A pilot who refused to fly his scheduled United Airlines flight to Israel left 300 passengers stuck on the plane for hours while airline officials scrambled to find another pilot.

The United Airlines flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was set to leave early in the week. Usually a non-stop flight, passengers expected to get to their destinations after about 12 hours, but instead were in transit for about 30. Airline personnel refused to let them disembark for hours, passengers said, “making us feel like hostages, without food or water,” according to one witness.

Even before the incident with the pilot, there were many problems with the flight, passengers reported, including broken lavatories, poor air circulation, and engine issues. The flight, which had actually been set to leave the day before, was canceled because of the poor condition of the plane, and passengers were either sent home or given hotel rooms for the night.

But the “nightmare,” as one passenger described it, continued. “We were waiting for a long time, and finally the staff came out and told us that the pilot had refused to turn the engines on because he did not want to fly to Tel Aviv.” It wasn't clear if his motivation was political or financial, passengers said. It was several hours before the airline could find a replacement pilot.

The flight's delays caused a chain reaction in the takeoff schedule at Newark, causing numerous delays throughout the day.  

United Airlines has responded to complaints with an apology to customers and an offer of compensation - and clarified that the pilot's refusal was the result of a work dispute. 

"United Airlines flight UA84 from New York/Newark to Tel Aviv on June 13, 2014, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft with 213 customers and a crew of 15 on board, was cancelled due to adverse weather conditions at Newark Liberty International Airport," the company said in a statement. "Our customer service team at New York/Newark provided assistance to customers and overnight hotel accommodation."

The statement from the company added "the pilot was not removed from the cockpit. This flight was originally affected by adverse weather and then an ongoing maintenance delay necessitated our decision to replace the plane and crew. We provided meal vouchers to assist customers."

"...The flight was delayed following a maintenance issue. The aircraft was then swapped for another and as a result of the ongoing delay the flight crew exceeded their legally permitted duty hours. Our customer service team at New York/Newark provided assistance to customers.

"The aircraft departed New York/Newark on June 14, 2014 at 8:11 p.m. as flight UA2080 and arrived in Tel Aviv at 1:59 p.m. local time on June 15, 11 hours 34 minutes late.  

"United is reviewing the circumstances of this service disruption.  We have apologized to our customers for the inconvenience they experienced and are offering compensation."

The airline further refuted claims passengers were left without food, saying it "provided meal vouchers to assist customers".