Passengers ready to board flight.
(photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
Amid the rolling fog in the Luton, England sky, an El Al maintenance crew member waved her arms on Friday morning, yelling in Hebrew, "Hurry, I only have 10 minutes."
Flight attendants opened the front and back doors of the plane and rolled down the stairwells to expedite boarding. The seat pockets of the plane were empty, and the flimsy white headrest covers were non-existent. All of the luggage was left behind at Luton, a fact that passengers were only made aware of during the final 15 minutes of the flight.
El Al flight 312 had been scheduled to leave Luton at 6:30 am, arriving at Ben Gurion Airport at 1:30 pm - about four hours before the beginning of Yom Kippur. Due to a delay of the plane at its Birmingham origin, however, passengers were informed at around 5 a.m. that the "estimated" takeoff time had been moved to 8:30 am. On its way to England from Israel, the plane had been forced to land in Birmingham to refuel due to foggy weather conditions in Luton, El Al representatives said.
"The roundtrip flight from Tel Aviv was forced to land in Birmingham because of fog," a spokesman for El Al told The Jerusalem Post. "Once we received the permit, we continued to Luton."
At about 7:30 am, a loudspeaker announcement called for all passengers to arrive to the gate for boarding. Only about 20 minutes later, however, administrators announced that the flight had been canceled. Ben Gurion Airport had not agreed to say open long enough for the flight to land, they said.
Amid the frenzy of frustrated passengers, Aby Handler, from London, told The Jerusalem Post that he was traveling to Israel just for Yom Kippur, to Sadigur in Bnei Brak.
"It's a very big disappointment," he said. "Why can't Ben Gurion accommodate people coming 2.5 hours before the chag?"
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Mordechai and Jacob Kahan, brothers from London, expressed similar sentiments. They had plans to travel to Vizhnitz in Bnei Brak just for Yom Kippur, flying back at 5 a.m. on Sunday.
"There is no compensation for something like this. I was so looking forward to this trip," Mordechai said. "It's a spiritual thing and we are missing out."
Just minutes following their conversation with the Post, while passengers waited on line for hotel assignments, El Al administrators announced that the flight would, in fact, be taking off.
"Ben Gurion was already supposed be closed, but the CEO of El Al moved the Earth in order to enable this flight to land – in order for all the rest of the travelers to arrive here before the holiday, and El Al did receive special approval to land now," the El Al spokesman said.
While passengers aboard the El Al flight from London were happy to be traveling home, about 400 others waiting to board a Delta flight from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York ended up stranded in the United States prior to Yom Kippur – also due to poor weather conditions.
Finally aboard the El Al plane, Jacob Kahan told the Post that he felt "such excitement" to be able to go to Israel as planned, and expressed his gratefulness that the situation had turned around.
"Hashem couldn't help us any better," he said.
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