At this point, it is difficult to know what to make of this astounding and troubling incident. I won’t try to frame confident conclusions in this post, but I do think it unquestionably bears looking into by at least three national governments: those of Spain, where the incident occurred; the UK, where EasyJet is a registered company; and France, whose citizens were the ones quite remarkably inconvenienced.
The incident took place on 1 May in Barcelona, and involved a flight from Barcelona to Paris. Most of the passengers were French Jews who had been in Spain for the Passover celebration, and were headed home. I won’t rehash the entire drama, because what I am presenting at the end of this post is the account of a Jewish man on the flight, a Mr. Alain Sayada. His post is in French, but I’ve prepared a rough translation and am copying it below. You can read it to get the full story.
Several English-language media outlets have picked up on this report, including Jewish Press. The bottom line appears to be that a situation blew up that probably didn’t have to, in part due to a language barrier. (The flight crew had no one in it who spoke French. Mr. Sayada was able to communicate in English with the captain, but the Spanish cabin attendants’ English was very poor.)
Depending on their attitude going in, some readers will no doubt think Mr. Sayada’s take on the events is a little overheated, and will assume that there may have been some fault on both sides. The flight crew was defensive, apparently somewhat rude, and seemed to retreat behind excuses. A 15-year-old among the passengers may not have comported himself in a 100% saintly manner, and at least one adult passenger apparently raised his voice. It would be as biased to overinterpret those things prejudicially for one side as to do so for the other — which is why I’m presenting the whole summary from Mr. Sayada below, so you can form your own opinion.
What concerns me about the incident is that, with two or perhaps three people on the flight whom the crew seemed to take exception to, the decision was made to offload everyone on the flight. According to Mr. Sayada’s report, the passengers were then held under armed guard in a room in the terminal for hours, being told nothing. The implied thinking is hard to miss: they’re all Jews, so take them all off the flight and hold them together.
Unfortunately, that’s a rational conclusion, in default of any actual information from EasyJet (see below for a link to the company’s statement). When individual passengers are determined to be troublesome, the authorities don’t typically offload everyone. They remove only the passengers identified by the crew. Whether that judgment about “troublemakers” was fair or not in this particular case, it would normally lead only to the specific individuals being removed from the plane. As Mr. Sayada points out, the demographic nature of the passengers was as low-risk as it could possibly be: a lot of children, parents, and old people. Most of us are well enough acquainted with security standards to recognize that it made no sense to empty the entire plane because of one or two “disruptive passengers.”
Why were all the passengers required to de-board? Why did they have to be held under armed guard in the terminal for six hours, with their passports taken from them? Why did the Spanish police threaten a young woman who had made recordings with her phone, demanding that she erase them or she would not be allowed to leave when the passengers were finally put on another plane?
These and other questions have no satisfactory answers at this point. There are some things we don’t know, such as how many of the passengers were non-Jewish. (Some sources say that of the 180 passengers that could have been accommodated on the aircraft, 150-some were Jews from France. You will note that Mr. Sayada has the number of passengers wrong, referring to it several times as “250.”)
EasyJet, in an official statement about the incident, claims that passengers were given vouchers for refreshments and were allowed to move about the terminal during the time they waited for a follow-on flight. This statement is at odds with what the Jewish passengers have reported, but that seems to be accounted for by this passage from EasyJet:
The police took a number of passengers for questioning. All other passengers were able to go back into the terminal and were provided with refreshment vouchers and received regular updates on the new departure time.
It sounds on the face of it like the Jewish passengers were “taken for questioning,” and the 20 or 30 others were allowed to roam the terminal. That, at least, would be the obvious way of reconciling the conflicting accounts. We won’t hear more from EasyJet at this point, according to their spokeswoman:
“As to the nature of the incident, as this is now in the hands of the Spanish police and part of an on-going investigation we are unable to comment further,” she said.
Having traveled through Spain a number of times, I don’t need to be told that the Guardia Civil is by no means “civil,” and is often hard to deal with. But, parse this as you will, it still doesn’t make sense to take everyone off the plane and keep dozens of passengers under armed guard for hours based on the allegedly “disruptive” behavior of a few.
