The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has filed a complaint over Israel barring passenger rights for US carriers to fly to Israel. The DOT is concerned that Israel is giving more favorable status to its flag carrier, El Al, and not letting US airlines transport passengers to Tel Aviv.
The US DOT files a complaint with Israel
The Jerusalem Post reports that the US has officially lodged a complaint with Israel over El Al. The complaint alleges that granting Israeli carrier El Al the right to operate the repatriation flights from the US violates the air transport agreement between the two countries.
El Al has been operating some US routes to bring passengers back to Israel after the country locked down its border. Another Israeli carrier, Israir, has been operating rescue flights to and from Frankfurt, Germany.
Israel’s border closure
Until at least February 20th, Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv (TLV) is closed off as an entry point for air passengers. Ben Gurion Airport is the leading international airport in Israel.
The border is closed to all foreign citizens who are not permanent residents. There are limited approved exceptions to the policy. Essentially, only minimal passengers can come in and out of Israel, and those passengers will need to comply with quarantine and testing mandates.
Along with these new border entry restrictions, major US carriers were barred from flying passengers in and out of Israel. The only two US carriers still flying to Israel are United and Delta. American does not currently fly to Israel, but it soon has plans to.
As with the first wave of border shutdowns in the world, the Israeli shut down left plenty stranded abroad, which is why airlines are operating rescue flights.
Aviation agreements between Israel and the United States
The US and Israel have a bilateral Open Skies agreement that allows airlines to establish flights between the two countries under a pre-prescribed set of rules and guidelines. The agreement is designed to liberalize air traffic and let the two countries come closer in terms of air connections.
However, the agreement also calls for fairness of treatment for airlines of either country. This means that the US cannot impede El Al’s operations if Israel is fairly allowing US carriers to run flights.
In filing the complaint, the DOT is telling Israel it does not believe the current operations between the two countries, given Israel’s restrictions, are fair for US carriers.
From here, Israel has a few different options. They can give US carriers an equal opportunity to conduct some repatriation flights. Or else, they can hold onto the policy they have currently.
If the latter situation is the outcome, then the US could take some actions, such as barring El Al from operating certain flights. This would be an extreme escalation on both parts. The most likely, and best option for all, would be for Israel to divide some of the rights to carry the few passengers who are returning to Israel.