El Al Offers Free Round-Trip Ticket to Passengers on Shabbat-Diverted Flight
El Al Israel Airlines will recompense 400 passengers on Flight 002 from New York to Tel Aviv on Nov. 15 for an unscheduled diversion to Athens.
Due to inclement weather, Flight 002 was delayed more than five hours in New York (JFK) after passengers had already boarded the aircraft, and dozens of Orthodox Jewish travelers demanded to be allowed to return to John F. Kennedy International Airport in order to avoid traveling over Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that forbids working on the holy day. The pilot refused to comply, but ended up diverting to Athens in order to land before Shabbat began on Friday night. Travelers spent the weekend in Greece before traveling on to Israel the following Monday.
The flag carrier of Israel said that each passenger will receive a round-trip ticket to any destination in Europe, and would not blame passengers for being outraged. El Al initially claimed that some of the travelers had physically and verbally assaulted the flight crew over concerns of Shabbat violation, but backed down from the claims after the ultra-Orthodox community vehemently denied the accusations and threatened to boycott the carrier.
The offer of compensation came after attorneys filed a complaint letter to El Al on behalf of 180 passengers from the diverted flight. The travelers stated that El Al “deliberately lied to passengers and disrespected them,” demanding $13,000 apiece for reparations, in addition to a public apology from the airline. Moreover, the Orthodox community strongly refuted El Al's claims that passengers had been physically violent on board the flight, instead blaming El Al employees for causing one of of the multiple delays, backing up their statements with social media posts for evidence. Furthermore, travelers said that the cabin crew had told passengers they would be allowed to disembark at JFK, and also that they would land in Israel on time.
A number of religious leaders have already begun protesting the airline: Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin publicly cut up his frequent flyer card Sunday as a demonstration in front of the El Al offices at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, and had previously threatened El Al with a boycott unless the airline issued an unconditional apology for alleging that religious leaders had been responsible for the inflight fracas. Sorotzkin sent a letter to El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin accusing the airline of “insulting and disrespecting” its customers, stating that he would endorse another airline if El Al did not retract its crew members' allegations of physical violence.
CEO Usishkin claimed Tuesday that “there was no physical violence” on the flight, but Flight 002 crew members slammed Usishkin Friday for denying that passengers had shown signs of physical violence on board the flight.