With More Passengers Than Seats, Dozens Sit On Floor Of El Al Flight To Israel

While most airlines suspend service to Israel, the country’s national carrier has continued flying – bringing Israelis back to fight for their country, and evacuating others out of the war zone. They have Boeing 737s and Boeing 777s with the E-MUSIC anti-missle defense system installed, and it works automatically, but it’s still not safe to operate in airspace where rocket attacks can take place at any time. For many, though, the risk of not traveling – heeding the call to enlist, or fleeing to safety – is far greater. So many of the normal rules of commercial travel just don’t apply right now.

One passenger who flew from Tokyo to Bangkok in order to catch the 9 hour 45 minute El Al flight from Tel Aviv shared the story of scores of young people trying to get on in order to heed their call up in the reserves or enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces. There were far more hopeful passengers than seats. With the captain’s permission, those people flew anyway.

  • They filled the jump seats with passengers
  • And then they sat people on the floor of the galleys and by the doors of the aircraft.

Upon boarding, they announced that all those who still do not have a seat will wait and try to get everyone on the plane. There were dozens of young people there who wanted to go back to enlist! El Al took all the available seats on the plane and filled up to the last seat on the plane. I felt sorry for those who could not go up due to lack of space. Then to my surprise, after they finished filling the plane, the El Al people took more than twenty young women and put them on the plane and put them in the crew’s folding chairs. And after that the captain gave permission and more than ten young men to sit on the floor in the kitchens and near the doors of the plane were put on the flight.

Passengers slept on the floor during the 4,321 mile flight – near the cockpit, in business class “and in every corner of the plane.”

We’ve seen planes depart with more passengers and seats before, though it’s not common and certainly not standard procedure.

Those were all during normal times, and at least two were mistakes. But in emergencies we’ve certainly seen this before.

Obviously it isn’t ‘safe’ to be on an aircraft without a seat belt for use in significant turbulence. But somehow that risk seems to pale in comparison to what’s going on now in and around Israel.

American Airlines has suspended service to Tel Aviv but has entered into a temporary re-accommodation agreement to move passengers onto El Al. There may not be a lot of open seats! Hopefully United and Delta which have also suspended Tel Aviv service will work with El Al, which is still flying, to assist their passengers who have purchased tickets. Meanwhile all are adding capacity to Athens as the U.S. hires other carriers to fly Americans there for repatriation.

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. @Gene – I do not expect the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel to fine El Al over this flight

  2. Kind of inspiring how dedicated Israelis are to their country and fellow citizens
    I’m not one for breaking safety rules but I think exceptions should be made during extraordinary circumstances
    I wish all those that have been affected would never have to go through such disruption ,unrest loss and sadness but unfortunately we live in a fragile angry world.
    I never imagined that history would repeat itself and that others wouldn’t have learned before that war ,attacking and violence is never the answer

  3. I think departing country law governs (based on EU261 applying to US carriers only when departing the EU, and FAA trying to assert jurisdiction over BA 268 back in 2005).

  4. It’s very popular for young Israelis to spend a year-ish after their compulsory military service traveling the world. So popular that there are more than a few inns and hostels in the Bangkok backpacker district with Jewish names, offering kosher meals. In other words, a lot of the Israelis flying back from the far east are very well and recently trained soldiers.

  5. I’m also with those who see it as acceptable given the circumstance. The United States did the same in WWII: Ships and aircraft, both military and commercial, did what they had to do in order to get personnel to the desired location.

  6. @ AC — I don’t think those extra soldiers will do much good if they arrive with broken bones.

  7. Now more foreign wannabe colonizers want to oppress the Palestinians anew. A bunch of moral cowards.
    Ain’t Apartheid great.

  8. @ Gene, I’m guessing you have never served in the military, seen a war zone or had to defend the land your home is sitting on. If I am correct, then my lack of respect for your comments is justified.

  9. @K Helldoge Why don’t you just move to Gaza for a while? And while you’re there, why don’t you tell them you’re gay? Or a Presbyterian? Or, uh, a woman? See how that oppression works out for you. Or google what is the penalty for leaving the Islamic religion in Gaza. GTFOH with the oppression apologist complex and go read a book. Any book, you ignorant snowflake.

