Shameful duplicity on the part of EL AL? Proven. Restrained conduct by most passenger onboard? Proven. But did a small group of passengers physically attack flight attendants on EL AL when it became clear that their flight would land in Tel Aviv after Sabbath had already begun? That’s the only unresolved issue in this story.
I’ve never seen an airline story that offers such starkly different competing versions of truth than this one. Consequently, I’ve held off on commenting while I did my best to fully research what happened onboard. What has emerged is two narratives, neither of which can be dismissed. But what has also emerged is a fairly clear fact pattern of what occurred, with only the physical nature of the abuse in question:
I’m going to summarize this as briefly as possible. The facts below are not in dispute:
- EL AL (LY) flight 2, scheduled to depart from New York JFK at 6:30PM on Thursday evening and land in Tel Aviv at 11:40AM, is delayed due to poor weather
- Half of the crew arrives after 8:00PM at JFK
- Traffic is blamed, but passengers had no trouble arriving on time, including some coming from more distant locations
- Plane boards at 8:30PM
- Plane sits on tarmac until 11:30PM
- By this point, there is virtually no chance the flight can arrive in Tel Aviv prior to sunset on Friday, the start of Sabbath
- Religious passengers stand up and demand that the aircraft return to the gate
- Many passengers raise their voices and yell at the crew
- Captain tell passengers they must sit down and the plane will return to the gate so observant passengers can deplane
- Rather than returning to the gate, the plane heads toward active runway
- At 11:45 P.M., the plane takes off, blindsiding many passengers
- Observant passengers continue protest
- Captain announces flight will divert to Athens
- Some non-observant passengers protest, expressing anger at flight attendants and religious passengers onboard
- Flight lands in Athens before Sabbath
- Passengers who wish to continue on to Tel Aviv are transported on Israir, which can operate over Sabbath
- The passengers stranded in Athens are provided food and shelter over Sabbath by a local Chabad organization and transported to Tel Aviv by EL AL late Saturday evening
The Alleged Attack
Two passengers provided eyewitness testimonies on Facebook that they observed a group of their fellow passengers physically attack flight attendants onboard. Other eyewitness accounts dismiss the alleged passenger attacks as the work of anti-semetic smear campaign.
The only evidence, to date, is this picture:
This enhanced picture from a passenger video:
And this video posted by Dan’s Deals:
I reference this last video because of the ominous threat at its conclusion. All three items provide circumstantial evidence at best.
Many other accounts concede that passengers raised their voices, poured out their anger on FAs, and refused to be seated, but stopped short of any physical violence.
EL AL has officially stated that its crew members were physically assaulted and that it intends to file a police report. To date, however, no report has been filed.
For what it is worth, that’s pretty damning in my eyes. EL AL strikes me as the party with the least credibility. It has an incentive to allege assault onboard in order to deflect attention from its horrible handling of the incident. Even if the captain was just following orders, it is clear that he lied to passengers and thus I take with skepticism any unsubstantiated allegation from EL AL.
But is it possible that a couple unruly passengers attacked the crew? Absolutely. We cannot simply dismiss the independent statements of two passengers onboard.
If the two eyewitness accounts can identify the passenger(s) who committed the assault, that will constitute strong evidence. But I tend to doubt that an assault occurred. What possible positive outcome could come from pushing or shoving a flight attendant?
If you have the time, Dan’s Deals has done an excellent job in covering this incident. It is full of passenger accounts, ATC audio, and onboard video.
This story fascinates me and I will follow it closely. The truth will eventually come out.