As the pandemic wanes and life slowly returns to normal, or something like it, so are El Al flights from Toronto to Israel.
After a COVID-imposed hiatus of nearly 16 months, the first El Al flight from Tel Aviv landed in Toronto on June 27 and departed for Tel Aviv the next day. About 120 passengers arrived, and some 150 left.
That last happened on March 26, 2020.
“It was the longest interlude in the history of our flying to Canada. We were thrilled to finally see our aircraft fly back into Toronto,” a happy Dinah Kutner, El Al’s general manager in Canada, told The CJN (and The CJN Daily podcast with Ellin Bessner).
Two more flights from Toronto to Tel Aviv are scheduled for July 12 and July 26. Though numbers fluctuate daily, they are expected to be at about 65 percent capacity. Normally, 70 to 80 percent capacity is considered good.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a sold-out flight for a while,” Kutner said.
El Al had hoped for more flights, she noted, but the Israeli government has tightened foreign tourism because of a spike in COVID cases.
But Kutner is hopeful that traffic will increase in August, when Canadian students return to university in Israel, followed by the High Holidays in early September.
She said there’s already a “huge demand” for flights from those who want to spend the holidays in Israel.
“It’s a pent-up demand because there’s so much traffic normally between Canada and Israel. You can imagine many (people) had to put plans on hold, so now that they can go, they’ll start flying.”
All travelers on El Al must have both vaccinations against COVID. Those going to Israel must also have the results of a PCR test; no other kind of test result is accepted, Kutner stressed.
She suggested passengers consult the airline’s website before booking. Those who are not Israeli citizens must complete a special form.
“I really recommend that people prepare themselves. They will be checked at the airport and cannot board if they don’t have the proper test.”
Passengers arriving in Israel will get another test and must quarantine until results are received.
“That’s the new world of COVID travel,” Kutner conceded. “My great hope is that by the time the High Holidays come, things will be smoother sailing.”
COVID’s impact has been “tremendous,” Kutner said, “something I never thought I would see in my lifetime in the airline industry.” El Al laid off most of its Toronto staff, including security and personnel at Pearson Airport, and has been down to three employees, including one handling refunds and customer service.
Kutner said refunds are proceeding slowly, thanks to a loan from the Israeli government. The backlog is considerable; refunds are now being processed for tickets purchased last spring.
Prior to the pandemic, El Al had three Toronto to Tel Aviv flights per week, and up to four in the summer. Demand was so high that a fifth was scheduled to be added just as COVID hit.
“Our goal is to get back to five flights a week,” Kutner said.
Air Canada, meantime, has announced that twice-weekly flights from Montreal to Tel Aviv will resume on Aug. 1. The airline currently offers a Toronto to Tel Aviv flight twice a week, which will increase to four times weekly starting July 22.