  10. @Michael – I was wondering how long until one of the slack-jawed, knuckle dragging deplorables would try to insult someone by using the term ‘snowflake’. Actually learn about the world beyond what crap Fox News feeds down your gullible throat. The way Israel treats the Palestinians is atrocious. The US should immediately end all funding and support for Israel, and allow Iran, and other Arab nations to burn that abomination from the face of the planet. Once that is complete, maybe we can round up the brain dead right wing loons such as yourself and send them to forced labor camps.

  11. @Tim Dunn: I would indeed not return to participate in the starvation of 2 million people.

  12. @Tim Dunn,

    No other people would do it?

    Did you not see and hear about the many Ukrainian expats returning to Ukraine when they were invaded ~18 months ago?

  13. Brad,

    What Hamas and the PA do to the Palastinians is atrocious. It is also a war crime to use human shields.

  14. @Brad, I’m a liberal democrat and I don’t watch Fox News. There are snowflakes of all shapes and colors. Liberals wanting to cancel everyone because they said something they didn’t like? Snowflake. Conservatives losing their shit because they saw two men kissing or someone said to them happy holidays? Snowflake. Funny how you see the word snowflake and just from that you get completely triggered and casually assume I’m a sister banging knuckle dragging patriot rube when in reality you’re proving my point by acting like a snowflake. Here’s your cheat sheet: Taking hostages: bad. Using human shields: bad. Killing civilians: bad. I don’t want children anywhere to die, but your boyfriend K Helldoge is drawing a moral false equivalence between the two countries. He should move there and go outside in drag. Snowflake.

  15. It’s wild to me how different AA’s response has been vs Delta’s “lol good luck and also we’re keeping your money as a travel credit”

  16. Chris,
    lots of people want to avoid the death of innocent civilians including the IDF. The war is with Hamas, not the Palestinian people

  17. As a former NorthWest Airlines cabin crew, I remember clearly that the Captain had final say over what was safe or unsafe on board his flight. Seems to me this is a great example of this playing out! God Bless Israel!

  18. Some rules go by the side for emergencies, and some should never go by the side. But if volunteering to take on the additional risk and not doing others any harm against their will, then it is what it is.

    Are flights to AMM in Jordan being taken to get back to Israel so as to report for duty? Going by road from Israel to AMM to fly out of the region has been done quite a lot in recent days, but that’s people trying to high tail it out of the area.

    After completing compulsory military duty with the IDF, a lot of the members go on extensive vacation to less developed countries — India, Nepal, Thailand and other such countries around the world that are popular with the backpacker type crowds — and so many of these returnees indeed are relatively recently trained and militarily capable citizens of the country. A lot of such people also go to developed countries to work formally or informally. They and others should also know with what they are possibly getting involved in supporting in the name of wanting to defend their nation and that “following orders” and/or “defending the homeland” is not legal cover for engaging in war crimes just because you, your loved ones, neighbors and nation have been subject to an unimaginable horror attack (or, as in this case, decades of brutal attacks on Israelis by Hamas and on Palestinians by Israelis).

    If the IDF is doing everything it takes to avoid the death of innocent civilians nowadays, it doesn’t show when this has happened in Gaza: announce a “safe corridor” while dropping more bombs on Gaza in one week than the US and allies dropped on ISIS in 6 weeks at the peak of our taking on ISIS — to try to depopulate the northern part of Gaza of nearly half of the Palestinian population and yet attacking along the route from the air so much so that it is said to literally stink of blood outdoors down that “safe corridor”. Cutting off water, food and bombing hospitals and ambulances is a war crime, and the Israeli security cabinet and defense minister authorized all of that and more. When Russia did just some of that to Ukraine, the Europeans, Americans and decent people everywhere led the way and rallied together and ascribed similar such Russian actions as being Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian peoples. Consider that. And unlike in Ukraine, Gaza has a much younger median age than Ukraine, with nearly 40-45% of Gaza’s Palestinians being less than 15 years of age. And before this brutal Hamas attack on Israel on a Jewish holiday, it was estimated that Hamas had no more than 25-30% support of Palestinians in Gaza despite Netanyahu and Qatar having worked together with each other to fund Hamas in order to try to buy Hamas and kept Hamas in control of the Palestinians in Gaza and give the PA/PLO trouble everywhere.

