After more than a week of media headlines, Israel’s official airline El Al issued a public statement on Monday to apologize and clarify the events of what has come to be known as the “Shabbat flight.”
The flight in question, from New York to Israel, was diverted to Athens, Greece over fears that it would not reach Tel Aviv before the start of Shabbat, potentially forcing the observant passengers on board to violate the strict rules of the Jewish day of rest.
Following the flight, accusations were made by passengers that the ultra-Orthodox Jews aboard the flight had displayed violence toward the flight crew amid Shabbat concerns. The religious passengers denied these allegations and demanded a public apology.
In Monday’s statement, El Al downplayed the accusations of violence, saying that “the company wishes to reiterate that it never accused the secular, religious or ultra-Orthodox public of any of the offenses that were reported.”
El Al further declared that it would compensate the passengers of the flight with a free ticket to Europe.
The airline’s failure to explicitly apologize for the mishap drew astonished criticism from customers, with one passenger writing in a WhatsApp group that “for me, this is a humiliation of the highest degree. Even their apology is not an apology.”
Another passenger suggested that “we don’t let up. We get an attorney and file a lawsuit. Let’s go all the way. There’s a limit to what we are willing to endure.”
Considering the fact that the original flight was unexpectedly diverted to Athens, some of the other passengers maintained a sense of humor, and described the proposed compensation as a “surprise flight—you get on the plane, and the pilot decides where you land.”
Meanwhile on Monday, the Knesset approved a request by United Torah Judaism MK Yakov Asher and other lawmakers who wanted to convene the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee to discuss El Al’s faulty handling of the affair. The aim of the meeting is to draw conclusions and raise proposals on how to avoid a recurrence.
The committee will convene in the coming days and summon a number of individuals involved in the incident.
In addition, it was decided to establish a separate committee, comprising representatives from the ultra-Orthodox public and El Al management, that will examine every future incident involving the observation of Shabbat laws.
“El Al learned the hard way that the ultra-Orthodox passengers deserve to get service that does not disrupt their way of life,” remarked Shas MK Michael Malchieli. “El Al was wise to distance itself from its initial remarks accusing the ultra-Orthodox public.”