With El Al, What’s Good For The Goose Isn’t Good For The Gander; How El Al Managed To Anger Everyone On Flight 8

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El Al 747s in Goose Bay, January 2018
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In the 1950s El Al was a bold, risk taking carrier. It bet the company on the Britannia Turboprop, which would allow them to cross the Atlantic without a refueling stop in Goose Bay or Gander, Canada as was the norm in those days.

Its ads were even clever:

The bet didn’t exactly pay off. After many delays El Al finally received the Britannia in September 1957. On a proving flight, El Al broke the world record for nonstop distance covered by an airliner when they flew 6,100 miles nonstop from NYC to Tel Aviv in 14 hours and 56 minutes.

However just a year later Pan Am flew the first Boeing 707 and that was the plane that would usher in the Jet age. The Britannia was soon obsolete. I guess it’s no surprise that El Al turned into the cautious carrier it is today, as they slowly update a aging fleet and add new destinations without investing enough capital in a modern website and a functional mileage program.

That little history lesson was something I stumbled upon after El Al managed to land in Goose Bay and Gander this year. I guess they won’t be able to use that ad anymore 😉

There have been several accounts of what happened on El Al flight 8 last Thursday.

Arutz Sheva reported that,

The plane, according to the report, continued to Athens while the religious passengers were put up in hotels in Canada. At the same time, the company specifically sent two Sun d’Or planes to Athens to collect passengers who are not Sabbath-observant, so that the El Al plane would not fly on Shabbat.

Clearly this is #FakeNews. Multiple people were told by El Al that they could not leave the plane in Canada. Ycohen wrote that El Al said in Canada that nobody could disembark but that the plane would stop in London and passengers would be accommodated there for Shabbos.

Arutz Sheva also quoted El Al as saying,

Passengers who wished to return to Israel during the Sabbath were referred to another operator’s flights. El Al returned on a non-commercial flight as a cargo flight to Israel with crew members only. Sabbath-keeping passengers will return to Israel this evening. El Al does not fly passengers on Shabbat, and so it was this time, as well.

Of course it wasn’t really another operator. It was more of a shell game where they had competing Israeli airline Israir fly 2 El Al 737s, that are shared with El Al subsidiary Sun D’Or, to Athens to pick up passengers. Those 737s normally fly on El Al routes.

