Major international air carriers suspended flights to or from Tel Aviv after a surprise attack by Hamas militants on Israel over the weekend, saying they were waiting for safety conditions to improve.
About 50% of scheduled Tel Aviv flights did not operate on Sunday, and a third were cancelled on Monday as of 6:41 p.m. (1541 GMT) in Israel, according to Flightradar24, a flight tracking website.
US airlines United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines suspended direct flights to Israel on Sunday after the Federal Aviation Administration urged airlines to exercise caution.
Many European airlines have also cancelled flights, including Ryanair, through Wednesday, and Norwegian Air is cancelling its flights from Copenhagen and Stockholm to Tel Aviv this week.
Israel’s national carrier, El Al, was the exception, adding more flights to bring reservists back from around the world to assist in the country’s biggest mobilisation in history.
Fighters from the Islamist group killed 700 Israelis and abducted dozens in Saturday’s attacks, the deadliest such incursion in decades, prompting Israel to retaliate by pounding the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
Israel’s Kan TV on Monday said the death toll from the Hamas attack had climbed to 800.
As flight cancellations increase, Israel’s tourism industry—which depends on beachgoers and partygoers in Tel Aviv and historical tours to places like Jerusalem—is going to suffer significantly. Tourism makes up 3.6% of total employment, according to OECD data.
US cruise operators Royal Caribbean and Carnival said they “adjusted” their itineraries in the Israel area. Their stocks were down 3% and 5%, respectively.
Tourism bookings were 18% below pre-pandemic levels and had been rising earlier this year, according to travel data firm ForwardKeys, but took a hit on the back of political turmoil, particularly with American tourists.
“So far, clients haven’t been cancelling, but they are being more cautious about travelling. We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about safety,” said Matt Berna, Americas President of Intrepid Travel, a group tour and travel company.
Regulators, including the FAA, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, and Israel’s aviation authority, urged airlines to use caution in the region’s airspace but stopped short of suspending flights.
Israel’s civil aviation authority asked airlines to “review current security and threat information” amid the conflict and change some air traffic routes. It noted that delays were expected and advised airlines to carry extra fuel.
US airlines normally run direct services from major cities, including New York, Chicago, Washington, and Miami.
United on Monday said its “Tel Aviv flights will remain suspended until conditions allow them to resume,” while American has cancelled flights through Friday.
Delta said flights this week were cancelled and the situation was being monitored.
Protests against Israel’s judicial overhaul at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod
A person waves an Israeli flag as people demonstrate in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nationalist coalition government’s judicial overhaul at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel, on July 11, 2023.
Among the three US carriers, United has the biggest exposure. In the quarter through December, Israel accounted for 1.9% of its planned global capacity, according to a Reuters analysis of Cirium’s data. American Airlines has the lowest exposure, with Israel accounting for 0.4% of its global capacity in the same period.
US airline stocks fell sharply Monday, with Delta and American down 5.5% and United off 6%.
In Europe, Air France and Finland’s Finnair suspended direct flights.
Britain’s easyJet halted flights to Tel Aviv on Sunday and Monday and said it would adjust the timing of flights over the next few days.
Hungarian budget carrier Wizz Air cancelled flights to and from Tel Aviv until further notice.
“Wizz Air is the most affected group, with its operations accounting for some 9.4% of Israel’s total October capacity and representing some 2.3% of the carrier’s total schedules,” Irish brokerage Goodbody said.
Lufthansa Group, also among the airlines most exposed to Israel, according to Goodbody, cancelled flights to and from Tel Aviv through Monday.
Portugal’s TAP suspended flights up until Monday and offered refunds or rescheduling at no additional cost.
Virgin Atlantic said it would continue to run some flights but that customers could rebook or request a refund until Oct. 15.
Shares in British airlines fell on Monday as oil prices climbed amid the military conflict in the Middle East. Fuel is one of the biggest costs for carriers. British Airways-owner IAG was down 5%, Wizz Air sank 6% to an almost one-year low, and EasyJet fell 4.8%.
With its most popular routes flying in and out of Istanbul around 107 times per week, Ben Gurion airport saw a major drop in scheduled versus tracked flights this past weekend, with 350 scheduled for Sunday and 197 tracked, according to FlightRadar data.
Israel’s airport authority said Ben Gurion continued to handle arrivals and departures.
Hainan Airlines, the only Chinese airline to fly between China and Israel, and other airlines flying from Hong Kong and South Korea cancelled flights between Tel Aviv and Shanghai on Monday.
Hainan said it would continue flights linking Beijing and the southern tech hub of Shenzhen with Tel Aviv while waiving fees for cancellations before Oct. 20.
EgyptAir flights between Cairo and Tel Aviv have been suspended indefinitely.