PHILADELPHIA — Getting a nonstop flight to Israel from Pennsylvania will become a lot more challenging come 2016.
American Airlines announced late last month that it will no longer operate nonstop service between Philadelphia International Airport and Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv as of January.
“Although the route has been a source of pride for American since 2009, the route has operated year-round for six years and has yet to turn a profit,” according to a statement from the company. “The fact of the matter is that PHL TLV has not performed well since its inception. We lost more than $20 million in the past year alone, and that was after repeated annual losses. The sole reason we are canceling this route is because of poor financial results.”
The final flight to Israel from Philadelphia will be on Jan. 4, 2016, with the last return flight on Jan. 5, 2016.
For years, the route was operated with U.S. Airways aircraft. But the airline, which began passenger service in 1949 as the Pittsburgh-based All American Airways before rebranding as Allegheny Airlines four years later, merged with American in 2013. Last year, the last U.S. Airways livery was removed from planes, gates and terminals, including at the former U.S. Airways hub of Philadelphia.
A report in the Israeli online business publication, The Marker, disputes American Airlines’ claim that it has been hemorrhaging money on the route. In an Aug. 23 article by Rina Rozenberg and Zohar Blumenkrantz titled, “Sources: American Airlines dropped Israel route to deepen ties with Arab carriers,” the authors write that the airline’s relationship with Arab carriers such as Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian and Malaysia Airlines through the OneWorld alliance is the real reason for the route cancellation.
The article quoted an anonymous industry source as saying, “Profitability wasn’t a problem. The past year hasn’t been easy for the airline industry in general, but that’s far from saying that the route wasn’t profitable. No one would have operated a money-losing route for so many years.”
Jill Dressler also believes there was more to the decision than American is letting on. The Fort Washington, Pa., resident, who visits her stepson, his children and her brother and sister-in-law often in Israel, said this cancellation has nothing to do with money.
“My own personal life is going to be affected by this dramatically,” she said. “I think we have to get together and make American Airlines realize this can’t happen. I think it’s anti-Semitic.”
Dressler contacted her elected officials, and state Sen. Richard Alloway, a Republican whose district includes the Reading area, connected her with Rhett Workman, the managing director of government and airport affairs at the airline. In an email to Dressler, Workman reiterated the company’s position that this decision was made after a great deal of financial analysis and research.
“While we can maintain losses for a period of time, continued loss without the possibility of profit is detrimental to our shareholders and the company,” Workman said. “Appreciating Israel’s place in the world and the challenges it faces, we were adamant in all our communications that this was a financial decision and we were not politically pressured in any way. I realize on your flights you did not see empty seats, but that is not always indicative of the profitability of a route. Unfortunately, this is a situation that what one sees is not the fiscal reality.”
Michael Alexander, the director of governmental affairs and press at the Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, said the consulate is disappointed in American’s decision to cancel the route.
“A huge share of business activity between Israel and the U.S. passes through the Philadelphia ports, and termination of that flight might impact that valuable traffic,” Alexander said. “While the new logistical reality of commuting from Israel to Philadelphia will be, in light of this decision, slightly more challenging, it is by no means insurmountable. The commitment of the consulate to continue enhancing already strong existing business ties between Israel and the Mid-Atlantic Region remains as strong as ever.”
Jason Cohen is a reporter at the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.