Once again, El Al to launch flights from S.F. to Israel

Starting June 24, El Al Israel Airlines will run direct flights from San Francisco to Tel Aviv. The flights will take off once a week through Sept. 2.

The seasonal jaunts follow last summer's inaugural run of flights from the Bay Area to Israel. Last year's trial run did not attract enough passengers to justify year-round service, as had originally been hoped.

However, Ingrid Oakes, El Al's Northern California sales manager, believes that if this summer's service draws enough customers, the year-round flights could still happen.

"It's a supply-and-demand type of thing," she says.

Oakes thinks year-round service makes sense.

"In the winter months, the biggest part of our traffic is the Christian pilgrimage market," she says. "That's why I would like to see a year-round service — to capture that market."

El Al's summer flights will depart San Francisco International Airport at 12:20 p.m. on Tuesdays. The 13-hour, 30-minute flights include an approximately 45-minute stopover in New York, where passengers will change planes. Seating assignments for the New York leg of the journey will be made here.

Special early-bird fares for the route ran as low as $969 roundtrip. Now, as peak season begins, fares will cost around $1,648.

El Al originally added the flights from San Francisco because ridership on nonstop flights from Los Angeles rose 70 percent in 1995. Many of those passengers — a large number of whom were teens were Bay Area residents.

But last summer, while El Al had hoped for 85 percent to 90 percent capacity on flights originating in San Francisco, planes were only 70 percent to 78 percent full.

El Al officials attributed the deficiency, at least in part, to last summer's overall decrease in tourism to the Jewish state. That may have resulted, they said, from a spate of bombings in Israel and the uncertainty resulting from the spring '96 elections.

In other transportation news, Israel's Transport Minister Yitzhak Levy will allow Tower Air to fly from New York to Tel Aviv via Athens, thereby averting an aviation skirmish that threatened El Al's U.S. subsidiary.

Levy's decision nearly two weeks ago apparently avoids U.S. Department of Transportation sanctions that would have grounded El Al's North American Airlines connections carrying El Al passengers from New York to Baltimore-Washington, Dallas and Orlando, Fla.

The talks reflect a "desire to pave the way to continued negotiations on flight arrangements between Israel and the U.S.," an Israeli statement said. U.S. officials were not available for comment.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

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