Commenter “RS” gave a nice play by play of what happened,

I am reluctantly writing as I do not usually join online conversations. I will not use any real names to preserve privacy. I recently moved with my family to Jerusalem and was in Boston for work. El Al cancelled my flight from Boston to Tel Aviv on Thursday so I ended up on flight 008 instead. There are three overarching points worth noting:
1. There were many people who seemed to be sincerely religious people and had legitimate reasons for flying so close to Shabbat including getting rebooked from cancelled flights, family celebrations, visiting the sick, etc. All had the goal of making to Israel in time for Shabbat and most probably knew that there was some risk of needing to spend Shabbat in a place other than their intended destination. That said, I don’t think any of them thought that El Al would leave them in Athens 5-10 minutes after candle lighting time.
2. There were many nice things worth noting in the spirit of hakarat hatov. The flight attendants, the staff at the Sofitel, and the people who banded together for Shabbat. See below for more details.
3. There are areas where El Al can improve and I fully expect that they will. A more careful understanding of Jewish law would have helped El Al realize that they should either not have flown onto Athens OR let people get off in Gander. Some commenters seem to think that El Al has no obligation vis-à-vis helping observant passengers. That may or may not be true insofar as its legal obligations are concerned, but I don’t think El Al wants to lose its observant Thursday passengers. I suspect this was a simple mistake that requires a mea culpa and an adjustment of policy.
4. Whether El Al should or should not carry passengers on Shabbat in this type of situation is debatable. But the resultant manifest chilul hashem cannot be ignored. El Al ended up flying the 747 without passengers to Israel and ferrying the passengers who wished to get home to Israel on one or two other airplanes (ostensibly operated by Jewish pilots). There was no net saving of work done on Shabbat through this rigmarole. Why was it done? To satisfy some of my coreligionists who value style and pretense over substance and rectitude. It is pretty hard for me to understand why El Al – given the circumstances – could not continue flying its passengers to Tel Aviv. In fact, it is worth a question to a qualified posek. The airline might be disinclined to stop for a medical situation that is not obviously urgent (as was the case here) if they know that they will need to fly 2-3 airplanes instead of one. This reminds me of the famous responsum of Rabbi Feinstein regarding a doctor returning by car from a hospital on Shabbat.
For more details of what happened, keep on reading below:
As has previously been reported, we were supposed to land at 5pm, which would have given us enough time to make it to our various destinations by Shabbat. But we got a late start out of JFK and then had to stop in Gander for a potential medical emergency. The passenger in question was not feeling well but it was not clear if it was an urgent situation. Ultimately, a doctor decided that it was better to get the passenger to a hospital and El Al complied. We were in Gander for a long time and were told that we were flying to Europe, which many of – maybe naively – interpreted to be Paris or London. Only when the plane began departure procedures, did they announce that we were heading to Athens to land before Shabbat.
The El Al flight crew was fantastic. None appeared to be halachically observant but they were compassionate and helpful. Eyal, Nurit, Loren, Liat, Eran, Isabel, and Michal to name a few were fantastic. They found me a bottle of wine, some rolls, and many snacks to get me through Shabbat. Kudos to them. At no point have I ever been disrespected for keeping Shabbat even though the flight attendants mostly are less traditional. They acted – as they always have – with the utmost professionalism.
The airplane doors opened in Athens just after candle lighting time and we quickly boarded a bus to the terminal. We managed to clear passport control right around the time that the sun was setting. El Al then told us that they had arranged for a hotel with rooms, food, and everything else we would need for Shabbat. Approximately sixty people deplaned to spend Shabbat in Athens (with a few later deciding that returning to the plane was a better bet). Some of us decided that going to stay at the airport rather than traveling to a hotel a few kilometers away from the airport where El Al had prepared Shabbat for us. Had we landed 20-30 minutes earlier, we would have gladly gone.
This group of approximately 20 people went to the Sofitel, which is located within the airport. We managed to get the last 5 rooms in the hotel with the help of some terrific staff including Sofia, Alexander, and a few others whose names now escape me. We fit as many people into the rooms as we could (given hotel rules and logistical constraints) and a few people ended up sleeping at the airport (in the lounge).
The hotel was very accommodating throughout Shabbat even though none of the staff had ever heard of Shabbat and few seemed to know about Judaism. They allowed us to book rooms without handling credit cards or cash or signing any papers, they brought extra beds, tolerated Kabbalat Shabbat and Kiddush in the lobby at 11pm, and turned a blind eye to the relatively spirited Shabbat that we conducted on the 8th floor of the Sofitel. We had wonderful minyanim, ate meals together, and celebrated Shabbat as best we could. El Al sent someone over to our hotel on Shabbat afternoon to tell us that they would send a 787 after Shabbat to pick us up and that is exactly what they did. We made it to Israel early Sunday morning.
To sum it all up, thank you to the great flight attendants of El Al, the El Al Athens station, the amazing staff at the Sofitel (highly recommended hotel), and the amazing group of people with whom I was privileged to spend Shabbat at the Sofitel. I hope that El Al can find a way to avoid this type of situation in the future and would suggest open and honest communication with the passengers and offering options that allow passengers to make sure they will always get to a hotel (wherever El Al needs to land) before Shabbat.

 

I’m not sure how El Al could have been so clueless as to reserve hotel rooms that required a bus transfer from the airport. They knew that they would be landing in Athens just as Shabbos was starting and that a bus transfer would be untenable. All of this drama could have been avoided by landing in an airport like London, Paris, or Zurich and accommodating non-Shabbos observant passengers on other airlines if needed.

It is nice to hear that the crew did the best they could under the circumstances. The same can’t said for El Al management.

Luckily, Chabad came to rescue with Rebbetzin Hendel bringing Shabbos food for everyone.

