Monday, December 24, 2007

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Aliyah: The Flight - Reviewing Israir

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

By special reader request, more on making aliyah...

If you're officially making aliyah, meaning you're taking immigrant status and Israeli citizenship upon arrival, then the Jewish Agency for Israel (the Sochnut Yehudit) will pay for your airline tickets via El Al, along with a special 3rd bag per person luggage allowance. If you're making aliyah with Nefesh b'Nefesh, they do the same via El Al, with special group flights every 2 months or so. If you're a returning Israeli (Toshav Chozer), then the Israeli consulate will offer you a discounted rate with El Al, along with the 3rd bag allowance.

If you're just coming to try it out for a while, or you're not willing to sign a Jewish Agency contract (terms are tough), or you're not willing to wait on Nefesh b'Nefesh's waiting list, then you're on your own. Even if you're a Toshav Chozer, you may find a better deal elsewhere.

We did. For us, Israir's rate of $399 (one way), plus $100 for an extra bag was still less expensive than El Al, even with a discounted rate! (Discounted rate - $729)

So here's a quick review of Israir...

Check-in Grade : B- : Standard Israeli security procedures, same as El Al. A few less check-in lines, but the staff was equal to or better than El Al to deal with. Coming early is recommended.

TSA Security : D : This has nothing to do with Israir. US TSA security was a nightmare, with 1.5 hour delay trying to get to the gates. Just too many people being squeezed into too small a space with poor procedures for moving them through. If we hadn't come very early, this would have been a horror show. As it was, it was only seriously annoying. The children were whining heavily, and frankly, so was I!

Gate & Boarding : B : Gate waiting area was standard, nothing special. However, 4 gate agents kept people handled and boarding moving at a good clip. Similarly, 3 plane crew were waiting at the plane to direct people the right way right away. Well done Israir.

The Plane : C : This was a bit weird. While it was an Israir flight, the plane was not an Israir plane OR crew. It seemed to be an Italian charter company and crew, with a few Israir people. Regardless, the plane was of a reasonable age and in good visible condition. The seating configuration was a standard 2 - 4 - 2, and the leg room was reasonable. However, the seats were angled a bit weird, with a lot of lumbar support and the upper body tilted back somewhat. This provided a psychological impression of more room that actually existed (a good thing), but I found the lower back push mildly uncomfortable and annoying.

Onboard Food & Service : B : The plane was well staffed for the relatively full flight. Service was efficient. The food was very good, for plane food. 2 full meals were served, though with a meat meal first, which I ate late after helping my children, a dairy meal served later was problematic for me (due to waiting time between eating meat and dairy for kosher reasons).

Schedule, Flight & Landing : B- : Though we waited on the ground 1 hour before taking off, we arrived on time. Apparently these types of delays are now built in. Frankly, that stinks, but that's a general industry thing. The flight itself was very smooth. However, the landing was HARD. Everyone was stunned for a few moments before the traditional "we're in Israel, lets clap!" occurred.

Amenities : A : Israir provided free neck pillows, slippers, and sleep eye masks to every passenger. This was a big hit with the kids, and my wife! Standard entertainment options and other comfort equipment were provided.

Overall : B : Israir is a nice money saving choice over El Al. If you book a bit in advance, there are some very significant monetary savings, and the service is almost as good as El Al. The food is better. The baggage allowance is less (55 lbs versus 70 lbs), but you may still save money even if you have to pay for an extra bag (NOTE - DO NOT go overweight, it's $6 per pound you go over, it quickly becomes worthwhile to just pay for an extra bag versus paying for an extra 20 lbs). The plane is smaller, less room to wander around. But not uncomfortably so.

Overall, I was happy to save some money and reasonably comfortable. I had no complaints.

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