So far, little multimedia coverage of the flight has emerged on the web. Video taken by a passenger has been incorporated in a YouTube video by Zionist Radio:
The passengers certainly don’t look like an unruly mob in this clip. The governments in question need to be held publicly accountable for a thorough investigation, and although I’m not a friend of reflexive lawsuits over every annoyance, this incident needs to be poked and prodded with a sharp stick until we all know what happened. Frankly, if you look for excuses for EasyJet or the Spanish authorities about this one, you’re deluding yourself. These are not normal times, and there need to be facts and specific, straightforward answers, not euphemisms, complacent assumptions, and half-truths.
Here is the translation of Alain Sayada’s post. (It’s in rough and ready form; in a number of places, I have colloquialized it for sense rather than making a word-for-word translation. For readability, I’ve tried to keep embedded commentary on the translation — in brackets — to a minimum.)
What really happened on EasyJet flight EZY 3920 from Barcelona to Paris
My turn to tell what happened on EasyJet flight EZY 3920 from Barcelona to Paris, [which was scheduled to depart] 1 May 2016 at 13:05 [1:05 PM].
May wife and two children (aged 3 and 1) and I boarded with more than 150 other Jewish people after a superb trip to Spain organized for the Jewish Passover celebration. We were all very relaxed, in good humor and cheerful.
Everyone was seated, with seatbelts on, the plane was on the runway. It was near takeoff.
During the security briefing [to the passengers], one of the flight attendants named OMAR allowed himself to say “CHUTT” in a loud voice [i.e., “shush!” in an implicitly rude manner] to an old person who was speaking quietly to his 15-year-old grandson, blasting instructions at him in Spanish and not English. The old man, not understanding Spanish, stopped talking.
I was seated at the front of the plane in seat 3C and I saw OMAR complain to the cabin chief about the bad behavior of a passenger; the cabin chief responded in English that they [would] see about that in Paris.
About 30 minutes later, the attendants complained over the microphone that a person didn’t want to secure her children and [therefore] we couldn’t take off. One of my neighbors offered to go speak to this family, as perhaps they couldn’t speak English.
This man got up and I saw him return a minute later telling me he didn’t understand: everyone was secured, there was no problem.
And for another 20 minutes, we waited. An attendant named Christina went back and forth with the one named Omar, and spoke constantly over the microphone in a hurried and [unhealthy; probably “unprofessional”] manner. She spoke in Spanish or a really inferior English, proclaiming that she didn’t speak a word of French.
Not understanding, a teenage boy of 15 asked with hand gestures “What’s going on? What are you saying?” while this Christina person spoke in the microphone in SPANISH, knowing perfectly well that not one passenger understood the language.
Then, with the passengers as a whole completely confused, after an hour of waiting the cabin chief and the captain decided to return [to the Barcelona airport terminal] to remove the teenager [from the plane].
After 20 minutes, the plane stopped next to 4 Guardia Civil vehicles [apparently next to the terminal].
A half dozen men climbed into the plane wanting to [take the 15-year-old for questioning]. His mother intervened, saying he was not an adult, if they wanted him to take him, they’d have to take her too. They [the men] refused. They wanted the young man, by himself.
The police not speaking a word of English, the language barrier was a real problem.
During this time, the captain remained silent, leaning against the wall, letting the situation deteriorate.
The family [of the 15-year-old, apparently] was trying to understand and explain, but the attendants were vile and heartless and demonstrated a really overzealous [attitude].
5 minutes later, a lady succumbed to a panic attack and fainted amidst the tension, panic, and crying of numerous children.
So I decided to go speak to the captain and ask him to make a decision and take managerial responsibility for the situation; he looked at me and said in English that he didn’t really know what to do and he didn’t want to take off if everyone wasn’t seated. An inadequate response in view of the situation with 250 agitated passengers [the real number would not have exceeded 180 on this flight. – J.E.].
Behind me, a man, the father of 6 children, raised his voice although without unseemly gestures or vulgar words, I tried to calm him down but the [heat of confinement in the plane; i.e., the emotional agitation] made the atmosphere electric.
The police made the decision to disembark everyone and to take us to a place in the airport apart from everyone else.
