(JTA) – Greece’s Aegean Airlines apologized to Palestinian leaders for urging two Arab passengers to leave a plane because of a protest by Jewish-Israeli travellers.
In an open letter to Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s secretary general, dated Wednesday, Aegean CEO Dimitris Gerogiannis said he “[rejected] any possibility of discrimination,” which he said was in “complete opposition” to the principles of the airline.
Claiming the two Arabs posed a security threat on the Athens-Tel Aviv flight, several Jewish passengers refused to sit down, preventing the plane from taking off Sunday night. The men had valid visas to enter Israel.
The incident occurred two days after an Arab-Israeli man, who remains at large and is believed to be armed, allegedly killed three people and injured several others in two shooting attacks in Tel Aviv.
Airline employees said they reviewed the paperwork of the Arab passengers and found nothing suspicious. However, the two agreed to disembark after the airline offered them a free hotel room and other compensation.
Gerogiannis’ letter came after Erekat posted a statement online Wednesday saying he was “outraged by how two Palestinians were treated with discrimination and prejudice at the hands of the Aegean cabin crew.” Erekat said the “appalling behaviour by the Israeli passengers is reminiscent of the worst years of the South African apartheid.” He demanded the Greek government investigate and that the two passengers be compensated further.
In his letter, the Aegean CEO emphasized that “our crew did try for more than an hour and 30 minutes to resolve the situation,” but that “by the time that all the security had been rechecked,” the “two affected passengers did not feel comfortable to fly.”
Gerogiannis stressed that the airline “regretted the whole event,” which he called “quite unprecedented in our experience.”
The letter also noted that Gerogiannis has contacted the PLO representative in Greece to arrange a meeting.