Travel to Israel: is it safe to travel, Foreign Office advice to passengers - which UK airlines have cancelled flights?
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Airlines have announced cancellations of their flights to Israel, with some adjusting their departure times, after the country declared war on Hamas. Hamas militants broke through the barrier to launch a murderous assault that has left more than 900 people dead. This morning it was revealed that the bodies of 1,500 Hamas fighters were found on Israeli territory.
According to Palestinian authorities, almost 690 people have been killed by Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip and these strikes have continued overnight. The United Nations agency has said that more than 187,000 people have been displaced across the Gaza Strip - and this number is expected to increase.
Travel to and from Israel has been disrupted due to the conflict. The country, popular with tourists, is still accessible by air but hundreds of flights have been cancelled and cruise ship routes have also been changed. Following the start of the attack many flights were diverted or returned to their departure airport.
British Airways told NationalWorld it has introduced a flexible booking policy, enabling customers to change their travel dates free of charge. This policy is in place until 22 October. Here’s everything you need to know if you are due to travel to Israel - from UK Foreign Office advice, which airlines are cancelling flights to how bad the disruption is for cruises.
What is the advice from the Foreign Office?
On its website, the Foreign Office says that it advises against “all but essential travel to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. It also advises against travel to the following locations:
- the Sheba’a Farms and Ghajjar
- within 500m of the border with Lebanon (the ‘Blue Line’) east of Metula, including the northern edge of the town and within 500m of the border with Syria (the ‘Alpha Line’)
- The areas close to the border with Gaza includes:
- southwest of Ashkelon
- south of route 35 and west of route 40 as far as Tlalim, not including Be’er Sheva
- west of Be’er Sheva
- north of route 211
If you are in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Foreign Office advises you to register your presence with the FCDO.
The Foreign Office says: “We can then share important updates, including information to support you to leave the country. Fill in the form for every member of your family or group who is a British national. The FCDO continues to advise against travel to parts of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to advise against all but essential travel to all other parts. Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against FCDO advice. Consular support is also severely limited where FCDO advises against travel.”
Standard travel insurance policies are not valid for people who choose to travel to Israel while the “no-go” warning is in force. The Israeli government has declared a state of emergency across the whole country meaning international borders, including air and land, in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories could close at short notice.
If you are in an area affected by the fighting, the Foreign Office advises to follow the instructions of Israeli Home Front Command. You can visit the Israeli Home Front Command website or call 104 if you are in Israel. If you are in the UK and concerned about a friend or family member who is in Israel or the OPTs you can call the FCDO on 020 7008 5000.
What do the Israeli authorities say?
The Israel Ministry of Tourism has issued a statement to The Independent statting it is “monitoring the situation” and is “committed to ensuring that all tourists visiting Israel are safe and informed.” The Ministry of Tourism added that it “will provide all necessary assistance to those who need it and is operating a tourist hotline via WhatsApp for tourists to stay informed on the situation as it evolves.”
The Ministry of Tourism is operating a “virtual office” contactable by WhatsApp (+972 55 972 6931) or email ([email protected]). Travellers currently in Israel can dial 104 for information and advice in several languages or contact Home Front Command on WhatsApp or SMS on +972 52 910 4104.
Which airlines have cancelled flights?
British Airways told NationalWorld it is “continuing to monitor the situation in Israel very closely” and has “introduced a flexible booking policy, enabling customers to change their travel dates free of charge if they wish.” The airline said this policy is in place until 22 October and will keep it under review.
The airline added that its flights are currently planned to operate over the coming days with “adjusted departure times” and “as always if a customer’s flight is cancelled they can request a full refund.” Its daily BA167 service, departing just after 5pm from London Heathrow and arriving in Tel Aviv shortly before midnight, has been changed to a much earlier departure with it now scheduled to leave at 8.15am and arrive at 3.05pm. The inbound service is now timed to depart at 4.35pm and arrive back at Heathrow at 8.10pm.
An easyJet spokesperson said the airline has “temporarily paused operations” to and from Tel Aviv on Monday 9 October. The airline told the Independent: “Any customers affected by cancellations are eligible for a refund, voucher, or a free of charge transfer to a new flight. Any passengers due to fly to Tel Aviv who would like to change their plans can contact our customer service team for assistance with their options. Our thoughts are with those who have been affected and the safety and security of our passengers and crew is always easyJet’s highest priority.”
The airline said its flights “are operated as scheduled.” Passengers who are booked but who no longer want to travel can cancel for a credit voucher, and those who are booked to travel up to 21 October and want to return early can do so at no extra charge. A dedicated emergency line “for those who wish to change the date of their flights due to the situation” has been set up on +972 3 940 4040 for phones and +972 3 977 1111 for WhatsApp.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “Due to the evolving situation in Israel, some of our flights to and from Tel Aviv may face delays or cancellations. The safety and security of our customers and our people always comes first and our flying programme to Israel remains under constant review. We would advise anyone booked to travel to check their flight status on the website before travelling to the airport.”
Listed below are the flights Virgin Atlantic has cancelled:
- VS453 LHR-TLV 7th October/ 8th October/ 9th October/ 10th October
- VS454 TLV-LHR 8th October / 9th October/ 10th October/ 11th October
- VS457/VS458 LHR-TLV-LHR – these daily services continue to operate, however the airline advises its customers to check the fights’ status before they arrive at the airport.
If customers are booked onto Virgin Atlantic Tel Aviv services between now and 28 October but decide they do not wish to travel, they will be able to rebook for another travel date with no additional fees until Saturday 4 November. The airline told NationalWorld that passenegrs can alternatively choose to receive a full refund.
A Wizz Air spokesperson said the airline has “cancelled flights to and from Tel Aviv until further notice.” It added: “We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and are in touch with the relevant authorities. The safety and security of our passengers and crew is our number one priority and all affected passengers will be contacted via email or text.”
Will my package holiday be cancelled?
The Assocation of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has issued its latest advice to passengers who have booked a package holiday to Israel. An ABTA sokesperson said: “If you’re travelling on a package and your holiday has been cancelled due to the advice change, you can either defer your date of travel, travel to an alternative destination or receive a full refund. If you’re travelling independently you will need to discuss your options with your airline and accommodation providers.”
Are cruise ships to Israel affected?
All cruise ships are likely to avoid Israel as the conflict continues. A cruise ship that was due to arrive at Haifa in Israel in the early hours of Sunday morning (8 October) changed course to sail to Limassol instead.
A Celebrity Apex cruise ship, from Athens to Israel and Egypt, which is due to depart on 16 October appears to have been changed so that the two days at Israeli ports will be spent at sea instead. A spokesperson for Celebrity told The Independent: “Our global security team is closely watching the evolving situation in Israel. For the safety and security of our guests, we’re adjusting several itineraries in the area. Impacted guests will be notified directly.”