El Al Sues Israel Because Saudi Arabia is Letting Air India Use Its Airspace

El Al is suing the government of Israel — the Civil Aviation Authority, the Prime Minister, and the Transportation Minister. They’re also suing Air India.

That’s because Saudi Arabia (and not the government of Israel) is allowing Air India to traverse its airspace on flights between India and Israel.

Alright so this is getting about as confusing as an episode of Soap.


I’ll start by saying that it’s a good thing Saudi Arabia is allowing Air India to use its airspace for these flights. It represents a thawing of relations. Only US Presidents have been able to go through Saudi airspace enroute to El Al without stopping in a third country first (generally Jordan).

However they aren’t also allowing El Al to use their airspace. And that puts El Al at a competitive disadvantage, because their flights have to take a more circuitous route. That takes longer. And it costs more.

Here’s how El Al’s flight LY72 routes from Tel Aviv to Mumbai:

However here’s what a direct routing would look like:

Air India is flying Delhi – Tel Aviv, and not competing directly with El Al’s Mumbai – Tel Aviv. But El Al is concerned that other airlines will soon be able to fly through Saudi airspace traveling to and from Israel, putting the Israeli carrier at a disadvantage. So they want to stop it in its tracks.

They’re asking the Israeli Supreme Court to say that if El Al can’t use Saudi airspace on flights to and from Israel, that no one can.

El Al’s lawyers say that the deal with Air India violates a binding commitment to ensure fair competition and equal opportunities it made with the Israeli government when it was privatized in 1994, as well as international aviation conventions. The airline is asking for an injunction prohibiting Air India flights to Israel over Saudi Arabia until it is afforded the same privilege.

The Israeli government for its part would prefer to move forward with flights over Saudi Arabia and move to a place where even El Al could use it. Here’s the Minister of Transportation:

Indeed the Prime Minister “said his goal was to introduce shorter, five-hour flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai.”

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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  1. Suing wrong parties seems crazy and cannot possibly help. It is like moving U.S. Supreme Court to ban all visitors from entering the country until every person on Earth is granted equal right of entry.

  2. It still won’t help El Al. They cannot fly over: Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Yemen nor Afghanistan as well as Saudi Arabia. Even if They could fly over Saudi airspace it wouldn’t help as long as there’s an Arab blockade. They should be thankful that they can fly over Jordan and Egypt or they’d be ass out of luck in aviation.

  3. On second thought, one bright side to this saga is the possibility that El Al is doing all this for free publicity. 🙂

  4. “Only US Presidents have been able to go through Saudi airspace enroute to El Al without stopping in a third country first (generally Jordan).”

    I think you mean “Israel” here, not “El Al”…

  5. El Al is approaching this wrong. You see, Air India’s value prop has always been non-functioning toilets.

  6. This proves how like all national champions (i.e., Alitalia, Varig, Olympic, Sabena, Malev, etc., etc.) El Al is really an adversary of the people it purports to serve, rather than their hero, and has probably done more to hobble the Israeli economy than all of the Arab boycotts ever could. Long past time to cut off all of their privileges and subsidies and let it die so that it can’t weigh down the Israeli economy any longer. It would be good riddance indeed.

  7. @AAA_ZZU . . . and United, and Lufthansa, and BA, and Delta, and Cathay Pacific, and let’s not forget the best possibility — that the private sector in Israel come up with its own new airline without the baggage of El Al, and serve Israeli consumers while competing for their business (instead of litigating to hamper others from competing and offering superior service).

  8. El Al also has a long history of lending its planes for Israeli diplomatic and military purposes, which is why it’s not going away any time soon. El Al planes, for example, were used to airlift Ethiopian refugees to Israel

  9. El Al is being short sighted and status quo here. The future for Israel and regional counties is in opening the skies and freeing commerce and movement between Israel and more of its neighbors. This step is just that – a step. To expect everything to change at once is ridiculous. To view incremental change as positive is pragmatic.

  10. I would not voluntarily travel AI. Then again not being Jewish I probably would not fly EL Al with its very appropriate security consciousness. While I will never need to fly the India Israel route, Turkish I suppose would be my choice. Easier award redemptions too! Beater food! Working toilets! ( Hello AI). The lounge at IST! No brainer

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