By Kaylene Ladinsky | kaylene@atljewishtimes.com

Like many in the Atlanta Jewish community, I try to go to Israel at least once a year, but it is quite a journey to get there.

It is at least a 12-hour flight once you get out of Atlanta to an airport that has a direct flight to Tel Aviv. From 2006 until September 2011, Delta Air Lines had a direct flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Ben-Gurion, but during the second fiscal quarter of 2011 the airline announced that it was suspended the service because of high fuel prices.

The last nonstop flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv was Aug. 31, 2011, and the last flight back was the next day.

As a result, Atlantans traveling to Israel must take a connecting flight. This additional leg of travel is exhausting and can be challenging.

I flew to Israel on Aug. 30 and came home Sept. 9. Because Delta has no direct flight, I decided to support the Israeli national airline, El Al, even though it does not fly to Atlanta. I scheduled a connecting flight from Atlanta to New York’s JFK on Delta.

As a somewhat frequent flier to Israel, I was excited about this new experience with the Israeli airline. To my disappointment overall, it turned out to be a bad experience. Our flight from JFK to Tel Aviv was pleasant, but when it was time to leave Israel, we were notified that our flight to JFK was being delayed five hours.

Delays happen, and generally airlines will do their best to accommodate passengers and make sure they reach their destination. That was not the case with El Al.

Our flight was to leave at midnight and arrive in New York at 5:30 a.m. Our flight to Atlanta left at 8:30 a.m. Because of El Al’s five-hour delay, we missed our connecting flight home.

I called El Al customer service and was told that because we booked our flight to Atlanta with Delta, there was nothing they could do, even though El Al does not offer service to Atlanta.

We called Delta and were told they could get us on a later flight, but because the delay was caused by El Al, there would be a change fee of $200 per ticket, plus a $272 increase in the ticket price, for a total charge of $472 per person. Not to mention an additional day for the rental car in Israel for $90.

So it cost my husband and me an additional $1,034 to get home because our El Al flight was delayed by five hours.

I made several calls to El Al customer service and was repeatedly told there was nothing they could do to help us. I was advised for further assistance to send an email to customer@elal.co.il. I have sent several email requests and have received no response.

I have learned a valuable lesson from this experience and am glad to share this knowledge. It is important to know when you fly El Al that the airline will not take responsibility for any damages you suffer because a flight delay or cancellation affects a connection that El Al does not service.

Travel to Israel is expensive as it is, and I do not mind spending the money because it is a mitzvah to spend money in the land of Israel. But to get taken for a financial ride by the airline for $1,000 or more is unacceptable.

My experience is just another reason why it is important to the Atlanta Jewish community for Delta to bring back its direct flights between Atlanta and Tel Aviv. There are many more reasons:

  • More than 5,000 Israelis live in the Atlanta area.
  • Dozens of IT companies based their offices here because of the direct flights, whose suspension has made travel difficult.
  • Travel to Israel is shorter by at least a half-day with direct flights.
  • Direct flights will enable other brilliant IT professionals to relocate to Atlanta.
  • Other Israeli IT companies and startups will come to Atlanta.

You can petition for the re-establishment of direct flights between Atlanta and Tel Aviv by sending a letter to CEO Richard Anderson, Delta Air Lines, P.O. Box 20706, Atlanta, GA 30320-6001, or by calling Delta corporate communications at 404-715-2554.