Shameful duplicity on the part of EL AL? Proven. Restrained conduct by most passenger onboard? Proven. But did a small group of passengers physically attack flight attendants on EL AL when it became clear that their flight would land in Tel Aviv after Sabbath had already begun? That’s the only unresolved issue in this story.
I’ve never seen an airline story that offers such starkly different competing versions of truth than this one. Consequently, I’ve held off on commenting while I did my best to fully research what happened onboard. What has emerged is two narratives, neither of which can be dismissed. But what has also emerged is a fairly clear fact pattern of what occurred, with only the physical nature of the abuse in question:
I’m going to summarize this as briefly as possible. The facts below are not in dispute:
- EL AL (LY) flight 2, scheduled to depart from New York JFK at 6:30PM on Thursday evening and land in Tel Aviv at 11:40AM, is delayed due to poor weather
- Half of the crew arrives after 8:00PM at JFK
- Traffic is blamed, but passengers had no trouble arriving on time, including some coming from more distant locations
- Plane boards at 8:30PM
- Plane sits on tarmac until 11:30PM
- By this point, there is virtually no chance the flight can arrive in Tel Aviv prior to sunset on Friday, the start of Sabbath
- Religious passengers stand up and demand that the aircraft return to the gate
- Many passengers raise their voices and yell at the crew
- Captain tell passengers they must sit down and the plane will return to the gate so observant passengers can deplane
- Rather than returning to the gate, the plane heads toward active runway
- At 11:45 P.M., the plane takes off, blindsiding many passengers
- Observant passengers continue protest
- Captain announces flight will divert to Athens
- Some non-observant passengers protest, expressing anger at flight attendants and religious passengers onboard
- Flight lands in Athens before Sabbath
- Passengers who wish to continue on to Tel Aviv are transported on Israir, which can operate over Sabbath
- The passengers stranded in Athens are provided food and shelter over Sabbath by a local Chabad organization and transported to Tel Aviv by EL AL late Saturday evening
The Alleged Attack
Two passengers provided eyewitness testimonies on Facebook that they observed a group of their fellow passengers physically attack flight attendants onboard. Other eyewitness accounts dismiss the alleged passenger attacks as the work of anti-semetic smear campaign.
The only evidence, to date, is this picture:
This enhanced picture from a passenger video:
And this video posted by Dan’s Deals:
I reference this last video because of the ominous threat at its conclusion. All three items provide circumstantial evidence at best.
Many other accounts concede that passengers raised their voices, poured out their anger on FAs, and refused to be seated, but stopped short of any physical violence.
EL AL has officially stated that its crew members were physically assaulted and that it intends to file a police report. To date, however, no report has been filed.
For what it is worth, that’s pretty damning in my eyes. EL AL strikes me as the party with the least credibility. It has an incentive to allege assault onboard in order to deflect attention from its horrible handling of the incident. Even if the captain was just following orders, it is clear that he lied to passengers and thus I take with skepticism any unsubstantiated allegation from EL AL.
But is it possible that a couple unruly passengers attacked the crew? Absolutely. We cannot simply dismiss the independent statements of two passengers onboard.
If the two eyewitness accounts can identify the passenger(s) who committed the assault, that will constitute strong evidence. But I tend to doubt that an assault occurred. What possible positive outcome could come from pushing or shoving a flight attendant?
If you have the time, Dan’s Deals has done an excellent job in covering this incident. It is full of passenger accounts, ATC audio, and onboard video.
This story fascinates me and I will follow it closely. The truth will eventually come out.
Based on the pictures and the video, here’s what I suspect. There was clearly a lot of shouting, and some passengers definitely became animated. But if you’re sitting/standing several rows away, it’s easy to mistake yelling combined with animated gestures as assault (i.e. it might look like the passenger touched an FA, even though he didn’t actually make contact – the eyes can play tricks on us from a distance with poor lighting). Like you, I won’t totally dismiss the allegations, but the fact that no police report has been filed is a red flag in my book.
By the same token, being several rows away, one may have missed contact that took place but was obscured.
