WASHINGTON — U.S. airlines scrambled to cancel flights and accommodate affected passengers after the Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday a temporary ban on flights into Israel.
“Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport (LLBG) by U.S. operators are prohibited until further advised,” said the FAA’s Notice to Airmen.
The notice, shorthanded as a NOTAM, said the action followed a rocket strike which landed about a mile from Ben Gurion airport. The ban was in effect for 24 hours, with the FAA expected to make another announcement before then.
The ban comes on the heels of last week’s downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board. McClatchy has learned that discussions of an airport ban in Israel were already under way before that tragedy.
FAA officials could not remember if there had ever been such a flight ban amid past conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. But they stressed the action was not unusual, with similar past notices issued because of conflicts in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
“We are suspending Tel Aviv operations until further notice. We are working with government officials to ensure the safety of our customers and our employees and will continue to evaluate the situation,” said a statement from United Airlines, which canceled its two daily flights from Newark, N.J.
U.S. Airways, now part of American Airlines, canceled its daily flight to and from Philadelphia_ flight 796 from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv, scheduled for 9 pm EST, and flight 797 from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia, scheduled to leave at 1130 pm local time.
“The safety of our passengers and crew members is, of course, our top priority,” Matt Miller, a spokesman for the American Airlines Group, told McClatchy.
American and US Airways were working with other airlines to accommodate affected passengers, and Miller said anyone with tickets to Israel and traveling before Aug. 31 could cancel or reschedule because of the conflict, under the airline’s flexible ticketing policy.
Delta Airlines had its only daily flight en route to Israel when the FAA notice was issued. The flight had departed New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and was approaching the Middle East when the rocket landed in the proximity of the airport.
“Delta flight 468, a Boeing 747 from JFK with 273 passengers and 17 crew, diverted to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Tuesday after reports of a rocket or associated debris near the airport in Tel Aviv,” the airline said in a statement. “Delta is working to re-accommodate these customers. Delta continues to work closely with U.S. and other government resources to monitor the situation.”
The FAA ban only applied to U.S.-based airlines, not flights to Israel by foreign carriers that originate from the United States and connect elsewhere.
Germany’s flagship air carrier Lufthansa and French airline Air France also announced a temporary interruption of service to Israel.