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El Al Flight Scheduled Too Close To Shabbos, Strands Frum Passengers In Athens Following Medical Emergency

El Al, Israel’s national airline, has a policy to not fly passengers during Shabbos. This policy caused a snag over the weekend as religious passengers from an El Al flight were stranded in Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelo.

El Al’s regular flight from New York City to Ben Gurion Airport on Friday, already scheduled to arrive very close to Shabbos, was forced to make an emergency stop in Canada after a female passenger turned ill.

El Al Flight 8 was scheduled to depart Thursday night at 11:45pm and arrive in Tel Aviv at 5:10pm on Erev Shabbos, but took off from JFK at 12:42am Friday morning following a 57 minute delay.

The flight was then diverted to Gander, Canada for the medical emergency, arriving at 6:25am Friday morning. After letting the woman off and making sure that she had proper medical attention, the flight departed Gander at 8:26am.

The flight continued towards Israel but had to stop in Athens due to the onset of Shabbos.

The plane landed in Athens at 8:33pm, just 17 minutes before sunset. At 12 minutes before sunset, the 747 was still taxiing to the gate.

All of the passengers disembarked. Those who wished to continue on to Israel even during Shabbos were directed by El Al to another Israeli airline by the name of Sun d’Or, whom El Al hired planes from to take the passengers on the last leg of their journey. The El Al plane continued on to Israel carrying the luggage of all of the passengers and the El Al crew and was officially registered as a cargo flight in order to comply with the policy of the airline not to take passengers on Shabbos.

25 religious passengers refused to continue their trip and stayed in the Athens airport for the entirety of Shabbos. They received food and all the other necessities for Shabbos from the local Beis Chabad.

El Al airlines issued a statement that said that all passengers who requested to return on Shabbos were sent to another airline that connected them. The passengers who stayed in Athens were brought home on Motzei Shabbos.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)

25 Responses

  1. Please explain how El Al could hire planes from Sun D’Or, when Sun D’Or is wholly owned by El Al and owns NO planes. The B737-800 aircraft operated by Sun D’Or are OWNED by EL AL.
    Sun D’Or lost its operators certificate back in 2011 specifically because it does not own any planes of its own and operates solely as a charter division of El Al.

    It is nonsense such as this sleight of hand that causes Frum Yidden to book other carriers for flights to and from TLV.

  2. So this story differs significantly from previous reports. The delay and mishap was the result of a medical emergency.

  3. So this story differs significantly from previous reports. The delay and mishap was the result of a medical emergency, not outright disregard or negligence.

  4. Religious passengers? Not very religious!
    Had they been true shomer shabbos passengers, they wouldn’t have been on that flight in the first place as the flight was scheduled to land originally very close to shabbos. Taking a flight like that is a clear violation of the laws of shabbos.

  5. flying on Friday is not proper for frum people since the chance of a problem is a reality that could happen. Always fly on Sunday thru Thursday so if a problem occurs, you will be safe.

    But I am certain that these poor frum people had no choice in the day they could fly….

  6. The passengers got off the airplane 10 minutes before shkia in Athens, giving them no time to go to a hotel and forcing them to stay stuck in the airport for Shabbos. This was a result of ElAl refusing to land in Paris earlier, since it is cheaper for ElAl to move the plane in Shabbos from Athens to Tell Aviv than from Paris.

  7. This was Shabbos gimmel Tammuz. This is the yahrzeit of the Rebbe and it is a Chabad shliach that supplied the food for the stranded yidden.
    Interesting that it was on this same Shabbos.

  8. Chevra, everything worked out.

    Yes, flying close to shabbos can create situations. This is a personal decision that should be made with one’s Rav and we are in no position to judge. We don’t know their details or cheshbonos.

    El Al did a great job here. They took care of them, arranging food over shabbos and flights after shabbos. They even made an extra landing in Greece, which cost the airline quite a bit. It’s not neccesarily a comfortable shabbos, but the observant passengers were not mechalel anything. In this case, ElAl did far more than any other airline would have done to accommodate shabbos.

