Update: EasyJet’s response to the article can be read here.
A group of Jewish families that included elderly people, pregnant women and children were taken off an EasyJet passenger plane in Barcelona waiting to depart for Paris, according to a report on the European Jewish Press.
One of the passengers, a Holocaust survivor, said the behavior of police who came to take the travelers off the flight was similar to that of the German Nazi SS police during World War II.
The families were removed after the plane had been sitting on the tarmac for more than two hours, waiting for departure. Many of the Jewish men were wearing kippahs, making them clearly identifiable.
They were returning home to Paris after having spent the Passover holiday in Spain, but were removed from the flight by armed Spanish police officers.
Despite the fact that the British-owned EasyJet flight was en route to Paris from Barcelona, the flight attendant chose to speak only Spanish when she told the Jewish group they were being removed from the flight.
When they asked her to speak in French, she declined, saying she could not speak a word in French or English.
One of the Jewish passengers, a 15-year-old boy, tried to use sign language, motioning with his hands to ask what was going on. In response the flight attendance called the Spanish Guardia Civil Police, a passenger told JPUpdates.
Another passenger, Franck Ben, described the nightmare in a French-language Facebook post, saying he and others felt like they were being treated like terrorists. Ben said the police tried to take away the teenager who had tried to communicate with hand gestures, but his mother intervened and would not allow him to be taken without her.
Placed under armed guard by the Spanish Guardia Civil Police — who were hardly civil — the frightened Jewish passengers were held for six long hours in a secluded area of the terminal without air conditions without being told why; nor were they told when they might be allowed to leave.
Blogger J.E. Dyer wrote about the incident on the Liberty Unyielding website, noting that the situation “blew up that probably didn’t have to, in part due to a language barrier.”
Dyer, whose language skills are clearly very good, also provided a translation for the French-language account of passenger Alain Sayada, who posted a full first-person narrative on Facebook and on an independent website of the events that took place.
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.
It is obvious to anyone who reads the above account of Alain Sayada (translated by J.E.Dyer) that the incident demands investigation by the governments of Spain, France and Britain, all of whose nationals were involved in this Entebbe-like affair.
A spokesperson for the British-based EasyJet airline confirmed the veracity of the incident.
“We would like to apologize to customers for the inconvenience and the delay,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The safety and well-being of passengers and crew is always EasyJet’s priority.” Police were called, the statement added, “due to a group of passengers behaving in a disruptive manner.” JPUpdates asked the airline about the allegations of the families regarding their separation due to their faith.
The response of the airline’s spokesperson is illuminating: “All of our staff are carefully selected and undergo a rigorous training program to maintain our high level of customer care. To confirm, we have a zero tolerance towards discrimination of any kind.”
EasyJet is a British low-cost airline based at London Luton Airport. It may be of interest to note that Luton’s Labour councilor Aaysegul Gurbuz, 20, was suspended last month over claims that she called Adolf Hitler ‘the greatest man in history,’ according to the April 9, 2016 edition of the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.
Gurbuz is accused of posting a number of anti-Semitic tweets between 2011 and 2014, including one in 2013 that said ‘the Jews are so powerful in the U.S. It’s disgusting.’
Gurbuz resigned two days later.
Hana Levi Julian