Mark Jackson writes on the DansDeals Facebook page that the entire El Al process was so chaotic that conditions were so poor that many Sabbath observant Jews actually flew back on the Israir operated 737s to Tel Aviv that night. I have no way of verifying that, but the entire story is rather disheartening to hear. Many religious Jews choose to fly El Al as they don’t fly on Shabbos, but nothing they did here was of any help to them.

Meanwhile, non Sabbath observant Jews who were flying El Al business and first class on the 747 had to leave that plane and wait to fly coach on the El Al painted 737 later that night, which was operated by Israir. I’m not entirely sure why they couldn’t play the same shell game with the 747 by “leasing” it to Israir to operate…

The whole story is rather bizarre and hopefully some lessons will be learned for the future by both El Al and by Sabbath observant Jews. Perhaps they each had majorly extenuating circumstances, but there’s simply no way I would accept a booking on an international flight scheduled to arrived just 2.5 hours before Shabbos unless there was a true emergency requiring it.

What do you make of the story?

  • What are El Al’s moral obligations towards religious passengers, given their commitment not to fly on Shabbos?
  • Should El Al find a way to “lease” their jumbo jets to carriers like Israir in a case like this? Or should the entire shell game between Israeli airlines be disallowed, forcing El Al to book tickets on other airlines not flying El Al planes for passengers wanting to travel on Shabbos?
  • What other takeaways do you have from this story? 

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58 Comments On "With El Al, What’s Good For The Goose Isn’t Good For The Gander; How El Al Managed To Anger Everyone On Flight 8"

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געוואלד

געוואלד!!! It’s a zionist airline it’s against the תורה

Yehuda

Stop with this nonsense
talk like a mature person

Truth

Zionists are not against the Torah. But you probably are based on your comment.

meir

Zionists are the most against Torah as it can get .
go open a few history books..

Truth

Perhaps you should learn some history. I’m guessing you went to cheder for your education. To say that zionists are “the most against Torah” is pure idiocy. The Neturei Karta and any people who deliberately choose to live off government assistance are in violation of the Torah far more than Zionists.

sam the man

BTW Neturei Karta Do NOT take money from the gov. (they may be OTD for other reasons…)

Mk

*גיוואלד

Jack

Wonder how many minutes there’s are in bein hashmoshos, which would have allowed them to go on the bus via a non Jewish driver

Jack

Any idea of the law if they were on United etc and demanded to de-plane in gandor? Otherwise they would have had to fly to Isreal on Shabbos? (If it happen on a United flight)

SAMUEL

If a goy is flying the plane, the religious would stay on the plane disembark and stay in tel aviv airport until motzsh”k.
2 ISSUES ARE BEING MIXED UP.
ONE ISSUE – ISRAELI LAW that ElAl may not fly shabbos.
Separate issue catering to their customers.

Jersey Jew

The fact that ElAl planes fly or operate on shabbos is a major Shanda!

Say what you want but that mogen dovid on the tail says HEY I’M JEWISH and on Shabbos or i adds AND I’M A MECHALEL SHABBOS SHAYGITZ TOO!

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… IT’S A DUCK!

Seth

I am ignorant of the Rabbi Feinstein doctor driving on Shabbat thing mentioned, can someone elaborate for me?

Abraham

He allowed doctors to drive home after driving to a patient for a medical emergency. He allowed it based on thinking that doctors wouldn’t want to go to the emergency in the first place if they weren’t allowed to come home

SG

As a Rabeinu Taam observer those who stayed in ATH were not involved in direct Chilul Shabbos, as it was still before Shkia by time they arrived in their hotel room

reb yid

Rabbeinu Tam’s shita is observed only lechumra WRT issurei de-orraisa, not lekulah

hocker

Depends by whom. Chasidim kept Rabbeinu Taam Lkulah too.

Just a quick reminder the Rabbeinu Taam is Daas Harov, the majority of Rishonim and early Acronim held Rabbeinu Tamm Lkulah.

