The Knesset Public Petitions Committee convened on Monday after it received complaints from citizens who claimed that Israeli airline El Al had significantly increased its prices while they were stranded abroad due to the decision by foreign airlines to suspend flights to Israel for security reasons. The complainants said El Al had taken advantage of their distress to ramp up ticket prices.

Committee Chairperson Adi Koll (Yesh Atid) said, ”EL Al undoubtedly deserves a lot of compliments” for flying many Israelis back to the country, ”yet we still received complaints from citizens about El Al`s price increase. People said El Al had increased ticket prices at the last minute while taking advantage of the fact that foreign airlines` had cancelled their flights to Israel.”

One of the complainants, Yinon Shavital, told the committee that after his KLM flight from Norway to Israel had been cancelled, he was told at the El Al counter at the airport that a ticket back to Israel costs 488 euros. Just a few minutes later he was told that the price had risen to 840 euros. ”We asked: `How did the price double in just eight minutes?` The El Al representative said these were the instructions she received from El Al. She charged 1,079 euros to my credit card, and when a friend of mine arrived she told him the price was 1,709 euros, and that`s what she charged. If this is not an exaggerated price hike, I don`t know what is. There is a sense that we were scammed and that our distress had been exploited,” he said.

Attorney Omer Shav, El Al`s legal counsel, said ”the media campaign that is being waged against El Al is causing people to forget the good things the company has done. It provided service all over the world and kept the skies open. More than 200 of our employees have been called up (as IDF reservists), yet still our service has not been affected. Some 4,400 passengers of foreign airlines were left without a solution, and they were absorbed by us at no extra cost.”

Shalev said that last weekend El Al planes ”rescued” some 2,700 Israelis who were stranded in Athens because their flights on Turkish airlines` had been cancelled.

Yehudit Grisaro, vice president of customer service at El Al, said with regards to Shavital`s complaint that ticket prices are higher when the tickets are purchased shortly before the flight and when only a few tickets remain. ”The representative at the El Al counter mistakenly charged the customer for two tickets instead of one,” she explained.

MK David Azoulay (Shas) said ”there is no justification for price increases during times of crisis, particularly when a national airline is involved. However, we must also keep in mind that El Al had done a noble act when it flew 4,500 people back to Israel within 48 hours.”

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) echoed Azoulay`s sentiments, saying ”this is the answer to why Israel needs a national airline.”

Committee Chairwoman MK Koll concluded the meeting by saying ”I understand there was no systematic increase in prices or exploitation of distress.” She urged El Al to take into account the complaints and the ”bad feeling some passengers had after they paid such a steep price for a ticket.”