The recent launch of El Al’s non-stop service from Boston to Tel Aviv was received, appropriately, with great celebration and much pomp and circumstance. For those who have run the gauntlet of the myriad of flight options from Beantown to Ben Gurion through the European gateways or the hot messes of JFK or Newark, the non-stop route not only offers a trip, at minimum, that is four hours shorter, but also much less stressful then racing across Heathrow or Schiphol in a jet-lag-induced fog.
But for all that excitement, the route also launched with many people reminiscing about some of their favorite El Al memories. Ask 100 travelers for their El Al horror stories and you will get 100 answers that run the spectrum from Orthodox men refusing to sit next to women, security questions bordering on the absurd, Israelis getting better service than Americans, spouses being seated 17 rows apart and both in middle seats, and flight attendants that are far less amicable than the average Southwest stewardesses. And while some of that is very unfair and part urban legend, as we all know, perception is reality.
With the weight of that historical baggage, plus some initial reviews from fliers who’d commented on the ancient 767 that flies the BOS-TLV route, and the cardinal sin of the seats not having built-in screens, I was more than a little skeptical.
But fate, it seemed, decided to take a hand.
When my schedule of meetings this week in Haifa changed, I realized I had the chance to leave a full half day earlier from Israel, so I decided to try to make one of the midnight or 1 am flights out of Tel Aviv to JFK or Newark. I called El Al to at least ask if I could switch flights, and was stunned when they not only offered to change my flight for just a nominal fee (as opposed to the $660 that KLM and Alitalia fleeced me for in June), but also told me I could take LY 015, direct to Boston. Not wanting to walk the plank at JFK immigration at dawn again, I took the bait and made the switch and on Wednesday night I breezed through security and passport control at Ben Gurion with just my carry-on and camped out at the gate to get ready for the fight.
Scheduled to leave at 12:15 am, the flight was delayed an hour… never a good start. But it was all gravy from then on. I was so pleasantly surprised. Here’s why.
TLV-BOS is the shortest route by air miles that you can take to North America from Israel, and Wednesday night the prevailing winds and flight pattern resulted in the flight time being 11 hours and 20 minutes, about a half hour shorter than usual, so short that we actually weren’t allowed to take off on time. Why? Because at Logan, they literally won’t let you deplane until 5:30 in the morning, so we had to taxi at low speed around the Ben Gurion periphery until we had lined up our flight time with Boston’s arrival criteria. But even with the regular weather the trip most likely won’t exceed 12 hours, which is how long it will generally take to get to JFK, Newark, or Toronto on El Al, Delta, United, or Air Canada…. but that’s also before the connection. All things being equal I’ll take a shorter flight over a long one every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Or in this case on Thursday.
First off, the plane is old. If you’re flown a 777 or a Dreamliner or an A330/A380 you’ll immediately notice the difference, which includes the throwback ash trays in the armrests. Old school, indeed. But, with an old plane comes a surprising benefit- the seats are fairly comfortable and I assure you that I actually had more leg room on the 767 than on the 747-400 I flew over on from Newark because this plane was made before airplane seat design was changed to mirror that of 1912 Fenway seat specifications. It was immediately evident how much more room I was entitled to in economy class. Plus, the seat reclines farther and I’m pretty sure the seat cushion itself is thicker. When I reclined, I could really stretch out, and at 6”1’, that’s a big deal. I was much more comfortable on this plane than I was on the flight from Newark going over and it wasn’t even close.
Order your apps
Yes, the 767 doesn’t have the amazing in-seat entertainment that you’ve had on the A330 from Philly to Tel Aviv. (BTW I still am upset that American is cancelling that route- it was such a good flight- but check out the conspiracy theory about why.) However, do some advance planning and you’re golden, because if you download the El Al DreamStream app, not only will you access a fabulous array of American and Israeli shows, movies, and music from your tablet, but my 3-year-old iPad that was fully charged before takeoff easily had enough battery power to last the whole flight. I dare say it’s actually better than having the small screen in front of you.
Not a lot of chatter
On some airlines, you get interrupted every hour about something. Join our frequent flyer club! Get our frequent flyer credit card! Do you want to buy anything from duty free? Et cetera et cetera. On this flight, there was minimal interruption from the cockpit. All we got were the details. It was lovely and it was quiet. The captain chimed in when appropriate with the necessary updates, but the entire operation was smooth and efficient, right down to the friendly and smiley flight attendants. Truth. One of them even started talking to me about the DreamStream app and I felt warm and fuzzy.
Logan at dawn
I love the 5:30 am arrival time. I was off the plane at 5:40, and with zero exaggeration had cleared customs and walked out of the airport by 5:50. Other than our flight, there was no arrival at Terminal E for another 90 minutes, I think from the Dominican Republic, and next one was the Emirates flight from Dubai at least three hours after our arrival. I have literally never seen Logan so empty. Compare that to the disaster that’s 90 minutes shuffling slowly through the customs line at JFK in the pre-dawn hours, and it’s literally a dream come true. I was on the Silver Line by 6, on the Red Line by 6:20, on my bus by 6:40, and at my front door by 7:15.
You absolutely cannot beat the convenience of this flight, and all things being equal I’ll take it every time if the price is right. But airfares are fickle brides, and this flight only happens three days a week (Tuesday/Thursday/Sunday outbound in the evening BOS-TLV), so keep watching the Turkish Airlines and Air Canada fares, which are usually pretty good, if you can’t fly on the days the nonstop is running. But if El Al keeps this fare affordable, you’d be well-served to snap it up and check it out for yourself. Just make sure to download the entertainment app in advance.