El Al to suspend 80 percent of workforce, scales down operations

Photo: © Phillip Rohmberger / IFN

El Al Israel Airlines is planning to make cuts to its workforce and flight operations as new travel regulations amid the Coronavirus crisis restrict travel to Israel and virtually eliminate tourism.

The carrier is putting 80 percent of its employees on unpaid leave for an indefinite period of time, effective next week. According to an internal memo seen by Israeli media, this will affect workers from all areas, including management. El Al’s plan sees only 1,000 of 6,000+ employees, including 120 of 600+ pilots, remaining with the airline for the time being. Those who stay would reportedly accept a 20 percent salary reduction.

This comes after the government of Israel announced on Monday, that all individuals arriving in the country must self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19. Such an entry restriction makes international travel and tourism essentially impossible. Most travellers have therefore cancelled their plans, and the demand for new bookings is almost non-existent.

Prior to this announcement, El Al planned to lay off only around 1,000 of its employees, to ‘ensure the future of the company’. The latest changes are forcing the flag-carrier to take significantly more dramatic steps. Reports say the company is requesting a bridging loan from the government in order to survive the current crisis.

Two other Israeli airlines, Arkia and IsrAir are suspending all international flights until further notice. Some international airlines, including Delta Air Lines, WizzAir, Virgin Atlantic and the Lufthansa Group are also halting their services to Israel.

Meanwhile, El Al states that it will continue to operate a number of international connections. The carrier says it sees it as a national responsibility to maintain air routes between Israel and the rest of the world.

However, the airline advises that the majority flights will be cancelled, with numbers likely to grow. Futhermore, the launch of three new routes to Chicago, Tokyo and Dusseldorf will be postponed until at least summer. It was not immediately clear how many flights would be cancelled in total, or if there would be temporary route suspensions.

El Al Israel normally operates an all-Boeing fleet of 45 aircraft, including Boeing 737, 777-200 and 787 Dreamliner. The types Boeing 767-300 and 747-400 were retired during the past year.