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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

El Al takes care of its own

Were you stranded in Europe by the volcano eruption last week? If you were and you had been trying to get to Israel, you could have gotten here from just about any point in Europe. How? El Al, Israel's national carrier, took all those planes that normally would have been flying to destinations all over Europe and sent them to the few European airports that were still open: Rome, Barcelona, Madrid and Munich. Why? Because they wanted to enable as many Israelis as possible to get home for Independence Day last Tuesday. One of those who made it home was Noam Bedein, the director of the Sderot Media Center. He wrote about his experience for YNet.
I was left stranded in Holland, but after hearing that El Al had promised to send more Israeli jets to Europe to collect stranded Israelis, I found myself traveling to Rome, halfway across the European continent by train.

After 27 hours of a nerve-racking trip, I remained doggedly determined to join the rest of the people of Israel in celebration of Israel Independence Day. I finally arrived at Terminal 5 in Rome at 23:30.

Much to my amazement, I found a nearly empty terminal, deserted of passengers, aircrafts, and airline employees. Only one ticket counter had a long line of people and that was of course El Al. Exhausted Israelis from all corners of Europe had arrived to board the jumbo plane decked with Israeli flags. El Al specifically sent the plane to gather Israeli travelers and bring them back home to celebrate Independence Day with their families. It was a sort of in gathering of the exiles sponsored and facilitated by El Al.

El Al, Israel's largest airline, privatized in 2003, serves as the national airline of Israel. It was one of the first if not the only airline that was able to adjust to a state of emergency in less than 24 hours when airports across Europe were forced to shut down.

It is amazing how every time there is a national disaster or international crisis, Israel, somehow, is always among the first countries to act and lend a hand. As such a tiny country, which since its establishment has existed under constant terror and threat, Israel is constantly in a state of preparedness as well.


El Al sent 15 additional jets to transport 20,000 Israelis stuck across Europe in places including Munich, Madrid, Barcelona and Rome. El Al also ensured that the same ticket could be used regardless of the country from which travelers were scheduled to fly from in Europe, even if the flight from that particular country had been cancelled to Israel.

In addition, the El-Al crews did an amazing job, working over 20 hours non-stop to provide the best quality of services in this time of emergency.

The flight from Rome to Tel Aviv on April 20, 2010, was the best way to begin celebrating 62 years to the state of Israel. During the soft landing in Ben Gurion Airport at 7 am, I felt that there was something Biblical in the operation, something like "the wings of eagles."
Passengers on other airlines are still stranded across Europe and elsewhere. When the airports re-opened, the other airlines decided that if you had a ticket for today, you flew today, but if you had a ticket for a week ago, you either waited until a seat at the same fare opened up or you bought a new ticket (and hoped you could get some money back for the old one). Not El Al.

Now, if only they'd do something to improve their frequent flier program....


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