The Israeli Aviation Services Law and how it covered this traveler’s delay

El Al misplaces Carolyn Fuchs’ luggage during her flight to Israel for her daughter’s wedding. Then it delays her flight home by nine hours. What rights does Fuchs have? And can our advocates help her get compensation from El Al?

Question: My daughter was recently married in Israel. My husband, our other daughter and I flew on El Al from Kennedy Airport in New York to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport to attend the wedding. We scheduled our flight to arrive on Friday afternoon just prior to the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.

When we arrived, my luggage was missing. It contained my wedding outfit, toiletries and several other items of intense personal value for this trip. El Al’s agents gave me no information about my bag’s whereabouts and didn’t seem concerned that it was missing. I had to pay $600 to buy replacement necessities.

On Sunday morning, I finally heard from El Al that the airline had located my bag, which had never been loaded onto the flight. But although its personnel told me that they had automatically placed the bag on the next flight to Ben Gurion Airport, they hadn’t done so.

I received a call on Monday morning from El Al, notifying me that my bag had arrived. They refused to deliver it until after 6 p.m. that day, when I was supposed to be at my daughter’s pre-wedding party by 4 p.m.

I had to spend $50 for a cab to rush to the airport to retrieve the bag. Then at the airport, I was questioned, forced to show my identification, sent through a metal detector and patted down. It was humiliating. When I was finally able to claim my bag, I had to hurry to my daughter’s pre-wedding party.

Our return flight was supposed to depart at 9:30 p.m. on the day we were scheduled to go home. But I got an email indicating that it was delayed until 7:30 a.m. the next day because of “mechanical issues.” My husband, our other daughter and I had to pay $200 for a hotel room for an extra night in Israel and we lost work and school time. When we arrived at the airport, it took two and a half hours to check in our luggage.

When I got home, I wrote to El Al to complain about its treatment of us. El Al offered us a choice of 9,210 shekels ($2,634) or round-trip economy class vouchers for future flights on El Al for each of us, subject to fare availability and valid for one year for a stay of up to three months including at least one Saturday, but not covering airport taxes. We chose the cash offer and gave El Al our banking information at the airline’s request. But we never received the cash — only a letter indicating that El Al “can’t find our banking information” and is “[unable] to transfer funds to the United States.”

This is ridiculous. Can you help us get the money El Al owes us? — Carolyn Fuchs, Glen Oaks, N.Y.

Answer: Oy vey! What a nightmare right before your daughter’s wedding.

El Al’s general conditions of carriage indicate that with regard to lost or misplaced luggage,

Checked Baggage will, whenever possible, be carried on the same aircraft as you, unless we decide for safety, security or operational reasons to carry it on an alternative flight. If your Checked Baggage is carried on a subsequent flight we will deliver it to you, unless applicable law requires you to be present for customs clearance. …

Only the bearer of the Baggage Check Document and Baggage Identification Tag is entitled to delivery of the Checked Baggage contemplated in the Baggage Check Document or the Baggage Identification Tag. However, we cannot take responsibility for ensuring that the bearer of the Baggage Check is entitled to delivery or that it shall indeed be delivered to him in practice.

The general conditions of carriage provide the following regarding delayed flights:

If we cancel a flight, fail to operate a flight reasonably according to the schedule, … we shall, in agreement with the Passenger, either:
(a) carry you at the earliest opportunity on another of our scheduled services on which space is available without additional charge and, where necessary, extend the validity of your Ticket; or
(b) within a reasonable period of time re-route you to the destination shown on your Ticket by our own services or those of another carrier, or by other mutually agreed means and class of transportation without additional charge. If the fare and charges for the revised routing are lower than what you have paid, we shall refund the difference; or
(c) make a refund.

You were also entitled to the protection of Israel’s Aviation Services Law, which provides legal protection for air travelers to and from Israel that is similar to EU 261 for flights to and from the European Union.

According to this simplified explanation of the Aviation Services Law, these protections apply to your case:

The airline must provide an amount of food and drink commensurate with your waiting time. It must put you up in a hotel if the delay is for one night or longer, provide transportation between the hotel and the airport, and allow you access to email and telephones.

You are also eligible for cash compensation of between NIS 1,250 [$356] and NIS 3,000 [$853], depending on the length of the flight. For example, if the flight was up to 4,500 kilometers, then you are eligible for NIS 2,000 [$569] in compensation.

You are entitled to a refund on your ticket or alternatively to receive a new ticket. However, if you opt for a new ticket, you may receive only half the cash compensation so long as you arrive within six hours of the original scheduled departure (the precise number of hours depends on the distance from the destination). In the case of longer delays, you are still eligible for the full compensation sum.

So El Al wasn’t required to deliver your missing bag to you, but it needed to provide you with compensation for your hotel rooms, meals during the nine-hour delay, and 9,000 shekels ($2,559) for you, your husband and your daughter — promptly. When you accepted its offer of 9,210 shekels, it should have issued that amount to you immediately instead of keeping you waiting several months for it. Unfortunately, as with EU 261 cases of “extraordinary circumstances,” airlines subject to the Aviation Services Law often cite spurious reasons for delaying or refusing to compensate passengers whose situations are covered by the law.

Part of the reason for El Al’s delay in compensating you may stem from the letter of complaint you sent to the airline. The letter contains a great deal of unnecessary personal information about your daughter’s wedding as well as incredulity about El Al’s extensive security procedures (for which El Al is well-known), sarcasm and declarations that you will never fly on El Al again. None of this was likely to motivate El Al’s personnel to expedite the processing of your claim.

When you didn’t receive the promised compensation from El Al, you might have escalated your complaint to higher-ranking executives of the airline using the executive contacts listed on our website by writing concise, polite letters, beginning with the primary contact and allowing each a reasonable amount of time to respond before writing to the next-ranking executives. Instead, you asked our advocates for help in speeding up the compensation process.

We reached out to El Al on your behalf. El Al is sending you a check for $2,617 to compensate you for your return flight delay.

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