Delta suspends service to Israel; FAA orders US flights to Tel Aviv halted

The threat of a rocket hitting one of their planes flying over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prompted Delta Air Lines and other carriers Tuesday to suspend flights to Israel.

The Federal Aviation Administration followed just after noon Tuesday with a total ban on U.S. flights to Israel for 24 hours.

Earlier, Atlanta-based Delta announced it was halting service between John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv until further notice.

Delta said its Flight 468, a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew members, was in the air when it was diverted to Paris after the carrier received reports that a rocket had landed near the Tel Aviv airport. Israeli police later confirmed the rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip, where Israel is battling the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

United, American and European airlines also later halted flights. Israel’s Transportation Ministry, however, said the carriers were overreacting and insisted travel to the country was safe.

The abundance of caution followed the July 17 downing of a Malaysian Airlines jet while flying over the armed conflict on the Ukraine-Russian border. Authorities said the plane was hit by a rocket, killing all 298 people on board.

“It’s really forcing every carrier, every business jet operator to do their own due diligence, do their own risk assessment, given the geopolitical situation,” said Aviation consultant Robert Mann told The Associated Press.

The State Department earlier this week reiterated its recommendation, first issued in February, to U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank, and repeated a “longstanding strong warning” against any travel to the Gaza Strip.

The FAA announced recently that carriers voluntarily agreed not to operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border following the recent Malaysia Airlines tragedy.