How travel to Israel by land, air and sea is affected by the war

Long delays and cancellations are disrupting passage to and from the country

LOD, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 09: People wait for passengers arriving in near a sign showing landed and cancelled flights at the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion Airport on October 09, 2023 in Lod, Israel. On Saturday, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched the largest surprise attack from Gaza in a generation, sending thousands of missiles and an unknown number of fighters by land, who shot and kidnapped Israelis in communities near the Gaza border. The attack prompted retaliatory strikes on Gaza and a declaration of war by the Israeli prime minister. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld / Getty Images)
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Major international airlines and cruise ships are either delaying or cancelling journeys to and from Israel this week due to the continuing war with Gaza.

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As of Tuesday morning, about 47 per cent of flights were being cancelled to and from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport and 41 per cent were delayed, according to real-time flight tracker platform, which categorised the city as having the highest level of flight disruption in the world.

Governments are having to charter private flights to evacuate nationals from the country. Hundreds of Romanian, Polish and Hungarian citizens were flown out of Israel on Monday, while a flight carrying 40 nationals from Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia reportedly landed in Tirana on Sunday evening.

Cambodia, Mexico, Brazil and Bulgaria are also among countries evacuating its citizens and the Thai Foreign Ministry said 1,000 Thai nationals have requested help to leave.

Travel operators said that while some airlines had resumed services, passengers should exercise caution.

“Right now everyone has to be cautious and responsible for themselves,” Jyoti Mayal, president of the Travel Agents Association of India, told The National. “Even if there is an advisory from a country to start or stop travelling, it’s up to passengers.

“The security situation changes very quickly related to Israel and Gaza so whether airlines have resumed or not, my suggestion would be to be careful.”

'We regret having to make this decision'

Etihad Airways has temporarily suspended its operations until Wednesday. “The safety of passengers and employees is the highest priority for Etihad,” reads a statement from the Abu Dhabi airline.

“Etihad continues its policy of vigilance and continuing review, and is monitoring the situation closely through liaison with regulatory authorities and continuous intelligence reports. Any change to future operations will be communicated to affected guests immediately.”

Other global airlines to pause operations include Gulf Air, Swiss Air, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

The Hong Kong airline has cancelled flights on Tuesday and Thursday, and plans to review its schedule ahead of forthcoming services on Friday and Sunday.

Delta said its flights have been “cancelled into this week”, while United has paused “until conditions allow them to resume”.

Swiss Air, meanwhile, has suspended its operations up to and including Saturday. “We regret having to make this decision,” it said in a statement. “The Lufthansa Group is of course continuing to monitor the security situation in Israel intensively and is in close contact with the authorities.”

Some global airlines continue to operate

Not all airlines are cancelling operations. Emirates Airline is still operating from Dubai, with three daily services to and from Tel Aviv, although the carrier is “closely monitoring the situation”, a spokesperson told The National. “We are in close contact with the relevant authorities regarding developments. The situation is dynamic and we are carefully reviewing all factors on an hour-by-hour basis.

“The safety of our passengers, employees and operations will always be our top priority.”

Flydubai is also still operating to Israel's capital, while Turkey's carriers, including Turkish Airlines, Pegasus and Corendon Airlines, are still flying in from Istanbul and Antalya.

Despite a warning from the UK Foreign Office for citizens to avoid all but essential travel to Israel, British Airways continues to take off to Tel Aviv. There are adjustments to its schedule, however, and daily flights from Heathrow are departing in the morning instead of the afternoon. Passengers can also change travel dates free of charge up to and including October 22.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in Israel,” says a statement from the UK airline. “We’re keeping this situation under review.”

Fellow British carrier Virgin Atlantic is also continuing its services while offering passengers the option to rebook or request a full refund until Sunday.

Cyprus Airways, Transavia, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Serbia and Iberia are among those also still currently operating, although with major delays and, in some cases, reduced services.

Israel's national carrier El Al is also still operating from Ben Gurion's Terminal 3.

Facilities at the terminal continue to operate as normal, too. “Given difficult circumstances staff all worked marvellously and all normal facilities in T3 were open,” said one traveller in a review on Flightradar24.

Passengers at sea avoid the area

Cruise ships are also altering their itineraries to avoid stopping in Israel.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has changed its itinerary to replace visits to Haifa, Israel, with Istanbul, Turkey. Jerusalem will also be bypassed for Cairo.

“We are closely monitoring the situation being reported in Israel,” a representative for Regent Seven Seas Cruises told The National.

“We have strict safety protocols in place and co-operate with local authorities regarding security matters at the destinations our ships visit.”

Royal Caribbean, whose Rhapsody of the Seas departs from Haifa, cancelled cruises on Monday and Friday this week and said it was “adjusting several itineraries in the area”.

A number of other ships avoided the area and stopped in Cyprus, Greece or Egypt instead, including Celebrity Apex by Celebrity Cruises, the Norwegian Gem, Oceania Sirena and Odyssey of the Seas.

Passengers on Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam were already in Israel when the conflict began, but were quickly recalled back on-board. A passenger posted, “three days in Holy Land has become three hours”, according to the Royal Caribbean blog.

Border crossings with Egypt close

Mayal said travellers had used the land border via Egypt when flights were cancelled after Israel declared war on Hamas.

However, Egypt has now closed its border crossings with the Gaza Strip and Israel in the Sinai Peninsula, including two that serve as gateways for travellers in the towns of Rafah and Taba, Egyptian security officials said on Tuesday.

While Rafah is chiefly used by Palestinians from Gaza, the Taba crossing on the northern tip of the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba is mostly used by Israeli tourists who visit the sandy beaches and pristine blue waters of resorts in southern Sinai, including Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh.

The other two crossings are the commercial border post of Karam Abu Salem, which lies where Gaza, Egypt and Israel meet, and Al Ouga, on the Egyptian-Israeli border.

Egyptian officials said the Rafah crossing was closed late on Monday night after nearby “explosions” on the Gaza side of the border damaged the facility.

Updated: October 10, 2023, 2:30 PM