We had all been sequestered and left stuck (prohibited from going out to smoke a cigarette or stretch or get some air) in a room without air conditioning. We were very hot. The babies were red and hot and many of the mothers had nowhere to sit. They [the babies, children] were hungry and crying, as the parents had not expected to have to plan for a 9-hour trip, but only for 3. A pregnant woman was crying on the phone. Children ran around and cried, not understanding… An older person felt ill… It was a nightmare! All this while in the room, we were surrounded by Guardia Civil officers, with guns and batons, as if we were terrorists!
Yet there were only families and old people on this flight, we have proof of that with photos. Next, we waited 5 hours, from 1400 to 1900 [2 PM to 7 PM] in this room, in horrible conditions. Parents went to ask the Spanish law enforcement officers for information, and if they knew when we might [be allowed to board again]? And if there was a reason why were all stuck under guard in this room for an indefinite period? They [the officers] didn’t answer. One of the Guardia Civil men violently shoved a father when he went to ask a question… To document this, a woman began to record his violent actions. One of the men [i.e., a Guardia Civil officer] literally leaped on her, shoving her violently and taking her phone from her.
Around 1730 [5:30 PM], 12 Guardia Civil officers, batons in hand, forcibly took away a 40-year-old father of 6 with a kippa on his head who merely raised his voice a bit in requesting that someone explain to us [what was going on], help us in this situation.
I fully understood at that moment that anyone who didn’t do exactly as they said [i.e., the Guardia Civil officers] would be immediately set upon.
An old man [among the passengers from the flight], a Holocaust survivor, said of these [Spanish law enforcement] men, “These guys, this is what the SS was like during the Shoah.” Needless to say, they made us all think of the SS and the Gestapo.
We remained uncertain of when we would be able to get home for six long hours. In this room where we were stifled by the heat and weren’t allowed to leave. I think at this stage, we could call this nightmare a hostage situation. Sequestration in atrocious conditions. And we were helpless. We contacted [Assembly] Deputy Meyer Habib from there. He notified the Quai d’Orsay [the French foreign ministry] and [Foreign Minister] Manuel Valls. We also tried to contact France 3 [media network] and BfmTv from the room, without much success.
Finally, after six long and interminable hours, they decided to let us reembark, they assembled the passengers. They wouldn’t let the 15-year-old young man or his 70- and 80-year-old grandparents on this flight, or the 40-year-old father [i.e., the one who raised his voice]. [Those particular passengers] had to take another flight, scheduled for 2 hours later. More interminable waiting.
As we were reboarding, they stopped a young woman of 22 and told her that if she didn’t erase the videos and photos she had taken, she wouldn’t be allowed to fly. Her mother begged them on her behalf. They [the authorities] kept our passports and ID cards so they could threaten us that way.
It was my turn to board, and at that point, to my great surprise, I was denied boarding, for the sole reason that the captain asked something of the police [apparently about the narrator].
I went to see the police officers at the departure point, who promised to see the captain and let him know I’d rather help them all out by translating between English and French [i.e., speak to the captain directly], but the captain didn’t want to hear about it.
The policeman said quietly in my ear: here, we are under the captain’s order, if he doesn’t want you, you don’t go.
My wife would have to travel alone, 5 months pregnant and with two children 1 and 3 years old.
She [melted down, basically – panicked, screamed, cried] but they came back again to look for me [apparently with batons out].
At 5 months along, any shock or major stress could be fatal for the baby.
Seeing that I remained calm and impassive, 5 officers went again to explain my situation and that of my wife to the captain who apparently didn’t have the guts to make a sensible decision all day, but fortunately, I was allowed on the flight at the last minute.
Entering into the plane, the flight crew had changed out, one attendant spoke excellent French, the two others fluent English and everything went fine with them. Needless to say, what we had just lived through was shocking and traumatic for each one of us. Let it not be forgotten that the 250 passengers [it was actually 180 max] were women, children, parents, old people, babies, etc. There could hardly be anyone more inoffensive! And we were treated like common animals.
Having arrived 2 May in Paris, my wife had a visit with the gynecologist and the verdict came down, a situation like this put the health of our future child in grave danger.
I am lodging today a complaint against EasyJet for discrimination suffered during flight EZY 3920.