How An EL AL Captain Tricked Passengers Into Taking A Flight

Filed Under: El Al

Yesterday I published a post about the bizarre incident that occurred on an EL AL flight from New York to Tel Aviv this past Thursday. I admit that at first I didn’t get all the details right, and apologize for that.

That’s because I drafted the post on Saturday based on a story in The Times of Israel, which talked about how the flight diverted due to violence from some passengers. Later stories (published before my story published but after I wrote it) painted a different picture. So I apologize for that. Now that we have more info, this story gets even more interesting.

The original basics of EL AL 2

EL AL flight 2 from New York to Tel Aviv on Thursday was supposed to depart at 6:30PM and land in Tel Aviv at 11:40AM. There were many religious passengers on the flight, and EL AL doesn’t operate flights on Shabbat. The start of that was at around 4:40PM on Friday.

The flight was delayed significantly due to the bad weather in NYC. Essentially the crew ended up taking about five hours to get from their hotel to the airport due to the horrible road conditions.

What we originally knew is that the flight ended up being delayed for several hours on departure, and the flight diverted to Athens, so that it could be on the ground before the start of Shabbat.

Then those passengers who observed Shabbat flew the following night to Tel Aviv, while those who don’t were flown on an Israir flight several hours later, so they arrived in Tel Aviv way late.

Initially there were reports of there having been some violence from passengers towards the crew, and some eyewitnesses in the story I was quoting said crew members were crying, and that some passengers threatened to storm the cockpit if the flight didn’t divert. Those details are now in question.

The new details

As noted by Dan’s Deals, now more details are emerging, and they present a different story which is rather confusing. Based on this it’s clear that EL AL horribly mishandled this situation.

While the EL AL 747 was waiting for takeoff a lot of passengers realized that there’s no way the plane would land in Israel before sundown, so some passengers got up and confronted the crew to tell them they wanted to go to the gate.

After causing enough of a fuss, the captain apparently agreed to return to the gate, so passengers sat down. But then the plane suddenly took off, directly contradicting what the captain allegedly promised.

This is substantiated by the air traffic control audio with the pilots:

In it, the pilot tells ATC that “we have problems with some passengers,” and that he needs to hold for a couple of minutes, and will then “let you know if we can continue to the takeoff, or back to the gate.”

Then a minute later he says “we’d appreciate to depart as soon as possible, otherwise the passengers will continue making problems.”

No matter how you slice it, EL AL handled this situation horribly. It seems they lied to passengers, but beyond that, their handling of the situation seems reckless.

They talked about how they had a situation with passengers to ATC, and their solution to that is to take off as quickly as possible, “otherwise the passengers will continue making problems.” That’s not how you handle a situation with a disturbance, because if you have a problem on the ground, they’ll only escalate in the air.

The big unknown

The area where there are conflicting reports is regarding whether or not passengers became violent. The two sides are as follows:

  • One side says that passengers assaulted the crew and threatened to storm the flight deck if the plane didn’t divert; this is based on a couple of published eyewitness reports, and EL AL has also said that they intend to file police reports against these passengers
  • The other side says that this is complete “fake news,” and that there was no violence at all, though acknowledges that there was “disappointment, anger, and raised voices”

So I don’t know what to make of this. Obviously not everyone saw everything. Furthermore, even if one or two people did get violent or threaten to storm the cockpit, that doesn’t represent a majority of the passengers who were frustrated.

Violence is never acceptable (especially on a plane), though I also understand why passengers were angry, since it does seem pretty apparent that the captain lied to passengers, which isn’t cool.

Bottom line

It seems like this story is far from over. It seems like EL AL is trying to cover their tracks here, so it will be telling if they actually file any police reports, or if this was simply a defense mechanism for them.

No doubt this was a very complex situation. Airline operations are already so complicated, but only get more complicated during irregular operations and when you’re an airline that doesn’t operate for a portion of the week.

Obviously canceling the flight would have had a huge knock-on effect, as passengers would have been stuck in New York for 30 hours, a flight from Tel Aviv would have been canceled on Saturday evening, etc.

We also don’t know at what point they really knew whether the flight could have made it or not. If the plane had returned to the gate there’s no doubt it would have been canceled completely — this wasn’t just a case of dropping off some passengers and continuing the journey.

It could also be that they made the operational decision to just fly to Athens in order to have the plane be closer to Tel Aviv, and minimize the impact on Saturday night for whatever flight the plane was supposed to operate next. But if that’s the case they should have communicated with passengers more transparently.

  1. Thanks for clarifying. Articles like this always seem to bring the haters out of the woodwork.
    If passengers were violent, they should suffer the full effects of the law and be banned from flying. But I can’t begrudge people for being angry and shouting if they were lied to.
    And El Al once again demonstrates ineptness and disdain for a significant portion of its customer base.