    It is not self-defense to generate so much in the way of civilian casualties that it risks generating a massive stream of future non-state terrorists with more motivation to strike back than had been the case perhaps than ever before in the region. Keep in mind that there are probably at least a million Palestinian men between the age of 18-50 years old stuck outside Gaza with relatives stuck in the hell-hole that is Gaza. Is Israel going to be able to wipe out all the men who lose a relative to the Israeli siege on Gaza? Of course not, even as it’s far easier to ethnically cleanse Gaza with mass casualties and other Ottoman Turkey style measures which were used to commit the genocide of Armenians and then move in their own preferred people into the ethnically-cleansed areas.

    Defending one’s country against a brutal enemy and going after barbaric criminals is the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do is to pretend as if brutal atrocities aren’t underway under the cover of “defending the homeland”. In many ways, this situation is very reminiscent of how the Ottoman Turks ethnically cleansed the Armenians in that genocide during the dying days of the Sick Man of Europe. Supposedly democratic state actors should realize that it is criminal and even strategically risky to behave in a ways that are largely indistinguishable from the ways of murderous, non-state-actor criminals being supposedly targeted for crimes that indeed need to be punished but should not be punishing civilians en masse as is now happening. But too many have forgotten or not cared about noting the lessons from the Holocaust and other genocides and seem to have their brains get too easily fogged by hate and unbridled anger. For the sake of Israel’s long-term security, it’s critical to not get played by Hamas and other terrorists opposed to Hamas.

    This bloody circle of violence is a horror movie, and it’s unfortunately got sequels to no good end when monsters can so easily bait more people into keeping the horror show in demand and driving demand for sequels that involve lots of innocent civilians killed.

    Tim Dunn,

    “Wanting to avoid” is like “thoughts and prayers”. It’s not the same thing as “avoiding” or doing what it takes to avoid. Actions and outcomes speak louder than “thoughts and prayers”.

  19. Okay you over sensitive Karen and Kevins here next time your country or your race is in a war..the world will not be so sensitive and let you fill up your planes, shops, trsins, busses etc. to the max..no comment at all!

  20. Brad,

    It’s the extremist right-wing Iranian regime which scare Israelis and many others with all that genocide talk. Their calls for for Israel’s destruction are terrifying and disgusting and shouldn’t be left unchallenged. The Palestinians have a right to exist as a sovereign people with security and so do Israelis. War crimes are never justifiable, and the insane calls to wipe out Israel would be a call for a genocidal war crime. Disgusting to call for the wiping out of any people to create “living room” for the occupying force or even for a “recovering force”.

    It would be better that the Israelis and Palestinians co-exist with separate sovereign states with good relations with each other. Israel’s economic engine can benefit a sovereign Palestinian state and a sovereign Palestinian state in peace with Israel would de-escalate conflicts and disempower the extremist right-wing nuts that are on proverbial steroids. What the Iranian regime and Netanyahu fans have in common is that they increase the long-term chance of someone or some small group with a Masada Complex deciding to go for the proverbial “nuclear” option to take out most all of “the other” and sacrifice their remaining own too. The chances of such types being able to eventually “go nuclear” — and that’s a reference to WMDs of various sorts in this context — is only rising, and that doesn’t serve humanity well. Co-existence and mutual respect is needed, not yet more dehumanization and beastly violence by state and non-state actors.

  21. Joe says:

    “Okay you over sensitive Karen and Kevins here next time your country or your race is in a war..the world will not be so sensitive and let you fill up your planes, shops, trsins, busses etc. to the max..no comment at all!”

    The human race has been involved in wars for way longer than there has been writing. The Neanderthal genes are still around in the human race largely due to the ugliness of violence.

