As the cancellation of El Al continues, what can passengers do?

The wave of cancellations of El Al flights continued yesterday. Hundreds of passengers with tickets to Vienna, Lisbon, Milan and Kyiv, among other destinations, were informed that their flights had been canceled and they had to change their plans at the last minute.

The cancellation of flights has become commonplace at many airports around the world. In London, Amsterdam and Germany, the main reasons are the huge shortage of staff and the sudden increase in the number of passengers who caught the aviation industry unprepared as it encountered difficulties in re-hiring workers who were made redundant during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here in Israel, the reason for the cancellation is another: a dispute that has been going on for weeks between El Al’s leadership and its pilots.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when El Al had to rationalize to survive and receive state aid, the company split with about a third of its employees in all sectors. In the pilot sector, 100 employees left, which was less than a third, and to compensate for this, the rationalization took the form of a pay cut.

The basic salary of pilots, set in the collective agreement signed in 2018, was reduced by 31% and their daily allowance was reduced by 39%. The redundancy was embodied in a new collective agreement. El Al pilots refused to accept these parts of the agreement, but Histadrut (Israel’s General Labor Federation), which said they were united with other El Al officials, signed the agreement with management. The agreement is valid until 2026, at the end of this period the salary of pilots will increase by 5%, but will not be restored to its pre-pandemic level.

The pilots are seeking to reopen the agreement in the light of the rapid recovery of the industry and to cancel the pay cut. Their request stems from the spirit of optimism with which El Al presented its financial statements for the first quarter. But in a lawsuit filed by El Al last week, the airline portrayed itself as a battle for survival as its financial performance continued to qualify as an operating company by its auditors. By the way, El Al states that it has accumulated a debt of 1 billion dollars.

The real dispute seems to be fundamental. The Pilots’ Working Committee seeks to separate itself from the general representation of El Al employees from Histadrut. Like their counterparts on most airlines (including Israir and Arkia), they want separate representation of their interests. Histadrut is strongly against such a move. El Al’s management, led by CEO Dina Ben Tal Gananzia, held several meetings with the pilots’ representatives, but failed to bridge the gap and the rift widened to the point of a serious charge against the pilots, which they caused “an incident with mass casualties “caused enormous damage to the company and its employees.

The indictment was filed in a petition filed by El Al last week to order the pilots. In the petition, which reached the Globe, the management paints a problematic picture, in which the share of pilots reporting sick and unable to fly increased to 13% in May this year, compared to 3% in May 2019.

In May 2022, according to El Al, in 419 cases, the pilots failed to confirm the flight appointment and reported being ill. El Al’s method of flight equipment, which he has maintained for years, paves the way for trouble. The airline does not hire crews for all its flights, but leaves 20-30% of them unmanned and their crews with ad hoc pilots.

In this way, pilots earn more for flight hours for the flights for which they are on call, but El Al is managed with such uncertainty that it is involved in the daily hunting of flight crews. This leads to the cancellation of flights that passengers are currently undergoing again and again. The court ruled that it would not issue a ban and that the parties should engage in intensive negotiations for two weeks, reporting to the court on progress every three days.

In addition to the problem with the crew, El Al also had a breakdown in one of its Dreamliner aircraft, which was taken out of service, which led to additional disruptions in the flight schedule, such as flights to the United States.

Why are thousands of El Al tickets for the summer in doubt?

El Al has four wide-body Boeing 777s it wants to commission this summer, but to put the veteran back into service, it needs to retrain its pilots. However, the training did not take place and it is doubtful whether it will be able to. However, El Al told the court that he had sold more than 30,000 flight tickets that he had included in his schedule using these planes, and claimed that the pilots were violating the fleet’s recovery by refusing to participate in the required training.

If this is the case, it is unlikely that these planes will fly in the summer, and it seems that El Al has rushed to sell tickets that are likely to be unusable.

What will happen this summer?

The expectations of the court, the management, the pilots and, of course, the passengers are that the parties will resolve their disputes soon. Summer is very close and, adding to the chaos at airports, the dispute is likely to lead to more flight cancellations.

If El Al behaved like other airlines announcing flight cancellations in advance, passengers would be furious, but they could also find alternative solutions. However, it seems that the situation is being managed as usual and passengers should hope that their flight will not enter the lottery and that they will not be informed of its cancellation at the last minute.

What rights do Israeli passengers have if their flight is canceled?

Under Israeli aviation law, in the event of a flight being canceled, the airline must pay passengers their fares. In the notifications that El Al customers receive, the airline offers them a refund or credit for future use. Customers can accept credit, but the choice is theirs.

The law also stipulates that the airline must compensate customers according to the distance of the flight. For a flight of up to 2000 km he has to pay 1320 NIS, in addition to a refund. For flights up to 4500 km the compensation is 2120 NIS, and for longer flights it is 3180 NIS. The airline must also pay for the night if no alternative flight is found.

Are customers entitled to reimbursement of expenses incurred in canceling hotel reservations, tickets for performances and for violating plans?

Customers can sue the airline and request, in addition to tariff reimbursement and legal compensation, payment for specific damages caused to them. The Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that Iberia must pay 5,000 NIS for Israeli passengers whose suitcases were not loaded on their flights and who received them only at the end of their vacation.

If we are afraid of an interruption and decide to cancel a flight booked with El Al in advance, are we entitled to a refund?

According to the Consumer Protection Act, a flight booked remotely (online or by phone) can be canceled for up to fourteen days, leaving seven days until the date of the flight. This only applies to airlines that have a representative office in Israel, as the Supreme Court recently ruled to dismiss the lawsuit against easyJet.

If fourteen days have elapsed since the reservation was made, whether customers are entitled to a refund when canceling tickets depends on the type of ticket purchased. Cancellation tickets cost more. El Al offers three price levels. At the basic level, no refund is paid if the customer refuses. At the other two levels, Classic and Flex, a refund can be obtained without a processing fee.

Travelers who purchase travel cancellation insurance for any reason can exercise the policy and receive a partial refund of their expenses. Given the current uncertainty, the purchase of flexible tickets, which can be changed or canceled, is recommended.

El Al replied: “We regret the inconvenience caused to our passengers due to unforeseen flight disruptions. El Al staff are doing their best to find alternative solutions, whether through another El Al flight or other airlines’ flights.

Posted by Globes, Israel Business News – – on June 20, 2022.

© Copyright by Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

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