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Sunday, April 22, 2012

El Al barred from airline alliances due to anti-Semitism?

On Sunday, I received my periodic email from the owner of the travel agency that does nearly all of my tickets to the US, Ziontours. It included the following:
Winter has turned into spring; the weather is getting warmer and airfares continue to rise. Those of you who have already finished their summer plans are to be congratulated---you saved a tidy sum. The biggest news has been the cessation of the Continental name with United Airlines now the correct name. Same management, same twice daily flights to Newark. Most of the problems we've discovered have been minor and quickly rectified once we brought it to their attention. Meanwhile El Al continues to lose market share and is trying to shore up both her business and leisure clients, although success seems to elude her. Many of us in the industry have been asked to counsel El Al with innovative suggestions; to wit it seems to fall on deaf ears. El Al knows she has stiff competition to wherever she flies; and while price may be one factor sometimes it's worth it!
To which I responded:
Hi Mark,

Three suggestions for El Al if you have someone's ear over there:

1. Join one of the alliances. They already are available for accruing mileage on One World and I would LOVE to see them join so that I could stop limiting myself to American, British, Air Berlin (and reluctantly, for similar reasons, Iberia) because you get no credit toward Gold or Platinum using El Al.

2. Get a real frequent flier program that doesn't charge a fee to join and doesn't take away all your miles after 18 months even if you keep flying. In other words, stop being so darned cheap!

3. Get the airport to clean up its safety act! FAA blacklists are nasty for business.

I travel 2-4 times per year to the US and ever since it became possible to get full mileage for the entire trip, I avoid El Al.
Mark responded telling me that in fact, El Al would love to join one of the alliances, but cannot because of... anti-Semitism?
NOTICE ONE airline missing from this exhaustive list? That's right, El Al. For years, she's been battling to join one of the three alliances but has never succeeded. Whether it be simply a matter of anti-Semitism, or an economic issue, the bottom line is that El Al has never been invited to join.

El Al's frequent flier program is unique, though, in several ways. First it is the only airline that charges! Yes, El Al requires a one-time $15 registration fee. It seems a bit churlish, but I stopped trying to understand the logic long ago. Second, El Al's other disadvantage is that points earned disappear after three years. Third, El Al, in its infinite wisdom, doesn't credit you with the actual miles for each flight, but rather assigns you points. This makes it more challenging to track exactly what you earn. Ranging from 15 points to nearby destinations in the lowest economy class, up to 550 points when flying first-class to Los Angeles, the system is quite tricky to comprehend.

El Al does have its own alliance with AeroMexico, American Airlines, Qantas, South African and Delta, allowing you to earn points when flying on these airlines. Just as important, when flying El Al you can earn points on your American Airlines or Delta frequent flier number.

El Al also has code share agreements with seven other airlines that give you full credit, too. A code share agreement is very common in the airline industry. A flight is listed, for example, as an El Al flight but is actually operated by another airline. Iberia, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Lot Polish Airlines, Bulgarian Air, Brussels Air and Aerosvit all carry an El Al code share on flights to and from Israel. While the physical plane is not El Al, the frequent flier member earns full points. This can cause problems, though, as too many clients are unaware and show up at an El Al counter only to be shunted to the "correct" airline. One other important issue when flying a code shared flight: Make sure you order whatever special meals you may require. Just because it's listed as El Al, doesn't mean, for example, that the food will be kosher and that pre-seating and special requirements such as bassinets and wheelchairs cannot be pre-booked.
Well, sort of. My frequent flier miles are on American, and I can tell you that if I fly the Iberia flight that is operated by El Al as a code share, I get ZERO miles (yes, I have checked this with American). For that matter, if I fly Iberia straight from Tel Aviv to Madrid on an Iberia-operated flight, I get 60% mileage. That's an improvement from the 30% it was a year ago, but is still a reason for me to avoid Iberia, all other things being equal.

But anti-Semitism? Well, let's look at the explanation.
Today as Mr. Shkedi addressed the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on economic factors impacting El Al he stated “We are unable to join any alliance because we’re Jews, not due to any economic reason.”

Mr. Shkedi blaming Anti-Semitizam for El Al’s lack of alliance ties negates a number of important factors. Aside from the deep-rooted geo-political issues impacting Israel regionally, overall the airline has no place in the three global airline alliances. Star Alliance has Egyptair, which serves Tel Aviv via its Air Sinai subsidiary; One World has Royal Jordanian, which serves Tel Aviv; Sky Team has Saudi Arabian Airlines joining shortly and is able to serve Tel Aviv through multiple points of entry. El Al geographic position would have it directly competing with airlines from neighboring nations.

Aside from El Al’s inability to fit into an airline alliance, the airline has a small fleet of 40 aircraft and a relatively small route network. Despite the airline’s location in the Middle East, El Al only serves one foreign destination in the region, Cairo.

El Al’s CEO claiming the airline cannot join an alliance because “we’re Jews” … makes for a great show stopping line, but it leaves out many important factors.
Sorry, but that's lame. How many people fly from Europe to Tel Aviv via Amman or Cairo? (Leave the Saudis out of this - that goes without saying).

The real reason that El Al is outside the party is that joining an alliance requires a unanimous vote and someone (the Egyptians, the Jordanians or the Saudis) is going to exercise that veto.

All of which makes me feel sorry for El Al. If only they'd clean up their own program....

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At 3:27 AM, Blogger Debbie said...

There's more to this.

First of all, while ElAl's charging for membership is fairly rare, many/most airlines now have the cut off date of miles (American does for sure)...but all you have to do is earn anything to keep them current (as cheap as Magazines for Miles for example).

The Codeshare credit issue is a bit easier...depending upon which airline that you buy your ticket through that is the one that will get the full credit

Also, the point system is not good, but they do offer partial reductions of airfare coupled with points, also not usually seen.

My only other comment is about El Al not getting into alliances etc., and I'll repeat what I've heard (although can't confirm), that ElAl is limited in what it can do through partners and the IATA security system because there is not emergency secondary airport in Israel.

What that means is that Ben Gurion is the only official airport in Israel with runways long enough for emergency landings of large aircraft. Eilat is too short, and the IDF won't acknowledge (nor offically admit) that they have the length of runway to land big planes.

If there's an emergency planes are shunted off elsewhere.


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