‘Shabbat’ flight passengers demand compensation from El Al over violence claims

‘Shabbat’ flight passengers demand compensation from El Al over violence claims

A group of 180 travelers say they suffered emotional distress and want airline to apologize for saying religious passengers became angry and attacked cabin crew

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport, August 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport, August 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A group of passengers on an El Al flight that was forced to land in Athens Friday to keep observant passengers from violating Shabbat, have demanded financial compensation from the national airline.

Some passengers on two Israel-bound planes that took off late because of weather-related delays in New York on Thursday night reportedly caused an uproar over fears they would not land until after the beginning of Shabbat, when observant Jews are prohibited from traveling.

A letter sent to the company demanded NIS 50,000 ($13,000) compensation for each of the 180 passengers listed in the complaint, Channel 10 reported. The letter also demanded El Al issue a public apology for the allegations that some religious passengers were violent toward the crew members.

The letter sent through attorneys claimed that airline staff “deliberately lied to passengers and disrespected them.”

A flight attendant speaking to a passenger on an El Al flight from New York to Israel on November 16, 2018. (screen capture: Israel Hayom)

The letter also accused flight attendants of causing the delay, which the passengers said resulted in them “observing the Shabbat in an inconvenient place causing them emotional distress.”

“In an effort to defend itself, the company went on the offensive and disseminated false information about ‘manifestations of violence’ on the part of the passengers that never actually happened,” the letter said.

“This spread of malicious and false rumors about a group that most of the public already enjoys hating, and are easy to discredit,” the passengers said, referring to perceived animosity toward religious sectors of the population.

The two flights were delayed by several hours due to stormy weather in the Midwest and East Coast that led to the delay or cancellation of hundreds of flights.

As a result, a number of passengers grew angry they would not arrive in Israel until after the start of Shabbat, despite being assured by the crew they would arrive before sundown Friday when the Sabbath begins, according to a passenger on one of the planes.

El Al and some passengers have alleged that several ultra-Orthodox passengers became violent toward the flight attendants — charges that were vehemently denied by many of the religious passengers on board.

One passenger who posted video clips of the incident to Facebook, described “hearing screaming and [seeing] a flight attendant crying after she was hit, pushed, amid threats [by ultra-Orthodox passengers] that 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,” Roni Meital wrote.

El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin attends a press conference at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018 (Flash90)

However, other passengers denied there was any physical violence, and said they had been misled and forced into the situation by the airline.

“I did not see any violence on the flight after the captain announced the change of destination, although clearly I wasn’t watching every part of the plane all the time. If there was, then that is inexcusable,” Jerusalem-based tour guide Betsalel Steinhart wrote in a blog post on The Times of Israel.

“I saw: disappointment, anger, raised voices, for sure,” he added.

In a statement following the incident, El Al said it would not tolerate violence toward its staff, and said the company intends to file a complaint against at least one passenger.

Religious passengers later pushed back against the claims of violence, accusing El Al staff of causing one of the delays, and saying the cabin crew had falsely told them they would be allowed to disembark and that plane would make it to Israel on time.

On Monday, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin said a committee had been established to investigate the incident. In a letter to staff members, Usishkin said the complications on the flights “took place in a dynamic and developing reality that was not entirely controlled by the company,” according to Channel 10.

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