Ultra-Orthodox passengers caused uproar on two flights from New York to Israel because they were worried they would still be in the air as Jewish Shabbat commenced, it has emerged.
One El Al service from JFK diverted to Athens, Greece, amid angry scenes among those who feared they would be mid-flight at the start of the Jewish holy day, witnesses say.
Pilots on a second El Al flight considered diverting to Rome for similar reasons before continuing to Israel. Both flights had been delayed for hours on Thursday because of stormy weather on the US East Coast.
Religious Jews observe Shabbat every week, beginning at nightfall on Friday and lasting until nightfall on Saturday. They refrain from travelling in cars or planes on Shabbat, apart from in life-threatening medical or security situations.
Witnesses said some passengers feared they would not arrive in Israel until after the start of the 25-hour observance – despite reportedly being assured by crew that they would arrive on time.
Ultra-Orthodox passengers caused uproar on two flights from New York to Israel because they were worried they would still be in the air as Jewish Shabbat commenced. Pictures have emerged purportedly showing a commotion on board one of the El Al jets
Pilots on another New York to Israel service are said to have considered diverting to Rome amid on board protests but continued to Ben Gurion, south of Tel Aviv, as planned because of a medical condition affecting a female passenger.
Footage and pictures on social media purportedly shows the commotion on board one of the flights.
According to the Times of Israel, the uproar on one plane resulted in the flight diverting to Athens where ultra-Orthodox passengers got off to observe Shabbat before continuing to Israel.
One irate passenger, Roni Meital, wrote on Facebook: ‘After 24 hours to reach Israel, I am broken, broken mainly because of the lack of respect of people who are observant, who observe tradition and Shabbat, who took this issue a step too far.
She said that during the flight she ‘heard screaming and saw a flight attendant crying after she was hit, pushed, amid threats they would break open the door to the cockpit.’
Both El Al flights to Israel were delayed on Thursday because of stormy weather on the US East Coast
Meital added: ‘I found myself standing and protecting flight attendants who were crying and who just wanted to catch their breath after the behaviour toward them,’ she wrote.
In a statement, El Al said: ‘The extreme weather in New York caused cancellations and delays of takeoffs for hundreds of flights for airlines, including El Al flights on Thursday evening.
‘Despite the many cancelled flights we succeeded in getting flight 002 out of New York for our passengers, with a stop in Athens. El Al made sure passengers had a flight that same day that continued to Israel.
El Al said it was in contact with those who disembarked in Athens and that they would travel to Israel after Shabbat ended.
‘We apologize for any discomfort caused to our customers, but as said we preferred to have the flight leave New York the same day.
‘It should be emphasized the company does not tolerate violence toward the [flight] crew and we will determinedly and without compromise act in accordance with the law against any passenger whom a complaint is filed against, as we have done so far,’ the statement added.