Silicon Valley Israelis want direct flight to Tel Aviv

Around hour 14, it hits. Flying high above Europe, blood pooling in the legs, the sleep-deprived body says, “No more.” But the endless flight from San Francisco to Israel still has many miles to go.

That’s the reality of jetting from here to there. With no direct route to Israel offered by any carrier, Bay Area travelers change planes in Los Angeles, New York or some European hub before flying on to Tel Aviv. Often they have to change terminals, go through security a second time, and wait, wait, wait.

An online petition aims to show that the market would support direct flights from SFO to Tel Aviv.

Add it up and it can take eight hours longer than a direct flight.

“Door to door it’s at least 24 hours,” says Adi Bittan, an Israeli-born high-tech entrepreneur who travels to Israel several times a year from her South Bay home. “It’s a grueling trip. The more links in the chain, the more things can go wrong. Two years ago I got stuck in New York for 14 hours.”

Bittan is part of a group of Israeli expatriates in Silicon Valley who have had enough and are circulating a petition to get an airline — any airline — to offer a direct flight from SFO to Ben Gurion Airport.

The petition went online a month ago, and so far, more than 5,600 people have signed, saying they would buy nearly 25,000 tickets. The Wall Street Journal and several Israeli media outlets have taken notice, writing articles about the drive.

With enough signatures and promises to buy tickets, organizers believe they will successfully crowdsource their idea.

Bittan says SFO more than qualifies for a direct route because of several local constituencies that would provide a reliable customer base.

That includes the many Israelis living in the Bay Area (40,000, according to some estimates) who fly home often. Moreover, many local Jewish community institutions sponsor youth trips and missions to Israel.

Then there are savvy Bay Area tourists, more of whom might book trips to Israel if the journey were made easier. Finally, there is the high-tech sector, which does brisk business with its Israeli counterpart.

“We want to make it easier for [Israeli] entrepreneurs to come here and for venture capitalists to go there,” Bittan adds. “All these companies — Apple, Yahoo, IBM, Microsoft — have hubs in Israel and send people there regularly.”

The petition ( asks signers how many round-trip coach and business class tickets they would buy each year, and which frequent flyer programs they belong to, if any.

To sweeten the deal, the petition home page makes this offer to the first airline to launch a direct SFO-TLV flight: “We will all join your free frequent flyer program, thus incentivizing us to use your airline for other routes as well.”

Shuly Galili is a partner and co-founder of UpWest Labs, a Silicon Valley startup incubator with strong ties to Israel. She signed the petition because she well knows the fatigue factor of traveling 24 hours.

She also says the long haul is bad for business. When she tries to sell Israeli high-tech to investors, they want to see the country for themselves. Then she has to inform them there’s no direct flight. India, China, Brazil, no problem. But none to Israel.

“The connections are terrible,” she says. “People get stuck in airports, they miss flights, and they miss important meetings.”

Bittan says she and her colleagues have had informal conversations with airlines, some of which have expressed interest in the idea of a direct flight. Since many of those potential travelers would fly business and first class, it could mean big profits for a carrier.

Interest within Israel is strong, too, Bittan adds: “There are people on the other side who need this flight as much as we do.”

Organizers say they have no deadline or target number for signatures. But they hope as the list of signatories grows, so will the pressure to launch that SFO-TLV flight.

Until then, the closest direct flight is El Al out of Los Angeles. “If you live in L.A., good for you; awesome,” says Galili. “But if you come from here, it’s another shlep.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at