Ultra-Orthodox passengers on El Al ‘Shabbat flight’ file class action lawsuit

52 passengers demand hundreds of thousands of shekels from company for ‘anguish and distress’ after plane was diverted to Athens to avoid Sabbath desecration

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)
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)

Ultra-Orthodox passengers on an El Al flight who were diverted to Athens during a New York-Tel Aviv flight for fear that they would not reach Israel before Shabbat, have filed a class action lawsuit against the airline.

According to Channel 12 news, 52 passengers have filed the suit, demanding hundreds of thousands of shekels in compensation from El Al.

Attorney Asher Rotenbaum said the company had behaved irresponsibly and said the claimants wanted compensation for the “great anguish and distress caused,” with passengers forced to spend three days in Athens without a change of clothes and in sub-par conditions.

The November 2018 flight made headlines due to allegations that religious passengers were abusive to cabin crew.

El Al initially accused religious passengers of physically and verbally assaulting the crew, but then appeared to walk back the claims following vehement denials and threats of a boycott from the ultra-Orthodox community.

El Al’s flight 002 to Tel Aviv on November 15 was delayed by more than five hours due to bad weather and was racing against the clock to leave with enough time to get to Israel before the start of Shabbat. Dozens of passengers had demanded that the plane return to the gate at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport so that they could disembark, but instead the plane took off.

The plane was eventually diverted to Athens, where it landed before the start of Shabbat on Friday night. Passengers spent the weekend in Greece before another flight brought them to Israel on Sunday.

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

Several accounts on social media and in blog posts offered differing reports of what occurred on the flight.

El Al later offered compensation to all 400 passengers on the flight in the form of a free round-trip ticket to any destination in Europe.

JTA contributed to this report.

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