Flights canceled to Israel amid fears over rockets fired near Tel Aviv's airport

Heavily armed police at JFK Airport's terminal 4, Heavily armed police at JFK Airport's terminal 4, where passengers check in with the Israeli carrier El Al, the only airline flying to the Jewish state on July 22, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday

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U.S. and many foreign airlines canceled flights to Israel Tuesday after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport, scrambling travel plans for passengers heading to and from the Jewish state.

One Delta flight from New York was over the Mediterranean when airline officials diverted it to Paris to avoid Tel Aviv. The decisions by the industry and regulators showed heightened concern in dealing with global trouble spots following last week's downing of an airliner over Ukraine.

Some customers whose flights from Kennedy Airport were canceled rebooked with El Al, Israel's national carrier, which maintained its regular schedule.

Michelle Lipstein of Far Rockaway, Queens, 37, kissed and hugged her parents goodbye curbside at the heavily guarded terminal as her luggage was loaded onto a dolly.

"I got a call this morning saying Delta wasn't going to Israel," she said before checking in at El Al. She'll be in Israel, where three of her sisters live, for a monthlong stay.

Others put plans on hold, waiting not just for a resumption of flights but a calming of the Gaza conflict.

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"If I was supposed to be going over today, I would have canceled within this past week," said Olivia Pinsley of Great Neck, who has planned an Aug. 20 trip to Israel for her son's bar mitzvah. "I don't want to be going there and have to be running into bomb shelters with my 10-year-old daughter when I'm supposed to be visiting beautiful places."

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his website Tuesday he would fly to Israel, and he criticized the decision to restrict flights.

"This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel," he wrote.

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He added, "The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel."

Mark J. Pelavin, a spokesman for the Union for Reform Judaism in New York, said the suspension of flights forced a group of about 25 high schoolers from New York and New Jersey to spend an extra day at their kibbutz in the Judean hills instead of flying home Tuesday night. The organization has about 600 U.S. high schoolers attending programs in Israel.

Delta and United Airlines scrubbed their flights before a Federal Aviation Administration decision to ground all U.S. carriers' service to Tel Aviv. The FAA will issue further guidance Wednesday.

Germany's Lufthansa and Air Berlin also scrubbed flights, as did Air France, Air Canada, Alitalia, Dutch KLM, Britain's easyJet, Turkish Airlines and Aegean Airlines.

Israel complained the cancellations were an overreaction. The country's Transportation Ministry said the airport is safe and completely guarded, and there is no reason to "hand terror a prize."

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While Hamas rockets aren't as sophisticated as the missile believed to have hit the Malaysian jet, they can cause catastrophic damage.

Travel agents said there had already been a slowdown in Israel tourism. Alison Bermant, general manager, U.S. operations, at The Best of Israel travel agency in Syosset, said, "It's a very fluid situation."

And some couldn't wait. At Kennedy, Zmira Mozorosky, a dance teacher and grandmother, needed to get to Israel in time to mourn her sister, who had just died.

"I'm so lucky that I booked it on El Al," she said. "Usually I fly with Delta because I have the points with them."

With combined news services

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