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BA Diverts Tel Aviv Flight on Final Approach; BA, VS Suspend Israel Operations

A British Airways flight bound for Tel Aviv found itself diverting back to London Heathrow on Wednesday, just as it was on its final approach into Ben Gurion Airport (TLV). Flight BA165, operated on an Airbus A350-1000, touched down safely in London a little after 6:30 PM local time, after almost 10 hours airborne. The reason behind this unexpected change of course was the launch of a barrage of rockets by Hamas toward the city. While the Israel Airport Authority stated that the rocket attack didn’t pose an immediate threat to the airliner’s safety, British Airways decided to take no chances, and immediately suspended all its operations to Israel.

This incident occurred amid escalating tensions in the region, with the conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifying. British Airways had been among the few airlines that continued to operate regular flights to Tel Aviv even after the hostilities began over the weekend. However, a spokesperson for the airline cited the “changing security environment” as the reason for discontinuing the flights.

“Following the latest assessment of the situation, we’re suspending our flights to and from Tel Aviv,” the airline’s spokesperson confirmed. While Tel Aviv Airport had experienced sporadic rocket attacks in the days prior, British Airways had continued to operate non-stop flights from its Heathrow hub. BA had already pivoted towards daytime flights into Ben Gurion to prevent their crews from having overnight layovers in the country amid the ongoing war. Interestingly, fellow IAG-owned carrier Iberia Express still has flights scheduled for tomorrow between TLV and Madrid-Barajas (MAD), though it’s unclear if that will change amid this rapidly-evolving situation.

Virgin Atlantic, another carrier operating flights to Tel Aviv from London Heathrow, initially indicated Wednesday that they intended to continue service to the region as scheduled. However, as the situation has continued to evolve, the airline has now suspended Israel service for at least the next 72 hours as they continue to re-assess conditions on the ground.

Even Turkish Airlines, known for its high geopolitical risk tolerance and steadfast approach to serving conflict zones, has suspended its flights to Israel. Even amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, TK has maintained its flights to Russia, providing about the only reliable link for essential travel to and from the region while most US and EU carriers have suspended their Russia operations indefinitely. However, the escalating tensions in Israel have proven too much even for Turkish, underscoring the gravity of the situation on the ground.

As for British Airways, their services to Tel Aviv have been suspended for at least the remainder of the week. Given the current state of affairs, it’s highly likely that this suspension will extend well beyond that initial timeframe. It’s interesting to note that European carriers appear to have a higher geopolitical risk tolerance compared to their US counterparts. For instance, Delta Airlines has suspended its flights to Tel Aviv for at least the remainder of October.

For those currently in Israel, especially tourists, the situation has become increasingly challenging as flight options out of Tel Aviv continue to dwindle. British Airways was once a reliable choice for exiting the region, but it’s no longer an option. In light of this, it’s essential for individuals to take proactive steps to ensure their safety and well-being. Registering with your country’s embassy (STEP program for American citizens) is a prudent move to ensure your government is aware of your whereabouts.

For US and Canadian citizens, the most practical strategy may be to seek the soonest available means to get to Europe and then determine a game plan from there. Despite President Joe Biden’s pleas to the airline industry, it’s unlikely that we’ll see nonstop air service to North America from the region (except some limited service on El Al) until the conflict subsides. The situation is evolving rapidly, and travelers are advised to stay informed and make well-informed decisions based on the latest updates and guidance.

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