After a combat missile launched from Gaza landed approximately one mile from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) early Tuesday, the FAA grounded all U.S. flights to Tel Aviv for 24 hours (through 12:15 pm Wednesday EDT), by which time they will further advise. In the meantime, the European Air Safety Agency has issued a strong recommendation that European carriers also ground service to Tel Aviv. In the wake of last week’s devastating missile attack on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the eastern Ukraine (and Malaysia Airline’s subsequent offer of refunds on all its flights through 2014), some North American and European carriers have taken their risk assessment a step further, opting to suspend service to all airports in Israel, in some cases indefinitely.
Carriers Suspending Flights and Their Cancellation Policies
At present, major carriers Air Canada, Air France, American, Delta, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss, United and US Airways have suspended service to either Tel Aviv or all of Israel. These airlines will all attempt to contact their affected customers with updates about their flights, but for those passengers booked on North American carriers, here’s what you can expect, based on their cancellation policies:
Air Canada: The airline has cancelled tonight’s one flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv. In the event of cancellations, the airline generally rebooks passengers on the next available Air Canada flight within seven days of the original travel date, and if necessary, they can also change the return to match the length of stay. If the next available flight doesn’t depart until the next day (Air Canada is monitoring the situation in Tel Aviv), the airline will cover certain expenses to eligible customers when a flight is canceled due, as in this case, to reasons within Air Canada’s control; airport agents will help customers determine if they’re eligible for meal vouchers, hotel accommodations, and transportation to and from the airport.
If you’re booked on an impending Air Canada flight, you can cancel your booking and Air Canada will offer you the option of either retaining the unused portion of the ticket and using it for future Air Canada travel, or obtaining a refund for the unused portion of the ticket. Affected passengers are encouraged to call Air Canada information at 1 (888) 422-7533.
American Airlines: American has suspended its one affected route, a PHL-TLV flight operated by US Airways, until further notice. If you purchased a refundable ticket directly from American, you can submit a refund request online, submit a request by mail, or take the ticket either to an American kiosk at the nearest airport or to one of American’s Travel Centers. If you purchased an electronic ticket, you may call reservations at 1 (800) 433-7300 to request a refund. Refunds will be processed back to the original form of payment.
While non-refundable tickets generally can’t be refunded, in the case of the FAA’s ruling (subject to certain restrictions and charges defined in the fare rules), you can choose to postpone your trip by canceling your original flight before its scheduled departure time and applying the value of your unused, non-refundable ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket that must be used within one year of the issue date on the original ticket.
Delta: This morning, Delta’s daily JFK-TLV flight was already in the air (with 273 passengers and 17 crew aboard) when the missile struck near TLV; the plane was quickly re-routed to Paris’ CDG, where it landed without incident. Note that Delta generally has no liability if a flight is canceled or diverted due to conditions outside of its control, but if you’re a passenger in this sort of situation, you can ask Delta to cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion (as well as unused ancillary fees) in the original form of payment. If you don’t request a refund and cancellation of the ticket, Delta will simply transport you to your destination on their next flight with available seats in the class you originally purchased.
If you’re booked on a Delta flight to Tel Aviv and feel skittish about traveling, you may request a refund online or call the airline’s toll-free number 1 (800) 325-1999, but as of this writing, I’m unable to confirm whether every refund request will be granted. If your upcoming flight is affected by continued suspensions or a cancellation, the airline will attempt to contact you with updates.
United Airlines: If you’re delayed at the airport as a result of this suspension, United will provide you with the local equivalent of one night’s lodging. Otherwise, you may either wait for the next available United flight in your originally booked class; request United’s help in an attempt to reroute you on a carrier that may choose to resume service before it does (such as El Al, which as you’ll see below, will continue its service to Israel), again booking you a seat in an equivalent class; or apply the value of your ticket toward future travel on United within one year from the original date of issue, without incurring a change or reissue fee.
If United’s flights to Israel continue to be suspended indefinitely and you don’t choose the future travel angle, you’ll be eligible for a refund, either by submitting your request online or by calling United at 1 (800) 864-8331.
US Airways: The airline has suspended its one affected route, a PHL-TLV flight that it codeshares with American, until further notice. US Airways’ policy towards its suspension-affected passengers is similar to United’s: you may either wait for the next available US Airways flight in your originally booked class; request US Airways’ help in an attempt to reroute you with a seat in an equivalent class; or opt for a refund either online or by calling 1 (800) 428-4322.
If your flight to Israel has already been suspended or cancelled, be aware that trip insurance provided by some credit cards could help. Some cards offer travel insurance for cancellations or delays; however, those benefits usually apply only in select circumstances (illness, family emergency, lost or stolen travel documents, etc.), and it’s unclear whether geopolitical events would qualify. You’ll have to check with the issuer of the card you used to pay for your flights (or the taxes and fees if you’re on an award flight) to see if you’re covered. If not, many cards also offer complimentary concierge services that can at least help you find hotels and re-book flights if you’re stranded.
If you’re traveling soon to Israel but your particular flights haven’t yet been suspended or canceled – or your airline hasn’t yet decided to suspend/cancel their flights – you might consider purchasing supplementary travel insurance like AirCare, a new flight insurance product that can be purchased for $25 as late as one hour before your flight’s scheduled departure.
Avoiding Danger is the Key
Israelis and Hamas militants have been fighting in the Gaza Strip since July 8. So far, Tuesday’s rocket explosion is the closest that harm has come to TLV. However, in light of the recent Malaysia Airlines’ tragedy, I can certainly understand why airlines are being especially cautious about flying in potentially dangerous zones.
Shortly after the FAA made its decision to suspend U.S. flights to Tel Aviv, Israel’s Transportation Ministry urged the FAA - as well as individual airlines with service to TLV – to reverse the decision, insisting that the airport is well-guarded, prepared for acts of terrorism, and safe for landings and departures. Taking heed, El Al and Royal Jordanian Airlines will continue their usual service to and from Tel Aviv.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Israeli and Palestinian people, and all those affected, and we can only hope that travelers to and from the area remain safe.
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