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.
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.