El Al flights to Israel from S.F. will resume next summer

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A trial run of El Al Israel Airlines flights from San Francisco to Israel has not pulled in enough passengers to justify year-round service.

However, the flights, which began an inaugural run June 30, will be reinstated next summer during peak season, according to Rami Fischer, El Al's West Coast regional manager. If next summer's flights are successful, the service may then kick in year-round.

"What we wanted to do this year, we will try to do next year before the summer," then continue the flights through the year, Fischer said.

In an attempt to cater to the many Bay Area residents who travel to Israel, El Al has offered nine weeks of Sunday flights from San Francisco International Airport to Tel Aviv this summer. The 13-hour, 30-minute flights include a 45-minute stopover in New York.

But while El Al had hoped for an 85 percent to 90 percent capacity rate on the flights, the planes have been only 70 percent to 78 percent full, according to Fischer. "It's not the response we wanted, even though it wasn't bad," he said.

Notably, flights arriving at SFO from Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport have booked more passengers than those flying out of the Bay Area.

Fischer attributes that deficiency, at least in part, to this summer's decrease in tourism to the Jewish state — which he blames on a spate of bombings and the uncertainty resulting from elections. "These didn't help us," he said.

Ingrid Oakes, El Al's Northern California sales manager, adds that increased advertising might have helped El Al attract more local passengers. Individual travel agents advertised the route, and the airlines advertised it in the Jewish Bulletin and San Francisco Examiner.

Oakes also points out that in compliance with airport regulation for airlines with limited service, El Al did not have its own counter at SFO, but rather operated out of the Continental Airlines counter in the southern terminal. As a result, she said, the airline may not have garnered the same visibility at SFO it otherwise would have had.

In preparation for next summer, Fischer said El Al is looking into the possibility of routing its Bay Area flights through Oakland Airport rather than SFO. "It may be more convenient," he said. "It's very crowded in the S.F. airport and Oakland is smaller."

Other new flights to Israel that originated this summer, from Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta, will also resume service next summer rather than operating next year.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.