To the disbelief of passengers gathered to board Air Serbia Flight 816 to Ben-Gurion International Airport, an employee twice said over the intercom, “The flight to Palestine will depart from Gate C3.” After some passengers protested, they were then told that the flight was to ‘Tel Aviv, not Israel.’
By: Barney Breen-Portnoy/The Algemeiner
Israeli passengers waiting for a recent Tel Aviv-bound flight at an airport near the Serbian capital of Belgrade were disturbed when a loud-speaker announcement referred to their destination as “Palestine,” the Hebrew news site Ynet reported on Tuesday.
The incident took place on August 29 at Nikola Tesla Airport. As passengers gathered to board Air Serbia Flight 816 to Ben-Gurion International Airport, an employee twice said over the intercom, “The flight to Palestine will depart from Gate C3.”
“I could not believe my ears,” one Israeli passenger told Ynet. “At first I thought I had misheard, and asked other people if they also heard ‘Palestine’ in the announcement. They told me I was right.”
The passenger continued: “I went up to the airline counter with another Israeli and asked that an announcement be made that the flight was to Israel, not Palestine.” An airline representative then told them that the flight was to “Tel Aviv, not Israel.”
After a prolonged discussion involving the airline representative and a number of other individuals, an announcement was made three times that the flight was to Tel Aviv. The Israeli passengers also received an apology from the airline representative for the use of the word “Palestine” in the previous announcements.
The Israeli passenger interviewed by Ynet subsequently filed a complaint with the Israeli Embassy in Serbia.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called the incident “very upsetting.”
“It is unimaginable that an airport official with a microphone would distort reality like this in such a provocative and false manner,” Nahshon was quoted by Ynet as saying. “The Israeli Embassy [in Belgrade] will give the matter top priority.”
According to the Ynet report, Israeli Ambassador to Serbia Alona Fisher-Kamm contacted Air Serbia CEO Dane Kondic, who expressed shock over what happened. Kondic told her that this was the first such incident involving Air Serbia and that it was unacceptable. The Air Serbia CEO added that airline employees are not permitted to express political views while at work. The use of the word “Palestine,” he said, “does not reflect the position of the airline.”
Kondic apologized for the incident and pledged it would not recur. He later contacted Fisher-Kamm again to say that he had asked the airport to take action against the employee in question, due to the harm the incident had caused to Air Serbia’s reputation.
Air Serbia is the flag carrier and largest airline in the southeastern European nation.
Last year, an Iberia Airlines pilot was suspended for announcing in Spanish to passengers on a Tel Aviv-bound flight that “we will be landing soon in Palestine.” In his announcement in English, the pilot changed the word “Palestine” to “Tel Aviv,” but he did not use the word “Israel” in either announcement.