Israeli airlines add more flights to bring reservists home

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Israeli airlines El Al, Israir and Arkia added more flights on Tuesday to bring home reservists, according to their websites and Israel’s airports authority, though the prospect of more conflict also stoked sector worries about staff shortages.

Israel said on Monday it had called up an unprecedented 300,000 reservists and warned residents of Palestinian enclave Gaza to evacuate in a sign it could be planning a ground assault in response to Palestinian militant group Hamas’ unprecedented weekend attack.

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Separately, US State Department spokesman Matt Miller said the US government was in conversation with various carriers to “encourage” them to consider resuming travel in and out of Israel to help a number of American citizens leave the country.

American Airlines on Tuesday temporarily suspended all flights to and from Tel Aviv through Dec. 4 after Delta Air Lines said Monday it would cancel all flights to Israel through Oct. 31, while United Airlines has indefinitely halted flights.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. carriers, said on Tuesday it remains in discussions with government agencies about the issue. “The situation in Israel is rapidly evolving, and our carriers continue to make individual assessments about operations based on security guidance and intelligence reports,” a spokesperson said.

While many major airlines have cancelled flights to and from Israel, domestic carriers have looked to ramp up capacity, at least in coming days. Many Israelis were travelling abroad the last week for a Jewish holiday.

On its website, Israir Airlines said it was offering flights from Larnaca in Cyprus, Corfu in Greece and Batumi in Georgia to help bring Israelis back to the country.

Arkia was offering flights from Greek capital Athens to Eilat in southern Israel and from Marrakesh in Morocco to Tel Aviv, among others.

Flag carrier El Al added a flight from Athens on Tuesday. El Al added that, while it wasn’t offering free flights for reservists, it was trying to keep prices affordable. Reservists were being charged $900 for flying from the United States, $650 from Bangkok, and $300 from Europe for flights under four hours, a spokesperson said.

Fears of staff shortages at airlines have grown, however, with the prospect of reduced flights looming.

Israir said its flight schedule could be reduced in coming days as its foreign crews were asked to leave the country while some Israeli staff were also recruited to fight.

Flights evacuating foreigners were also leaving Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

Iceland said on Monday night it had flown out 126 Icelanders, five Faroese, four Norwegians and 12 Germans who had been stranded in Israel from Amman, Jordan, on a government-sponsored plane.

The Israeli airports authority said 67,000 passengers were expected to travel through Ben Gurion on Tuesday, compared to an average of 80,000 under normal circumstances.

The authority added that it would restrict flights to Ben Gurion airport’s Terminal 3 due to security concerns.

“All our clients who planned to depart (to Israel) this week have cancelled their trip,” said Dumont. The Union of Tour Operating companies (SETO), a French organization, recommended this weekend to cancel or postpone all departures to Israel until Oct. 13, she said.

Flights to Israel from Turkey were also being cancelled, including those of national carrier Turkish Airlines and budget carrier Pegasus, according to Flightradar24 - a flight tracking website. Turkish Airlines said on its website: “Our Tel Aviv (TLV) flights have been temporarily suspended until further notice.”

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