Air Transat, the popular leisure travel airline, will begin non-stop, twice-weekly flights from Montreal to Israel for the first time this spring, which Israeli officials believe will entice more Quebecers to visit the Jewish state and may reduce airfares through competition.
In a Jan. 9 announcement, the Montreal-based company said there will be guaranteed departures on Wednesdays and Sundays from June 18 to Oct. 30 from Trudeau Airport to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport.
This is Air Transat’s first Middle East destination. Connecting Air Transat flights from Toronto will be available for each of the flights.
Currently, the only non-stop flights between Canada and Israel have been offered by Air Canada and El Al from Toronto. The Israeli airline ended its direct flights from Montreal in the late 1990s.
Air Transat will be operating Airbus A330-300 jets, which have 345 seats, on the new route. Fares have not been announced, but the charter airline is known for undercutting the competition.
In addition to flights, Air Transat will offer hotel and tour packages in Israel, the details of which will be known later.
The Israeli government has been working for some time to persuade another Canadian carrier to fly to Israel, especially out of Quebec, a market it feels is not being fully tapped.
Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin welcomed the news, calling it “further proof of the success of our marketing efforts and that airlines view Israel as a sought-after tourism destination with economic potential,” in a statement.
“We view Air Transat as a partner that will help increase the number of tourists arriving in Israel…”
Ziv Nevo Kulman, consul general of Israel to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, added, “This is great news for Quebecers who have long been eager for the re-establishment of a direct air link between Montreal and Israel, and presents travellers with a wonderful opportunity to discover the history of the Holy Land, the beauty of its landscapes and the diversity of its peoples.”
As well, he thinks it will encourage more Israelis to fly to Montreal.
Annick Guérard, president and general manager of Transat Tours Canada, a division of the airline, stated, “It was only natural for this new flight to depart from Montreal, to appeal to curious travellers in search of discoveries, as well as the Jewish communities present in both metropolises.
“Tel Aviv is a vibrant and modern city with plenty to offer when it comes to culture, gastronomy and night life. It is also the ideal gateway for a vacation that immerses travellers in ancient and religious history.”
The Toronto-based Israel Government Tourist Office (IGTO) has for years tried to get more Quebecers, especially non-Jewish francophones and Christians, to visit Israel.
IGTO director Jerry Adler said the entry of Air Transat will help attract that market, and the added competition will likely have an effect on prices, which will be yet another incentive for Canadians to go to Israel.
“This all started approximately 10 years ago when I called and exchanged emails with Jean-Marc Eustache, CEO and founder of Air Transat, and planted the seed of their considering adding Israel to the roster of international destinations,” Adler said. “This was the door-opener for the Israel Ministry of Tourism and our efforts to get another airline to fly from Canada to Israel.”
While Adler is confident Air Transat will quickly realize it has made a good business decision, he said Israel did extend certain incentives to seal the deal, and former Israeli ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak was also involved.
“We have had a lengthy series of communications and meetings with Air Transat in Montreal to further develop the idea, including possible financial incentives being also placed on the table by our office on behalf of the Israel Ministry of Tourism,” Adler said.
“A final meeting took place in November, where the Air Transat executive team shared with us their vision for Israel to become a key market for them.”
Asked if Air Transat plans to undersell Air Canada and El Al, marketing director Debbie Cabana replied, “As you know, prices depend on many variables… but we always have been dedicated to offering affordable vacations.”
Dinah Kutner, general manager for El Al in Canada, said it was “premature” to comment on the effect on prices, and will wait to see Air Transat’s offers. This summer El Al will be charging around $1,600 from Toronto, she said, and there will be five flights a week.
“We offer another kind of product… Some people choose El Al because it is Israel’s airline. There’s an emotional attachment to us… Once they get on board, they feel they are already in Israel,” said Kutner, adding that she wishes well any effort to bring more people to Israel.
“We’re all on the same side.”
Air Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Asked whether Air Transat’s flights might be extended beyond October, Cabana said, “It’s too early to tell, but we won’t miss any opportunities.”
Air Transat is working to get Israelis to choose the airline for travel to Canada as well.
“There is a big market for Israelis who want to visit their family and friends [here], and to discover Quebec,” she said. “We have local partners who are helping us to promote this direct flight to Montreal. As Canada is [expected to be] a top destination in 2017, we believe there is a growing interest.”
GAM SPS Travel president Eli Cohen, who hailed Air Transat’s “super-aggressive move,” is sure the new route will attract a lot of business and benefit consumers. “It’s going to create price excitement. El Al and Air Canada will definitely have to be more competitive and match.”
Cohen has been trying to persuade Air Canada to add a direct Montreal-Tel Aviv route and hopes this news will encourage it to do so.
“El Al doesn’t have the capacity now for both Toronto and Montreal,” he said.