    We can be moker tov, or throw Stones and demand a more. But this isn’t a heimishe company. It is a culturally Jewish company doing their best to accommodate everyone’s needs.

  9. Don’t know why everyone’s complaining that they flew too close to shabbos…it was scheduled to land at 510 pm. Plenty of time till shabbos. In case of an emergency landing, they don’t have to get on the next flight–and indeed, they didn’t. That’s called being negligent in where they are for shabbos, not negligence in shmiras shabbos.

  10. When I was in the Mir I once took an early Friday morning flight from Eretz Yisroel to London scheduled to land around lunchtime. Shabbos was at 8pm.
    These guys took a long-haul flight that was scheduled to arrived in Tel Aviv less than two hours before Shabbos.
    And I thought I was crazy!

  11. It’s ossur for a true Ben Torah to fly on a Thursday from NYC/JFK/Newark airport later than either the 1:30PM El Al Flight from JFK to Tel Aviv or a bideved in the Summer months on the United 4:45PM flight from Newark Airport to Tell Aviv. Anyone flying later than those times are according to all shitos a poshea if they arrive after Shabbos starts & there I even a Gemara in Masechta Shabbos that says if you leave less than double time it takes to get to a destination even if you arrive on time you are still mechalel Shabbos. How many times do we have to hear these stories for people to wake up?

  12. Have any of the hotshots paskening, and even quoting gemoras, asked their Rov if it is muttar to use the Internet to “contribute” comments to a news website? Eli51, according to all shitos “It’s ossur for a true Ben Torah” to use the Internet for fun. I don’t see any comments from anyone who was on the delayed flight complaining. El Al did what they thought best in the circumstances, and that includes the company’s financial considerations. If Chabad were able to arrange food for the passengers and explain to the airport authority in Athens what was going on, who do you think alerted Chabad of Athens? I guess it must have been El Al, because food was only available because it was prepared and taken to the airport before the plane touched down. El Al is not a Jewish airline; it is an Israeli airline that for commercial reasons, pays lip service to shemiras hamitzvos but it is not “mehadrin” bedieved, let alone l’hatchila. Airline delays are a fact of life and if you fly close to Shabbos, there is always the chance that you will have shemiras Shabbois issues. I think we should be makir tov. It cost the airline a great deal of money to divert to Gander and Athens. Diverting to Athens allowed the shomer Shabbos passengers to avoid issues of chillul Shabbos. For that why can’t we simply say “Thank You”, not just to Chabad but also El Al? [By the way, I have no connection to El Al and avoid flying with them unless I have no option because I don’t think they are a good airline.]

  13. I am far more concerned for employees of El Al:- Do they have a choice of being Shomer Shabbos? or were they given no choice, & told they must fly back on this “cargo flight” on Shabbos?

  14. JDB. Very well said. El Al did a great job accommodating those who felt they wanted to spend a weekend at the airport. Aside from our 15 CR poskim Posting nearly identical messages about Flying too close to Shabbos, so only one Kol hakavod For the chabad shaliach in Athens Who came through with kosher meals for the religious passengers as we have come to expect from The rebbe,s shalichim around the globe. I’m wondering if he made each of them sign a statement promising never again to travel late Thursday before he would provide them their Shabbat chulent.

  15. The frum passengers, who should have gotten off in Canada, DID learn a lesson :They can be reckless about Hilchos Shabbos and, when it doesn’t work out, blame it on El AL.

  16. When flying to Israel, one needs to calculate at least an hour from landing just to get through passport control and to luggage pick up. Its usually close to 1.5 – 2 hours from landing time until passengers come into the arrival hall. Its then at least a 40 minute drive to Yerushalayim.
    And thats without the delays that often happen.
    What were they thinking??

  17. Please explain to me why would anyone put themselves in such a situation. You have to plan for the unexpected. Oh, I forgot some people rely on Nisim.

    Sorry, we can blame EL Al for many things but in this case, it’s totally the passengers’ fault.

  18. CT, if anyone can recognize sleight of hand, leave it to the ultimate practitioners, the legal profession .
    BTW, if you’re so against it, i assume you refrain from “selling” your chametz

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