Israel has been in the global spotlight recently due to the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant groups. The fighting has raised concerns about travel safety in the region, prompting many major airlines to suspend flights to Tel Aviv, Israel’s main international gateway.
American Airlines and Delta Suspend Tel Aviv Flights
On October 10, 2023, American Airlines announced it would cancel all flights to and from Tel Aviv through December 4, 2023. The Fort Worth-based carrier said it would also extend its travel alert, allowing affected passengers more flexibility to rebook travel without change fees.
Delta Air Lines quickly followed suit, saying it would suspend Tel Aviv flights through October 31. United Airlines also discontinued its Tel Aviv service indefinitely.
These U.S. carriers join a growing list of international airlines that have halted flights to Israel, including Air France, Finnair, Lufthansa, Iberia, and TAP Air Portugal.
Travel Advisories for Israel
With the flight suspensions, government agencies worldwide are urging caution when traveling to Israel.
The U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory level for Israel to 4 – “Do Not Travel.” The advisory warns about the risks of rocket fire, airstrikes, and possible kidnapping or hostage-taking.
The U.K. Foreign Office also advises against travel to most of Israel, including Tel Aviv. It says the risk to British nationals is “unacceptably high.”
Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and other countries have issued similar warnings about visiting Israel at this time.
Why Did Airlines Suspend Tel Aviv Flights?
Airlines decided to halt flights to Tel Aviv due to security concerns amid the escalating violence. Militant groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have fired over 4,500 rockets towards Israeli cities since October 7.
Although Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepts most incoming rockets, some still hit populated areas and critical infrastructure. A rocket landed just 2 miles from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport on October 8.
Flying near conflict zones raises the danger of rocket attacks or accidental shootdowns. In 2014, a Hamas rocket struck just 1 mile from the Tel Aviv airport runway. This prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ban flights to Israel for two days citing “potentially hazardous conditions.”
How Long Could the Tel Aviv Flight Suspension Last?
With no signs of the hostilities easing soon, airlines may extend the Tel Aviv flight suspensions into November or beyond.
During the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, many carriers halted Tel Aviv flights for two months until late August when both sides agreed to an open-ended ceasefire.
However, some airlines like El Al, Israel’s national carrier, have continued operating flights as usual. El Al said it would add services from more destinations to bring Israelis home during the crisis.
Analysts say other airlines may resume Tel Aviv flights sooner if rocket fire stays away from the airport area. But a lot depends on the overall security situation.
Can You Still Travel to Israel?
Although most foreign airlines have stopped flying to Tel Aviv, travelers can still reach Israel through alternate routes.
El Al is operating regular flights between Tel Aviv and North America, Europe, and Asia. Arkia Israeli Airlines and Israir Airlines also offer services to Tel Aviv.
Besides flying indirectly via Amman, Jordan, or Cairo, Egypt, you can travel overland to Israel from Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.
However, land borders with Syria (Golan Heights) and Gaza are closed to foreign visitors for security reasons.
Latest Entry Requirements for Israel
Israel’s borders remain open to foreign visitors despite the conflict. But you may face tighter scrutiny, especially if entering overland from Egypt or Jordan.
All travelers to Israel must present the following documents:
- Valid passport with six months’ validity
- Return or onward air ticket
- Proof of sufficient funds for the trip
- Proof of accommodation booking
- Vaccination certificates if unvaccinated or partially vaccinated
Israeli citizens, permanent residents, and certain categories can enter without any prior visa. Other foreign nationals need to apply for an electronic visa waiver before arrival.
Tourists already in Israel can continue their trip if they avoid border areas and follow local authorities’ safety instructions. However, postponing non-essential travel is recommended.
Travel Insurance for Israel
Your regular travel insurance policy may not cover trip cancellation or interruption due to security incidents, terrorism, or war. Get customized Israel travel insurance that includes adequate coverage for trip delays, medical emergencies, accidents, lost baggage, and flight cancellations.
Compare plans from reputed providers like Allianz, AIG, Seven Corners, and WorldNomads. Opt for higher medical expense limits as treatment costs are high in Israel. Also, check if your plan covers emergency medical evacuation by air ambulance.
Safety Tips for Traveling in Israel
If you must travel to Israel now, here are some tips to stay safe:
- Monitor local news and official sources for updates
- Have emergency numbers handy
- Identify bomb shelters or safe rooms in your hotel
- Stay alert in public areas and avoid demonstrations
- Follow instructions from security forces and hotel staff
- Keep travel documents and valuables secure
- Have contingency plans ready for potential disruptions
Avoid border areas in the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, West Bank, and East Jerusalem where violent clashes can erupt anytime. Steer clear of political or religious events that can turn confrontational.
Outlook for Air Travel to Israel
Airlines are playing it safe by suspending Tel Aviv flights until the security situation stabilizes. With rising casualties on both sides, the Israel-Palestinian face-off may continue for weeks.
If Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes focus away from the Tel Aviv airport area, some carriers may resume services on a limited basis.
But until a credible ceasefire is in place, airlines will remain wary of putting their crew and passengers at risk. For travelers, it is prudent to avoid non-essential trips to Israel until tensions de-escalate.