Nate

including the mechaber and rama

Mentchele

Mechaber says all melocho must stop about two minutes before the first shekia. Even though he paskens like Rabbeinu Tam.

The MB keeps tally and finds that most Rishonim do NOT hold.like Rabbeinu Tam.

Most chassidim did not traditionally hold like RT. Until Belz came along and changed things for everyone in Galicia, which spilled over to Hungary.

What\'s good for the goose, is good for the Gander

What issur deoraisa was violated?

ari

tchum comes to mind

Andrew Rosen

The important thing to remember here is that, regardless of what happened with the plane and shabbos, – nothing actually happened. the sun rose the next day, the earth kept spinning, and the only place where any of this stuff matters is in the heads of the people.

Sam

maybe to you, but I think any religious passengers would beg to differ.

zvi

yeah kinda like 9/11 or pearl harbor etc. wonder why people make fusses about those kind of things,
BTW are you on the right website?

Ewkz

Zi, 9/11 and pearl Barbour people lost their lives. Women became widows, children became orphans, parents lost their sons and daughters. Ive been frum my whole life and keeping Shabbos my whole life. Believe me, there IS a difference between getting killed (losing a spouse, parent, child) and having one very uncomfortable Shabbos. Even if some were breaking Shabbos -1. We established they chose that flight with the risks. 2- they will speak to their personal Rav and review hilchos Shabbos at home for the future 3- they are alive, not burried 50 feet under rubble 4– the sun rose the next day

mendel

gadol hamachtio yoter me’horgo

Achshell

THIS COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED WITH A BIT OF PLANNING. THEY HAD OTHER OPTIONS LIKE LONDON/ MANCHESTER/ PARIS/ ZURICH.
One day EL-AL will go bankrupt and the sun will rise and shine as well over a sky clear of old EL-AL airplanes.

Ewkz

International traveling with the expectation to land a few short hours before shabbos, it doesn’t take much for something to throw you off. London, Paris, etc would have afforded them more time and be able to spend shabbos in a much larger frum community, but it didn’t happen- nor should anyone expect it to happen in the future.

Erev Rosh Hashana (Sunday) my wife and I will be flying nonstop from EWR to FLL at 6AM- 8:30AM to visit my family. If something happens where they have to make an emergency landing and it takes 10+ hours, I’ll be partly to blame for choosing to fly Erev R’H. The sun will certainly rise the next day, but I’ll be very tired walking 3 miles from FLL to the house- and it would be my own doing, but B’H- ( It’s not Pearl Harbour, not 9-11). ElAl made a lot of screwups with this, but I believe those who chose that very international over-seas flight need to think about their travel planning much wiser for the future and what honoring shabbos means to them.

zvi

my point is that the world spinning and pl continuing on isn’t proof that it is irrelevant

jew

doesnt look like you take shabbos observance too seriously…nebach…

Lex

You’re right that the world is spinning and that BH people are healthy and alive. However, it is important for these things to be discussed and brought to light. That is how improvements are made on all levels. Also, if the only news stories where ones in which the sun didn’t shine the next day, there would be very little news to report.

Peter

Seth: Rav Feinstein paskend (halachic ruling) that a doctor is allowed to drive To and From the hospital to take care of his patients and more importantly, is allowed to start and stop his car in order not to cause damage to his car or his property. The thinking is that if a doctor felt his car would be damaged by having to let it run all day AFTER he got to the hospital, he would perhaps not go to the hospital and thereby endanger his patients. So, if someone has the status of rofeh (doctor) to a patient, “pekuach nefesh” overrides shabbos concerns and he is free to do everything required to get to and from the hospital (or patient) without any concerns. This extends beyond medical doctors as well but that is a different conversation one needs to have with their local orthodox Rabbi, depending on the circumstances. Nothing I’ve written here is a rabbinic ruling as I’m not a rabbi and one always needs to consult an orthodox rabbi for situations they might find themselves in.

