The dispute between El Al Israel Airlines and its pilots has turned downright ugly. The company has increased its number of leased airplanes on standby in case of last-minute problems – i.e. disruptions of flights by the pilots, GLOBES reports. In recent days, these leased planes from Spanish and Portuguese airlines have carried El Al passengers to several destinations, including Geneva, Prague, and Milan. The passengers on these flights buy El Al tickets and receive ground services and security from the company, but they are actually flying on another airline, with all that involves, including passenger complaints.
GLOBES reports that the dispute between El Al and the company pilots has been going on for years. Last January, the parties reached understandings mediated by Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel) chairman Avi Nissenkorn, in which the parties were to have negotiated, but these understandings stood up for barely one day.
El Al currently employs 530 active pilots, including 250 captains, according to GLOBES. The main dispute concerns the cost-cutting measures El Al wants to implement in its employment of pilots. For example, on flights to distant destinations, international regulations stipulate three crew members in the cockpit, while four are actually being sent: two first officers and two captains. El Al is seeking to change this practice. Another matter involves working hours; El Al wants pilots to work more than 85 flight hours – which is already taking place.
The following is part of El Al’s statement on the current impasse:
“In view of the ongoing sanctions by air crew members, El Al has had to use leased airplanes for flights to Prague, Barcelona, and Milan. The disruption of flights is a result of conditions imposed by pilots for flying, principally a prior demand for splitting flights (in other words, a refusal to work on round trip flights and a demand to work only on one-way flights, while flying on the return flight as inactive staff, thereby doubling the cost of each flight and doubling their salary) in contravention of the agreement, a demand for a business class seat, etc.
“These actions are substantially increasing the company’s expenses at a time of growing competition, when it must spend more resources on passenger service. We will not allow the pilots to increase their salaries in contravention of the agreement by underhanded and manipulative means. In order to avoid damage to the frequency of flights and the passengers, El Al is being forced to operate certain flights in leased planes.
“Three El Al crew members are joining the team of stewards. The food, service profile, ground services, and security checks in Israel and overseas are taking place the same as for all El Al flights. El Al is making every effort to notify the passengers as early as possible that their flights will be in a leased plane. Passengers seeking to switch to a different flight, or to cancel their flight, can do so without paying fees for changes or cancelations. We are making a tremendous effort to meet the timetable promised to our customers, in the hope of going back to flights only on El Al planes as soon as possible.
El Al Air Pilot Association chairman and pilot Nir Tzuk stated:
“El Al pilots, together with the company employees, are being confronted with angry passengers suffering from the El Al management’s irresponsibility. All we can do is apologize to El Al passengers. For example, on a flight to Beijing, the flight captain, who had to feed his hospitalized father, gave notice 12 hours before the flight that he would have to remain in Israel. During this time, not one, but nine other pilots were found willing to operate the flight. The flight was unnecessarily postponed to the morning.
“In contrast to the lies spread by management, which said that the problems were caused by pilots not appearing for flights or disruptions conducted by the pilots, the disruptions were caused solely by management’s decisions and actions.
“These are not business decisions for the passengers’ benefit; they are part of an ugly work dispute conducted against the pilots by company management at the passengers’ expense. Two petitions filed by management at the Labor Court in the matter have already been dismissed. For a few months, El Al flights have been transferred to foreign planes, even though the crews (pilots and stewards) and El Al planes were available for all of these flights – on time and with efficiency and safety. The national carrier is slowly becoming a broker.
“It is important to make it unmistakably clear that in recent months, all of the flights could have staffed with Israeli crews, company employees, and on El Al planes. No foreign planes at all were necessary.”