Stormy Weather for El Al Airlines

An El Al flight takes off from Ben Gurion International Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Wintry weather conditions caused delays of departures and arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport Monday. Two flights headed for Israel were rerouted to Cyprus due to the rain sweeping the country.

Meanwhile, a storm of another kind faced Israel’s national airline, after shomer Shabbos passengers complained that they were deliberately misled by crew members who assured them that their flight would land well before Shabbos, but didn’t.

Last Thursday’s El Al Flight 008 to Israel from JFK Airport in New York was scheduled to take off at 8:45 p.m. and land at Ben Gurion at 2:20 p.m. on Erev Shabbos, two hours before sunset.

A series of technical problems — including the plane door’s refusal to close and a taxiing malfunction that required the craft to be towed to the runway — changed that scenario.

“At 10:10 p.m., after a delay of an hour-and-a-half, we understood that we would arrive just prior to sunset on Friday, and would not make it home before the start of Shabbos,” D., a passenger on Flight 008, recounted to Arutz Sheva. “We decided we would prefer to get off the plane and spend Shabbos in New York.”

“We requested to get off the plane, but El Al staff started convincing us we would arrive on time. ‘You don’t have to worry, the pilot will arrive in Israel only an hour late, at 3:15 p.m.,’ they said.

“The flight crew were very nice, but they lied unashamedly to us. They worked together with the pilot and caused us to lose time. They went into the cockpit, saying they would have an answer for us in a minute,” D. continued.

“At some point, the pilot told us if the plane went back to the gate to allow the religious passengers to get off, it would need to stay in New York for the entire weekend, leaving all 400 passengers stranded. ‘And therefore,’ the pilot said, ‘I request the religious passengers take the others into consideration and remain on the plane.’ He said it in those words. We had no choice, and the plane took off.”

The flight was, in fact, late, touching down only at 3:35 p.m. By the time the passengers found their baggage and cleared customs, it was almost Shabbos.

“This is absolutely unacceptable behavior from a company which claims to serve all its customers equally,” D. said. “I really felt the staff did not care about my situation at all.”

In response, El Al said, “From the time the plane begins to move towards the runway, only an emergency can turn it back. Experience, as well as forecasts, showed there was no reason for the plane to arrive after the start of Shabbat. And indeed, the plane landed with enough time to allow the passengers who observe Shabbat to arrive home before sunset.

“It should also be noted that rabbis, as well as El Al staff, have mentioned several times the need to schedule winter flights earlier, so that in case of unexpected difficulties, the flight will still arrive with enough time for passengers to arrive home comfortably,” the spokesman concluded.