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As Airline Capacity Shrinks, Travelers Look for Other Israel Evacuation Options
The U.S. Department of State is considering other measures to evacuate Americans from Israel.
The Israeli-Hamas war has caused significant air traffic disruptions in the area. Since the start of the conflict, the big three United States airlines have ceased service to Israel. There is no expected resumption of service as the war continues.
This poses a challenge for the many U.S. citizens that are in Israel and wish to leave the country. While Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport is operating as scheduled and open for flights for all airlines options are limited. El Al continues to operate flights along with Turkish Airlines, Etihad, and a couple of other European carriers.
The United States Department of State has been providing charter flights for the evacuation of American citizens regularly. So far over 7,000 U.S. citizens have departed Israel and the West Bank according to a State Department spokesperson. Flights and buses have been the typical mode of transportation, but earlier this week the State Department came up with a relatively unconventional evacuation method: a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
On Monday, Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas set sail from Israel to the island nation of Cyprus carrying U.S. nationals and their immediate family members. While the massive cruise ship can normally accommodate over 2,400 passengers, the number of passengers on this voyage was less than two hundred.
Evacuees began lining up at Israel’s Port of Haifa, the country’s largest international seaport, as early as 6 a.m. on Monday even though the ship was not scheduled to depart the port until 5 p.m. that day. The journey was a quick overnight with the ship docking in Cyprus early on Tuesday morning with passengers disembarking by 8 a.m. They were met by local U.S. Embassy staff, military personnel, and the U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus.
From there, many were bused to the airport and some were offered a charter flight to Vienna. It’s expected that many were also offered transportation to Athens where many U.S. airlines have increased capacity in order to facilitate the return of citizens from the Middle East.
Evacuation Comes at a Cost
The evacuation, like many organized by the U.S. Department of State, was not free. All passengers had to sign a promissory note agreeing to repay the United States Government the cost of the evacuation. Something last seen in large numbers during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic when the Department of State assisted over 100,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents in returning to the U.S.
The cost of the cruise evacuation is expected to be upwards of $500. If the passengers do not pay within 30 days of receiving the bill from the government, they may face interest charges, and penalties, and be deemed ineligible to renew their passports in the future until the outstanding bill has been paid.
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