Following two canceled flights and 28 hours of uncomfortable conditions in June, 71 passengers of a United Airlines flight recently filed a million-shekel lawsuit at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Magistrate’s Court.
The passengers, half of whom are US citizens, are collectively demanding compensation worth NIS 1,180,020, for the consecutive cancellations as well as poor conditions they claim to have endured during extensive delays, according to their attorney, Asher Rotbaum.
The passengers submitted their complaint on December 29, from which United Airlines has 30 days to submit a response, Rotbaum explained.
“This is the most extreme case we have dealt with until today,” he told The Jerusalem Post during a phone interview last week.
Flight UA-84 was initially scheduled to travel from Newark, New Jersey, to Ben-Gurion Airport on June 13, 2014, at 4:45 p.m. – with an expected landing time of 10:15 a.m.
in Israel the following morning, according to the complaint. The passengers arrived at the appointed time to their gate, boarding the plane to await takeoff.
“Surprisingly and unexpectedly, the takeoff was delayed time and time again,” the text of the complaint said. “In this manner and despite their mood, about four hours passed from the planned departure time, but in spite of this, the plane did not begin the process of taking off. It is fitting to point out that during this time, the passengers were forced to remain in their seats without anyone coming to talk to them.”
During those four hours, the passengers said that flight attendants repeatedly said the delay was occurring due to weather conditions.
Nonetheless, they saw numerous planes taking off and landing around them, the complaint said.
Eventually, the flight’s cancellation was announced, and passengers were reassigned to a new flight, UA-2080 for June 14, at 9 a.m., scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport at 2:45 a.m. on June 15.
In the meantime, the passengers received vouchers to stay at a hotel about a half hour from Newark Airport as well as three food vouchers per person worth $7 apiece.
Once the passengers arrived at the hotel, however, many discovered that arrangements had not actually been made for their stay, the complaint said. Some therefore returned to the airport and spent the night on the floor.
The next morning, after arriving for check-in at the appointed time, passengers discovered that flight UA-2080 was now delayed from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., due to the lack of flight staff, the complaint reported.
At 11:30 a.m., they boarded the same plane they had the day before and again sat waiting for hours – only to find out at 3:30 p.m. that this flight had also been canceled.
The reason provided for the second flight cancellation was a “technical issue” discovered in one of the engines, according to the complaint.
A new flight time for UA-2080 was then set for 4:45 p.m. that day.
“However, here too and to the chagrin of the plaintiffs the same unacceptable ritual was repeated,” the complaint said. “The feet-dragging of the takeoff began, and after several hours in which the plaintiffs again sat in their seats weak, tired and hungry, something seemingly unbelievable occurred, and the plane’s pilot decided abruptly and without explanation that he did not want to fly the plane to Tel Aviv.”
While the passengers were still seated, police officers were forced to board the plane because the pilot, unwilling to fly to Tel Aviv also refused to leave the cockpit and alight from the plane, the complaint explained. The pilot in question was the same one who called for the cancellations of both UA-84 and UA-2080, the complaint added.
After finding a replacement for the pilot, United Airlines finally allowed for flight to take off, at 8:11 p.m. on June 14, 28 hours after UA-84’s originally scheduled departure time, the document said.
Despite the fact that United Airlines is an American carrier, it was more advantageous for the passengers to file the lawsuit in Israel. This is because the United States ascribes to the Montreal Convention, under which passengers must be able to prove damages to receive compensation, Rotbaum explained.
In Israel, on the other hand, travelers are able to receive compensation without proving damage, he said.
As per the Israeli Aviation Services Law, passed in August 2012, the plaintiffs are demanding NIS 3,120 per canceled flight per person plus NIS 10,380 per person for faulty service provisions during the delays, Rotbaum explained.
He expressed confidence that the passengers will receive their compensation, as the law only provides exemptions for flight companies during “extraordinary circumstances.”
While the Israeli Aviation Services Law does not explicitly define what are, in fact, “extraordinary circumstances,” the European Court of Justice – from which the Israeli law text hails – stipulates that technical difficulties do not fall under this category, which includes other issues like inclement weather, Rotbaum added.
When approached by the Post for a reaction, a spokeswoman for United Airlines said that the company had no comment at this time.