El Al’s new CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia is keen for Tel Aviv to become a transit hub, rather than just a destination. Speaking on the sidelines of the Future Travel Experience EMEA event in Dublin this week, she described a new version of the airline that could offer strong connecting flow, as well as stopovers to grow the customer base.
Right now El Al serves as an Israeli point of sale; we don’t have the beyond traffic via Israel. We have this opportunity to open up to expand that. – El Al CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia– El Al CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia
Connecting traffic, with a few major challenges
Realizing that goal, however, will require a number of significant changes, both for the airline directly as well as the transit experience in Tel Aviv. Today the vast majority of traffic originates or terminates at Tel Aviv. The airport and the carrier’s security posture are developed around that flow. That creates challenges for connecting passengers at two levels.
The security process for transiting is significantly more burdensome than at other airports in the region. And the longer connection times seen today are without a high volume of transit passengers. Increasing that number will require close coordination with airport security officials to scale up and smooth the process.
Longer transit times also means less efficient flight schedule banks. While nearby competitors in Istanbul, Doha, and the UAE can publish connection shorter than an hour, an itinerary that quick at Tel Aviv would be challenging at best. Ultimately this means longer overall travel times and less efficient aircraft utilization, neither of which are good for the company.
Some shorter markets are ripe for transit connectivity. Ganancia specifically called out Cyprus as a nearby country without flights to the USA and with good connectivity potential via Israel. Other, shorter markets in North Africa could also potentially work.
But Ganancia has much larger ambitions for her airline. The historic Abraham Accords opened up new routes and opportunities for El Al. And now the carrier wants to take those developments further.
Flights to the UAE, for example, are an incredible opportunity. Ganancia wants to see the Saudi overflight rights expanded further, however. If extended to El Al’s flights to Bangkok and other Far East destinations travel time could be reduced by three hours. That means extra costs, of course. But reducing that travel time also makes it easier to sell passengers on transiting Tel Aviv.
Establishing that connecting flow also means potential to add more destinations. “We have to be realistic, we have to pick routes that are logical in terms of our geographic position,” Ganancia admits. “But Istanbul is not too far from us and has a huge hub. So the potential is terrific.”
Stopovers in Israel
Using a stopover to sell long-haul trips is hardly a new idea. But Ganancia believes El Al has a unique pitch: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. “We can sell more than just transportation; we can sell an experience. It is not transit just for business, but transit for leisure, with a Jerusalem/Tel Aviv experience on the way to the Far East, that is something we can offer.”
The carrier has run some small trials in the past, so it is confident in the potential. As Ganancia explains, “We did a small test with passengers from Paris who stayed a few days before continuing to Hong Kong. The potential is there. We just need to build up the production more.”
Developing stronger partnership
El Al works with several strong partners today. Ganancia wants to take those partnerships to another level. She explains, “We already have flights from Tel Aviv to other destinations like Johannesburg, Bangkok, and the Far East that we could bring to a partnership.”
For its partners in the US, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, and American Airlines, “El Al serves as an Israeli point of sale; we don’t have the beyond traffic via Israel.” If the carrier can develop the transit traffic, however, Ganancia sees huge potential for that to change.
And if it can become a more compelling partner, particularly with connecting traffic, she believes El Al could then be a valuable member for one of the big three global alliances. That potential, however, remains several years away.
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Charles Fiszbaum says
Dreams, dreams, dreams.
The airline haven’t yet decide if they are a premium or low cost airline.
Passing security before the flights can be a vey unpleasant experience.
Will they compete with Turkish or Emirates?
Their only potential transit to/from market is Cyprus. Come on , os she serious?
Seth Miller says
Believe it or not, the CEO didn’t list every connecting market she’d like to serve in a brief conversation. Cyprus is an easy one to name given its location and lack of long-haul operations, but it is hardly the only market the company is looking at. The Far East (also mentioned in the story) and South Africa are also top of mind.
And, yes, the security challenge is probably the most significant. She knows that. And mentioned a few times that it will require the government to cooperate. Maybe that happens; maybe it does not. But she’s not so naïve as to pretend the challenges aren’t there. Identifying the ones to address is a big first step.
But only a first step. Execution will ultimately be key.
There’s so much that needs to be fixed with El-Al before thinking of connectivity. Recurring issues with religious passengers who don’t want to sit next to a woman or who stand up in the middle of the flight to pray diregarding fasten-your-seat-belt signs, a frequent flyer program that has no rationale, fares that are always higher than the competition, poor customer service etc etc
Seth Miller says
Those are definitely all very real challenges. No one said it was going to be easy.