US Airways Starts Winging It — All the Way to Sunny Tel Aviv

Why is this flight different from all other flights?

Well, for starters, it's the only direct flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv, and it made its maiden voyage there July 1.

The US Airways flight was announced just about a year ago, and was debuted with plenty of pomp and circumstance, including balloons, refreshments and a number of airline personnel on hand to ensure that things went smoothly.

But despite a seemingly large dose of publicity about the new route, a number of travelers were unaware of the inaugural flight.

Among those traveling were Sarah Geller and Sarah Goodheart, both 18 and from Buckingham, Pa., visiting Israel as a high school graduation gift.

"We didn't even know it was the first trip, but we're very excited," said Geller. "There's balloons, cake — and I love cake."

"And," chimed in Goodheart, "it's kosher — we checked."

While the pair had previously visited the Jewish state with a group from Ohev Shalom of Bucks County, they were looking forward to, as Geller put it, being "more culturally immersed than last time."

In line to board, travelers held paperback novels tucked under their arms, corralled children together or downed a pre-flight snack before the journey. They were headed onto a brand-new Airbus A330-200, with a capacity of 258 passengers, including 20 "envoy class" seats.

The flight leaves daily at 9:15 p.m. from gate A-19 — specially outfitted with a second security checkpoint, including a glass wall closing off the gate area — and is due to arrive in Tel Aviv at 3:15 p.m. the following afternoon. The return flight, which was scheduled for its maiden voyage on July 2, leaves Tel Aviv at 11:15 p.m. daily and is set to arrive in Philadelphia at 5:10 a.m. the following morning.

The flight is the airline's first-ever service to the Middle East.

"I signed up for it four months ago" because it was the first direct flight from the area, said Uri Marcus.

The Jerusalem native said that he and other Israelis had "been waiting a long time to have more airlines come to Israel, and we only hope that when the bad times start that they won't bail," he added. He pointed out that while a number of airlines offer service to the Jewish state, he felt that too many have layovers in Europe.

Many waiting in Philadelphia were making connecting flights, and were not aware that theirs was an inaugural journey; when told, a few mentioned that they had "first-flight" jitters.

"The balloons are nice, but I'd rather be on the 101st than the first," said Carolyn Chambers of Ontario, in line for her connecting flight to Tel Aviv to attend her daughter's wedding. (After journeying more than 5,600 miles, Flight No. 796 landed without a hitch in Tel Aviv.)

Jack Abboudi of Bala Cynwyd was at the airport on July 1 to send his two children, ages 7 and 9, with their grandparents, who are native Israelis, to spend the summer with them there.

While he appreciated the convenience of flying direct from home, he and many others had something else on their minds — the costs involved.

That, he said, "is going to be pretty tough to beat."

The airline has advertised prices round-trip from Philadelphia starting at $1,028, and that doesn't account for the savings of not having to go to New York or Newark, N.J., to catch a flight.

US Airways communications officer Morgan Durrant said via e-mail that the airline felt that a presence in Philadelphia would help give them an edge over the competition.

"We felt there was a niche to be filled in Philadelphia, with it being the second-largest city in the East Coast, and one with a sizable and relevant Jewish community," said Durrant.

The passengers weren't the only ones excited with the development. Because Hebrew isn't as widely spoken as some other languages, the airline has hired a number of in-flight interpreters for the new route, some of whom were on the job for the first day.

Talia Levi of Northeast Philadelphia is a native of Petach Tikvah. She usually gets home to see family at least once a year, but now, maybe "it will be three times a month!"



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