El Al has had a miserable couple of weeks. Globes reports that El Al has been forced to cancel 4 round-trip flights to Boston due to pilot scheduling issues. Flights to Beijing and Hong Kong have also been scrubbed while other flights have suffered lengthy delays due to pilot issues or operational issues as El Al calls it.
You’ll recall that earlier this year, El Al Flight 8 from JFK to Tel Aviv had an emergency landing in Goose Bay, Canada. You can listen to the audio of the Mayday call in this post. El Al had to send out another 747 to Goose Bay to bring them home.
El Al Flight 8 was scheduled to depart last night at 11:45pm and arrive in Tel Aviv at 5:10pm today. It took off from JFK 57 minutes late at 12:42am this morning.
As a religious Jew, I would avoid this flight as it is only scheduled to arrive 2.5 hours before Shabbos starts. There are just too many variables that can create havoc with Shabbos to fly on a flight that arrives so close to Shabbos.
And that’s indeed what happened. DDF member ycohen’s sister was on the flight and reports that there was a medical emergency and the flight was diverted to Gander, Canada.
Gander was made famous by the book “The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland” When I read that book I cried, laughed, and enjoyed the parts about the Lubavitcher shliach figuring out why he was stuck in Gander for Shabbos. It also inspired a Broadway musical, Come From Away.
It arrived in Gander at 6:25am this morning. While frum passengers onboard asked to leave the plane, they were not allowed to do so. El Al announced that they would land in Europe and pay for a hotel for passengers who wanted to spend Shabbos there. The flight departed Gander at 8:26am.
El Al knew that the flight could not make it to Tel Aviv before Shabbos and they decided to divert the plane to Athens to drop off religious Jews there. Unfortunately the plane landed in Athens at 8:33pm, just 17 minutes before sunset.
ycohen’s sister last texted him when it was 12 minutes before sunset and the 747 was still taxiing to the gate.
Why did El Al decide to land in Athens instead of any airport in Western Europe where there would have been plenty of time before Shabbos for the passengers to leave the plane and get settled in a hotel or Jewish community?
The only plausible reason I can think of is that it will be significantly cheaper for El Al to ferry the passengers from Athens to Tel Aviv instead of Western Europe to Tel Aviv. But because of that they created a situation where one of their primary target markets, religious Jews, likely had to violate laws of Shabbos when exiting the plane. (Disclaimer: Ask your Rabbi for more information on the Shabbos laws in this scenario).
The 747 continued on from Athens to Tel Aviv on Shabbos and is scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv shortly.
DDF member “z” writes that his brother was on the flight and told him that Rabbi Mendel Hendel, from Chabad of Athens, arranged for Shabbos food to be brought to the airport and reserved a lounge in the airport as well. Kudos to Chabad for saving the day yet again.
It’s unclear if they were able to make it to an airport hotel or where passengers will sleep tonight.
The lesson here is obvious. If you care about Shabbos, don’t choose flights that arrive within several hours of Shabbos! Flights can be delayed on the tarmac for several hours before taking off, so even barring a diversion, a flight delay can cause issues for any flight arriving within several hours of Shabbos. And that’s not even accounting for traffic issues after you arrive close to Shabbos. Frankly, I was shocked to learn that there were so many religious Jews on this flight.
But once again, El Al leaves me very disappointed in their decision making. There is simply no moral justification for the national airline of Israel flying all the way to Athens in this scenario. They may have saved a few shekels by needing a shorter ferry flight to get passengers home after Shabbos, but this will likely cost them more than that reputationally among one of their major target markets.