Greek airline apologizes for ejecting two Arab-Israelis from plane

Aegean CEO Dimitris Gerogiannis wrote a letter dated Wednesday to PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat expressing regret.

Aegean Airlines jet [File] (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/JETPIX)
Aegean Airlines jet [File]
Greece’s Aegean Airlines apologized Wednesday to Palestinian Authority leaders for forcing two Arab-Israeli passengers to leave a plane because of a protest by Jewish-Israeli travelers.
It was not immediately clear why a Greek airline would apologize to the PA for Israelis’ behavior toward fellow Israelis.
Claiming the two Arabs posed a security threat on the Athens-Tel Aviv flight, several Jewish passengers refused to sit down, preventing the plane from taking off Sunday night.
Aegean CEO Dimitris Gerogiannis wrote a letter to Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s secretary general, saying that “we would like to express once again as we did several times to the international media our greatest regrets for the event.”
“Equally we want to reassure that our crew reacted to a very difficult situation only having the safety and comfort of all passengers in mind. Naturally we reject any possibility of discrimination, which is of course completely in opposition to the principles we adhere to and which our employees apply,” he wrote.
According to Israel Radio, which broke the story, the Jewish-Israelis told the flight attendants they would not allow the plane to take off with the two men on board. Despite the scene they caused, the flight attendants went about their preparations as usual and the captain prepared for take-off.
However, when the crew was ready for takeoff, the Jewish Israelis refused to take their seats, preventing the aircraft from taking off.
An argument broke out between the Jewish and Arab Israeli passengers. The plane’s Greek crew was in utter shock and could not fully comprehend the exchanges between the sides.
The argument carried on for nearly 90 minutes, after which the crew offered the two Arab-Israeli men a hotel for the night and a flight the following day. They took up the offer to return to Israel on Tuesday morning.
The Israelis on board continued to make a scene even after the two Arab-Israelis deplaned, demanding that the crew conduct an additional security check. The crew, fedup with the Israelis, refused to give in to their demands and told them to take their seats or be taken off the plane without compensation.
The Israelis gave in to the threat and the plane made its way to Israel.
A statement by Aegean said, “On the scheduled Aegean flight A3 928 from Athens to Tel Aviv on January the 3rd, a small group of passengers very vocally and persistently asked for two other Israeli passengers to be checked for security issues.”
“While it is indeed unfortunate that they were possibly racially profiling the customers, indeed their fellow Israelis, because safety must be first, the pilot did feel compelled to delay the flight call the police so to check again the two Israeli passengers documents and identities.
This did take some time, of course, but the documents were indeed checked and were okay.”
Gerogiannis went on to explain that the crew had tried for over an hour and a half to resolve the situation and that the “unwarranted” and “unfair continued reaction by a large group of passengers. However, the two unwanted passengers did not feel comfortable to fly.”
Gerogiannis said that airline personnel offered the two passengers to stay at the company’s expense for a flight the next day.
He added that the airline contacted the PLO representative in Greece for a meeting to further explain what happened.
The letter came after Erekat posted a statement online Wednesday saying he was “outraged by how two Palestinians were treated with discrimination and prejudice at the hands of the Aegean cabin crew.”
Maariv and JTA contributed to this report.