Air Canada cancelled Tel Aviv flights due to the Iranian missile attack—leaving some travellers to seek alternatives, or consider postponing trips

UPDATE (4/17/24): After several days of uncertainty chronicled in this report, Air Canada announced its flights to and from Israel have been cancelled for the months of April, May and June.

After a weekend overnight shutdown of Israeli airspace, during which time Iranian missiles and drones attacked the country, Canadians were cautiously optimistic that travel to and from Ben Gurion Airport will resume regular schedules later this week.

Air Canada cancelled departures from Toronto on Saturday, and from Tel Aviv on Monday—the latter despite the airport reopening on Sunday morning—which were scheduled within the first week that the carrier had booked flights to and from Israel since Oct. 7. Saturday travellers were reportedly on the plane when the cancellation was announced.

The airline says flights in both directions are scheduled to resume Thursday, April 18, barring further changes related to security. “Flights to and from Tel Aviv on Monday, April 15, and Tuesday, April 16 are cancelled. The next flight from Toronto is now scheduled for Thursday, April 18, 2024,” read a travel notice on the Air Canada website.

Artzi Korostelev of Toronto’s Peerless Travel reports that people who booked pre-Passover flights with his agency haven’t cancelled their upcoming trips. In the past few days, though, some had to rebook flights amidst the cancellations by Air Canada, usually with stopovers in Europe.

Flights from El Al also include direct routes to Austin and Miami, along with New York. (El Al discontinued its Toronto route in October 2022.)

The Canadian government’s travel warning, which is still in place as of April 15, warns against travel to Israel and the West Bank. 

“There were professional concerns and efforts that we had to put into rebooking our clients,” says Korostelev, who is the executive vice-president. He explained that many of his staff also have friends and family in Israel and had that on their minds while working over the weekend.

“There was a lot of mixed sort of personal concerns that played [a role]… it was a pretty tough weekend for everyone.” 

Of greater concern for Peerless Travel is whether Air Canada will put flying directly to Israel on hold again. (Then again, he said, some clients had even booked other Israel flights since just after the weekend attacks.)

One man who’s currently in Tel Aviv—who spoke with The CJN but wished not to be named—is scheduled to fly back to Canada from a mission in Israel after Shabbat ends on April 20.  

The airborne attack from Iran meant the week-long mission was officially cancelled, with several people based in North America dropping out or turning back while en route to Israel. Of the five busloads of participants originally on the trip, only two busloads worth made it to Israel, he said. They decided to stay in the hotel rooms and volunteer in areas like agricultural fieldwork and preparing food for soldiers.  

Just one couple from the U.S. left the mission early—but they were the exception.

He was in Jerusalem during the Iranian missile attacks. Planning to retreat into a friends’ basement, he says, reminded him of a more Canadian style of emergency preparedness. 

“It’s like when you know a big snowstorm is coming,” he says. “Do you have your water, snacks, flashlight? There’s a little bit of that feeling.”

But the city returned to its new-normal state on Sunday.

“It’s astonishing how the next day was so incredibly peaceful. I took the tram to the centre of town. Street musicians were out, there were people strolling down streets… it was a beautiful, lovely, normal day in Jerusalem.”

He says that while he wishes the mission he’s on could go to pay respects at locations in the south, in and around the Gaza envelope that saw the majority of the attacks on Oct. 7, his group is there to help, not get in the way. 

“We’ve got to do things they want us and need us to do… too bad we’re unable to go and help in most affected areas but that’s the reality in Israel right now.

“This isn’t some kind of Cancun resort. We’re all here for one reason. The first rule is don’t hurt, and the second rule is to help. We’re all rolling with the punches.”

He described a mutual appreciation between volunteers and the Israeli soldiers for whom the mission cooked and delivered meals. 

Still, some travellers are undecided about whether to take trips scheduled for Passover.

Toronto’s Sarah Gould is planning to visit her husband’s family in Beit Shemesh, which is between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Their flights are with El Al out of New York City. 

Speaking to The CJN on April 14, Gould said it was difficult to determine whether the trip with her husband and young daughter will happen, citing the Canadian travel advisory—even though family members are encouraging them to visit.

“A lot of us have the sense that there is always a sense of risk no matter when you go,” she says. 

“And in the current climate on the one hand, if you think of it as being a war zone, of course, you don’t want to bring your child to a war zone. But on the other hand… there was also a sense that I was getting from people that it’s never been safer in Israel because everything is very controlled. ‘People are on the lookout. We’re not being caught by surprise anymore.’ Basically that once you get there, it’s totally fine.”

She says travelling with a child makes the deliberation different. The feeling of unity the family wants to experience—one she says they don’t feel in Toronto—makes it hard to decide.

Gould’s non-Jewish friends “can’t believe that I would even consider going” to Israel now.

“I think that there’s a stronger than ever drive to be there for a lot of us,” she says, and often with simultaneous motivations. 

“It’s partly to see family, and it’s partly to be in a place where we can have some solidarity with Israelis about what they’re going through and just support them. 

“I think that even secular Jews like myself have been put in a position where suddenly we’re discovering this really strong tie to Israel, and that it actually is important, even if we didn’t know we were” aware of feeling it to that degree, she says.

Gould confirmed her husband bought date-changeable tickets, just in case. 

“One thing that he has repeated many times to me is that El Al always flies.”

But El Al cancelled 15 flights on April 14, according to Reuters, though some of its other flights later took off successfully from Ben Gurion Airport.

Avi Herzl, who runs the blog Toronto to Ra’anana, is a frequent traveler who jokes that he “commutes” between Israel and Canada. The Toronto lawyer’s parents and siblings live in Toronto, while his own children and wife have been based in Israel since 2009 and Herzl divides his time between the two countries.

He’d prefer to fly Air Canada direct to Tel Aviv where possible, he says, though he affirmed the leading Israeli carrier is often the most reliable, particularly when uncertainty looms.

“If you’re flying El Al, if you’ve made a booking on El Al, I really don’t think you have very much to worry about unless Israel is in the middle of an all-out war, and if all the airlines are cancelled—like [if] the airport’s closed,” as it was for a reported five to 10 hours during the weekend attack, he says.

Herzl is planning to fly with one of his adult daughters from Toronto on April 18 via Air France to Paris and then to Tel Aviv on Friday, April 19.

He says he can’t be certain the flights will go ahead.

“I believe that Air France is flying, but I’m not 100 percent sure, I don’t have any updates,” he says. “And between now and Friday, who knows what’s going to happen.”