Ben Gurion Airport
Ben Gurion AirportIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Beginning Thursday, travelers flying out of Israel are likelier to have a better chance of taking off on time – otherwise, the airline they are flying on will have to compensate them, or perhaps even give them a refund or pay them for the waiting time. The new sanctions on airlines are part of the Airline Passenger Rights law, which comes into effect Thursday.

The law applies to scheduled airline flights as well as charter flights, and was prompted after scenes several summers ago of Israelis stuck in Ben Gurion Airport for hours or even days as they waited for their charter companies to fill flights or negotiate better deals with the carriers they were renting planes from. It applies to all flights leaving Israel, including flights by foreign carriers, as well as layovers. Airlines or charter operators that fail to comply will be subject to stiff penalties, and could be banned from using Ben Gurion Airport altogether.

Passengers will be compensated with food and drink, cash, or a full refund, depending on how many hours their flight was delayed. If a flight is delayed up to five hours, airlines must provide food and drink for passengers, and provide them with money to make two phone calls. If a flight is delayed between 5 and 8 hours, the passenger can decide to cancel their reservation, receiving a full refund from the airline. For delays beyond eight hours, airlines will have to compensate passengers between NIS 1,250 and NIS 3,000, and if the flight is delayed until the next day, the airline will also be required to put passengers up in a hotel.

Passengers will also receive compensation if their flight is moved up by more than eight hours, in cases where the passenger was notified less than two weeks before the flight's departure. Compensation will also be required for passengers who are bumped, or who are forced to move from business class to coach because of overbooking.

The law is seen as being directed especially against charter operators, who often have a very poor on-time departure record. Sources in the industry said that in recent weeks, charter operators, in preparation for their being forced to depart on time, have begun issuing tickets only 48 hours before flights, on the theory that the closer the time of departure, the less likely a delay.