Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV IATA) is Israel's primary airport. Named after Israel's first prime minister, it is near the town of Lod (hence its previous name - Lod/Lydda Airport), on the outskirts of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
The airport is one of the most secure airports in the world, especially given its location. It's advisable to budget at least an additional two hours on top of your pre-flight check-in time to ensure timely arrival and completion of security procedures (though most of the time it will go much faster).
Airport security is especially suspicious of travellers with Muslim names or visas from Islamic countries in their passports. Expect to be stopped and questioned for several hours if this is the case, both on the way in and on the way out. It would be wise to have some phone numbers of local contacts for security officials to call to verify your reasons for visiting.
The most evident security check is pre-check-in. Bag inspection, both by machine and hand, is routine and should be expected, in addition to repeated interviews about your time in Israel. (This is not done for everyone: should you go through it, you will be escorted to skip regular security check.) If you are traveling as part of a group, they will usually question you separately before cross-checking your accounts.
On joining the queue for this security check, a security official will ask you several questions. Based on these and a brief inspection of your passport, you will be assigned a number from 1 to 6. 1 signifies the lowest security concern and 6 the highest. Foreigners will typically get between a 3 and a 6. Age, appearance, stamps from Arab countries, evidence of visits to Palestinian areas, and other factors will be taken into account. Depending on the number you get (stuck on your passport and luggage), the security check is more or less thorough. Travellers who have visited Palestinian areas will almost certainly receive a 5 or 6 (but you can also get a 5 if you have never been to Israel before, and are of European descent). With a 5 or a 6, you can expect every single item of luggage to be taken from your bag and inspected in detail. Security officials have been known to check individual bank-notes. With a 6 (but sometimes even 5 if they have time), you can also expect to be taken to a cubicle and asked to remove your belt and shoes and have a personal inspection. If your clothes contain any metal that would set off a detector (such as studs in your jeans or a zip) even if plainly visible on the outside, you will be asked to remove the item of clothing. Travelers are regularly prevented from taking mobile phones, laptops, and even shoes in their hand-luggage, although there is no consistency, with reports of one policy one week and another the next week.
Arguing about such invasive checks is almost always fruitless and security reasons are the only ones that are ever cited. Though encouraging tourism, Israeli authorities would answer to criticism by angry travellers that Israel is a prime target of many international terrorist groups, and that people who are looking for sun with no security checks should rather head to Canary Islands. The security check process can be very irritating, but it is one of the factors which makes TLV one of the safest airports in the world.
Unlike in many other countries, airport security staff is quite intelligent. They will be looking at how you answer questions as much as what you say. Also, over-careful procedures like removing shoes and throwing out liquids, which are standard in Western airports, tend to be lessened at Ben Gurion.
In addition, when driving to the airport, there is a security checkpoint on the road several minutes before you arrive. Expect your taxi to be stopped, and have your passports, tickets, and answers for some questions (how long have you been in Israel, where are you going) ready.
Ben Gurion acts as a hub for Israel's three main international airlines:
- El Al, ☏ . Israel's largest airline and flag carrier, offering flights around the globe. El Al generally does not operate flights on the Jewish Sabbath or major holidays. Similarly, they only serve kosher food on their flights.
- Arkia Israel Airlines, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Israel's largest airline for domestic flights, also serving some European destinations.
- Israir, ☏ . Su-Th 10:00-14:00 (excluding Festivals). Unlike El Al they do operate flights on Sabbath. They offer domestic flights to Eilat and flights to a couple of European destinations.
Around 50 international airlines fly to Ben Gurion Airport from around the world, including Delta, United Airlines, American Airlines, Air Canada, Turkish Airlines, Pegasus, Aegean Airlines, Ukraine International, British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Iberia, LOT, Austrian Airlines, Swiss, KLM, Czech Airlines, Royal Jordanian, Egypt Air (via Air Sinai), Ethiopian Airlines, Korean Air, and Cathay Pacific.
Air India 139, a flight from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, is unique in that it is the only flight not affected by a ban on using Saudi airspace for flights to Israel. For travelers in a hurry, this is two hours faster than a flight around Saudi Arabia and definitely quicker and easier compared to a connection.
Low-cost airlines flying to Ben Gurion airport from European destinations include Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air and Jet2.
Among the more obscure airlines serving TLV is "Air Sinai", a subsidiary of EgyptAir which mostly exists to fulfill a condition of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty (namely, to maintain an air link between the two countries) while causing minimal offense in both countries and attracting minimal attention. In the past they have often used unmarked planes and did not even show up in flight schedules or on departure boards. In the days of Flightradar 24 this might seem somewhat quaint, but booking is still a challenge (The EgyptAir website won't help you) but a good place to start is this unofficial website.
- 1 Terminal 3 (טרמינל 3). This is the main terminal, used by most international airlines. The airport train station is here with trains to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other destinations, as well as minibus transfers to Jerusalem and Haifa.
- 2 Terminal 1 (טרמינל 1). Many low-cost airlines and domestic flights depart from Terminal 1, though they often bus passengers to T3 for arrivals. A few domestic flights to Eilat also fly from here. If you're gasping for a cuppa before check-in and security, use the cafe near the domestic check-in area, Door 2. The airport exchange desks have only a 5% buy-spread on major currencies so this is very good value.
A free shuttle bus runs between T1 and T3 every 15 min, taking 8 min. Terminal 2 has been demolished and Terminal 4 is not in routine use. Check with your carrier which terminal to use, and your inbound and outbound terminals may often differ. Don't ask your taxi driver, he hasn't a clue and will drop you off wherever is more convenient for him.
