EL AL Passengers File Lawsuit Over Controversial Shabbat Flight

EL AL has been in the news a lot the past few days regarding last Thursday’s flight from New York to Tel Aviv.

Here are the two posts I’ve written about this:

If you want all the details check out those posts, but essentially what happened is that an EL AL flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed by hours due to a snowstorm in New York, and this meant that the flight would arrive in Israel after the start of Shabbat, which was a big no-no for many passengers.

The flight ended up diverting to Athens so that it could land before sunset. Furthermore, it’s clear that the EL AL captain tricked passengers into taking the flight. Once the plane started taxiing some passengers realized there’s no way the plane could land in Israel before sunset. He told them the plane would return to the gate, but then a couple of minutes later the plane took off.

The topic on which there are still differing opinions is how passengers on this flight acted. Some passengers, and EL AL, have claimed that some passengers on the flight became violent. EL AL has even threatened to file police reports. Meanwhile other passengers claim that there was no violence, but rather just frustration and raised voices.

Well, this story is far from over, it seems. It’s now being reported that about 180 passengers who were on EL AL’s New York to Tel Aviv flight that diverted to Athens are suing. The entire lawsuit is for nearly 2.5 million USD, as the passengers are demanding a refund for their tickets as well as 50,000 shekels (~$13,500) in damages.

They’re also demanding that the airline publicly admit that claims of passenger violence were false.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds…

(Tip of the hat to @shaulypaley)

Comments

  1. I wonder what is the legal basis for such a lawsuit. Why would the airline refund their tickets? El Al took them to their final destination, even if late. What kind of “damages” can these passengers claim? It’s one thing to talk about moral damage, but damages – give me a break.

  2. @Ivan, this is Israel. The national airline is forbidden by law to fly on Shabbat, the pilot knew that he wouldn’t make it and went anyway. It isn’t a diversion if you knew it would happen before wheels up.

  3. I agree with @Ivan N. I’m not a lawyer, but they got the passengers to their final destination. Although the pilot allegedly lied, they diverted the plane to still observe the religious tradition. Where is the actual harm here?

  4. So, two things are stated here that seem to contradict. Is it a national law or is it just airline policy or is it both for the airline to be forbidden to fly during Shabbat?

  5. Damn, all the many reason (besides crappy service and bitchy passengers) to avoid El Al. These people need to sit down, shut up, buckle in, and let the airline fly the planes. Religious extremists need to realize their beliefs don’t trump the rights of others. It was a miserable snow storm, for god’s sake. Shit happens.

  6. At least if there is one thing that unites us it’s being litigious.

    The airline got the passengers to the destination and was not flying during Shabbat. Other than getting some Matmid points, I don’t see any other compensation warranted.

  7. It’s also El Al’s fault for scheduling a JFK-TLV flight set to arrive on a Friday at around 2pm. Better to just not have that flight available given how if it’s a few hours late there’s the possibility of arriving after shabbat starts.

  8. Do you have access to the lawsuit? I’d love to see their arguments as to why the Montreal Comvention’s limit of 4694 SDRs on delayed flights shouldn’t apply. And since this delay could be attributed to the weather, I’m also curious to see their arguments around force majeure.

  9. Israelis are amongst the most litigious people in the world. Delay due to weather and they arrived late.
    There is an Israeli equivalent of ec261 however it’s weather Pain and suffering emotional BS. All in the name of religion ….but they will be happy to take the cash

  10. It is not israeli law which prohibits flying on Shabbat, as Israair and Arkia both fly on Shabbat. Rather they have violated their own company poicies.

  11. Why don’t they just ask their god to be forgiven seeing it wasn’t their fault. I’m sure he / she will listen.

  12. Many people are missing the point here. “Well the airline got the passengers to the destination” is not the point. The Sabbath is a very holy thing for many many passengers that fly El Al, and El Al makes a promise not to fly on the sabbath and to deliver passengers before it starts. The policy of the airline is to not fly on the sabbath. Period.

    So, add into the mix the pilot tricking the passengers, and violating a very important rule the airline has in place (possibly even a law in Israel), and you have yourself a lawsuit. The “getting them from A to B” arguement is completely moot here and you’re thinking about this like an American.

  13. Amazed to see the disregard for people’s rights in this message thread. Firstly, the passengers “got to their final destination” – yes, but in what manner? Secondly, it’s not “religious extremism” – it’s their religion and they have a right to practice what they wish and in the manner they wish. Or did I miss the part where civil rights do not extend to people’s choice of religion? If it were another civil rights issue, there would be pandemonium. I’m no supporter of the Jewish religion by any means, however I’m not the one to tell them they can’t follow what they believe in.

    Overall, this is typical American mentality – 1. the company is always right, and 2. if someone does something I don’t like, they are extreme and invading my rights. People would rather support a non-tangible company than other people. I hope you all remember that it’s your problem and you’re the crazy one the next time a company rips you off – and they will.

  14. @Abe – precisely! The funny (or sad) thing is if it was one of them inconvenienced or “their rights violated” – they would be up in arms (maybe literally!).

  15. The Jerusalem Post headlined this “ we were kidnapped “ say passengers on horror flight ! Aka the Daily Mail

    Now if you go back to 19 December 2016 LY008 also from JFK 3 years ago. Technical delay. And almost exactly the same story !

    I’ve reviewed their conditions of carriage and as far as I see, there is no reference to sabbath flights therefore this is some unwritten contract

    The airline cannot guarantee flights would not operate Friday night – Saturday due to unforeseen circumstances

    Then to demand thousands of dollars compensation is sickening. Not surprising

    Perhaps someone can show me where el al confirms they won’t operate over the sabbath

  16. @debit: I’ll ask my sister-in-laws why they didn’t and will report back if their replies are suitable for a public forum

  17. It seems the only people that are fair game for criticisms are those that are religious. If one writes a disagreement about a lifestyle then it’s absolute pandemonium with death the only acceptable punishment.

