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Is United Airlines Preparing to Return to Israel Next Month?… Maybe. Here’s How They’ll Do It

Is United Airlines Preparing to Return to Israel Next Month?… Maybe. Here’s How They’ll Do It

a white airplane on a runway

United Airlines could be ‘plotting’ its return to Israel for the first time since the Hamas terrorist atrocity of October 7, 2023, according to aviation insider JonNYC, who posted on social media platform X about the airline’s potential impending resumption of Tel Aviv flights.

JonNYC has, time after time, proven to be a reliable source, although, on this, even he admits that United’s return to Israel is, at best, tentative and might not work out.

United quickly cancelled flights to Tel Aviv as the Hamas terror attack was still unfolding last October, and the airline rushed to evacuate pilots and flight attendants out of Israel as rockets sent across the Gaza border sent people fleeing for shelter.

But while rival Delta Air Lines has already confirmed that it has no plans to resume flights to Tel Aviv until May 2024 at the earliest, United isn’t so willing to set definitive times.

Could there then be, therefore, some truth to the rumor of direct United flights to Tel Aviv resuming in the near future?

One possible date that has been mooted is February 15, although JonNYC says he doesn’t think that date is going to hold. Much will depend not only on the security situation in Israel but also on persuading pilots and flight attendants that it’s safe to restart flights.

That might be a little easier given the fact that a growing number of international airlines have already started flying back to Tel Aviv, led by Germany’s Lufthansa Group in January and now followed by Air France, Ryanair and Wizz Air.

European airlines, however, have the luxury of being able to fly planes and crew to Tel Aviv as a so-called ‘turnaround’ service – which basically means that crew members don’t ever step foot off the plane, avoiding the need for layovers in Tel Aviv which could pose more of a safety issue.

On a good day, Lufthansa can land in Tel Aviv and depart again just 40 minutes later, greatly minimising the security threat.

After a long-haul flight from the United States, however, a fast turnaround just isn’t an option for an airline like United. The airline has to be convinced that it’s safe to layover crew in Israel or, alternatively, it could pick a stopover location in a third (safe) country from which to run a shuttle service to Israel.

In this scenario, United would fly the majority of the way to a destination in Europe where the crew who operated the first leg from the US deplane for their layover and a new set of crew board to operate a turnaround service to Tel Aviv.

The flight would be direct, with passengers remaining on board during the technical stop somewhere in Europe, but not non-stop due to the need to stopover on both the outbound and return.

Where United could make a technical stop remains open to debate. United operates several flights a week from Washington Dulles to Amman in Jordan but flights between Amman and Tel Aviv remain suspended so this rules out this location, at least for now.

There are other nearby locations, including Athens or even Larnaca on the island of Cyprus, just a short 40-minute flight away from Tel Aviv, with multiple services running daily between the two cities.

Unfortunately, United doesn’t have any experience in flying to Cyprus and probably doesn’t have any contracts for refuelling or maintenance should something be wrong. The lack of hotel rooms going into the summer season would also be a drawback.

Athens remains a potential layover destination, as well as even Frankfurt, although the fact that United closed its international crew base in the German city during the pandemic tarnishes this choice slightly.

In any case, United Airlines is remaining tight-lipped, saying in a statement that flights to Tel Aviv would “remain suspended until conditions allow them to resume”. Considering that more and more airlines already believe those conditions already exit, perhaps United really is plotting its return to Israel.

Last November, United ‘accidentally’ said it was about to resume flights to Tel Aviv from Newark, although the airline had to quickly pull the press release, blaming an external media agency for the error.

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