El Al, emerging from ’emergency mode,’ is set to launch regularly scheduled Tel Aviv flights to and from Fort Lauderdale

In the days and weeks that followed the mass murders and kidnappings orchestrated by Hamas terrorists in Israel last Oct. 7, El Al Israel Airlines, the nation’s flagship carrier, declared itself to be in an “emergency mode.”

Suddenly, the carrier had become the main source of air transportation to and from the country as other international airlines, including U.S.-based American, Delta and United, suspended service in the face of an all-out war.

Now, operations have “stabilized,” officials say, as new passenger traffic patterns have been identified and management has adjusted the airline’s route system. Among other things, El Al has dropped lightly traveled routes and buttressed its schedules with more flights to bigger cities and population centers, particularly in the United States.

Even with heightened concern after a thwarted Iranian missile attack on Israel over the weekend, El Al is scheduled to kick off year-round regularly scheduled service on Monday with twice-weekly flights between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, with the airline’s Boeing 787s departing the Broward County airport on Mondays and Saturdays.

The move by El Al, which operated seasonal service between Fort Lauderdale and Tel Aviv last September and October during the Jewish High Holidays, means the carrier is following through on a previously announced commitment made before Oct. 7, 2023, to operate regularly scheduled flights in Broward and serve Florida travelers who live farther to the north.

“We’re no longer in emergency mode,” Simon Newton-Smith, senior vice president, The Americas, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in an interview late last week. “When Oct. 7 unfolded we had a lot of people booked to travel who didn’t want to travel, and people who wanted to travel who were not booked. There were a lot of pressures on the business. It was an all-hands-on-deck exercise to help our customers as we moved through the last quarter of 2023.

“We’ve got a better view of who needs what, where, when and how,” he added. “We are operating a bigger flying program and it’s more of a business-as-usual environment.”

Besides adding flights to South Florida, where the carrier also serves Miami International Airport, the airline is operating up to six flights daily at New York’s JFK International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Additional frequencies are also being added in Boston and Los Angeles.

“We’ve reworked the network to bring more aircraft flying into the U.S., so we can operate more flights,” Newton-Smith said.

Significant demand

In the first quarter of this year, El Al operated 31% more flights than it did in the same period of 2023, increasing its seating capacity by 50%.

“There is a huge business (travel) demand,” Newton-Smith said. “The U.S. continues to invest in Israel and Israel continues to invest in the U.S.”

“Load factors since Oct. 7 are in the very high 90s, which many would think counterintuitive,” he said. “We have strong demand from visiting friends and relatives. The people we haven’t seen are those traditional tourists to Israel. Understandably, they would want to see some stability over a long period of time.”

Along that vein, tour operators “have told us that 2024 is not the right time for them,” and the same message has been received from cruise line operators.

But families and other supporters of Israel such as volunteers continue to travel there.

Newton-Smith declined to go into detail about security procedures and protections for passengers.

“El Al security is pretty unique,” he said. “It is famous for having a level of security that is way above the typical security requirements of other airlines,” he said. “Have we done anything differently? I wouldn’t feel comfortable commenting on that.”

In an updated travel advisory issued Thursday, the U.S. State Department reiterated its months-old advice against traveling to Gaza, scene of major military operations by the Israeli defense Force against Hamas. It is also advising would-be visitors to “reconsider travel” to Israel and the West Bank.

“The security situation remains unpredictable, and U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness as security incidents, including mortar and rocket fire, often take place without warning,” the department said in its comments on Israel and the West Bank.

This past week, Israel was bracing for the possibility of a retaliatory move from Iran over Israel’s recent attack that killed an Iranian general in Syria.

Delta Airlines is scheduled to resume its own flights to Israel on June 7. United resumed service in early March after conducting what management called “a detailed safety analysis in making this decision, including close work with security experts and government officials in the United States and Israel.”  American is reportedly pointing to a late October resumption after setting earlier dates this year, according to the travel website simpleflying.com.

European airlines including Lufthansa, Ryanair and Air France resumed operations earlier this year.

El Al maintains code-sharing arrangements with Delta and JetBlue Airways, which means travelers can board a U.S. domestic flight on one of those airlines that will allow them to catch an El Al flight from one of its international departure points.

El Al and Florida

Two years ago, El Al moved its U.S. headquarters from Manhattan to Margate. At the time, local elected and economic development officials said the carrier made the decision to move after vetting the area for schools, religious facilities and the availability of local aviation industry talent.

“El Al has a special place for a lot of people in South Florida,” said Broward Commissioner Michael Udine, who was also serving as county mayor. “There is a vibrant Jewish community from Miami Beach up to Boca Raton and all of Broward County.”

The headquarters’ operational departments include all of the carrier’s U.S. financial, administrative and marketing functions.

Up until now, most of El  Al’s direct service to Tel Aviv from South Florida has emanated from Miami International Airport, and that service will continue.

El Al currently operates five flights weekly from Miami. “El Al Airlines remains the sole carrier offering a non-stop flight to Israel from MIA, with daily flight operations reaffirming our commitment to connecting Miami-Dade directly to this vital global destination,” Ralph Cutie, the aviation director, said in an emailed statement.

Looking forward, Newton-Smith said he sees a significant amount of Florida traffic flowing through Broward because many travelers from Palm Beach County and points north and west disliked the prospect of having to drive to Miami to catch their flights.

“We found a lot of our customers from West Palm Beach would take a connecting flight rather than do the drive down to Miami,” he said.

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