At the Serbian airport: 'Flight to Palestine leaving from gate C3'
Israelis waiting to return home from Belgrade were shocked to hear during a gate announcement that their flight was to Palestine; after complaining, the Israelis were told that Tel Aviv is not, in fact, in Israel; the head of Air Serbia 'sincerely apologized.'
The incident, which occurred on August 29 ahead of Air Serbia's JUO 816 night flight from Belgrade to Tel Aviv, created uproar at the airport, with Israeli passengers refusing to get on the plane until the correct announcement was made. The airline representatives explained to passengers that "the flight is to Tel Aviv, not to Israel."
One of the Israeli passengers recounted the incident: "To our surprise, one of the airport employees asked over the PA system that 'passengers for flight 816 with service to Palestine please come to gate C3.' She repeated this several times."
"I couldn't hold back when I heard it. At first I thought that I didn’t hear the announcement correctly, and I asked a few other people if they heard them say 'Palestine' over the PA system," he continued.
The passenger approached the airline's desk at the gate. "I was joined by a man from Rosh Pina. I asked them to announce that the flight was going to Israel and not to Palestine," he said.
The manager responded that the flight was to Tel Aviv, not Israel.
"I told her that the flight was also not to 'Palestine' and requested they announce that the flight was going to Israel or even Tel Aviv. We told them they need to announce it three times, and told them that we would refuse to board the plane otherwise," he said.
"After the staff discussed the matter amongst themselves in Serbian, they indeed announced that the flight was going to Tel Aviv three times. The manager of the desk personally took us to gate C3 and apologized to us several times."
The Israeli passenger issued a complaint to the Israeli Embassy in Serbia after the incident.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Emanuel Nachshon said that "this is a very disturbing incident, which requires an investigation with the relevant authorities and the airline. It's inconceivable that an airport employee with a microphone can try and change reality in such a defiant and false manner. The Israeli Embassy in Serbia will deal with this issue, making it a high priority."
Israeli Ambassador to Serbia Alona Fisher-Kamm spoke to the CEO of Air Serbia and, according to her, he expressed shock at the incident. The CEO even noted that this is the first time such an incident occurs, and that he considered it to be completely unacceptable.
He said that the airline's employees were not allowed to openly express a political position while wearing an Air Serbia uniform. "This political position doesn’t reflect the company's position," he added.
The CEO profusely apologized, promising that the issue would be dealt with immediately to ensure it would not happen again.
An internal investigation found that it was an airport worker who made the offending announcement, and not one of the airline's employees. Air Serbia has asked the airport to find the worker and discipline her due to the damage she caused to the airline.
Last week, the Czech Republic decided to list the capital of Israel was Tel Aviv, and not Jerusalem in an atlas used in schools.