Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How I Forged my EL AL Ticket

We are bumping along in the airport shuttle bus, my hand luggage clutched on my knee.

 “I’m so glad we are flying EL AL” I say happily. “The way to the states was such a nightmare with Iberia” (who knew it takes 30 hours to fly from Tel Aviv to Madrid?)

TCO just nods. Men are like that.

“Next time we are flying ELAL both ways. I can’t handle a connecting flight again. Besides, their service is so much better.”

Famous last words. If life was a movie, dramatic music would have been playing in the background at this point                              

“Flying has really changed” I say to TCO, pulling out a folded pieced of paper from my purse. “Remember when you had to go to the travel agent and he’d give you a little plastic pouch with tickets that were blue ink booklets?”

Little did I know that I would soon be longing for those days. Oh, sweet 90s.

We hand over our e-tickets to the EL – AL clerk behind the check in counter. She inspects them both, asks for our passports. She types away busily, calls over an older clerk. They both look at the screen, yak away in Spanish, type away some more.

“I’m sorry. She’s new at this. She is learning.” Says the older woman.

“It’s fine.” We nod, we smile.

“T?” They look at him, look at the passport.

“I reserved a window seat” he says. We reserved our seats ahead, the airline confirmed it.

“Yes, we see. One minute”

A few more keys pressed, and they print out a boarding pass for him.

Then they move on to me. More Spanish, more typing.  

Then they call over a third person. A man this time. His nametag says G.

He talks with them, looks at the screen, looks at me.

I look back. What’s wrong? Did they forget to order my Special Kosher meal?

“Your husband has a reservation. You, however, are not in the system.” He says to me.

“I’m not what?!”

“You do not appear in the system. You don’t have a place on the flight.”

“That can’t be. I confirmed my place, I confirmed my seat even. Look at the tickets – 27 A and 27 B. “

“You’re husband has seat 27 A, yes. But you don’t have a reservation. I will put you on Stand By.”

“But here’s my ticket.” I wave it at him.

“A ticket and a reservation are two different things. You have a ticket, yes. But you do not have a reservation. You are not in the system.”

“Your ticket was bought through Iberia. You’ll have to speak to them.”

“I have an EL-AL e-ticket number. How can I not be in the system?”

“Ah.” Now he is riled. “All you have is a piece of paper. That e-ticket, what is it? A piece of paper. Anyone can forge a piece of paper. You could have forged that.”

How can I answer to that? How can any passenger answer to that?

EL AL lesson #1: EL AL e-tickets are worthless, since they can be forged. How can you know you’re on a flight? Easy, hack into EL AL’s computer system. Don’t do a silly thing like trust EL AL to honor their e-ticket.

“But I need to be on this flight.”

“It’s none of my business. You should speak to Iberia. I’ll put you on Standby. That’s all I can do. But the flight is overbooked, there are no empty seats. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Ahah. “ TCO pipes up. “So you are admitting we have a reservation, if you are giving her a standby ticket! Why would you give her a standyby ticket if you think she forged the e ticket?”

EL-AL Lesson #2: Don’t use logic.

 “I don’t care what you are saying.“ says G. “I don’t care. I’m not listening. I told you, you don’t have a place on the flight. That’s it.”

“How about in Business class?” TCO asks. “Since you lost my wife’s reservation, you should upgrade her to Business class.”

This is the part where I start fantasizing about being upgraded to Business class. I mean, EL AL messed up, now they’ll have to find a solution. Silly me.

“We only upgrade EL AL passengers. You are an Iberia passenger. She will have to be standby”

“OK. So how about you upgrade one of your EL AL passengers to business class, and then give me her economy seat?”

Om second thought, I don’t care about flying Business class at this point. I just want to get home and out of this dark comedy. I’d go in the cattle cart if there was one.

EL AL Lesson #3: Don’t try and find a creative solution. Do not even consider trying to find a solution. 

“There are no empty seats in Business class. The whole plane is full. Full! There is no room for you.” G doesn’t even check the computer. He prefers shouting at us.

“Listen, you made a mistake, we accept that. But now how are you going to solve it?”

“I told you. The plane is full. Speak to Iberia. It is not my problem. I have to go now, the plane is boarding. Bye Bye”

G. is yelling. The other clerks, stand around, embarrassed. Then he strides off. We don’t know what to do, if we try going to Iberia, it will be too late, the plane is boarding soon.

Then our guadian angel comes along. The older clerk from before.

She steps up, whispers to us. “I will help you. I will find you a place. Don’t worry.”

Her face is kind. She isn’t shouting at us. She isn't claiming I forged my ticket.

She calls Iberia (something G. wouldn't deign to do) . “They have your reservations.”

She calls EL AL reservations “Your reservation is missing from the EL AL system. There must have been a failure in saving your Iberia reservation in the EL AL reservation system.”

A bug in communications between the two systems. It happens. It could be Iberia’s fault, and could be EL AL’s. Who knows.  I just know I'm caught in the middle.

EL AL Lesson #4: Don’t fly with a codeshare 

“There are empty business class seats, but I can’t give you one without my manager’s permission” G. is the manager, so no high hopes on that one.

She checks in the computer. “Some passengers have not shown up, I’ll give you their seats.”

“Here is a standby ticket. Meet me at the boarding gate and I’ll make sure you are on the flight.”

We trust her. We rush through passport control, and duty free. Find our angel at the boarding gate.

G., the manager, sees us and glares. We ignore him.

Boarding. The moment of truth. We go to the desk, she hands me a ticket. “I’m sorry you’re not next to each other. “ She apologizes. “But I tried to make sure you are close.”

We thank her again and again. I want to hug her.We board the plane.

And that kids, is how you “forge” an EL AL ticket.


  1. crazy story! Glad it all worked out.

    My only crazy El Al story occurred when I coming back from Shana Bet with suitcases (and backpack) full of seforim. As we all knew, El Al was (then at least) pretty lenient about stuff being overweight, as long as it wasn't ridiculous.

    The guy in front of me was another yeshiva student returning to America, and both his bags easily exceeded the weight limit by a wide margin. He got his tickets and prepared to leave, hefting his heavy backpack (laden with seforim no doubt) onto his shoulder with an audible grunt.

    The attendant quickly stopped him in his tracks and asked, "How much does that weight?" pointing to his backpack. He shrugged and said he had no idea. She made him return to the counter and put his backpack on the scale. It was over the weight limit for a carry-on bag.

    She fined him something like $50-100 for the too-heavy backpack. This was after letting his very overweight duffle bags go through without a peep.

    Crazy, eh?

    My own backpack was probably just as heavy as his, but I made sure to pick it up without any sound of straining to lift it up - and had no problems at all.

  2. Oh wow. My crazy El Al story involves smuggling a mini library of sefarim into the US. Glad you got to Israel

  3. crazy!! i cant belive they ran away from responsiblty like that!!

  4. Thank goodness you made it - but why did you book through Iberia to fly El Al?
    In the end, a little bit of chessed is what makes the world go round...

  5. What a crazy crazy story...

    Great rules lol...

    But wouldn't it be easier to have just El Al Rule? El Al Rule #1: Don't fly Elal