Petition pays off in nonstop service from SFO to Israel

Flying from the Bay Area to Israel is a daylong ordeal, necessitating a stop in Los Angeles, on the East Coast or somewhere in Europe. For now, that is. United Airlines announced last week it will offer three nonstop flights a week from SFO to Israel starting in March.

United will use Boeing 787 Dreamliners for its flights between San Francisco and Israel. photo/wikipedia

“Success!!! We did it,” declared SFOTLV.org, a website where thousands signed a petition that urged any airline to offer an SFO-TLV nonstop (the code for Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv). The petition was started in January 2014 and organized by Bay Area-based Israelis looking for an easier way to get back and forth for personal visits and business trips.

Shortly after the push started, Oren Dobronsky, one of the petition’s organizers and owner of Oren’s Hummus in Palo Alto and Mountain View, began making contact with various airlines. United was “very open for it from the beginning,” he said. “Already it was on their radar when I first talked to them.”

Dobronsky, who is also an investor and entrepreneur, said the route makes good business sense, and demonstrating that was simply a matter of collecting the right data. “The numbers were just staggering,” Dobronsky said. In the end, the petition garnered 8,500 signatures. Signers were asked to estimate how many round-trip tickets they and their families would use each year; the total came to more than 35,000.

Oren Dobronsky

“Those are big numbers to an airline,” Dobronsky said. “And the petition is only a subset of the real potential.”

United’s Oct. 8 press release announcing the new route noted that the airline “considered the opinions of thousands of customers” who signed the petition. The flight to Israel will be 14 hours, 10 minutes; the return flight will be 15 hours, 5 minutes.

“It’s wonderful news,” said Ravit Baer, the new deputy consul general at the S.F.-based Israeli Consulate that serves the Pacific Northwest. “There’s a lot of movement between San Francisco and Israel, mostly the high-tech people going back and forth to the R&D centers there. But there’s also a large Jewish community that comes back and forth and other cultural and economic ties.”

Baer, who has been on the job for two months, said that the long flights and plane changes were daunting prospects for her and her family when considering the move to San Francisco. “Coming here from Tel Aviv today, the shortest route you can have would be 18 hours … via Istanbul. It’s a very long day of flying, very tedious and difficult,” she said.

Though the nonstop should help increase tourism in both directions, Dobronsky is eyeing how business will be affected. “I honestly think it will help the high-tech industry in Israel. It will make the connection stronger between Silicon Valley and the Silicon Wadi.”

He also said his family will now travel to Israel twice a year rather than just once. “And there’s no doubt that family members will come to visit me from Israel more often now,” he added.

Bay Area resident Rabbi Jill Cozen Harel used to travel to Israel a lot  when she lived on the East Coast. “It was easier to go when I was in New York,” she said. So is she more likely to go now? “It depends on how much this flight is going to cost,” she said.

United’s SFO-TLV flights will be on Boeing 787 Dreamliners and offered three times a week starting March 30: departing SFO at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and arriving 8:10 p.m. the next day; and departing TLV at 12:55 a.m. Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and arriving at 6 a.m. the same day.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.