File photo of an EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Passengers on the “nightmare” El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv on Thursday night are planning on taking legal action against the airline for a series of decisions that culminated in the group being stuck in Athens throughout Shabbat.
Drafts of letters with demands have been circulating between passengers over the last couple of days. One passenger said that the group was split into those who were waiting to see what compensation the airline would offer, and those who would be taking legal action with disregard to whatever the company decided.
Sources close to El Al said that the airline was planning to offer compensation to the passengers and would make decisions in the coming days.
El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin announced that the company would put together an “investigative committee” to look into the incident.
“I decided to put together an investigative committee that would research all of the events that occurred on flight 002 and all of the witness accounts and arguments,” Usishkin stated. “The committee will present its results and recommendations soon and afterwards, I will make decisions on the topic.”
Flight LY002 was scheduled to leave New York’s JFK Airport at 6:30 p.m. local time on Thursday and arrive in Israel on Friday afternoon. But due to snow storms and the failure of the El Al staff to arrive on time at the airport, the flight ended up leaving over five hours later.
Shortly before the plane took off, religious passengers began to request to disembark since they realized the flight would continue into the Sabbath on Friday evening, a violation of religious Jewish law.
El Al claimed that “a group of haredim” requested to get off the plane and “exercised heavy and violent pressure against the cabin crew” in seeking to disembark, alleging that this caused further delays in taking off.
Numerous passengers have denied those allegations, including a former member of Knesset and a journalist for Israel Hayom, and accused the captain and the flight crew of kidnapping the passengers who had wanted to get off the plane to avoid violating Shabbat.
According to these passengers, the flight captain announced that the plane was returning to the gate to allow anyone who wanted to disembark to do so, but then swiftly made its way to the runway and took off unannounced while passengers were still on their phones telling their family members they were staying in New York.
They accused the airline of lying and of a “kidnap” after a five-hour delay in taking off meant that the plane could not reach Israel before Shabbat began.
“We were locked in a cage. There was nowhere to go, and no one to talk to. The people we trusted to take us safely to Israel were in their cabin not talking to us and leaving the flight attendants to talk to us,” said Yehudit Rossler from Monsey, New York, who was a passenger on the plane. “They kidnapped us from New York. They told us we were going back to the gate, and took off instead.”
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