Unfriendly skies? Ben Gurion airport near empty due to virus fears

Country’s airline has begun a round of layoffs and pay cuts as more and more countries are added to the banned visitors’ list.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

As Israel’s Ministry of Health tries to limit the danger to Israelis from the coronavirus by calling on citizens not to fly abroad and adding more countries to the banned tourist list, the ones feeling the pinch immediately are a thousand El Al employees who were handed pink slips.

The national airline has told hundreds of temporary workers, including air crew and ground personnel they are getting laid off. The company is also planning to fire 600 permanent employees as tens of thousands of customers cancel their flights over recent days.

The top directors in the company will take a 20 percent pay cut, and CEO Gonen Ussishkin has asked the Histadrut Labor Federation and local workers’ committee to allow for a similar drop in salary for the highest paid employees, including pilots.

The committee countered with a 15 percent offer. Negotiations are ongoing.

The starkest symbol of the drastic reduction in flights into and out of the country is a practically empty Ben Gurion airport.

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Foreign tourists from China, South Korea, Italy, and other countries with high numbers of coronavirus victims are not being allowed into the country. This list is set to expand Friday, with German, French, Swiss and Spanish visitors to be banned as well.

In terms of departures, the Health Ministry is adding popular European and Asian tourist destinations to the list of places that require returning Israelis to isolate themselves for 14 days at home. That is a daunting obstacle to those who want to have a short holiday abroad.

In addition, as the number of possible flight destinations drops in Europe, Israelis who want to go to places that do not have a current corona crisis, such as North or South America, will have to pay more for direct flights to those places.

This may lead to many people canceling their vacation plans altogether.

This isn’t specifically an Israeli problem. Until the current health crisis is over, airline and tourism industries around the world are facing a huge hit to their bottom line, at least for the first half of 2020.