EL AL doesn’t operate flights over Shabbat (from Friday evening until Saturday night), so when you look at their schedule, you’ll see there’s always a gap there. Planes on the ground in Israel will stay there, while planes at outstations will simply be parked there for 24+ hours.
That seems complicated enough, though this is something that became even more complicated a few days ago due to a snowstorm, as reported by The Times of Israel.
EL AL flight diverts over Shabbat
There was a huge snowstorm in the US earlier this week (as most of you probably know), so both EL AL flights from New York JFK to Tel Aviv were delayed significantly.
Religious passengers were concerned that they wouldn’t land before sundown on Friday, but the crew allegedly assured them that they would. Unfortunately the flight wouldn’t land in Israel before sundown.
There seem to be two versions of this story circulating.
Some passengers say that halfway through the flight a group of passengers allegedly grew violent, began assaulting the crew, and threatened to break down the cockpit door. It got so bad that the flight had to divert to Athens.
One Facebook user who was on the flight shared the details (this is translated):
After 24 hours to reach Israel, I am broken, broken mainly because of the lack of respect of people who are observant, who observe tradition and Shabbat, who took this issue a step too far.
After six hours of flying, I suddenly heard screaming and saw a flight attendant crying after she was hit, pushed, amid threats they would break open the door to the cockpit.
I found myself standing and [physically] protecting flight attendants who were crying and who just wanted to catch their breath after the [violent] behavior toward them.
Another passenger recounted the following:
Within a deep sleep, I hear shouts of ‘liars, fraudsters’ and hands waving and beating flight attendants who broke down in tears. If I didn’t see it, I would not have believed it.
That’s only one side of the story, though. The other side of the story is that:
- The flight was delayed because the crew was hours late, which was due to the challenge of transporting the crew as a result of the bad road conditions.
- When it was clear that they’d land after the start of Shabbat, some passengers demanded to get off the plane. The pilot announced they’d return to the gate to get them to sit down, but didn’t.
- This passenger says he didn’t see any violence (which isn’t to say there wasn’t any), but rather saw “disappointment, anger, and raised voices.”
So the plane diverted to Athens, where passengers who wanted to observe Shabbat could spend the night if they wanted to. Meanwhile those who wanted to continue were rebooked on an Israir flight three hours later.
That wasn’t the only plane impacted by this. There was also a second EL AL flight from New York that was in a similar situation, and the flight was going to divert to Rome following protests from passengers. However, the plane allegedly continued to Israel due to the medical condition of a woman onboard who needed to reach Israel.
I respect everyone is going to have different opinions here, and I’m not here to chime in on the merit of observing the Sabbath or not. If that’s something you do, I totally respect it.
I do have a few general thoughts. Let me first note that one of the flights was originally due to land in Israel at 2:10PM, and the sunset was around 4:40PM:
- If it was so important for passengers not to travel on Shabbat, weren’t they cutting it really, really tight? If the flight was scheduled to land at 2:10PM, wouldn’t you assume it would take at least 90 minutes to get through immigration and to get to either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (since you’re not supposed to drive during Shabbat either)? That leaves a buffer of about one hour. Delays happen in air travel, and a flight scheduled to land 2.5 hours before a hard deadline is just way too risky. If I had an important commitment I couldn’t miss, you can bet I wouldn’t book a flight landing just two hours before it. If I miss the meeting, that’s on me. I should have flown in the day before, flown in 12 hours earlier, etc.
- There are international aviation laws, and threatening or assaulting a crew member, or threatening to break down the cockpit door, are simply inexcusable no matter what. Assuming the reports from the flight are accurate, why does EL AL tolerate that? Anyone who threatens to break down the cockpit door — regardless of the reason — should be arrested.
- It sounds like EL AL handled this situation horribly, and that they should have communicated better with passengers, and given people realistic expectations. People should have the option of staying in New York when they knew they’d be cutting it tight, rather than the crew allegedly lying to passengers.
What a situation…
(Tip of the hat to Micah)