American’s Strategic Decision To Fly To Israel On The Sabbath

American Airlines is launching Miami – Tel Aviv in June. This is a route I’ve been expecting ever since they announced the end of their frequent flyer partnership with El Al in 2014.

The new service will operate three days a week with a Boeing 777-200.

  • Miami-Tel Aviv, 8:00pm – 3:10pm+1, Wednesday/Friday/Sunday
  • Tel Aviv – Miami, 11:55pm – 6:25am, Monday/Thursday/Saturday

El Al has had the route to themselves since 2017, but they do not fly on the Sabbath. American Airlines will fly on Friday night, departing at 8 p.m. (after sundown!) landing Saturday afternoon in Israel.

American’s return service won’t operate on the Sabbath, but they’ll have Friday night departures all to themselves. While the Jewish observant customers aren’t going to take Friday night flights, many others might. (And American’s first Tel Aviv route announcement focused on Dallas Fort-Worth, where they’d pick up more Christian missionary business from the middle of the country than Jews heading to Israel in any case.)

In my award booking business I failed on a request for a family looking to fly to Israel.

  • They wanted to maximize their time away from work, leaving on Friday evening (after work) and returning on Sunday a a week later.

  • They wanted their Israeli experience to ‘start right away’ so they insisted they’d only fly El Al.

I offered them four business class award seats connecting on Lufthansa, or they could choose form a couple of other carriers as well. They wouldn’t go for it. In the end I told them there were many things I could accomplish with points, but cause El Al to fly on the Sabbath wasn’t one of them. El Al has even diverted to avoid flying on Shabat.

American is only operating its Miami – Tel Aviv service three days a way and they’ve chosen to make one of those days flights a Friday night departure. They’re sacrificing the market of observant Jews for others, meanwhile gaining exclusivity over travel that evening. The long-held strategy of legacy US Airways management has been a Wee Willie Keeler approach to route planning: fly where they ain’t.


American Airlines Boeing 777-200 ‘Concept D’ Business Class

United Airlines, for its part, schedules Newark and San Francisco service daily including Shabat, and United’s Chicago schedule is less than daily with a 6:45pm Friday evening departure as well. Delta, too, flies daily to Tel Aviv.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. As an israeli living abroad 20 years now I can tell you there is nothing better than flying to israel on a friday night
    Many advantages
    Usually flights are not full, you do not get disturbed by orthodox jews asking you to join in prayer, and landing saturday the airport is dead as. no El Al flights coming and going, and traffic is light going home so whenever I can I make it a point of landing saturday or even friday afternoon (many orthodox don’t fly from the US on thursday as they are afraid of cutting it close with shabat on friday afternoon)

  2. I think you give AA too much credit. I’d bet the average AA planner has no idea what a sabbath is and if they do they would associate it with Sunday. I like to arrive in Israel Saturday evenings just as sabbath ends and transportation isn’t a major issue getting into Jerusalem which is my normal destination on arrival.

  3. I don’t see a whole lot of international demand ANYWHERE unless COVID quarantines and/or testing are revoked.

  4. This was a question I posed to Brian Znotins when I spoke to him earlier in the week.

    His response: “We are going to see how the first two services ramp up (Miami and JFK) and adjust all three schedules based on demand patterns and how the tickets are selling.”

    American made the strategic decision to fly on the Sabbath from both Dallas and Miami — at least at the outset. Only time will tell if it sticks.

  5. @Ed – “I don’t see a whole lot of international demand ANYWHERE unless COVID quarantines and/or testing are revoked.”

    Which will eventually happen, the only question is when. The current state of affairs won’t last forever.

  6. Lots of people seem to have the impression that Israel is a backward country where the ultra-religious hold sway. While many businesses are closed on Saturdays and there is little public transport outside of Haifa and Eilat, both great tourist spots, the country runs more or less as normal. Most tourists do not rely on the poor and inefficient public transport services anyway and the tourist busses all operate. Occasionally there are anti-Sabbath “desecration” demonstrations but these are not in tourist areas. The restrictions on shops are less onerous than for example in Zurich, Switzerland. The airports and taxis operate normally and as others have said because the pace of life is a little slower, Saturday is a good day to arrive or leave.

  7. The MIA – IST flights I take are always full of church groups on their way to Israel, so there is still huge demand there.

  8. These routes bring in people from all over the world and generates great revenue for the Jewish world. Who came with this.?
    Some people with vested interest are jubilating.
    Thanks to Elohim and Jehovah Shalom
    Th

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