    The Palestinians in Gaza are not being allowed to fill up planes, shops, trains, buses etc. to the max. They are stuck in an open air prison of Israel’s design, one which had Netanyahu make a deal with Qatar that made sure to keep Hamas funded and running the show in Gaza even while the vast majority of people in Gaza were sick of it. All because Netanyahu wanted no Palestinian state and wanted the PA/PLO sidelined and incapable of delivering to Palestinian national aspirations for their own sovereign homeland in the land on which they and their ancestors were born. Better to be sensitive to facts than susceptible to propaganda and a supporter of dehumanizing ways.

  22. So glad US does not have compulsory conscription of its young men (and women); many wars are fought by conscripts and directed by armchair generals. I once almost flew on El Al by accident (on the jet bridge I realized that I was at the wrong gate) and I have no real issues with El Al. But this military use of a commercial aircraft disregarding the seatbelt rule, etc. makes me wonder. Do we leisure travelers really have to stay in our seats with seatbelts fastened at the seeming whim of flight crew, even if we really have to use the bathroom toilet right then and there? I suppose the personal injury insurance is covered by another military protocol, so there’s that. I just can’t help but think of the last time I saw something like this: C130s flying too many passengers out of Afghanistan at the Taliban takeover. Anyway, best wishes and good luck to everyone. We leisure travelers practically can no longer fly to Moscow, and now TelAviv. In just the last few years, the shrinking number of safe aviation leisure destinations is disappointing.

  23. For all you whining about Israel and how they are conducting this war against an enemy that savagely murdered innocent civilians (including woman and young children) just watch what happens. Israel typical does the “you kill 1 we kill 10” approach. I fully expect them to decimate Gaza and kill as many as possible. Also don’t be surprised if Mossad agents assassinate leaders in Iran.

    Israel should, and will, do whatever is required to protect their future and will do it without conscious. You may disagree but just watch. BTW research history and you will see it was common to take over places, kill everyone, steal anything of value then burn it down. War is hell (as it should be) and isn’t a place for soft hearted people.

    I fully support Israel, without restrictions, in doing whatever THEY feel is warranted.

  24. @GUWonder


    The right wing in Israel are whats going to save them. The far left 5th column is why this war happened. They were too busy protesting a lawful reform and making the nation weak.

    The left is the foundation to all the problems in the world. The right is the solution.

  25. @BigTee: “So glad US does not have compulsory conscription of its young men (and women); many wars are fought by conscripts and directed by armchair generals.”

    Obviously, the comments of someone so young that he has no idea of the Draft in the States. In my war, Vietnam, drafting was quite common.

  26. I had a coworker on this flight. He was on a business trip to China and returned through the El Al flight from Bangkok since no other airline is flying to TLV.
    he said most of these people sleeping on the floor are former military and they told him “Flying like this is much better than a Hercules flight”

  27. AndyS,

    The Israeli “Fifth Column” includes the fans of Rabin’s assassin and Netanyahu. Netanyahu supported the financing of Hamas and even made deals with Qatar to keep the money flowing to Hamas in Gaza. What is more traitorous than supporting the funding of a terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and whose operatives unleashed bloody hell on Israeli civilians this month!

    And please don’t tell me that peace need be made only between enemies and that Netanyahu’s support for Hamas’s financing was about making life better for the Palestinians. Financing Hamas has only made Hamas leaders more comfortable in this life, and that is what Netanyahu and Qatar delivered to Hamas at the expense of the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

  28. @GUWonder

    You’re delusional and spouting far left propaganda.
    People like you are the fifth column in the west.

  29. It’s the delusional and zealots who see delusion and propaganda except where it is: in the person they see in their own mirror everyday.

    The fifth column are the far right wingers, and that includes the Likudnik-supporting types, be they the Americans who invaded the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in opposition to the US election results or Netanyahu who has been a material Hamas-enabler and sponsor of the conditions that made a much more dangerous basket case and cauldron of much of the Middle East post-9/11 and thereby empowered the Iranian right wingers to such extent that Iran is more a threat to Israel now than it was before Netanyahu got his way again and again and again and again. Netanyahu is a disaster for Israelis, even as too few readily acknowledge how much of a disaster he is for the country and the region.

  30. This was a flight OUT of israel and not the other way round. LOL
    Just google and you’ll find the real story behind this pic.

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