  2. Do you post any original content anymore? This blog is becoming downright plagiarism. Really bites you when the news you copy is #fakenews.

  3. I personally do not think that ELAL had any obligation to return to the terminal although what the pilot did is totally unacceptable, in my opinion once you board a flight as long as the dalay is a reasonable amount of time the crew has no obligation to let you off and lose money & suffer IROPS…. I hope you didn’t publish this to placate dansdeals taunting you on Twitter
    In any case, the full story is not clear

  4. Nice post lucky.

    You should Include that is elal policy not to fly on Shabbat.

    They can’t fly on Shabbat and changed the plane to “israir” for the trip frok anthens to cirmenvent this

  5. @Grinch
    First of all, this is not a normal airline/passenger contract of carriage. ELAL has made a public commitment not to fly passengers over the Sabbath. This is their written policy regardless of normal delays or even IRROPS.
    Second of all, In general, no Sabbath observing Jew should take a flight that is slated to land a few hours before the Sabbath. Airports, luggage and bad luck can crop up and effect delays.
    There is little mention of a second flight in the same situation. This one was slated to leave the sabbath observers in ROM for the weekend but was diverted to TLV with Rabbinical permission because of a passenger evidently requiring specialized medical care waiting in Israel.

  6. The truth is that as soon as the orthodox passengers boarded a plane so close to the Sabbath that El Al couldn’t win. Whatever happened would have caused an uproar from one group of passengers or the other. The pilot’s inclination might have been to return to the gate; his bosses probably told him to depart and they would decide what to do en-route.

  7. @Matt
    LH never obligated itself to not fly on the Sabbath.
    The deal with LY is two way. LY promised to be a sabbath observing airline and expected passengers to reward them with some loyalty. Lots of help is necessary for an airline to compete with a 5.5 day workweek.
    I fly LH quite a bit and have not flown LY in decades. Let it suffice that LH is not always ideal.

  8. Two thoughts: (1) Why is it that all the passengers manage to make it on time for a flight during horrible weather but crews are a few hours late? I always wonder that. (2) That some religious nuts find it horrific to fly on a certain day of the week makes it their own problem. It’s as crazy as people who must fly with a pet.

  9. much more accurate post then yesterday. but again you fail to mention that it’s ElAl’s policy is not to fly on Shabbat. and the religious passengers on the flight were only holding their feet to the fire to abide by their own rules and return to the gate and accommodate them in a reasonable manner.
    also worth noting, that have they left off back at the gate the passengers that wanted to return. they would’ve most likely not used any hotel vouchers, rather they would return to a city with a Jewish community to observe shabbat. and ElAl knows all this.

  10. @Boco: We don’t know that passengers made it on time. There may have very well been some who encountered similar difficulties getting to the airport and missed the flight. Others may have taken a long time, but since the flight was delayed anyway, they ultimately made the departure. And others yet may have connected from elsewhere, in which case road conditions in NYC wouldn’t have played a role.

  11. I sympathize with the desire of some passengers to practice their faith by the rules of the game, but it’s also the case that Israeli citizens require visas to enter the United States.

    What if some of the folks on the plane were at the end of the visa validity upon departure and could not re-enter the United States? Would a gate — with segregated access to CBP processing — have been available if the plane did return?

    Also, what about the rights of the non-religious passengers on the plane to get to Tel Aviv?

    Nobody forced anyone to get on this plane — and, when you get on a plane, you assume the risk that the plane won’t be able to depart immediately after boarding.

    Finally, if passengers on an ME3 flight of Muslim descent had behaved like this, FBI and Homeland Security probably would have met the flight.

    The disruptive passengers were treated fairly and have nothing to complain about, IMHO.

  12. I suspect that if the captain had told them about the Athens plan, people would have insisted they return to the gate and be allowed to deplane. Had this happened, the ensuing delay would have meant that ATH was no longer doable before shabbat, so they would likely have cancelled, and then cancelled the return to JFK on Sunday.

    Hence not telling them when the decision changed to take off anyway.

  13. Two takeaways:
    1) Don’t base your entire lifestyle around a book of 2,600 year old fables.
    2) Avoid the godforsaken hell-hole that is New York.

  14. @Anthony – good point about visa holders. An international flight returning back to the terminal would put people with expiring visas in trouble with CBP. I do not believe CBP will be understanding of the religious need and with recent changes in DHS policies under Trump; I would not want to risk it.

  15. Does anyone know where the El Al crew was staying? Taking 5 hours to get to JFK, even in the storm, suggests that they were in New Jersey and needed to cross over one of the bridges/tunnels. Why is El Al so cheap and putting their crew up so far? There are so many hotels within 10 minutes of JFK, where you could take the subway + AirTrain.

