31 December 2010

El Al nightmare

Dear El Al,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Shanna Giora-Gorfajn, and I, along with my three-year old twins, my husband, and my mother- and father-in-law, arrived in Israel this week on the El Al Flight 002 scheduled to depart on Dec. 26 from JFK. As you are probably aware, it didn't: instead, we spent 30 hours at the airport, ten of which were on a plane sitting out on the tarmac in a blizzard. We thought it was a little unlikely that the flight would actually take off, given the forecast, and had called El Al several times that day to reconfirm. Each time we were told that yes, the flight was scheduled; yes, we should come to the airport. Had we chosen to stay home, we would have forfeited our tickets. There was no option for exercising our own judgment that leaving for the airport in a blizzard was insanity.

So we went, narrowly avoiding an accident on the way in near-whiteout conditions, but arriving in plenty of time to check in and board--as it turned out, with about 30 hours to spare. I don't need to describe the misery for you--you know, as does everyone who saw it on CNN and Israeli news channels. And of course I recognize that the weather is not El Al's fault. The plane's inability to take off was not El Al's fault. Although the was nowhere to sleep and limited access to kosher food, the staff did what they could, under very trying circumstances, to make things more comfortable. But there wasn't much that anyone could do to make that situation anything but a nightmare.

It would be nice, though, if you could do what you can after the fact to be sure that we don't lose part of our trip as a result. We were glad to hear that El Al was waiving the rebooking fee to extend our trip, so that we would still be able to see all the family and friends we had come to Israel to see. I was delighted when my travel agent told me that there were four adjacent seats available on Flight 001 on Jan 9, two days later than our original return flight. Except that I later discovered, after my travel agent spoke to several El Al representatives, that we can't--because El Al will not permit me to rebook my tickets, except in the exact same ticket class for the exact same price. So no, we cannot fly back to JFK on Saturday night. If I want four seats for myself, my husband, and my children, I can only fly back to Newark, several days later, missing another week of work--and without our car and the children's car seats, which are currently at JFK. No, thank you. Really? Only in the exact same ticket class? Even though there are seats available on the exact flight we need? Even though we spent over 40 hours getting from New York to Tel Aviv? Even though, once El Al made the decision not to cancel the flight, we had no option but to go to the airport and hope for the best, or lose thousands of dollars that we had paid for tickets?

My father-in-law and my children had never been to Israel before, and I hoped this trip, although short, would be an delightful first experience for them, with many future trips to follow. My in-laws have already decided to leave as planned, and I am certain their travel nightmare has overshadowed any enjoyable experiences here. It is not too late for me to give my children a good first taste of the land.

You don't have control over the weather. You do have control over how you treat your customers. You can, and should, treat us better than this.

Shanna Giora-Gorfajn
052-339-8196 (in Israel, return flight booked for El Al flight #1 on Jan 7)
617-xxx-xxxx (in the US thereafter)

cc: [travel agent-redacted]