Duvid

ElAl is a wanna be airline. About 18 years ago I brought my grandfathers aron home to Israel. I deplaned at 5:30 attended the funeral and went back on the 11:30. I was refused travel because I didn’t confirm my reservation 72 hours in advance. I told the ticket agent that I was sorry but my grandfather was alive 72 hours ago. That was tge last time I flew that joke of an airline. I go back and forth to Isreal 3 or 4 times a year and never went on THAT airline again. Chapter 7 would be good for them.

Yochai

The real issue with elal flying on shabbos is not a legal issue. It’s an agreement they made with drum askanim when they were pet in cherem a few years ago. They never officially flew on shabbos, but they had to sign an agreement with a big monetary fine if they fly even in irregular situations as this. So it’s worth it for them to make themselves crazy not to break the agreement.

Yed

Not askanim, But rather Rabonim, with respect please, I recall that instance. There where people that have paid thousands of $ for tickets that cancelled their Non-Refundable tickets at the request of the Rabonim that arranged that boycott, specifically in some specific chasidic communities, it was a very tough fight and anyone that recalls knows clearly who stood behind it all the way through.
I’m sure that leasing the planes out to another Jewish carrier is absolutely not the way this was supposed to be handled according to the agreement, but it seems like EL-AL found some way around that… time will tell if the agreement will be amended or ELAL would suffer some consequences as a result of this game they played.
it is quite obvious that the fact that EL-AL doesn’t fly on Shobbos, has prevented thousands of instances of chilul Shabbos by their Staff + thousands of Jewish passengers, as an orthodox Jew you should certainly care, due to the halacha of “Kol Yisroel Arevim”.

Now giving them a pass in a situation like this, even if the truth is that in this case there was more chilul Shabbos this way than the other way, doesn’t sound right to me, looking at the consequences that such a pass would have next time things like this (or even thing not exactly like this…) happen. In fact I do recall that they once (before the current agreement was made) had a plane stranded in Europe too close to shabbos, and they went ahead and just changed the flight number to a SunD’or flight number and flew the flight on shabbos, and therefore in this agreement they where blocked of doing this, and maybe this was the reason that they didn’t just do that same thing here, I wouldn’t be surprised if the truth turns out to be that ELAL was truly trying to pay Israir to get these passengers home but israair just didn’t have the plane to accommodate and therefore ELAL offered to lease the planes, and at the end of the day it in our eyes this all turns out to be joke, but from Their side they have done everything according to the agreement and haven’t violated ant part of it..
In my eyes the agreement should have stated at least that A non preleased ELAL aircraft can not be used in any variation in such cases, and maybe even that any fellow Israeli airline cannot be used to accommodate the passengers, But this of course should be debated by the robonnim which have the authority to make those decisions (Just like R”M Feinsein in the other case)

Chuchum

I don’t care if el al flies on shabbos. They anyways aren’t observant. But they shud have let anybody off Canada or earlier. This might change my decision for a thurs. Flight.

Yosef

Check the back of Chabad’s שיחת השבוע of this week to why El Al doesn’t fly on Shabbos. What an appropriate time for printing this..

Szo

I hope elal pays the shluchim a nice buck for taking care of the situation for them

hocker

I’m sure they’ll pay immediately when all DDF’ers finish paying up for the service they receive FROM shluchim all over the world.

Ewkz

hocker, ha I thought the same thing but you beat me to it. This group could have all the hamburger buns and snacks ElAl provided for 25 hours of shabbos in the hotel or floor of the airport. Completely separate and ‘going beyond the required, without being asked’ was chesed of chabad for providing in that situation. I dearly hope that the travelers show their hakaras hatov with a monetary gift.

Shlomo

Can someone please post a link we can donate to the great work of Chabad in Athens?

Helpurslfbyhlpingothrs
john

Dan they landed because of a medical reason…what were they supposed to do?

