Israelis Stranded Abroad as Airlines Cancel Flights to Tel Aviv

A surprise large-scale attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Saturday, October 7, 2023, has disrupted air travel to and from Israel, leaving many Israelis stranded abroad and holiday tourists in Israel worried about getting home. Hamas fired thousands of rockets from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns during a Jewish holiday, triggering a state of emergency and a massive response from the Israeli military. The attack, which came amid rising tensions between Israel and Iran, was condemned by the international community and sparked fears of a wider conflict in the region.

Major Airlines Pull Out of Tel Aviv

As a result of the security situation, many major airlines have canceled their flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s international hub, located just outside of the city. American Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates, and Ryanair are among those that have pulled out of Tel Aviv until Monday at least. Some Israel-bound flights were diverted to other airports around the globe, while others returned to their origin.


According to FlightAware, a flight tracking site, about 16% of flights were canceled and 23% were delayed to Ben Gurion Airport on Saturday and Sunday. United Airlines flight 954 left San Francisco International Airport on Friday night and diverted over Greenland about seven hours into the more than 13-hour-long journey. The flight later returned to San Francisco. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines also canceled Saturday and Sunday flights scheduled to depart from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

“The safety of our customers and crews is our top priority,” United Airlines said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring the situation and we are adjusting flight schedules as required.”

Israeli Airlines Try to Rescue Stranded Passengers

Meanwhile, Israeli airlines have tried to rescue stranded passengers by organizing special flights to and from various destinations. El Al, Israel’s national airline, said it was maintaining its Tel Aviv flights for now, though some flights operated by foreign partners had been canceled. “We might cancel flights to places where we don’t have a lot of Israelis to help other Israelis in other places,” a spokeswoman told AFP. El Al also said it was operating “in accordance with the instructions of the Israeli security forces,” with all flights now departing only from Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion airport. The airline offered its customers the option to suspend or change their flights without charge.

Israir and Arkia Airlines also arranged rescue flights to return Israelis abroad. However, some passengers reported difficulties and delays in boarding these flights. Ofir Fahima, whose father-in-law has been missing since the surprise attack on southern Israel Saturday morning, told the Walla news site that he and his wife flew from Istanbul to Athens in order to return on an Arkia rescue flight to Israel. “The flight kept getting delayed,” he said, claiming a foreign crew that arrived was unwilling to take them to Israel. “The plane is standing empty and we are stuck on the bus on the tarmac next to the plane.”

Tourists in Israel Worry About Getting Home

The attack also affected tourists who were visiting Israel for the holiday season. Many of them expressed their concern about getting home safely and on time. At JFK International Airport, Israeli passengers were subdued and glued to their phones for the latest news about the war, as they waited for an El Al flight to Tel Aviv. Albert, 22, a soldier from Tel Aviv on a month’s leave to visit family in Seattle, was flying home with his girlfriend Meital.

“We’re nervous,” he told CNN. “We don’t know what’s going on there. We don’t know if we’ll be able to land or if we’ll have to divert somewhere else.”

Some tourists in Israel decided to cut their trip short and look for alternative ways to leave the country. Others said they were staying put and hoping for the best.

“I’m not scared,” said David, 34, from London, who was vacationing in Eilat with his wife and two children. “I trust the Israeli security forces and the Iron Dome system. I think they can handle this situation.”

Eilat is Israel’s second international airport and a popular tourist destination on the Red Sea. Unlike Ben Gurion Airport, it did not stop commercial air links with other countries.

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