El Al Shabbat flight blunder discussed in Knesset

Knesset debates El Al Shabbat flight to learn lessons. 'I praise El Al for not flying on Shabbat, but when in doubt - don't fly.'

Hezki Baruch ,

Ben Gurion airport
Ben Gurion airport
Flash 90

The Knesset Public Inquiries Committee today discussed El Al's Shabbat flight debacle to learn lessons from LY002, which was delayed by heavy snowfall in New York.

The plane was forced to land in Athens so sabbath-observant passengers would not be forced to desecrating Shabbat. In addition, El Al had claimed that haredi passengers rioted on the flight - something that never happened.

Knesset Public Inquiries Committee Chairman MK Yisrael Eichler said during the discussion that "the articles published in the media on the Sabbath were false, the committee accepted El Al's response that the rumors didn't come from them, but the haredi public suffered from the media's incitement and we haven't heard a sweeping or strong enough repudiation.

"The committee heard that the El Al Committee's investigation on the flight hasn't yet been completed. In principle I say as with flight safety conditions: If there's doubt about Shabbat and whether you can travel, you don't travel."

Eichler added, "I ask El Al to arrange new procedures and policies, and also to provide training to flight attendants and managers who come into contact with the Sabbath-observant public and the prayers. And for women whose rights are trampled when they want to sit apart from a man, they should be allowed to do so. A woman has the right not to sit next to a man especially in the day of the struggle for women's rights."

At the end of the discussion, the Committee Chairman counseled waiting for the investigation results, and asked that El Al leaders consider Shabbat desecration as they relate to security concerns. "As with a security incident, even in slight doubt, the plane won't take off, so you should see possible desecration of the Sabbath and in no such case take off. As for passengers who suffered anguish, they must be compensated in a proper manner, one that will demonstrate the company's sincere remorse."

Rabbinical Committee for the Sabbath Chairman Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf said: "El Al must take note that the passengers feel they have been wronged, this means there's a problem. El Al's agreement with the Rabbinical Committee is not to take off or land on the Sabbath. The flight in question is in a dangerous grey area and there's a possibility Shabbat will be desecrated. It would be appropriate for El Al to cancel this line, and if not, the committee will issue a directive to Sabbath-observers to refrain from boarding this flight."

El Al Customer and Service Vice President Amir Rogersky said "If customers get hurt in any incident and not only on one flight or another we handle it and know how to handle it. We've already expressed our sorrow for the passengers who should have been in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon. Regarding this specific flight, I'll mention a number of facts: This is a complex incident with many opinions, some similar to what came up here, and there are different ones that also come from passengers on the same flight."

Regarding flights on the Sabbath Rogersky said, "We, as a private company that signed an agreement, do not fly passengers on the Sabbath, and El Al is strict about this. When we talk about El in terms of Shabbat, we have to say, and this is what I expected to hear, that El Al doesn't fly passengers on Shabbat and also in this incident didn't fly passengers on Shabbat, and that we didn't hear from anyone who complained about the incident. El Al did not desecrate the Sabbath and did not cause the passengers a mass desecration of Shabbat."

El Al's Vice President claimed the company had spoken the truth all along. "Our feeling is that as a society they try to drag the company to a place where it isn't; the company didn't lie along the way, and said only the truth, and did not incite against this public or another, and when we have issue with a passenger then the matter is dealt with before the passenger, not discriminating between passengers.

"We treat all passengers equally. There was no official El Al representative who blamed one sector or another," he added. "The flight attendants and crew arrive at the airport via a transportation company on the assumption they will arrive on time. One of the three shuttles was delayed because traffic did not allow arrival on time. There were about 80 passengers who were delayed and to their and our joy they boarded the flight because it was delayed and they were delayed because of the snow. Many airlines canceled flights but EL AL has one goal: Bringing the passengers to their destination."

Rogachsky explained the sequence of the incident and added: "A plane that needs to return to the gate needs a gate to connect to; the control tower gave permission to get off the runway and didn't give permission to connect to the gate and this everyone forgets - that there will be an open gate in only two hours. In such a case, if the passengers had to be removed because of American security guidelines they'd be careful to do so and would have needed to take all the baggage off, and our case was a jumbo plane with 400 passengers and we had to find the luggage.

"The pilot had two options. The first is to return to wait for a gate and cancel the flight, and 400 passengers wouldn't arrive in Tel Aviv, not on Friday nor on Saturday night. The second was that Rabbi Sorotzkin initiated, consulted the pilot, and received the answer: According to calculations, if we fly now we'll arrive an hour before Shabbat. The rabbi calmed the passengers and the pilot received approval from the watch tower for takeoff to Tel Aviv and not Athens. The pilot took off at 23:45 at night to Tel Aviv. According to calculations, we'd arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport at 16:00 and there Rabbi Hayut's was ready to accommodate the Sabbath-observing passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport. I don't know a company that would do that.

"The plane got a longer flight route by the JFK control tower, they took the plane westward, and after a few hours it was discovered that there was danger of desecrating the Sabbath because the range was shortened by 5 minutes. El Al CEO made a decision not to take a risk for 5 minutes and we'll land in Athens, that's why we do not fly passengers on the Sabbath.

"We ordered 103 rooms in Athens, and from Athens we ordered 150 meals, and this is the third time that a plane has been dropped in Athens in recent years and we are practicing."

ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav was present at the discussion and noted that "the harsh atmosphere that everyone took advantage of the opportunity and brought his own personal story that he did not accept this and that ... We need to give credit; We don't have faith in a private company, but we are talking about a national company, there will be no other company here; there's so much good in El Al. Also the Hasmoneans did bad things that we don't mention, only the good things are mentioned. So you won't have your wife's salad on Shabbat..."