Israeli airlines face yet more cut-price competition


TEL AVIV, Israel (eTN) – Until a couple of years ago it seemed as though no one was going to break the stranglehold of British Airways and El Al on the London to Tel Aviv route. The national carriers remained unchallenged, until the Israeli authorities finally caved in to pressure to move towards an “open skies” policy.

Good service was guaranteed on the trips between Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport and London’s Stanstead, Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

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Then the one-time, travel-agency-turned-airline Thomson Fly began offering flights not just to London but also to Manchester in northern England, which had been starved of direct flights to Israel for more than a decade. Thomson saw the public pressure there for the new route and jumped in to offer its service from the end of 2007.

Now, bmi is joining the fight for passengers, as its launches a service on March 13 from Heathrow to Tel Aviv. The British company, which dubs itself “Heathrow’s second-largest airline,” will offer a daily flight, which, it says, offers good connections with its domestic services and those to Ireland.

bmi reckons its entry to the market will not only give consumers more choice but also better deals. “We have every confidence that our presence on this new route will stimulate its competitiveness,” says bmi CEO Nigel Turner. “We are committed to delivering a superior product both on the ground and in the air, as well as offering a range of highly competitive fares that will appeal to a wide range of markets.”

Trying to book the cheapest return fare online (via the airlines’ own websites) for a March 13 departure from Heathrow returning from Tel Aviv a week later, The Media Line was offered the following fares:

bmi: $653
Thomson Fly (from Luton): $640
British Airways: $662
El Al: $682

As an increasing number of travelers to and from Israel are discovering, perhaps the best way to travel to the UK is via a European mainland carrier. Among the favorites are Turkish, Alitalia and Lufthansa. The stopover will add time to the five-hour direct journey, but passengers with time on their hands and not too much money are favoring the European option.