I accept that the airline bears responsibility for not being straightforward, but one does not need only physical contact to feel threatened. Flight attendants cannot be treated in such a manner especially while inflight.
AFAIK, it’s “El Al” and not “EL-AL.” Also, that would be “anti-semitic” instead of “anti-Semetic.”
In any case, I agree that it’s a fascinating story. It’s too bad that things turned out the way they did, but I wonder what could’ve been done differently in terms of the actual operation of the flight. It seems like the diversion was the best option, given that the flight might have been cancelled if they had returned to the gate, resulting in a HUGE inconvenience for most of the passengers. The actual handling of the delay, diversion, and communication was obviously really messed up, of course.
Idiot! Is that spelled correctly?
Whatever the truth of it, it reinforces the view that it’s wise to avoid airlines patronised by zealots ( of any religion). Inevitably they seek to impose their “truth” on others.
It was a TEL AVIV flight! Why is anyone surprised at the behavior!
In the early 80’s I was a flight attendant with Metro International Airways and later with Tower Air, and worked New York – Tel Aviv flights almost exclusively. Nearly every flight featured some sort of ridiculous passenger drama that would not have occurred on any flight anywhere else in the world. (I flew internationally for 30 years and trust me, I saw it ALL.)
There used to be a poster titled ‘My Flight to Tel Aviv” that you could buy in Israel and it was a humorous, extremely detailed illustration of total chaos in the passenger cabin of a 747. Passengers stealing liquor and cigarettes off a duty-free cart. A woman in the restroom stuffing her large purse with all the miniature bars of soap, the extra rolls of toilet paper, the boxes of Tampax and Kleenex. A passenger sneaking into First Class. A fist fight over overhead bin space…
You couldn’t pay me to fly to Tel Aviv again. EVER.
At least the arabs weren’t involved in this scuffle.
Don’t all their flights have an Israeli security officer on board? Where was he/she?
Probably blending with other passengers to avoid identification
This is a good point.
As I noted in my comment below, why didn’t ElAl return to the gate so the passengers threatening violence and/or engaging in violence could be questioned and detained by U.S. authorities? Why didn’t the security officer demand this happen? Why didn’t flight crew? If you’re about to depart, and you have passengers threatening to storm the cockpit, it’s pretty simple: the flight crew should immediately return to the gate with police standing outside the airplane’s door.
If this had been a flight from JFK to Cleveland, and passengers engaged in this violent behavior, the flight would have turned around and been met by authorities. But a huge plane traveling to Israel has a gang of passengers threatening violence and the plane doesn’t return to the gate?! What the heck? Do post 9/11 security protocols not apply to ElAl?
A few thoughts:
1.) Israelis require visas to enter the United States. So, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just as simple as “returning to the gate” and letting these passengers off, as much as some of the religious passengers might have wished that to be the case.
2.) Threatening violence and/or engaging in violence is unacceptable on a plane. What if this had been an Arab or North African carrier? Presumably this kind of passenger behavior would have led to the FBI and DHS surrounding the plane before it could move another inch! Moreover, why didn’t the crew return to the gate, not so religious passengers could get off the plane, but so the violent passengers could be detained and questioned by authorities?
3.) Shouldn’t the FAA sanction ElAl for allowing a flight to depart with passengers literally threatening the crew and/or to violently break into the cockpit? What if this had led to a crash over Long Island killing hundreds of Americans in an apartment building or on a highway? Why should an airline that allows this kind of outrageous behavior be allowed to continue to fly to the U.S. without severe consequences?
IMHO, both passengers — they shouldn’t have engaged in violence and/or threatened it — and crew — they shouldn’t have tolerated said violence and said threats — are at fault here.
From ElAl’s discriminatory treatment of women — forcing them to move seats to accommodate religious people — to its tolerance of violence and dangerous passengers, this is an airline that apparently has zero respect for the rules of the countries to which it flies. ElAl is treading on thin ice!
@Mathew love tye blog and I really believe u summed up the story nicely while providing the facts however u fail to stress that by Israeli law El Al is prohibited from flying at all on the Sabbath which is why they should never have taken off in the first place and why the pax were so upset.
Good point, Moshe.