One of the stranger airline stories of the week came from Aegean, where a Sunday night flight from Athens to Tel Aviv was delayed after a group of passengers refused to fly with the two Palestinian passengers onboard, to the point that they refused to sit down until they were removed.
Via The Independent:
The complainants claimed the Israeli Arab citizens could be “terrorists”, according to Israel Radio, and demanded to search their luggage even after they had left the aircraft, but were refused by stewards.
A spokesperson for Aegean Airlines confirmed the incident, telling The Independent a small group of passengers had “very vocally and persistently asked for two other Israeli passengers to be checked for security issues”.
“While it is indeed unfortunate that they were possibly racially profiling the customers, indeed their fellow Israelis, because safety must be first, the pilot did feel compelled to delay the flight call the police so to check again the two Israeli passengers documents and identities,” she added.
The documents were found to be in order but the spokesperson said the delay had caused further unrest as a larger group of passengers reacted, despite assurances given by the crew.
The Palestinian passengers were offered a free hotel and flight the following day, which they accepted, and their luggage was taken out of the hold.
That’s quite an unfortunate incident. So a group of passengers profiled two passengers, demanded the crew search them, and when they did and everything was found to be okay, they were still offloaded? I’m also not sure I follow the statement from the spokesperson either. So Aegean regrets the “racial profiling of [their] customers,” but then go on to say that they still gave in because safety comes first?
Given the amount of media attention this story got, Aegean’s CEO has now issued an open letter to the Palestine Liberation Organization. I guess it could be considered a quasi-apology:
Dr Saeb Erekat, the airline’s CEO Dimitris Gerogiannis said he “[rejected] any possibility of discrimination” which he said was in “complete opposition” to the principles of the airline.
He said: “We would like to emphasize that our crew did try for more than an hour and thirty minutes to resolve the situation.
“Unfortunately by the time that all the security had been rechecked, yes there was unwarranted and indeed unfair continued reaction by a large group of passengers but also the two affected passengers did not feel comfortable to fly.
“It was mostly out of concern for the two passengers’ comfort and safety during this flight, after all that had transpired, that we suggested they might stay at our expense overnight and indeed board another flight the next day”.
He stressed that the airline “regretted the whole event” which was “quite unprecedented in our experience”.
I’m inclined to give Aegean the benefit of the doubt here. This is clearly a really unfortunate situation which was fueled by discrimination. In practice Aegean should have invited the passengers uncomfortable with the situation to deplane, rather than booting the passengers who (seemingly) had done nothing wrong.
How would that have worked in practice, though? If it was basically two people vs. most of the other passengers, I doubt the others would have deplaned, and if everyone stayed onboard it sounds like it could have easily escalated into a bigger situation after takeoff.
This is an unfortunate situation, and reminds me a bit of the stories we’ve heard in the past few months about Muslims experiencing discrimination on flights within the US. I think the airline was in the wrong for even engaging the passengers who were discriminating.
Ultimately it sounds like a good thing that the plane didn’t take off with everyone, because it could have escalated after takeoff. I don’t think the passengers being unfairly discriminated against should have been removed, though.
What do you make of this story, and what responsibility does Aegean bear in all this?