Travelers jittery after Malaysia Airlines downing, rocket strike near Israeli airport
U.S. lifts ban on airlines flying into Tel Aviv airport after day and a half of restrictions
Travel uncertainty comes at height of tourism season in Israel
It’s been a tension-filled week for travelers used to flying safely around the world.
The shooting down of a commercial flight over Ukraine and a rocket strike near Israel’s gateway international airport have made people keenly aware of the risks of flying through conflict zones.
Safe airspace is top of mind for people considering trips to troubled spots and those just hoping to get home sooner rather than later.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 people aboard. U.S. intelligence officials say that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for shooting down the commercial airliner traveling from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They now believe the rebels probably didn’t know that it was a commercial airliner, officials said earlier this week.
On the day of the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice prohibiting U.S. flight operations in the airspace over eastern Ukraine until further notice, widening an April ban on flights over the Crimea region.
Less than a week later, a rocket strike about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, prompted the FAA to prohibit U.S. airlines from flying into the airport. The ban lasted about a day and a half and was lifted Wednesday night. European aviation authorities also moved to ease their recommendation urging carriers to avoid the region.
A crash of a plane attempting to land in Taiwan in heavy rain Wednesday that killed at least 48 on board and reports Thursday of the apparent crash of an Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people have delivered two more blows to a tragic seven-day period.
The unusual string of events has travelers worried.
“I never had a reason to think I was flying over a war zone where missiles might be flying,” said Elizabeth Bratt, 34, an American living in Taiwan, who is planning to travel to Europe and the Middle East in the fall. “I would have trusted an airline to avoid such an area.”
The concern over routes doesn’t surprise aviation security consultant Jeff Price.
“Most travelers were only mildly concerned about where their flights were going prior to the Malaysia flight,” Price said. “Many are probably more concerned about it now. I know I would be, and I would definitely be concerned about anything flying over an ‘act of war’ zone.”
Or into a war zone.
The FAA ban on U.S. airlines flying into Tel Aviv – now lifted – followed on the heels of a State Department travel warning about the region. It advised Americans to consider deferring nonessential travel to Israel and the West Bank and reaffirmed existing guidance against any travel to Gaza. Other countries are cautioning their citizens against some travel to the region.
Tourism taking a hit
The escalating violence and resulting travel restrictions have translated into tourists starting to avoid Israel. With about 8 million people, Israel welcomed a record 3.5 million visitors last year and a record 1.4 million for the first half of 2014, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.