Travellers to Israel from the UK have more options from November 1. Starting three times weekly, Thomsonfly.com will fly from both London Luton and Manchester to Tel Aviv. Flights will operate Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays out of both airports, with mid-morning departures (1110 from Manchester, 1010 from London Luton) using Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft.
Existing options include 12-times weekly from London Heathrow and five weekly Stansted flights with El Al, the national airline, 14 times weekly with British Airways, and up to four times weekly from Stansted with Israir Airlines. There are also some UK charters from Gatwick. Direct prices have remained high, however, with an average excursion fare being around £350.
In addition to the new Thomsonfly.com flights, El Al has just announced an increase in capacity on the route from 28 October for its winter schedule - by operating a 'Jumbo' Boeing 747-400 on five out of the 12 weekly flights into Tel Aviv the carrier will add 1,000 seats per week. El Al says it had planned the increase in capacity before the announcement of the new Thomsonfly flights, mainly as a result of receiving two new Boeing 777 planes into its 35 plus strong fleet allowing it to use the 747 on the London route. It will be good news for business class passengers, as on the 747 flights (Sunday to Thursday on the 1430 departure from London Heathrow) the number of business class seats will more than double.
Where Thomsonfly will be particularly strong is in Manchester. Guy Stephenson, Commercial Director of Thomsonfly.com estimates the indirect traffic from the Manchester area, which is currently travelling either via London or Europe as "around 20,000". London Luton airport will also be particularly useful for the north London Jewish community. Stephenson identifies the flights as appealing to 'free thinking independent travellers who want to arrange everything themselves" as well as more traditional VFR (visiting friends and relatives) and business travellers.
Despite current troubles in Gaza, year-on-year tourism from the UK to Israel is gradually increasing at around 3 per cent, with Tel Aviv reporting a huge 26 per cent increase in visitors from the UK in the first five months of this year. Most of this rise however is as a result of the arrival of 5,000 English fans for the recent England v Israel football match world qualifier.
Both El Al and Thomsonfly are allowing travellers to book accommodation through their websites. Thomsonfly is in the process of increasing the 20 hotels it currently offers through its website to around 70 in coming months, and El Al's sister company Superstar Holidays operates a year round programme of holidays to Israel with options for stay put, city breaks, spa holidays, tailor made and special interest tours. Both websites dynamically package these options allowing them to be booked at the same time as the flights.
Prices start from £79 one way, £139.98 return, and flights are now available for booking at thomsonfly.com.
Report by Tom Otley