(PHOTOS IN EXTENDED ARTICLE)
El Al Airlines said Monday it will compensate all of the passengers on a recent Thursday night flight from New York who were stranded in Athens for Shabbos, after a delay of more than 5 hours in JFK made it impossible to reach Tel Aviv before Shabbos began.
Israel’s national airline said it will give a round-trip ticket to any destination in Europe to each of the 400 passengers on the now infamous flight “Shabbos Flight”, which dominated headlines earlier this month due to “Fake News” reports that the situation was caused by “violence” from Chareidi passengers towards the cabin crew.
El Al initially accused the Chareidi 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 Chareidi community.
In reality, the flight was delayed due to bad weather as well as members of the flight crew arriving late, and took off already scheduled to land in Tel Aviv on Shabbos, which is forbidden under El Al’s company guidelines.
Dozens of passengers had demanded that the plane return to the gate 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 Shabbos. Passengers spent the weekend in Greece before another flight brought them to Israel on Sunday.
In a statement Monday, the airline stressed that it does “not put the blame on the secular, religious, or ultra-Orthodox (Chareidi) public in the reported incidents.”
The statement added that the airline “appreciates the air and ground crew members who operated on this flight in an admirable manner”.
On Sunday, Rav Sholom Ber Sorotzkin, a passenger on the flight, cut his “Matmid” frequent flyer card in front of reporters, and announced he was carrying out his promise to boycott the airline.
He also stated he has compiled a list of some 180 people who will no longer fly El Al due to their refusal to apologize.
Based on the attached photo showing Rav Sorotzkin boarding an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to NYC on Monday, it appears the boycott was short-lived.
As reported by YWN, “Rav Sorotzkin has been flying El Al to the US and other countries on the average of once every other week (at the very minimum) for the past 13 years. He sometimes flies once a week due to his need to fundraise to the tune of millions of dollars to fund his massive network of Yeshivos and Kollelim.”
Last Wednesday, a $2.5 million lawsuit was filed against the airline.
The Vaad Shmiras Shabbos was also involved, stating it was going to probe the matter and it might recommend sanctions if it feels El Al acted in bad faith and was Mechalel Shabbos.
It is reported that the Chareidi community comprises a major percentage of the airline’s passengers, approximately 20%. According to Chadashot News, the Chareidim comprise 30% of all passengers on certain lines, like Tel Aviv to NYC.
As YWN reported in 2007, the Chareidi community around the world boycotted El Al after the airline was Michallel Shabbos. Gedolim around the world signed a Kol Koreh and thousands cancelled their tickets. The boycott costed the company about a million shekels a day, according to industry observers. The boycott was lifted after they promised never to fly on Shabbos again.
Readers might recall, in July 2018, YWN reported on El Al allowing media reports to scapegoat delays on a flight from JFK to Ben-Gurion on Chareidi passengers refusing to be seated next to a woman.
Only later did El Al issue a statement reading: “The details reported on the subject were inaccurate to say the least. In reality, the delay was not related to the event that was publicized. There was a delay in the move of the plane to the takeoff runway of an hour without any connection to the incident,” referring to earlier reports that chareidi passengers caused the delay after insisting on moving seats away from a woman.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)