Hundreds of El Al passengers who were planning to be home for Shabbos instead found themselves spending the day at a hotel near Geneva Airport, when the plane they were supposed to fly home to Israel on was grounded due to fog. The problem was not the fog, however – it was the pilot who was not authorized to land in the fog that shrouded the airport.
The plane that was supposed to take passengers back to Israel early Friday afternoon had left Ben Gurion Airport in the morning with Swiss-bound passengers, with weather conditions expected to be fair. During the morning, however, heavy fog developed over Geneva, reducing the field of vision for pilots from 5 kilometers to less than 500 meters.
The pilot flying the El Al plane, it turned out, was not authorized to land the plane in that level of fog, and as a result the plane was redirected to Lyons, France, where an authorized pilot took over. Because of the delay, the plane arrived in Geneva several hours late – and by that time it was too late for El Al to organize another flight that would get to Israel before the beginning of Shabbos. Passengers were sent to a hotel near the airport for Shabbos, with the plane set to leave Saturday night.
Angry passengers quoted by Globes blamed the airline for the delay, saying that it should have been aware of the changeable weather. In a statement, El Al said that “during the flight from Tel Aviv to Geneva there was a radical change in weather conditions that could not have been predicted by our forecasting systems. Heavy fog developed at the destination within a very short period of time. When heavy fog is expected, experienced El Al pilots are assigned to flights as required by international conventions and as is customary for airlines around the world. Such a pilot was not attached to this flight because forecasts did not call for the difficult conditions experienced. As a result, there was a delay in landing the plane in Geneva, and passengers who were unable to fly back to Israel were transferred to hotels.”