Airline apologises for removing Palestinian passengers from flight after group of Israelis refuse to fly with 'terrorists'

The flight to Tel Aviv was held on the tarmac for two hours on Sunday night after a group of Israeli Jewish passengers refused to sit down

Caroline Mortimer
Wednesday 06 January 2016 22:38
Athens International airport on January 21, 2014
Athens International airport on January 21, 2014

A Greek airline has apologised to the Palestine Liberation Organisation for removing two Palestinians from a flight after a group of Israeli Jewish passengers refused to fly with “terrorists” on board.

The Aegean Airlines flight 928 from Athens to Tel Aviv was stuck on the tarmac for almost two hours on Sunday night as several Jewish passengers stood up in protest and demanded that two Palestinian passengers were removed.

They alleged that the two Israeli Arab passengers could be “terrorists” and demanded to search their luggage even after they had left the aircraft - a request which was refused by stewards.

The airline offered the two passengers a free hotel for the night and the opportunity to fly out the next day - which they both accepted as they no longer “felt comfortable to fly”.

In an open letter to the Secretary General of the PLO, 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.

Satellite tracking by the Flight Aware website showed the plane was delayed by almost two hours in Athens

“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”.

Mr Gerogiannis said both passengers had Israeli documentation so there was “no potential of discrimination from the crew”.

He stressed that the airline “regretted the whole event” which was “quite unprecedented in our experience”.

“We respect the rights of all passengers to travel without any effects of potential racial profiling”, he added.

He said he has contacted the PLO representative in Greece to arrange a meeting and to give his assurances in person.

The Independent was unable to reach the PLO for comment but in a statement on its website, Dr Erekat said: "We are outraged by how two Palestinians were treated with discrimination and prejudice at the hands of the Aegean cabin crew prior to the departure of last Sunday's flight from Athens to Tel Aviv.

"The Greek security affirmed that the plane was secure, but confirmed reports said the crew succumbed to pressure from Israeli passengers who stood up and did not allow the flight to depart without the removal of the two Palestinian passengers.

"We condemn this unjust and disgraceful decision. We call upon the Greek government to take strong action against this racist act, including compensation for the two Palestinian passengers."