Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fabulous Jews and Schmendricks at El Al Airlines: On Caroline Low, Elyezer Shkedy, and a Teenage Boy Alone at Heathrow Airport over Shabbat

So my son followed up this morning in Britain. I have a great story to write about the world of Orthodox Jews and hachnasat orchim. But this post is about the schmendricks at El Al, too.  And the follow up customer service department letter from Caroline Low on behalf of Elyezer Shkedy.

My son arrived in London on Thursday. Had things gone smoothly, he would have arrived in Tel Aviv on Friday morning. Alas, flights were canceled to and from Lod Airport that day for important reasons. We all properly accept that. Here is where Jewish policy comes in:

El Al explained to the stranded travelers on Thursday that they would be stranded in London until Saturday night. The flight for Saturday night would start so close after Shabbat that all the shomrei Shabbat stranded in London ultimately needed to remain at the local hotel over Shabbat because there otherwise would have been no time for them to get back to the airport in time for the flight after havdalah. I guess we all properly can accept that, too. Flight schedules are based on many factors. Next:

Yet the schmendricks at El Al agreed to pay for only one night at the hotel – Thursday night. They refused to pay for Friday night. They also insulted several travelers repeatedly for asking El Al also to cover the second night, Friday night, for which they essentially were requiring the shomrei Shabbat to remain at the hotel. This nastiness went back and forth for much of the day, until El Al upper management finally relented to other, older-in-age passengers who also pressed them, and El Al finally agreed a day later to pay for Friday night, too, leaving bad feelings all around. (It is my business experience that, if an airline compels you to wait overnight for its next flight to materialize, they pay for your hotel for as long as they delay you.  And they do it with a smile and a soft polite apology to the passengers whom they are delaying.)

In the end, a wonderful Shabbat-observant lady in London, with whom my son and I were connected by the wonderful rav of New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, kindly and generously paid fgor and dispatched a taxi cab that delivered complete Shabbat meals for my son, including not only wine and home-baked challah but also meat and desserts of chocolate mousse. (In addition, other among my many wonderful rabbinical colleagues among the RCA and shul members of Young Israel of Orange County also put us in touch with many other London-area shomer Shabbat contacts. In all, in less than half a day, we received more than 25 invitations for my son to spend Shabbat at homes throughout Greater London. Harry Potter should be so blessed!)

This incident tells a great story about Orthodox Jews throughout the world and about hachnasat orchim. El Al is not part of that great story. It seems you can't teach class.

I did, however, give it a try.  After all, El Al is the best at security.  So one would figure that the term "El Al Customer Service" does not have to be an oxymoron.  So I wrote El Al.  After a month of "investigating," one Caroline Low wrote me on behalf of the President, Elyezer Shkedy, essentially praising the hachnasat orchim of the lady in London and, in so many words, wishing us better luck next time with El Al!

That's got to be the ultimate Form Letter for incompetent Customer Service departments and nincompoop clerks around the world:  "Dear Mr. Jones.  Thank you for writing about the poor service you received from our company.  We have conducted a one-month investigation and are glad to learn, pretty much from re-reading your letter a month after we first read it, that someone else helped you out while our half-trained employee was yelling at and insulting you. On behalf of our Department President,  Corporate President, and the lady who does my nails we all wish you better luck next time.  Ciao!"

Remember the names:  Caroline Low.  Elyezer Shkedy.  The next time you buy an airline ticket to Israel, choosing a different airline to receive your $1,500-$2,000 purchase, drop them a note: "Although I am Jewish and a deep Zionist, and always go out of my way to patronize Israeli companies, I have chosen to fly an airline other than El Al because of Caroline Low and Elyezer Shkedy.  Better luck next time!"

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