  16. IMO the best way to handle this would have been for the captain to tell the passengers during taxi that they would take off but that arrangements would be made while in flight for them to divert to Athens (or another city) so the religious passengers could be on the ground in time and then the non-religious passengers could continue on to Tel Aviv as soon as non-El Al arrangements could be made.

    As for the visa issue, just as a very observant Jew should not cut arrangements so close to the beginning of Shabbat, no traveler should cut arrangements so close to the expiration of a visa that a day or two delay would lead to issues.

  17. It seems a bit ridiculous to have to run an airline based on the rules set by someone’s imaginary friend way back in the Bronze Age…

  18. “Would a gate — with segregated access to CBP processing — have been available if the plane did return?” This isn’t exactly unusual. I was on a CX flight out of ORD that had engine trouble during taxi, we went back to same gate and exited into the secure departure level, not the arrival level. No CBP officers were even present to check documents, it was like , well, like we didn’t leave the US.

  19. Absolutely disgusting. You can watch videos of Hasidics screaming at others for driving on Saturdays Etc etc. Any religious fanaticism is bad however would suggest they start their own airline

    If you can, try watching to documentary “ one of us “

  20. I’d like to know why ATC was okay with the plane continuing to takeoff when the pilot mentioned having problems with some passengers. Surely the responsible thing to do would have been to ask the pilot to return to the gate?

  21. Perhaps in the future it would be better to wait for more information before publishing an article based off of ONE report. I don’t understand your impulse to publish 2-3-4 stories about the same thing in incremental updates when you could simply wait literally one day and have a fuller picture. And this story is just the latest example of this.

  22. I’m glad the captain took off. Those extremists were shut up for once, just like they try to shut up all the secular Jews with their horrible teachings. El Al is a majority privately owned company, and it should start fighting back.

    It was on these passengers not fly out on a Thursday, knowing the risks if a flight delay occurred. I have absolutely zero sympathy, they knew the risks!!! It’s astonishing they get to inconvenience so many others. Talk about privilege, this is it, the privilege that religious folks have had over secular people for thousands of years since the invention of the Abrahamic teachings.

    Normal Jews can’t stand what these Orthodox extremists make us all look like. They are no better than Muslims following Sharia law.

  23. @Mike that’s what I was thinking. If there really was violence, why didn’t some of their on board security officers step up and defuse the situation.

  24. I’m i the only one who thinks that the audio we heard is all patched up?

    Something in this story just doesn’t add up. Start with crew getting to JFK 5hrs later than usual. How long has El Al been flying to New York again???? Had it been the Kenya Airways’ crew arriving late then it would be understandable since they just started flying to NYC and one could excuse them for underestimating the NY traffic.

    I read a link a know-it-all ‘replied’ to Lucky on twitter which talked about someone calling a ‘hero’ in Athens when the plane was accelerating for take off…. Why didn’t these people who didn’t want to fly just call the police/authorities at JFK and stopped the flight from departing? How did they know the flight would end up diverting to Athens?

  25. +1 for Kyle and Debit. It’s so much easier to copy other news sources without even caring to check the facts. Just like the top 3 US carriers, this blog is racing to the bottom.

  26. This post is to provide more background on that day in New York City. It’s not to take sides on what happened on the El Al flight.

    For what it’s worth – the weather was horrible. An unexpected snow storm resulted in havoc for JFK flight operations and paralyzed New York City transport.

    There were crazy flight delays at JFK.

    A one hour journey from midtown was taking 3 hours or more.
    I personally left midtown after rush hour, after 9pm and it still took 2 hours plus.
    A normal taxi fare between JFK and midtown is 70 USD. Uber which regularly cheaper was asking for 250 USD.

    Google New York snowstorm

  27. @kyle This is not plagiarism. Every blogger must have reported this.

    The best thing about Ben is that he brings out the news to us first, so idc if its fake news or whatever ( plus he’s also a human, humans make mistakes sometimes )

    Ben I really appreciate the work you do!

  28. Hate the hatred in these comments. Why can’t we live and let live and stop judging the beliefs and practices of others that don’t necessarily share our own beliefs. Mocking a group for respecting a “2400 year old book”? What would you say if they mocked you for NOT believing in that book? Let folks practice and believe as they wish, just like you are free to do. So long as they don’t interfere with your personal liberties. It’s the same one-sided ignorance that condoned slavery, prejudice against gays, etc. The belief that YOU know exactly what is right/just/moral and everyone else is wrong and deserves to be marginalized/persecuted/or even killed for their beliefs.

  29. “So I don’t know what to make of this.”

