Ultra-orthodox passengers allegedly assault staff on El Al flight over Shabbat

Two flights were scheduled to depart from JFK airport on time, however, due to stormy weather both flights had been delayed.

March 24, 2019 12:25
3 minute read.
Ultra-orthodox passengers allegedly assault staff on El Al flight over Shabbat

The first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 23, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)


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Violent uproars broke out on two El Al airline flights scheduled to depart from New York to Israel when some of the ultra-Orthodox passengers claimed the airlines were attempting to desecrate Shabbat on Friday, according to multiple Israeli, American and social media outlets.

Two flights were scheduled to depart from JFK airport on time, however, due to stormy weather both were delayed. El Al decided, despite the delay and upcoming Shabbat, to “advance the planes towards Israel” instead of canceling the flights, according to the airline.

Reports say the two flights were diverted to Rome and Athens, respectively, to deliver the ultra-Orthodox travelers to a layover point before Shabbat began. However, the ultra-Orthodox on board the planes were worried about meeting the deadline and started to assault flight staff and threatened to rush the cockpit.

“Extreme weather in New York is causing cancellations and delays in hundreds of flights, including El Al flights that left Israel last night,” El Al said in a statement. “Due to the delays, and considering El Al does not fly on Shabbat, the company was forced to land Flight LY002 in Athens and Flight LY008 in Rome.”

El Al agreed to take care of alternative flights to Israel for everyone on board if they so chose, as well as to take care of accommodations for those left in Rome and Athens as well.

“El Al will take care of alternative flights to Israel for all passengers,” the airline said. “In addition, passengers who prefer to stay in Athens or Rome on Shabbat will be treated by representatives of the company and should not worry about returning them to Israel at the end of Shabbat. We apologize for the inconvenience caused to our customers.”

However, the flights were appearing to cut their landings too close to the Shabbat deadline for religious travelers who started to get uneasy and eventually turned their dismay into a violent uproar, according to a few passengers on the plane who voiced their opinions over Facebook.

“After over 24 hours to reach Israel... I am broken... broken mostly from lack of respect of people who believe they are guardians of tradition and took the matter one step too far,” Roni Meital, a passenger on the flight, wrote on Facebook. “After 6 hours of flight, I hear screaming and see a stewardess crying after [the religious travelers] put hands on her, pushed her and threatened to break into the cockpit. All this to not violate Shabbat. The terrible saga ended in a landing in Athens for the sake of the Shabbat guardians.”

According to Meital, before the flight even took off, a group of 70 ultra-Orthodox passengers began the uproar.

Another passenger, Shimon Sheves, wrote on his Facebook page that, “In deep sleep, I hear shouts... Liars, cheats and hands waving and bashing flight attendants who then burst into tears. If I had not seen it, I would not believe it. [The flight] was decided to land in Athens and to release the Shabbat-keepers to Kiddush.”

The plane that landed in Rome was carrying a cancer patient, and the plane was diverted there for a life-threatening situation. After speaking to the El Al rabbi, the flight continued toward Israel, with anyone wishing to stay behind on accommodations provided by the company were able to do so. All other passengers would leave from Rome and the entire flight from Athens to Israel after end of Shabbat.

El Al decided to file a complaint with the police against passengers who disrupted the flight last night.

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