PARIS/NEW YORK: Several international air carriers said on Sunday they had suspended flights serving Tel Aviv in light of the Hamas militant attack on Israel and were waiting for conditions to improve before resuming service.
US air carriers United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines said they had suspended direct flights.
Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates and Ryanair also pulled flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
The pilots’ union for American Airlines has directed its members to refuse to fly to Israel, citing the ongoing war.
Union President Ed Sicher said in an email to members that the company’s pilots should not fly to Israel until they “can be reasonably assured of the region’s safety and security.”
The email cites the most recent advisory from the US State Department, which warns that the current situation in Israel “continues to be unpredictable,” and that mortar and rocket fire can take place any time without warning, putting aircraft in danger.
“It is not prudent or appropriate to knowingly put our flight crews and passengers in harm’s way by maintaining flights into a war zone,” Sicher said.
Israel formally declared war Sunday as it bombarded the Gaza strip with airstrikes in retaliation for a major surprise attack by Hamas.
The US air lines normally operate direct service from major US metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago, Washington, DC and Miami.
In a statement, United said it had operated two scheduled flights to the United States from Israel late Saturday and early Sunday but that service would remain suspended “until conditions allow them to resume.”
Delta representatives said they were monitoring the situation to make schedule adjustments as necessary but that flights “have been canceled into this week.”
However, airport authorities did not stop commercial air links with Israel’s second international airport at Eilat, a tourist destination on the Red Sea.
And Israeli flag carrier El Al said Sunday that it was maintaining its Tel Aviv flights for now, though some flights operated by foreign partners had been canceled.
El Al said it was operating “in accordance with the instructions of the Israeli security forces,” with all flights now departing only from Terminal Three at Ben Gurion.
Like most other airlines, it said clients could change their tickets without charge.
In Athens, the foreign ministry said it was working to repatriate 149 Greek tourists from Israel, and 81 of them were due to arrive back late Sunday on an El Al flight.
After Saturday saw a list of major carriers canceling flights, Spain’s AENA airports operator told AFP four of nine flights scheduled to Tel Aviv on Sunday had been canceled, two from Madrid and two from Barcelona.
Another nine flights, from Tel Aviv to airports in Spain, have so far been unaffected, the operator said.
Spain’s Air Europa said it had canceled its two flights scheduled between Madrid and Tel Aviv, while Iberia Express, the low-cost arm of national carrier Iberia, went ahead with a Madrid-Tel Aviv flight after suspending two on Saturday.
Vueling, the Barcelona-based low-cost airline, said given the situation in Israel, “flights to/from Tel Aviv are affected and experiencing delays.”
A spokesman for Germany’s Lufthansa on Saturday cited “the current security situation” to say it was canceling all flights to and from Tel Aviv “up until and including Monday.”
Air France said it had halted Tel Aviv flights “until further notice,” and the Air France-KLM group’s low-cost carrier Transavia said it was canceling all flights from Paris and Lyon to Tel Aviv up to and including Monday.
Italy’s flag-carrier ITA airways canceled its flight until Sunday morning at the earliest “to protect the safety of passengers and crew,” while Polish carrier LOT scrapped its flights from the Polish capital on Saturday.
US-based United Airlines told AFP its Tel Aviv flights “will remain suspended until conditions allow them to resume.”
It said it had “operated two scheduled flights out of Tel Aviv late Saturday and early Sunday and accommodated our customers, crews and employee travelers who were at the airport.”
Other airlines suspending flights included Aegean, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Wizz Air and Air Canada.
(With AFP, AP & Reuters)