A Meridiana Airlines plane heading from Milan to Tel Aviv on Friday night returned to its origin halfway through the flight, after the pilot determined that his staff could not stay overnight at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The pilot made the decision after hearing that the airport was closed between 1 a.m. – 5 a.m., explained Ephraim Fortis, CEO of Open Sky, the agency that handles general sales for Meridiana Airlines in Israel.

Fortis said that according to the information he received from the Olbia, Italy-based company, the head pilot made the decision to head back to Milan while above Athens on Friday.

The pilot had intended to land at 1 a.m. and leave again for Milan two hours later, but did not want his team to have to wait until 5 a.m. for departure, Fortis said. After the return and daylong wait in Milan, Meridiana provided a special plane that landed in Israel on Sunday at 5 a.m., he added.

For Igor Boguslavsky, a passenger traveling with his wife and eight-year-old daughter, the problems had began prior to the initial Milan takeoff. The flight, which was supposed to depart at 7:35 p.m., did not leave until at least an hourand- a-half later, he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night.

“There were all the time delays,” Boguslavsky said. “The plane wasn’t ready.”

“They were very nice and said sorry every five minutes,” he added.

Once the plane took off, Boguslavsky said it had covered “more than half the distance” of the flight path when the pilot decided to turn the aircraft around. The pilot made an announcement saying that he could not allow his staff members to sleep in Ben-Gurion Airport when full security was not operating.

“He simply decided to return to Milan,” Boguslavsky said.

While the crew assured passengers that there was absolutely no technical reason for the plane’s return to Milan, Boguslavsky described the situation as stressful – particularly for the those of the 200 passengers traveling with children and infants.

Upon returning to Milan, circumstances remained chaotic and passengers were rushed to the baggage area until a Meridiana representative eventually arrived to speak with them. He promised that although there were no planes available now, he would have them on a flight within 24 hours, Boguslavsky said.

The transportation to a hotel 12 km. from the airport involved tiny shuttles that could fit very few passengers, causing many to take private taxis with expensive rates, he explained. After remaining at the hotel until about 8 p.m. on Saturday, the passengers were once again ushered to the airport, where they awaited their plane – which was delayed in its previous location, Rome, Boguslavsky said.

After finally boarding the plane at around 12:30 a.m. Milan time, the passengers departed for Israel and landed early Sunday morning.

Boguslavsky slammed the company for its “disrespect for people” and complete lack of understanding and inattention.

“This was not a humane decision,” he said.

While Boguslavsky said he is still evaluating his options as to how to handle the situation in its aftermath, he stressed that Meridiana must provide compensations to all passengers.

Fortis, from the Open Sky agency, said that the issue is currently being examined at the Meridiana headquarters, and that he is awaiting instructions accordingly. Meanwhile, on behalf of Meridiana, Open Sky is coordinating all passengers’ complaints and will relay messages to Meridiana’s management, Fortis added.

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