Sunday, April 21, 2013
Ben-Gurion International Airport Shutting Down on Tuesday
“According to data from the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations, the agreement will lead to an increase of 250,000 tourists from Europe during the first year of its operation, leading to the creation of nearly 10,000 new jobs,” the Tourism ministry said in a statement.
El Al, Arkia, and Israir — Israel’s three airlines — halted all outgoing flights at 5 a.m. Sunday, launching an open-ended strike in protest against Open Skies. El AL later said it was canceling all flights until furthur notice. The public address system at Ben Gurion airport asked El AL passengers to return home. Passengers were instructed to get updates from the airline itself and media reports. Arki said it was canceling all flights until Monday night.
Other airlines continued to operate normally on Sunday.
Aviation officials said that under such conditions, the airlines would take days to make up their flight schedules.
An airline workers union representative told Channel 2 that the workers were not opposed to the Open Skies deal per se, but wanted to make sure that Israel’s airlines would not suffer.
When asked what outcome would appease the workers, Yigal Cohen said a joint announcement by the Transportation Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut, stating they were working on finding solutions to the Israeli airlines, would do the trick.
“The goal of the reform that we approved today is to lower the prices of flights to and from Israel and to increase incoming tourism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the Cabinet vote. “I commend Finance Minister [Yair] Lapid and Transportation Minister [Yisrael] Katz for working to pass this reform, which has been discussed for many years. We will continue to advance reforms to lower the cost of living and increase the efficiency of services to Israeli citizens.”
Ben Gurion International Airport was packed with passengers Saturday night and early Sunday morning as the airlines rescheduled some of the planned Sunday morning flights to beat the start of the strike action. An Israel Airports Authority spokesperson said roughly 4,500 passengers took off on 28 flights between 4 and 6 a.m. Incoming flights continued to arrive, but there were no employees on hand to take care of their luggage, which was to be stored by airport employees.
Lapid came out Friday to meet with the demonstrators, even inviting them into his house to discuss the issues. “There will likely be painful compromises,” he said. “But there is no intention to harm the workers.” He said there was nothing more important to him than their jobs.