    What secular state would tolerate this sort of b.s. behavior by lunatic religious fanatic passengers?

    Answer: NONE.

  30. I’m sure it was a very tough decision for the pilot. In the end, he decided to fly, knowing full well the flight would not reach TLV before sundown on Friday. I don’t believe he had in mind to trick some of his passengers. Pilots for El Al are not foreigners and he knew full well what the consequences would be.

    Was it the right decision? I think it was, but I will defer to others for the final judgement. Athens was not picked ‘out of the blue’ and is a safe city for religious practitioners.

    There were only two options; deplane everyone or depart for Athens. Again, I defer to others what the ‘right option’ was. Financial elements are usually, if not always, part of important decisions and were definitely at play in this case.

    In the end, everyone reached TLV and religious passengers were accommodated. United and Delta have non-stop service between JFK and TLV. Some will select El Al precisely to make sure their faith is not compromised. I see no problem with that.

    Visa issues are moot. I would think most passengers did not have a current EU visa, but airports (countries) allow for situations such as this. I was once grounded in Bombay (as it was known then) for 24 hours (engine issue) and I did not have a visa to enter India. Nice hotel, nice food.

    El Al will not suffer and the pilot will not be reprimanded. In the end, passengers that insist on El Al do it for a reason and it was not compromised.

  31. So does anyone still think even if captain lied, being delayed is reason enough to demand a plane to divert? I don’t know how people see this as ok. And I don’t care what faith you are, I don’t blame the faith, I blame those ON board for being inflexible. You know, sometimes, variables in life doesn’t go as planned or as you want. You need to accept not everything goes your way. You know it’s called life.

  32. Anthony/VJ,

    I don’t think they need a secure gate if they returned to gate. They never left the US, so it would probably be treated the same as a domestic flight returning to the gate and you could reenter the US without having to go through immigration.

    I also don’t think CBP cares about trying to stop visa/I-94 overstays at the airport before they depart. You probably wouldn’t have a problem departing the next day, even if your stay period expired. They just won’t give you a visa to reenter next time you try.

  33. All,

    I was a secular passenger on that flight.
    Anyone who flies ELAL does so because they appreciate the security that ELAL offers passengers who are flying to and from Israel. Additionally, obtaining kosher food is a given.
    If you choose to fly ELAL, you know that there will be a very large number of Orthodox passengers and if you fly on Thursday night in the winter, there is probably a good reason for flying so close to Shabbat if you are a religious.

    Every passenger was accounted for in time for the 6:30 flight.
    The pilots did not show up till 8 pm. We boarded at 8:30-but only partially because the rest of the flight crew had not made it yet. They did not compensate for weather and stupidly got in cars instead of taking underground public transport which would have gotten them to the airport in time for the 6:30. They arrived at 10:30. We took off at 11:35. All things being equal-we should have taken off by 8:30. 9pm latest.

    The pilot bold faced lied and then did not communicate. As the situation deteriorated, the pilot gave rambling diatribes in Hebrew and stopped translating to English only speaking passengers.

    The passengers did not know what was going on. There was no cross check for take off and most passengers thought we were going back to the gate. I debated with my seatmate who was convinced that we were headed back to the gate even though I felt like we were going to take off. Since the flight crew did not do their job-she was sure we were not taking off. And then we were speeding down the runway and in the air. Then the pilot promised he would get us there in time to be where we wanted to be in time for Shabbat.

    The flight crew did not do their job the entire flight. Most people did not get served beverages or anything else and were ignored and spoken to in a surly manner.

    No one was violent. Everyone(passengers) was in it together. And the religious folk couldn’t even get to Israel until Sunday.

    I lost a full day and night with my teen daughter, whom I was visiting and hadn’t seen in 6 months. She waited in my hotel for 3 1/2 hours while I was anxiety ridden at 35,000 feet. When asked by a flight attendent why I was so upset(!) I told her and her response was that she hadn’t seen her mother in a month. Another told me that she would call her boyfriend to go and sit with my daughter. I asked her how she could call him from 35,000 feet and that gave her pause.

    In the end-the pilot told us that they had really tried to get us to Israel and sometimes these things just happen. What happened was the flight crew was extremely late and that was on them. It was OBVIOUSLY snowing. Compensate.

    It is no one’s place to judge someone’s way of life or choice of how they worship or not. When it comes to Israel-remember that it is the Jewish state. Most people who fly ELAL are flying there because it is the Jewish State and ELAL is the airline of Israel. Please withhold your judgement because you don’t believe the same way. Israel isn’t called the holyland for nothing.

    Not one passenger was satisfied. Thankfully, we all got to our destinations safely. It is right that ELAL should apologize for giving a false statement about violence and compensate the passengers in some way. It was all their error.

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