Israel’s El Al airline lays off 80% of workforce

Israel’s national airline suspended thousands of workers on Wednesday as the carrier slashes flights due to the coronavirus pandemic.

By World Israel News Staff

Hit hard by flight cancellations and a new government policy that will virtually shut down Israel’s incoming tourism industry, Israel’s El Al national airline took drastic action Wednesday by announcing it is placing 80 percent of its 6,300 employees on indefinite unpaid leave, the Globes financial newspaper reported.

The layoffs come in the wake of an emergency government decision Tuesday to stem the spread of the coronavirus by ordering everyone entering the country to go into mandatory two-week home quarantine. Foreigners arriving at the airport will have to prove they have a place to stay while quarantined, or will be put back on a flight out of Israel.

El Al will continue to operate flights according to demand, out of national responsibility to as far as possible keep open the air routes to and from Israel,” El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin said in a statement released on the company’s Facebook page.

Hundreds of El Al employees are among the more than 30,000 Israelis who are in mandatory two-week home quarantine after being in proximity to somebody infected.

The company was also forced to postpone the opening of its new direct routes to Chicago, Tokyo and Düsseldorf, Usishkin said.

Also Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a $2.8 billion aid package to help companies hit hard economically by the corona crisis and bolster the budgets of the health ministry and emergency services.

Financial help for El Al is not expected to be announced until next week after El Al provides financial impact data to the finance ministry, the report said.

Before the new quarantine rules were announced, El Al estimated it would already lose up to $160 million in the the first quarter of 2020 due to the global virus crisis.

With 90 percent of the airline’s 650 pilots collecting unemployment benefits, the remaining El Al pilots offered to take a 20 percent salary cut in a bid to help the airline survive the crisis. In a tough blow to their budding careers, the layoffs include 60 new pilots who recently finished their training, but received pink slips instead of company wings.

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) also sent home 70 percent of its workforce at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, the country’s main passenger gateway to the outside world. With El Al’s flight timetables severely reduced and with multiple major airlines including Delta, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa temporarily suspending their services to and from the Jewish State, the IAA also decided to close down more than half of the arrival and departure facilities at the airport.