The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all United States flights to Tel Aviv for 24 hours on Tuesday and the halt directly impacted one San Diego family who got stuck in Israel.
The FAA grounded all U.S. flights in response to a rocket strike near the main airport. When the federal mandate came, the Spiegel family knew it’d be a while before they were able to return home to San Diego.
In a phone interview, Avi Spiegel – a University of San Diego assistant professor – told NBC 7 that he, his wife and 6-year-old daughter were stranded in Tel Aviv after two of their flights were canceled.
Spiegel was wrapping up a research trip with his family in tow when they heard the news. They were supposed to fly home Tuesday on US Airways but on their way to the airport the family learned all U.S. airline carriers had grounded their flights to Tel Aviv.
Spiegel said he tried booking a flight on a European carrier, but they were grounded too. He spent hours on hold with various airline companies trying to rebook his flight to no avail.
The USD professor said the ordeal has been hectic and frightening. He said he wouldn’t have taken the trip if he had known his family would end up in a war zone.
"It's chaotic. One of the airlines said, ‘Listen, we’d like to help you, but we're simultaneously trying to get our own people out. We have passengers, we have crews, we have pilots,’” Spiegel explained.
“I'm talking to the airline the same time a siren is going off – the app on my phone tells me when sirens go off. It's alarming,” he continued.
Spiegel said the only upside to this is that hotel rooms are easy to come by since there are not many tourists currently in the area.
Still, for now, he has no idea when his family will be able to return home.
"The [odds] don't sound hopeful. The last word from the airlines was that they're showing nothing – no flights even offering tomorrow,” said Spiegel. “The earliest they could get us on a flight was Friday so we're just continuing to check back and get back as soon as we can."
US Airways and Delta, among many U.S. airlines, announced they had canceled all flights to Israel Tuesday. Delta released the following statement:
Delta has suspended service until further notice to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and its New York-JFK hub. Delta, in coordination with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, is doing so to ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees.
Delta flight 468, a Boeing 747 from JFK with 273 passengers and 17 crew, diverted to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Tuesday after reports of a rocket or associated debris near the airport in Tel Aviv. Delta is working to re-accommodate these customers.
Delta continues to work closely with U.S. and other government resources to monitor the situation. A customer waiver for travel to Tel Aviv is in effect and published on delta.com.
According to the Associated Press, an Israeli police spokesman said a rocket fell three miles from the airport earlier in the day, but said he was not aware of any immediate situation at the time the Delta flight was diverted.
More than 600 people have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began, and another 3,700 have been wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Twenty-seven Israeli soldiers have been killed since the start of the operation, which has included attacks on nearly 3,000 targets in Gaza, according to the Israeli army.