Prior to the flight, Israeli diplomats joined state, city and airport officials along with Delta leadership at the gate. Delta’s Airport Experience Team provided decorated the gate area with Israeli flags and distributed Israeli themed gifts to the passengers. Left to right: Head of protocol of International Affairs for Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Mar Anderson; Director of the Mayor's office of International and Immigrant Affairs, Vanessa Ibarra; Commissioner of Georgia Dept. of Economic Development Pat Wilson; Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States Anat Sultan Dadon; Delta Captain Cynthia Timmons; Tourism Consul and Director of the Israel Ministry of Tourism to the Southern US, Yael Golan; and Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern US Alex Gandler. Photo: Aaron J Braunstein, Consulate General of Israel SE USA

Delta Air Lines Inc.’s new nonstop flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv took off Sunday and arrived Monday morning 14 minutes early at 9:01 a.m. without incident.

What awaited on the ground, however, was an acute political crisis that for a brief time grounded subsequent flights at the Ben Gurion Airport. 

For about a four-hour period Monday afternoon, any flights headed to Tel Aviv that were not already in the air were not permitted to take off, news agencies reported, as airport staff joined labor unions striking in solidarity with protesters demonstrating across the country.

Plans to overhaul the judicial system by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government sparked mass protests that persuaded him to suspend the plan Monday evening until after a Passover parliamentary recess in an effort to stave off the threat of “civil war.” 

Opposition intensified after Mr. Netanyahu dismissed his defense minister Sunday with a terse statement after the latter had urged a pause to the judicial overhaul. Israel’s Consul General in New York resigned in protest of the firing. 

Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federations of North America issued a joint statement praising the pause and urging lawmakers to build consensus before taking any measures on the proposal. 

Those gathered at the terminal to celebrate the flight launch seemed, at least on social media, focused more on the excitement around the trip than the turmoil on the ground. 

At the gate, travelers posed for photos in front of Georgia and Israel flags and a balloon arch assembled for the occasion. On the runway upon arrival, Delta’s plane was welcomed with a water-cannon salute. Atlanta airport officials have praised the return of the Tel Aviv flight, which last took off from here 12 years ago, as one of many new routes indicating a strong revival of international travel from Hartsfield-Jackson.

A dinner for industry professionals and economic development leaders was held at The Third Space restaurant in Atlanta two weeks ago to build momentum for the flight, which is carrying local journalists and members of the travel trade.

In a post to LinkedIn after the dinner, tourism Consul Yael Golan said the flight was more than a commercial venture, but a linking of her two transatlantic homes:

“During my time here, I have sent travel trade decision makers, media, soul food chefs and music artists to Israel, and they have written about their experience and brought back lyrics and Israeli restaurants and food to the South – and with this direct service, the sharing will be free flowing between the two destinations.

I could write about how tourism from the US is better than ever or that this flight gives more efficient connections for western and southern travelers, or even that Delta itself will connect its biggest hub and our only hub, but for me, it’s a clear path for Southerners and Israeli tourists to experience two very special places to me, #Georgia and #Israel.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is offering the nonstop flight as one of the options for its annual community community journey to Israel in April.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...