Ending four days of uncertainty, El Al Israel Airlines on Thursday declared that all tickets purchased on travel sites during a glitch that caused unplanned lower fares will be honored.
“Although a review of this occurrence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate EL AL passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service," said EL AL Vice President and General Manager Danny Saadon. "Hopefully, we have provided an opportunity to many first-timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”
Thousands of people, alerted to the low fares by bargain-hunting travel sites and socia media, purchased tickets Monday for travel during the winter to Tel Aviv, with stopovers, for as low as $350. El Al has not disclosed how many tickets were purchased at the lower fares. In a statement Monday the airline blamed an unnamed third-party company that posts the fares for leaving out the fuel surcharge. Initially saying the tickets would be honored, on Tuesday a spokeswoman said no decision had been made, leaving would-be travelers perplexed and anxious.
In addition to keeping their tickets, the lucky tourists will also have an opportunity to upgrade their ticket to a direct flight for an additional $75. In the unliikely event of buyer's remorse, purchasers can get a refund with no cancellation fee, El Al said.
"We're incredibly excited about being able to take this dream trip," said Bethany Mandel, a Manhattan resident who scored two round-trip tickets for $700 and will travel with her husband in the fall.
"The most frustrating part about the situation has been El Al's mixed messages. We're glad to have a final, final decision and are hoping that [our] taking these tickets won't endanger the airline or outside companies. We'd love to take a cheap trip, but not at the expense of lost jobs."
The incorrect fares posted on Aug. 6 placed El Al in the unenviable position of choosing between a public relations disaster and a financial loss.
In a conversation with JTA, Saadon took credit for pitching the idea to honor the fares to El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy, but said the decision for the direct flight add-on was Shkedy's.
"If we're honoring passengers' tickets, let’s also offer them an opportunity to fly with El Al, and make life easier for families that might lose baggage and lose a connection," said Saadon explaining the company's rationale behind the add-on offer.
The decision to honor was "mainly to save face with El Al," noted Saadon. "We’re talking about thousands of passengers," he added. "Most are customers anyways, they just took advantage of a ticket that was available at a low price. We’d rather keep them flying with El Al without disappointing them.”
To minimize exposure to similar glitches in the future, El Al will review fares before they are posted online and maintain a buffer of 2 hours before the process is finalized, said Saadon.
Although El Al provided no incentive for customers to return the tickets other than waiving the cancellation fee, many Orthodox Jews expressed opinions via social media that taking advantage of the mistake was unethical at best and impermissable at worst.
Moment Magazine's blog asked Randy Cohen, the former Ethicist columnist for the New York Times Magazine for his opinion on the subject.
"]E]ven if El Al offers to make good on the tickets, we are not supposed to exploit someone," Cohen said. "If you see someone’s wallet on the ground you are supposed to return it, not keep it."