Israelis fume over Belgrade call for ‘flight to Palestine’
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Israelis fume over Belgrade call for ‘flight to Palestine’

After complaint, Air Serbia staffer tries to clarify by saying flight is bound ‘for Tel Aviv, not Israel’; company later apologizes

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Air Serbia Airbus A319. (CC-BY-SA-2.0 Aleem Yousaf/Wikipedia)
Air Serbia Airbus A319. (CC-BY-SA-2.0 Aleem Yousaf/Wikipedia)

Israeli passengers on an Air Serbia flight from Belgrade to Tel Aviv were stunned when an airport staffer announced more than once that travelers “on the flight to Palestine” should head to gate C3, it emerged Tuesday.

When challenged, a member of the ground staff compounded the blunder by trying to explain that the flight was “to Tel Aviv, not to Israel,” the Israeli Ynet news website reported.

“I couldn’t believe my ears,” one unidentified Israeli passenger told Ynet about the flight last month. “The first time, I thought I hadn’t heard right and I asked a few other passengers if the announcement had really said Palestine. They said I wasn’t mistaken.

“I went to the company’s counter and another guy from Rosh Pina joined me and we asked that they announce again that the flight is to Israel and not to Palestine.” But the woman on duty then told the two Israelis that the flight was to Tel Aviv, “not Israel.”

Air Serbia staff prepare to board a plane (Youtube screenshot)
Air Serbia staff prepare to board a plane (YouTube screenshot)

The passenger threatened not to board the flight until a corrected announcement was made three times, and after much discussion in Serbian between the official and others, an announcement was indeed broadcast three times that the flight’s destination was Tel Aviv.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem described the incident as “most worrying… It’s totally unacceptable that a flight official with a microphone in her hand could so distort reality,” said Emmanuel Nachshon.

Israel’s ambassador in Serbia, Alona Fisher, to whom the Israeli passenger submitted a complaint, said that Air Serbia’s director general “reacted with shock” when she told him about the incident, apologized profusely, and assured her that the position taken by the announcer in no way reflected Air Serbia’s views.

The following day, the Air Serbia boss contacted the Israeli Embassy to say it had been an airport staffer, rather than an airline staffer, who had made the announcement and that he had asked the airport to take steps against her.

An Air Serbia spokesperson told The Times of Israel the airline was “aware of the reports of an incorrect airport announcement being made in Belgrade and have asked the airport to look into the matter.”

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