    No one is asking you to be religious or believe in their religion, but to respect it….much like you would expect it for your beliefs or ideals.

  18. It would have been a lot cheaper to canx the the flight, no comps(hotel or food) since it was weather and rebook the next day staying on El Al since it was weather….the additional costs of an arrival and departure is worth thousands and the additional fuel cost..

  19. “…..and rebook the next day staying on El Al….”

    For any normal airline, yes. But a departure the next day would have been during sabbath …. or if takeoff after dark, could be construed to require them to travel to the airport before sunset.

  20. @ Robert if you refer to litigious you would be wrong. The US has of course a larger population however Israelis ( Germans and Swedes) are far more litigious per capita

    That said, there is nothing in el al’s t&cs reffering to sabbath If anyone can find it ….

    They are only attempting to try an exploit the situation for pure financial gain

  21. What I dont get is this: why was it that not a single one of those 180 pax (who decided to sue) raise their objections BEFORE they board the plane? I mean, it surely is no rocket science. Get real.

  22. @Ron

    Supposedly they thought they were cutting it close, but would be ok despite the delay in crew arriving. Apparently it was only after a lengthy tarmac delay that it truly dawned on them that they would arrive after sundown. I can’t fathom why they’d think they were still ok after the crew delay, seeing as JFK operations are slow on good days and any kind of weather and crew delay (of which they reportedly had both) throws everything even farther out of whack. Hard to fathom, though in their defense if all 180 of them were not frequent fliers they may not have realized this. Simply by being on this blog, we commenters have a much more realistic expectation for the hardships one can encounter flying out of JFK than those who fly maybe once a year.

  23. @Dusty,

    Didn’t Lucky wrote that Tel Aviv airpor’s in fact some distance away from the cities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv where presumably most of the pax were heading? With that in mind and the fact that they’ll need to clear immigration, claim their lugagges, deal with Customs, etc wouldn’t it be unreasonable to add at least another 2 hours be tacked on their trips before they can arrive at their final destinations? So, even if the flight ended up landing at Tel Aviv airport before sunset, chances are they were not gonna be able to observe Sabbath anyway. Why bother boarding the plane then? I fail to see why El Al should be liable when the paxes themselves failed miserably at basic common sense and math.

  24. @Dusty,

    Didn’t Lucky wrote that Tel Aviv airpor’s in fact some distance away from the cities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv where presumably most of the pax were heading? With that in mind and the fact that they’ll need to clear immigration, claim their lugagges, deal with Customs, etc wouldn’t it be unreasonable to add at least another 2 hours be tacked on their trips before they can arrive at their final destinations? So, even if the flight ended up landing at Tel Aviv airport before sunset, chances are they were not gonna be able to observe Sabbath anyway. Why bother boarding the plane then? I struggle to see why El Al should be liable when the paxes themselves failed miserably at basic common sense and math.

  25. @Ron

    I don’t think El Al should be liable and was not suggesting they should be. They did they best they could in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Had they turned back, the other half of the plane probably would have trashed them for cancelling a flight for the strictly religious passengers. I was just hypothesizing why they may have felt they could have still made despite the crew delay and before the tarmac delay. Most people are not good decision makers under stressful situations, and many infrequent fliers drastically underestimate the time it takes to get out the of the airport after their flight. Unfortunately, what we consider basic common sense is something we’ve learned from actively pursuing an interest in airline operations and making difficult award itineraries worked, and I wouldn’t expect a layman to take those variables into account unless they or a close friend/family had experienced it first-hand.

  26. @Ron, they didn’t get on the plane until they were assured by by the pilot that they would make it to Isreal. When they understood this couldn’t happen they asked to get off. The pilot said he was taxiing to the gate and then took off.
    Regarding the time to get home from the airport: many were planning to stay in the airport and go home after the Sabbath. In the winter (short days) this is not uncommon.

  27. @Dusty ….. “Had they turned back, the other half of the plane probably would have trashed them for cancelling a flight for the strictly religious passengers.“

    Believe what you want. But don’t let your religious beliefs interfere with my rights. I want the plane to fly, in the safest manner possible, and get me there ASAP.

    Sit down, buckle in, shut up, and let them fly the airplane.

  28. Can I join the lawsuit.

    I think I’m going make extra money flying JFK-TLV on Thursday night few times this winter. I’ll probably recruit people to empty out the flight during snow storms.

    If I can sue an airline for Shabbat and snow storms, I’m seeing $$$$$$$ everywhere.
    Am I right Shylock??

  29. @Shlomo

    In both Lucky’s original post about the divertion incident and the accompanying article from the Times of Israel, the pax uprising were both reported AFTER boarding at JFK while the plane was in queue for take off already

  30. @ron
    ” He told them the plane would return to the gate, but then a couple of minutes later the plane took off.”
    If you and 150 other passengers know that they missed their connection and the pilot said he is returning to the gate to allow them off -and then the plane takes off, I think you would be unhappy as well.

  31. @Shlomo

    I am raising the question why not a single one of those180 pax voiced their concerns BEFORE they boarded the plane at JFK. Irrespective of what the pilot told them, dont you think it’s a little late to raise your concerns just 2 minutes before take off (meaning they’re almost at the runway already at that point in time) ?

  32. @Ron,
    They did. Check the reports. But then there was an additional delay on the tarmac.
    And keep in mind this was 2/3s of the flight that had a problem.

  33. @Shlomo

    Thanks for answering my question. I could not find any reference to the additional tarmac delay on both Lucky’s earlier posts and I obviously missed the only reference to the tarmac delay on Dan’s Deals’ post. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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