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.”
Translated from Hebrew: (from אורי שכטר) Am Yisrael Chai!
Thanks to El Al…
Amidst all the waves of civil volunteerism and extraordinary mobilization throughout the country, I wanted to share and acknowledge another special thank you to the EL AL company.
On Tuesday morning I… pic.twitter.com/SJL6f92FeK
— David Ha'ivri دافيد هعفري (@haivri) October 15, 2023
We’ve seen planes depart with more passengers and seats before, though it’s not common and certainly not standard procedure.
- In 2017, Pakistan International Airways gave 7 passengers on a Boeing 777 handwritten boarding passes to stand in the aisle of a 1,700 mile flight from Karachi to Medina.
- In 2019, a British family had to sit on the floor of a TUI flight from Mahon, Spain to Birmingham when the carrier swapped planes for an aircraft that didn’t have their row.
- In 2021, a Delta flight from Charleston, South Carolina to Atlanta left the gate with two more passengers than seats. Two employees traveling went up to the front to flag the problem and the plane went back to the gate.
Those were all during normal times, and at least two were mistakes. But in emergencies we’ve certainly seen this before.
"In my entire life I have never seen a flight where dozens of people are sitting on the floor."
— Mr. Nobru (@nobru072) October 15, 2023
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.