When available, this is often the best option in terms of price and speed. 1 Ben Gurion Airport railway station. is just outside Terminal 3, on the ground level. Frequent service is available to most major cities in Israel. Day service westbound to Tel Aviv and Haifa, eastbound to Modiin and Jerusalem. Trains to Tel Aviv and Haifa run hourly all night long; most other routes stop overnight. No trains run on the Sabbath.
In order to ride the train or bus in Israel, you should have a Rav Kav smart card (in some cities, you must have one). In the arrivals area of Terminal 3, there is a 24h kiosk which sells Rav Kavs (or they can issue you a named one by passport for free), with a sign saying "Public Transportation Information Center", to your right as you exit from customs.
You can get a taxi from Ben Gurion airport to almost any city in Israel. All taxi services can be easily identified by the yellow cap on the top of the car, and the stickers on the doors. Fares are fixed and published and all taxis from the airport belong to the Hadar (countrywide), Nesher (Jerusalem) and Amal (Haifa area) companies. The taxi queue is rapid and efficient and the attendants, though brusque, will help. The taxi point is just at level G next to exit gate 03. It is advised not to take random taxis that are not accredited with these stations, unless pre-ordered. A good preparation to find a taxi ride would be to visit the Ben Gurion Airport's taxi guidelines page.
A sherut (shared taxi) is a taxi-van shared by 10 passengers and thus much cheaper than a regular taxi. However, it's slower - usually it waits until it's full, and only then departs. Neither train nor bus service is available on Shabbat (Friday afternoon to Saturday sunset), while the shared taxis operate 24/7 (although they might delay until they have a sufficient number of passengers).
Most buses don't get into the airport, but rather stop at a road junction near by, called 3 El Al junction ("Tzomet El Al" in Hebrew). To get to El Al junction, take bus #5, #13, #444 or #239 from the airport. These buses stop at level 2 of Terminal 3, and at a bus stop outside the Terminal 1 building. The ride to El Al Junction takes about 10 minutes.
Jerusalem, though has a direct bus which stops at Terminals 1 and 3; see Jerusalem#Ben Gurion Airport for details. Tel Aviv also has a direct bus connection with line #445.
Recommended routes to popular destinations
Detailed entries should appear in the linked articles, not here.
- Jerusalem — The train is best when it is running, followed by a local taxi or transit to your destination. Late at night or on Friday when there are no trains, the 485 bus plus a local taxi is a good combination. If you miss the 485 (it's once an hour), take a sherut.
- Tel Aviv, Netanya, Akko, Nahariya, Beer Sheva and more — The train is best when it is running, followed by a local taxi or transit to your destination. Late at night, if you miss the hourly train, it might be faster to take a sherut if there is one. If your destination is within the Tel Aviv area, a taxi may be best.
- Other locations - A train to a major city (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, or Beer Sheva), followed by a local bus or another train, is often best. Late at night when most trains and buses are not operating, you may need to take a taxi from the nearest operating train station to your destination.
- Anywhere on the Sabbath - take the sherut or (if no sherut is available) a private taxi.
Most passengers will stay in Terminal 3, which is well-designed and compact. If by chance you need to travel between Terminals 1 and 3, there is a shuttle bus.
Planespotters may be interested in an observation platform located on the airport periphery, at parking lot 26. There is a shuttle from the terminal to this parking lot. If the weather is bad (rainy or too hot), in the departure terminal just before security are a set of large windows with a view of the planes.
Alternatively, perhaps the closest-up views of plane operations are from just north of the airport, in Yahud or Or Yehudah (accessed by driving or bus 223).
- Arbel Lounge, Terminal 3.
- DAN+ Lounge, Duty Free area of Departures Hall, ☏ . Exclusively for United Airlines and British Airways night flights.
- King David Lounge, Concourse D in the Duty Free area of the Departure Hall. For El Al first and business passengers, and for authorized club members.
- Masada Lounge, west end of Terminal 1 Arrivals Hall, ☏ , .
Eat and drink
Not requiring boarding pass:
- Terminal 3, departure floor, has a food court behind the check-in counters, before carry-on luggage inspection. It includes several fast food chains, offering burger meals, pizza, coffee, and Asian food.
- The arrivals floor has coffee and candy stands.
Requiring boarding pass:
- Terminal 3 duty-free has another food court. It is accessible only to departing passengers after passport inspection. It has several more possibilities of fast food chains, and lounges.
Terminals 1 and 3 both have duty-free airside malls.
The airport exchange desks have only a 5% buy-sell spread, good value anywhere let alone at an airport. Israeli currency is changing from B-series (paper) to C-series (plastic) shekels: see Israel#Buy. Both sets remain valid, and no date has been announced for withdrawal of the B banknotes. But shops look at them askance, and it's best to offload them as soon as you can.
Ben Gurion Airport operates a mobile website, along with mobile apps for Android and iOS (iPhone/iPad) devices. The airport operates free WiFi service, with network name: "Wireless_ben_gurion_airport".
|Routes through Ben Gurion International Airport|
|Tel Aviv ←||W E||→ Jerusalem|
|Nahariyya, Akko, Haifa, Hadera, Netanya, Herzliya, Tel Aviv ←||N/W E||→ Modiin|
|Tel Aviv ←||N/W E||→ Jerusalem|