It seems your only issue is that afterward they did not fly to Londen Or Paris….so this all hinges on that decision?

aaron

el-al management will outwardly play the game of accomodating frum religious passengers
but thats for business purposes only
when it comes down to it and they’re put to the test they always miserably FAIL
this isnt the first time either just google it these articles go back many years and prove that ELAL is just trying to put up a front on the outside !
its time for another player to enter the market thats the only way el-al will shape up
depending on the crew you some times get better religious accommodation on UNITED then on elal
their was a time where el-al was giving a hard time for those gathering in the back tom daven united was far more accomodating over all in general then elal though they should understand better
perhaps their ad we are more then just an airline ,we are ISRAEL doesnt =JEWISH

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/221946

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3370810,00.html

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/el-al-matmid/707558-if-elal-don-t-fly-shabbat-then-how-come.html

iji

Mr. Dan, nobody really cares of your opinions, and how you think the airline should run its business. People come to your site to see deals, not listen to your BS

Mr. CC

Interesting that these type of posts have the most comments

elli

Just from the 2 lines you wrote I can tell that you don’t care much about Shabbos, but we do, & I think you should apologize asap.

Yair

actually, El Al continued t be a competitive carrier until the early 1980’s. They bet the company again on the 747 in 1971, which was a huge bet for a small airline in a relatively poor company, and it worked out well.

sara

When does El Al not dissappoint? I have learned my lesson. There are other options.

Shmuel Amsel

I was thinking about this Friday, I am very sorry but as Orthodox Jew you have a responsibility to do what’s natural

Taking a flight that arrives 2 hours before Shabbos is irresponsible. Fly a day earlier or go a day later

Carl M. Sherer

Dan,

You mentioned that El Al should have landed in London, Paris or Zurich (agreed) and then accommodate the non-observant passengers on other airlines.

They can’t.

El Al is likely the only airline in the world that has NO interline agreements. They have a few code sharing arrangements (American, Iberia, Aeromexico), but no interline agreements. Had they landed in London (which would have been most sensible), they would have had to send those two IsraAir jets to London.

A little over a year ago, I was supposed to be on my way back to Israel for Shabbos for my son’s aufruf after a three-day business trip to Denver. I was heading out Sunday morning for the wedding in New York.

I was just going to take BA (Denver-London-Tel Aviv), but it would have gotten me in at Midnight Thursday night, so my travel agent urged me to fly Denver-Philadelphia-Munich on AA and then El Al (with an AA flight number – code share) from Munich to Tel Aviv. My scheduled arrival was 3:00 pm Thursday. When we got to the gate in Munich, they announced there was a ‘problem’ with the plane, which turned out to be that the door to the plane wouldn’t close!

They accommodated their own business class passengers (not sure how, but none of them were there later), but did nothing for anyone in economy beyond what EU law requires. We sat for 12 hours in Munich and arrived home at 4:00 am Friday. Fortunately, this happened on a Thursday so there was no Shabbos issue.

But accommodating passengers on other airlines cannot really be done without an interline agreement. El Al doesn’t have one.

ari

If they would have informed the passengers while in Gander that they would be stopping in Athens and it would be minutes before Shabbos, and given them the option of deplaning, the whole mess would have been avoided. Of course, doing that would have required ElAl to send another plane to Gander after Shabbos to pick them up, which is cost prohibitive, which is why they didnt give them that option. Its also why they didnt drop the Athens destination info until it was too late for them to insist.

Carl M. Sherer

Stopping in London would have avoided the mess much better than leaving them in Gander. It would have cost much less than sending another plane to Gander, it would have given the passengers more alternatives for where to spend Shabbos with 3-4 hours to get there, and it would have avoided all the nasty press that they got for dropping them in Athens minutes before Shkiya.

But they chose neither course of action.

One reason for that is described in my exchange with Dan above – El Al has no interline agreements with other airlines, which means that the cost of putting passengers on other airlines when there’s a need is prohibitive (they’d pay the same prices you and I pay) and therefore they avoid it at all costs.

The other reason – and it pains me to say this – is that many secular Israelis don’t appreciate the deep commitment that those of us who are frum have to things like Shabbos and Kashrus. Unfortunately, when they are able to say that frum people went along on the Friday night flight from Athens (as was claimed – I find that hard to believe) that becomes an excuse to validate that perception.

My two cents.

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