It’s been a long decade, but the wait is almost over: beginning May 10, 2023, travelers will, once again, be able to fly directly from Atlanta to Tel Aviv via Delta Air Lines for the first time since August 2011.
Many in the Atlanta Jewish community were disappointed when, after five-and-a-half years, direct, nonstop air service between the two cities was discontinued.
Restarting the direct flights so that travelers did not have to fly to another U.S. city or via Europe to get to Israel had been “a top goal for the last three years,” said Anat Sultan-Dadon, consul general of Israel to the Southeastern U.S. She added that the consulate had been working with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and “many partners, friends and organizations who advocated for the direct flights.”
“I am glad they saw value in reinstating the flights; there’s plenty of justification” for direct service from Atlanta, Sultan-Dadon added.
Yael Golan, director of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism office for the Southern U.S., told the AJT that she has been working to bring back direct, nonstop flights between Atlanta and Tel Aviv for five years. She has been in her position since August 2017 and will complete her diplomatic tour on July 30, 2023.
According to Golan, Israel is a top destination for travelers from North America.
“We’re almost back to the 2019, pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “In June, there were more than 112,700 visitors from North America.”
Golan attributes the decision to add flights to and from Atlanta to the success Delta has had with its flights to Israel from Boston, and to the “fact that they just got aircraft they were waiting for.”
Delta plans to use the Airbus A350-900 planes on the Atlanta-Tel Aviv route. Flights will depart Atlanta at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, arriving in Israel at 9:15 a.m. the following day. Return flights will leave Tel Aviv at 11:30 a.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, arriving in Atlanta at 5:55 p.m.
When tickets went on sale initially during the last weekend of July, prices were not competitive with those of flights leaving other U.S. cities for Israel. But, as of Aug. 1, prices online changed dramatically.
“As long as the prices remain competitive, more groups and individual travelers will come from the Southeast,” said Cheri Levitan, CEO of Israel-based Kenes Tours.
And she’s not the only one predicting a surge of travel from Atlanta.
In a statement released by Conexx Vice President Barry R. Swartz, “This now positions Conexx: America Israel Commercial Alliance, its members, Atlanta, and the Southeast, as a tier-one business destination, putting us on par with the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. We can now continue to build upon all the other regional advantages, including an award-winning business climate, the world’s busiest airport bringing the world to the South, an affordable and vibrant quality of life, a world class talent pool and a major connection hub to North and South America and the Caribbean.”
In fact, Golan pointed to the afternoon departures from Atlanta as an indication that Delta anticipates travelers will come to the Atlanta hub from the West Coast. “I have asked about connectivity from Mexico, although they need a visa,” she said.
Israel is a “cultural, historical and spiritual destination” for both individual travelers and groups, Golan told the AJT. “Israel is a bucket-list trip and people haven’t been traveling” the last few years because of the COVID pandemic, so there’s a lot of pent-up demand, she said.
Many Atlantans with family in Israel haven’t been waiting for flights directly from Atlanta. David and Eve Adler plan to travel to Israel in September, their third in the last year.
“And we may or may not go at the end of the year as well,” said David.
Their son, Jonathan, who made aliyah and now lives in Israel with his wife and four children, has made at least six round trips between Israel and North America in the past year, though some of those flights have been for business. Adler’s entire family flew round-trip twice in the last 12 months.
“It’s not even about the [saving of] time,” David Adler said, in counting the advantages of direct flights. He noted that in the last few weeks his son lost his luggage on one flight and missed his connection on another. “With nonstop, you don’t have that” problem, he said.
Adler admitted that he would be willing to pay a premium for nonstop services, “but it depends on what that premium is. I would happily pay a few hundred dollars more,” but that’s all.
Adler recalls that before Delta ended its nonstop flights in 2011, they were often oversold. In the last few years, he has either flown to Israel via New York or Paris, preferring the latter because it breaks up the long travel.
However, “as I move toward retirement, and as I age, I am not going to want to rush through terminals” to make connecting flights, he said.