German airline Lufthansa denied Jewish passengers to board a flight from Germany to Hungary last week after two passengers in Orthodox Jewish apparel refused to put on a coronavirus mask.
The passengers, all ultra-Orthodox Jewish U.S. citizens who were on their way to the gravesite of a noted scholar in Hungary, accuse the German airline of "antisemitic discrimination" after banning many of them from boarding the connecting flight despite claiming they committed no wrongdoing.
Footage from the airport in Frankfurt, in which Lufthansa staff members confess to the collective punishment, surfaced online on Monday and caused a stir in the Jewish world, with some demanding that the airline take responsibility for the incident and take action against those responsible.
The unusual incident occurred last week when thousands of Jews sought to ascend to the grave of Rabbi Yeshayah Steiner of Kerestir in Hungary for the anniversary of his death.
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men arrived on a flight from the United States to Germany, and from there planned to fly to Hungary to visit the scholar's grave. But two passengers refused to wear masks, arguing that American airlines do not require wearing a mask on flights.
The German airline Lufthansa requires wearing surgical masks or N95 masks on flights, and staff handed out masks to passengers who did not have face coverings or plain cloth masks at the time of boarding.
Passenger Nachman Kahana told Hamodia that “one or two people” on the flight did not wear masks, and there was an issue over it with “one of the stewards.”
At that point, the Lufthansa agents began boarding just the non-Jewish passengers and when only Jewish passengers remained at the gate, an official announced the flight was canceled for all remaining passengers "due to operational reasons coming from the flight from New York."
“They explicitly said that nobody who is dressed alike on that plane is going to board the Lufthansa plane to Budapest," Kahane said. “They banned us because we are Jews. That’s the only reason.”
Another passenger named Max Weingarten said he managed to get on the plane because he was wearing a black polo shirt and did not look like most of the Hasidic Jews on the flight.
He said he did not wear a mask on the flight from JFK Airport in New York to Frankfurt, as the flight attendant was also not wearing a mask, and there was zero enforcement on the flight.
An ultra-Orthodox passenger said he managed to board the connecting flight because he was not dressed in Hasidic attire and that the flight to Hungary had only a total of five passengers in the business class and about 12-15 others in the first class.
After boarding, the captain announced the end of boarding, the doors closed, and the plane moved away from the gate faster than "I had seen a plane do in my lifetime," he said. After moving away from the terminal, the plane waited a few minutes before takeoff. The plane was supposed to carry up to 192 passengers but took off with no more than 20.
Footage from the incident shows ultra-Orthodox passengers arguing with Lufthansa agents and local police officers who arrived at the scene, some hurling expletives. Following the incident, the group was forced to split up and travel to Budapest with other airlines via Poland, Slovakia or Austria.
Weingarten told DansDeals he felt sickened to his stomach about the scene and felt like he was in a scene out of World War II, with Jews being openly discriminated against. He flew back through Frankfurt that evening for his return flight and had to spend the night there before flying Singapore Airlines nonstop from Frankfurt to JFK the next morning, but it felt nauseating for him to be in Frankfurt after the day’s events. He plans on boycotting the airline in the future and would like to see others do the same.
Shortly after the flight took off with only 20 people on board, the passengers were told they were banned from flying Lufthansa for 24 hours, and it would not be possible to rebook their tickets.
Following the incident, many passengers had to shell out hundreds of extra dollars, and some gave up on the trip altogether.
The airline said that the incident came following the previous LH401 flight from New York to Frankfurt, where some of the passengers who had a planned follow-up trip to Budapest refused to wear masks - even after being asked to do so by the crew. It further stated that it was looking into the events.