Furious debate over El Al flight diverted to Athens to avoid flying on Shabbat

Unconfirmed allegations of violence on board after Flight LY002 from New York took off after a five-hour delay


An acrimonious debate has broken out over an El Al flight from New York that made an unscheduled landing in Athens on Friday afternoon to avoid desecrating Shabbat.

Some have accused Israel’s national carrier of mismanagement by sanctioning the flight in full knowledge that it would not reach Tel Aviv before the the Jewish day of rest began.

Others have claimed some passengers on board were violent towards the El Al crew.

The only facts which are not disputed was the Boeing 747-458 took off with 400 passengers on board five-and-a-half hours after its scheduled time on Thursday — because of the snow that began falling that afternoon in New York.

What is less clear is how much other factors contributed to the delay, including the lateness of some El Al crew in arriving from hotels at John F Kennedy Airport, a lengthy de-icing process that the plane had to undergo, and congestion on the runway due to the weather.

According to El Al, when Flight LY002 took off just before midnight on Thursday, it could still reach Ben Gurion with an hour or so to spare before Shabbat.

That claim now looks rather dubious in light of the decision in mid-flight to land the plane in Athens, to allow some 150 religious passengers to disembark before Shabbat began.

El Al claims its crew members were attacked during the flight. This is backed up by some passengers accounts.

“I head shouting. ‘Liars, frauds,’ and hands risen and hitting and flight attendants bursting in tears,” one of them, Shimon Sheves, wrote on Facebook.

“I heard shouting and saw a flight attendant crying after hands were raised on her,” said another passenger, Roni Meital.

According to these accounts, the violent passengers are Strictly Orthodox men who were enraged at the thought of having to desecrate Shabbat.

However, other passengers had different versions. Ohad Orr, who described himself as secular, disputed the stories of violence and said they “ignored the shambolic actions of the El Al crew on the ground and back in Israel, which was the only cause of the unexplained chaos on the flight.”

Other passengers complained of not being informed about the situation and of being told to remain in their seats for a prolonged period without food or water.

Another passenger, religious journalist Yehuda Schlesinger, wrote that “I saw Charedim who were being lied to and misinformed. They remained quiet.”

He claimed that the shouting and swearing had been from secular passengers angry at having to land in Athens and continue that night on the flights of other airlines which had been booked for them by El Al.

The religious passengers remained in Athens for Shabbat and flew home on Saturday night.

El Al’s official statement said: “we treat the behaviour of some of the passengers towards crew-members on the El Al flight from New York very seriously and we hope that the police will investigate the matter thouroughly.”

But the company itself is understood not to have made a complaint to the police.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive