Israel's El Al to boost NY flights amid controversial Visa Waiver Program

Israel's El Al to boost NY flights amid controversial Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program, allowing Israelis to travel to the US without a visa, has prompted the increase of El Al flights to the US.
2 min read
28 September, 2023
El Al will now increase its operations following Israel's admission to the Visa Waiver Program [Getty]

El Al Israel Airlines said on Thursday it would add flights to New York in 2024 after the United States agreed to admit Israel into a programme that will allow visa-free entry by Israeli citizens.

Starting next June, Israel's flag carrier will add a daily flight to New York's JFK Airport that will bring daily flights to JFK and Newark airports to as many as six per day and 33 per week.

On Wednesday, the US government said Israel would be admitted to the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) as of 30 November.

The decision was made after the US concluded that Israel had succeeded in reducing discrimination against Americans of Arab, Palestinian and Muslim heritage when travelling in and out of Israel, at the hands of Israeli border officials. 

Activists, however, rejected the claim, saying that the move "appears to be a reward" for letting Palestinian Americans enter Israel, while another Arab-American group said it would file a lawsuit into the Visa Waiver Program as saying there were still effectively "separate classes" of US citizens.

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Previously, Washington had made demands to treat all US passport holders equally without discriminating against Arab, Palestinian and Muslim Americans.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem since 1967 in violation of international law. 

"This is a breakthrough, and we are preparing to expand the flight frequencies based on the expected increase in demand," CEO Dina Ben-Tal Ganancia said, adding that New York had long been the top destination for Israelis.

El Al said a survey it commissioned of Israeli adults who plan to travel abroad found that just 30 percent of them hold visas to enter the United States, while 40 percent of those considering flying to the US said the need for a visa was one of the main barriers to flying there.

In all, El Al as of next June will operate 49 weekly flights to the United States including non-stops from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles, Miami and Boston. It will also add a route to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in April.

(Reuters and The New Arab)