Spain’s Iberia airlines said Thursday that Israeli passengers misheard a Spanish word when they complained that a pilot said “Welcome to Palestine” upon landing in Tel Aviv.
The carrier initially apologized. But after an investigation, Iberia airlines said that — in a typical muffled airline announcement — it was all a question of mistranslation.
“The word ‘Palestine’ was not used in the announcement,” the airline said in a statement.
“The captain adhered to the standard format, in which only the airports of origin and destination are named, and not countries, regions or territories,” according to Iberia.
“Both the airline and the crew regret the misunderstanding, which could be caused by the similar sound of the Spanish word ‘destino,’ meaning ‘destination, with ‘Palestina.’”
Israel’s embassy in Madrid earlier complained to Iberia, the Foreign Ministry told AFP, adding that it condemned the incident.
The Spanish news website 20 Minutos reported on Thursday morning that the Israeli ambassador in Madrid penned a “tough letter” to the president of Iberia and asked him to take disciplinary measures against the pilot.
The incident left Israeli passengers confused and upset.
During the flight Wednesday from Madrid by Spain’s national carrier, several passengers said, the pilot announced in Spanish that he was preparing to land “in Tel Aviv, in Palestine.” In English, he subsequently said he was preparing to land “in Tel Aviv,” and did not repeat the “Palestine” comment; neither did he say “Israel.”
Lior, a passenger on the flight, told Channel 2 news that he was “a little bit shocked.”
“I don’t understand why he said this,” said Lior. “We live in the State of Israel and he should have said ‘Israel.’ There was a reason he didn’t say it in English. It was deliberate.”
Another passenger said “everyone noticed” that the pilot didn’t mention Israel by name.
One of the passengers sent a letter to the company complaining about the pilot’s conduct, saying he and his family “were very offended,” and adding that it was “inappropriate and does not serve your company well,” Channel 2 reported.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported earlier Thursday that an Iberia spokeswoman in Israel apologized on behalf of the airline and said the pilot who made the announcement would not be flying the route to Israel until the matter was fully investigated by the airline.