Feb. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. transportation officials have complained to Israel about its flag carrier having exclusive rights to make emergency flights to New York City, which are scheduled Thursday to return stranded Israeli citizens.
The U.S. Department of Transportation lodged the complaint with Israel's Civil Aviation Authority about granting the emergency flights to El Al Airlines, its national carrier.
The Israeli agency gave El Al the bid to operate the flights and additional emergency trips between Tel Aviv and Dubai.
Two flights arrived in New York City on Tuesday and are scheduled to return to Israel Thursday, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Thousands of Israelis are believed to be stranded in locations around the world after Israel closed its borders to inbound flights on Jan. 25.
American carriers including Delta and United, meanwhile, have not been given clearance to fly from the United States to Israel.
The Transportation Department said in its complaint that the El Al deal violates an existing U.S.-Israeli travel agreement concerning emergency flights.
U.S. officials argue that although El Al is permitted to operate exclusively in times of an emergency, like wartime, the COVID-19 pandemic does not qualify.