals. Those boarding the plane have to sign a declaration of health, and it is to be hoped that Israir is not taking a risk, given the grave situation in Italy and the daily record-breaking numbers of patients and fatalities there.

The passengers will pay $490 for this flight (including luggage), which is referred to as cost price. The flight to Rome will take off from Tel Aviv on March 23 in the afternoon, and the flight from Rome to Tel Aviv will take off at 7:45 PM. The flight from Tel Aviv to Milan will take off at 3:00 PM, and the flight from Milan to Tel Aviv will take off at 7:05 PM, Italian time. The flights are scheduled to land in Israel at midnight. As with all flights landing in Israel, the passengers will have to remain in home isolation for 14 days.

Another flight by Israir is to Zagreb. This flight was brought forward to tonight, following the powerful earthquake in Croatia. Additional flights will take off from Odessa, Bucharest, and Kiev.

Israir also operates daily cargo flights on the Tel Aviv-London route for Intel, and three daily flights on routes to Eilat. Since Arkia also discontinued its inland flights, Israir has been the only airline operating on the Ben Gurion Airport-Ramon Airport route.

Commenting on the difficulty of the flights from Italy, Israir VP sales and marketing Gil Stav said, "These difficult flights from Rome and Milan are for the purpose of bringing back Israelis trapped with no way home, and for returning to Italy employees of the Italian embassy and other Italian citizens. The flight crews will wear special protective suits. The passengers will find a beverage and a sandwich on the seat in order to reduce their contact with the crew, and the aircraft will undergo special thorough disinfection upon their return."

Stav added that the price of the flight from Zagreb was $490. "If there are more than 80 passengers, the price will be cut to $390 a person, and those who ordered a ticket at the higher price will be reimbursed for the difference," he said.

Operations for bringing people back to their home country are now taking place all over the world. Lufthansa group CEO Carsten Spohr stated that his airline's current activity, which amounted to only 5% of its original flight schedule, was focusing on bringing people back to their countries (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria). Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian government would use commercial airlines to bring back its citizens from various countries, such as Spain and Peru.

In addition, LOT Polish Airlines has been conducting flights for the past week to bring back Polish citizens, even from Sydney, Australia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Cancun, Mexico. LOT has brought back 22,000 passengers on 116 special commercial flights to date. Cyprus has also brought back its citizens; the government ordered charter flights in the UK to bring Cypriot citizens home.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 22, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Israelis fly back from Slovenia  / Photo: PR
Israelis fly back from Slovenia / Photo: PR
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