WASHINGTON, Oct 13 (Reuters) - The first U.S. State Department-organized charter flight taking Americans out of Israel during the conflict in Gaza landed in Athens, the Biden administration confirmed on Friday, as U.S. airlines ramped up connecting flights to help people get home.
White House spokesman John Kirby said the government is exploring departure options by sea as well to help Americans in Israel. "We're just trying to add to the options," Kirby told reporters, adding that the flights will continue.
Reuters reported the first flight on a U.S.-based charter company from flight records, and was first to confirm it had landed.
Additional charter flights are scheduled between Athens and Tel Aviv through at least Oct. 19, a separate source said.
More than 400 Americans were signed up for the first flight but that figure includes an assumption that some would not turn up for it, a different source said.
On Friday, United Airlines (UAL.O) said it would add a fifth roundtrip flight between Newark, New Jersey, and Athens through Oct. 19, to help Americans trying to return home from Israel, and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) said it would add three flights from Athens to New York starting on Monday.
American Airlines (AAL.O) on Friday said it would fly larger planes from Athens to New York beginning Saturday to accommodate more Americans looking for a way home.
United, American and Delta all temporarily halted direct flights to Israel.
More than 30 U.S. lawmakers on Friday wrote the three airline CEOs urging them to resume flights to Tel Aviv "as quickly as possible."
The letter called on the carriers "to prioritize resuming flight operations" to Tel Aviv, and said the Congress members "stand ready to assist you in any way necessary to get the job done."
American declined comment, while United did not immediately comment.
Delta, which has suspended flights through Oct. 31, said it was continuously monitoring the rapidly evolving security environment.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian on Thursday said the airline did not "have any plans to be flying into Israel. It's considered unsafe for a U.S. carrier to operate in that airspace currently."
The State Department said this week it "will take some period of time to schedule everyone seeking to depart."
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma told earlier airlines this week them the U.S. government had received roughly 17,000 inquiries about travel assistance leaving Israel.
This article originally appeared on Reuters
Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo