JERUSALEM (JTA) — El Al will compensate the 400 passengers on Flight 002, from New York to Tel Aviv, which was forced to divert in order to allow Sabbath-observant passengers to get off the plane.
The flight which left New York more than 5 hours late on Thursday, Nov. 15, was diverted mid-flight to Athens, where the Sabbath-observant passengers disembarked and spent the Sabbath in a hotel near the airport, and the rest of the passengers boarded an Israir plane several hours later and returned to Tel Aviv, since El Al does not fly on the Sabbath.
El Al announced on Monday that each passenger will receive a free round-trip ticket to the European destination of their choice.
The airline also issued a clarification of a previous statement, in order to stave off a threatened boycott of the airline by the haredi Orthodox community.
The new statement said: “similar to the clarification on November 19, the company did not place blame on the secular, religious or haredi Orthodox communities for the reported events.”
“Any statement to the contrary was not done with the knowledge of El AL,” the statement said, adding that: “El Al does not distinguish between its customers on the basis of sector, gender, or nationality.”
The statement also said that “the El Al management supports and appreciates the flight and ground crews who worked on this flight in an admirable manner.”
The flight had been delayed due to bad weather and was racing the clock to get to Israel before the start of the Sabbath. Dozens of passengers had demanded that the plane return to the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport so that they could disembark, but instead the plane took off.
It is unclear whether passengers, both religious and non-Sabbath observant, were violent toward the flight crew. Several accounts on social media and in blog posts have offered differing accounts of what occurred on the flight.
On Monday shortly after the release of the statement, Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin, who had been on the flight and threatened El Al CEO Gonen Ussishkin with the boycott if he did not apologize to the haredi community for saying they were violent on the flight, reportedly was seen boarding an El Al flight.
Sorotzkin, the head of the Beit Shemesh-based Ateres Shlomo yeshiva network, on Sunday afternoon had publicly cut up his El Al frequent flier card at Ben Gurion airport.
Meanwhile, a security official for El Al, a former Shin Bet official, and two others were arrested Monday on suspicion of smuggling large amounts of cocaine into Israel on El Al planes as part of an international drug-smuggling network. It was described during a court hearing on Wednesday as a “large and wide-ranging affair,” the Times of Israel reported.