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British Airways Latest to Suspend Israel Flights as Industry Braces for Extended Conflict

Edward Russell

October 11th, 2023

A British Airways plane at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport

Passengers on British Airways flight BA165 got an extra four-plus hours in their seats Wednesday after the airline suspended service to Tel Aviv when the plane was inbound from London. The flight turned around while on approach to the Israeli city amid nearby rocket fire.

Now British Airways, which offered up to two daily flights to Tel Aviv from London Heathrow in September, has joined the growing list of international airlines cancelling all trips to Israel. That list includes American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, EasyJet, Finnair, Ryanair, Turkish Airlines, and United Airlines.

“Safety is always our highest priority and following the latest assessment of the situation we’re suspending our flights to and from Tel Aviv,” a British Airways spokesperson said.

Others, however, do continue to fly. Those include Israel’s national airline, El Al, and Emirates. An Emirates flight to Dubai, EK932, departed Tel Aviv at 8:28 p.m. local time Wednesday, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.

The suspensions come after a surprise attack by Hamas militants on Israel Saturday that killed more than 1,000 people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the country is “at war” with Hamas, and it is reportedly preparing for a siege of the Gaza Strip where the group is based. The Israel-Gaza border is roughly 36 miles from the country’s main international airport, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion.

An extended conflict in Israel would likely have minimal impact on the balance sheets of most major global airlines. For one, the small size of Israel makes it easy for airlines to route flights around its airspace. Comparatively, the loss of Russian airspace after the country’s invasion of Ukraine last year resulted in the cancellation of numerous longhaul routes and forced some airlines, most notably Finnair, to completely restructure their businesses.

And even for the largest foreign airlines in Israel, Wizz Air and Turkish, the impact is small compared to the rest of their networks. Wizz flew about 4% of its seats to Tel Aviv in September, and Turkish nearly 2%, according to Cirium Diio schedules. And the big U.S. airlines American, Delta, and United, each flew less than 1% of their global seats to the country.

After Israel’s national airline El Al, Wizz Air had a 10% share of total scheduled airline seats to Israel in September, and Turkish a roughly 7% share, Cirium Diio schedules show.

The Covid crisis and subsequent Ukraine war have proven just how flexible the airline industry is in minimizing major operational changes. Finnair, just 19 months after its main air corridor to Asia — Russian airspace — closed, is back in the black and raising profit forecasts on a completely restructured route network. The Oneworld alliance member has said it is prepared for a five year, 10 year, or longer closure of Russian airspace.

An extended conflict would likely be a blow to El Al’s global ambitions. Since the Covid crisis, the airline has outlined plans to leverage its geographically well-positioned Tel Aviv hub to boost connectivity between Europe and Asia. That plan was buoyed by the reopening of Oman and Saudi Arabia’s airspace to its flights. While it is still too early to know what the geopolitical ramifications of a new war between Israel and Hamas is, travelers will almost certainly avoid changing planes at an airport miles from an active war zone.

Wizz has cancelled all of its flights to Israel through October 13, it said on its website. The airline flew up to 29 daily flights to Tel Aviv from cities including Abu Dhabi, Budapest, London, and Vienna in September, according to Cirium Diio.

And Turkish Airlines said on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that its flights to Israel were “suspended until further notice.” The carrier operated up to 16 daily flights to Tel Aviv in September, according to Cirium Diio.

Not every airline has suspended flights indefinitely. EasyJet and Ryanair currently plan to resume flights before the week is out; Delta on November 1; and American on December 4.

Spokespeople for Turkish Airlines and Wizz did not respond to requests for comment.

Edward Russell

October 11th, 2023

Tags: Europe Middle East

Photo credit: A British Airways plane at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport Flickr / Mark Nakasone

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