El Al scales back operations to 4 flights a day, lays off staff as coronavirus hits industry

March 18, 2020 by Benjamin Brown - TPS
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Israel’s national airline El Al has announced it is scaling down its operations to a mere four passenger-flights per day and is placing nearly 80 per cent of its staff on unpaid leave as the Coronavirus crisis hits the aviation and tourism industry worldwide.

El Al’s plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport in central Israel. Lod, Nov 7, 2018. Photo by Kobi Richter/TPS

El Al on Wednesday was completing its last flights to Ben-Gurion airport from Miami and Los Angeles before the airline will temporarily fly only to New York, New Jersey, London and Paris, with weekly flights to Toronto and Johannesburg.

While the airline encourages customers to “Book Now With Peace of Mind,” El Al is heading for stormy weather, as the continuous spread of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) is shutting down many international travel hubs.

The tourism industry around the world has taken a beating amid fears of the virus spreading, with travellers shunning certain destinations and residents of some Corona-stricken countries being hit with entry bans. The Israeli Ministry of Health has urged Israelis not to travel abroad, likely increasing El Al’s woes.

El Al on Tuesday put nearly 5,500 of its employees on unpaid leave, leaving a workforce of merely 1,500. The airline announced the move after the aviation employees’ trade union gave up its resistance when it became apparent that the airline’s survival was at stake.

The laid-off members of staff will remain out of work until at least the end of May.

In February, El Al announced it would not be taking on 160 incoming employees and had additionally frozen the employment of new members of staff. Around 1,000 employees – roughly a sixth of El Al’s workforce – risk being fired, the airline stated.

Additionally, El Al’s senior staff salaries were cut by 20 percent, a decision retroactively taking effect on March 1st.

Israeli media have speculated that the announcement regarding staff termination may be a tactical ploy to better the airline’s position in negotiations regarding a possible government bailout.

In February, Israel’s Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin cautioned that the Coronavirus epidemic will “have a direct and immediate impact on the tourism industry in the world in general, and in Israel as well. I think this is particularly evident in the aviation world. The responsibility we have here is to ensure the ability of Israeli airlines to survive this period

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