Flights to and from Tel Aviv on U.S. airlines were prohibited until at least Wednesday afternoon following a rocket attack about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport.
Some European airlines also suspended operations after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced the 24-hour ban just after noon Tuesday. Delta, which diverted a Tel Aviv-bound flight to Paris, and United said they were suspending service “until further notice.” American Airlines said its only affected flight Tuesday was on US Airways, with which it has merged; the airline, which operates a daily flight between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, said it was monitoring the situation.
Cruise ships have also canceled port calls in the region.
The flight cancellations, which follow last week’s downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine, came as diplomats continued to pressure Hamas to accept a cease-fire in Gaza.
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Tuesday’s cancellations were the first of their kind for Tel Aviv since Iraq’s Scud missile bombardment during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, according to Israel’s Aviation Authority.
The prospect of such a massive shutdown of air service weighed heavily on Rabbi Jory Lang of Beth Moshe Congregation in North Miami. Lang’s 15-year-old daughter Sarah went to a bomb shelter twice while attending summer camp in Israel because of the threat of air strikes.
The teen, who has a condition that causes her to pass out easily, wasn’t feeling well. From South Florida, her parents worried that a time might come when they wouldn’t be able to reach her.
“That gave me my excuse,” said Lang, who flew to Israel on July 14 and left about 28 hours later with his daughter.
When he heard Tuesday’s news about the FAA flight ban, Lang said he was relieved his trip was behind him.
“Thank God,” he said, but added: “She is so ticked at me, my daughter.”
Approximately 600 people, mostly Palestinians, have died in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli air strikes in the area. Violence escalated two weeks ago after three Israeli teens were found murdered.
Some cruise lines have responded to the violence by canceling port calls, including German line AIDA Cruises, which earlier this month discontinued stops for the rest of the season after possible pieces of defense missiles landed on the deck of the AIDAdiva. Industry website CruiseCritic.com reported that Regent Seven Seas canceled a July 19 port call to Haifa and Oceania Cruises canceled a planned September stop at the port.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of State updated an earlier travel warning to recommend that U.S. citizens consider postponing non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank. The department also reaffirmed its “strong warning” against travel to the Gaza Strip.
“In light of the ongoing rocket attacks, U.S. citizen visitors to and U.S. citizen residents of Israel and the West Bank should familiarize themselves with the location of the nearest bomb shelter or other hardened site, if available,” the advisory said.
Tuesday’s flight ban and the lack of clarity about when it will be lifted have left tour groups, potential travelers and current visitors scrambling.
Ilana Apelboim of tour operator Isramworld told USA Today that Tuesday was busy.
“We've re-booked people, or they're making alternative plans,” she told the newspaper. “A lot of people are calling about future [trips], but most are taking a wait-and-see approach.”
For residents of the region, the normal rhythms of life have been punctuated with near-daily sirens warning of attacks and an extra level of caution.
“I would say you take on the Israeli spirit when you move here and you keep calm and carry on,” said Jessica Rozental, 35, who moved to Israel from South Florida almost three years ago. “As much as you can, keep normal: You go to work, you ride the bus, you still take the kids to the park and go fishing as much as you can. But you’re always looking around to make sure you’re close enough to a protected space or a bomb shelter.”
Rozental, who grew up in Hollywood, works with international students studying at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Law. She said she hasn’t had any students cancel for the upcoming semester in September.
The air cancellations, on the other hand, were difficult to take for families and friends trying to get into Israel or tourists hoping to leave.
“All of a sudden, at the whim of the world, you can just shut it off,” Rozental said. “Like Israel’s closed for the next 24 hours.”
This report was supplemented with information from Bloomberg News.