Dozens of Jews removed from Lufthansa flight over COVID-19 masks

“Lufthansa regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude affected passengers from the flight," the airline said after the unusual incident.

Air planes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the airport in Frankfurt (photo credit: REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH)
Air planes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the airport in Frankfurt

Germany’s main airline, Lufthansa, issued a public apology on Tuesday after dozens of passengers, whose appearance clearly showed them to be Jewish, were not allowed to board a flight in Frankfurt last Wednesday because some of them allegedly did not comply with COVID-19 mask rules.

“Lufthansa regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude affected passengers from the flight, for which Lufthansa sincerely apologizes,” said the statement. “While Lufthansa is still reviewing the facts and circumstances of that day, we regret that the large group was denied boarding rather than limiting it to the non-compliant guests.”

"Visibly Jewish" passangers singled out 

According to the DansDeals travel blog, which first broke the story, some passengers on a flight from New York to Frankfurt had not complied with COVID-19 masking mandates, including some of the identifiably Jewish passengers traveling to visit the tomb of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir in Hungary. Jewish passengers had also reportedly irritated the flight crew by praying in the plane’s aisles.

“We confirm that a larger group of passengers could not be carried yesterday on Lufthansa flight LH1334 from Frankfurt to Budapest because the travelers refused to wear the legally mandated mask (medical mask) on board,” Lufthansa told DansDeals.

After the flight from New York had landed in Frankfurt, the Jewish passengers waited to board their connecting flight – only for the passengers, who were visibly Jewish, to be allegedly singled out and denied boarding. Lufthansa reportedly identified many of the Jewish passengers as part of a large travel group, reportedly punishing them collectively. 

“I’m not with the group,” one Jewish traveler said in a video of the incident. “Is this a Lufthansa decision that all Jewish people that were on the flight can’t get on any flight today – because this is 2022 and this is a Western country and this has to go up to upper management.”

Jewish people "made the problems"

A Lufthansa representative explained to the Jewish passenger that everyone had to pay for the action of the other passengers. Non-Jewish passengers reportedly faced no such denial to board, despite allegedly also flouting masking requirements.

“Jewish people who were the mess, they made the problems,” said the representative.

“So Jewish people on the plane made a problem, so all Jews are banned from Lufthansa for the day?” The passenger asked for clarification.

“Just for this flight,” The representative responded.

“Blaming Jews as a group” 

The Lufthansa denial of boarding was enforced by German police, who met the passengers at the gate. DansDeals shared a video in which irate passengers called officers “Nazis,” angering the police.

“Someone who happens to be Jewish violates a mask mandate and Lufthansa bans all visibly Jewish people on board?” The Anti-Defamation League said in response to the incident on Tuesday. “Blaming Jews as a group for the alleged actions of a few is clearly antisemitism. This incident must be thoroughly investigated.”

Lufthansa didn’t reveal how many passengers were affected, but said that they had booked the passengers on the next available flight. This conflicted with accounts shared by the passengers, who asserted they were unable to get on Lufthansa flights that day.

“We apologize to all the passengers unable to travel on this flight, not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused, and personal impact,” Lufthansa said in their statement on Tuesday. “What transpired is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, antisemitism and discrimination of any type.”

Lufthansa received criticism for their apology, which detractors said didn't address the actual issue of collective punishment of a visible minority. Further, they were criticised for repeatedly saying they regretted the circumstances rather than the decision.
"You regret the 'circumstances surrounding the decision?'" wrote Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan. "Don’t you regret the decision itself? And your staff’s behavior? And their attitude and statements? This is not an apology. We expect you to do better."

"Lufthansa's 'apology' makes no mention of the fact that it was Jews specifically who were denied boarding the plane," noted the American Jewish Committee.

"This 'apology' is a cop-out," wrote DansDeals. "It calls the denied passengers a large group, when in fact there were several dozen Jews on the flight who were denied boarding, despite not being part of any group! This apology skirts the primary issue of racial profiling by Lufthansa employees."