Almost ten million Israelis are expected to travel via Ben Gurion Airport this summer, a 10% increase compared to the previous summer. While they anticipate blue seas, refreshing spritzes and a parallel universe with less humidity and political chaos, the flight attendants serving them coffee and asking them to prepare for landing are already bracing themselves.
"Israelis act as if they own the plane, the attendant and even the pilot. If they've bought a ticket, they believe they've bought everything," says a former flight attendant.
The 2015 flight to Bulgaria, nicknamed "The Chocolate Flight," where a passenger became violent over a duty-free Toblerone, didn't surprise any attendants we spoke to. Just last month, nine Israelis were detained in Istanbul for allegedly harassing a flight attendant, and, sadly, this trend seems to persist.
"When the 'Chocolate Flight' video surfaced, everyone was shocked, but among us flight attendants, we just laughed it off," says one attendant when asked to recount her own 'Chocolate Flight' experiences.
"This happens all the time. It just happened to be recorded and went viral this time, turning into a joke. But attendants experience these things constantly. A flight involves prolonged interactions with passengers, many of whom arrive already irritated due to the long queues. Then, because of the smallest inconvenience on the plane, they vent all their frustrations on you. There's no escape; you're stuck on that aircraft, in that flying tube, for hours. Passengers become like little children, completely dependent on you. If you don't provide something they need or want, they'll make your life miserable."
R., a flight attendant in 2018-2019, shares a distressing encounter, "On a flight to New York, I exited the crew's rest area. In the last row, closest to the compartment, there was a religious young man. He was watching a movie with Gal Gadot on the screens and openly touched himself in full view of everyone. It's even embarrassing for me to recount.
The first thing I saw when I came out of the rest area was him with his pants and underwear down. I quickly alerted another flight attendant working with me, and we hurriedly moved away. I know such behavior is public indecency, but I didn't want to engage with the situation and wasn't sure what to do. Both of us were in shock. When we returned a few minutes later, he had stopped. I never reported the incident officially to the airline. I only shared it with my family."
"On another flight to Lisbon, aboard a small and crowded plane, there was a young Israeli woman who requested a vegetarian meal, even though she hadn't pre-ordered one. Usually, when we have extra meals, we accommodate such requests, but this time, we didn't have a spare vegetarian option to give her. We informed her that we couldn't provide her with a vegetarian meal.
Later, as I was passing with the food cart to serve meals, she deliberately elbowed me hard in the ribs. It really hurt. I turned to her and said, 'What do you think you're doing?' I went to the in-flight service manager and reported the incident. He backed me up, approached the woman and told her he could have police waiting for her upon landing in Israel since she had been violent toward a crew member.
He then gave me a choice: I could decide whether to have the police involved or if we could resolve it onboard with her offering an apology.
"I chose the apology. She came over and barely muttered 'sorry', not even offering an explanation. I was shaken for the rest of the flight. But that's the way it is. People, the moment they step on a plane, seem to flip a switch in their minds. They become impatient, irritable and feel entitled. Boundaries seem to disappear. This is especially true for Israelis flying with Israeli airlines. They act as if they've purchased the flight attendant along with their ticket, and something about the confines of the plane makes them drop all inhibitions.
It's not even related to traveling alone, because even those traveling with friends can behave this way. As a flight attendant, these are things you come to terms with; the realization that you have to be patient with those who show no patience toward you."
J, a flight attendant in 2020, "It was a flight to Bucharest. Those flights typically have a lot of guys, usually heading to bachelor parties — large groups of men. There was one man who audaciously slipped a 100-euro bill into the pocket of my uniform. What bothered me the most was that he really touched me, trying to shove the money deep into the pocket. I immediately reported it to the in-flight service manager.
From that point on, I avoided approaching that individual even though he consistently tried to engage me, complimenting my looks and saying, 'You deserve this for the good job you're doing.'"
“There was also an incident on a night flight from New York. As we began to collect the distributed meals, someone asked me for a glass of cola. I was in the midst of gathering trays and said, ‘No problem, please wait until we finish and I'll happily get you a glass of cola.’
“He grew impatient after five minutes from his request and, just before I entered the kitchen, he aggressively threw his food tray at me. Everything, along with the leftovers, spilled on me. It stunned me; I couldn't believe it was happening. I stood there, frozen in shock, feeling humiliated and embarrassed by another person's behavior.
“I can't recall how the situation was handled or if the service manager spoke with him. In a just world, more attention should be paid to such behavior; it shouldn't be brushed aside. But as an individual, I try not to be overly dramatic and not to dwell on such matters.
It's hard for me to say how it affected me. I think flight attendants have a strong mechanism that when you're on the plane, you just function, think about your stay abroad, and forget. Every flight, you tell yourself, "It's okay, these are new people, including the crew." Everything is constantly changing, so you start each flight afresh and push away any unpleasant memories from the previous one. There's no predictability in how a flight will unfold for you."
L., flight attendant from 2012-2018, "On a flight to New York, a group of ultra-Orthodox men stood to pray in the back part of the plane. It was very crowded, making it difficult for us to serve and distribute breakfast to passengers.
“Another flight attendant and I navigated through them with the cart; there was no other way, and you inevitably brush against them. As we moved through, one of them slipped his hand under my dress and touched me inappropriately. It lasted a few seconds – but it felt like an eternity.
They were so tightly packed, a sea of people, that I couldn't even identify who it was. When I reported it to the flight manager, he said, 'That's how it is on these flights; there's nothing to be done’."
"On a flight to Bucharest, a typically unpleasant one with men either on bachelor parties or off to gamble, I leaned down to the cart to lift a food tray when a young man slapped my behind and laughed. On this specific occasion, the flight manager witnessed the incident and confronted him. He informed the pilot, who then arranged for police to meet the individual in Bucharest. I'm unsure of the aftermath, but I know they didn't let it slide. It was one of my earliest flights, so I distinctly remember the incident.
“Another case involved outright violence. On a flight to Moscow, we noticed while still on the ground that a passenger was already intoxicated. During the flight, he consumed more alcohol and became aggressive. It was a nighttime flight, and I was alone in the rear kitchen. He approached and came close, demanding more drinks. I refused, but he cornered me and there was nowhere to go.
“Fortunately, another flight attendant came to my rescue, leading to a physical altercation. Again, we alerted the pilots, and when we landed, the police were summoned. By the time we touched down, he was utterly out of control and they had to physically remove him from the plane and put him into a police vehicle.
“The ground crew was at fault for allowing him to board in that state, as was the purser for not stopping him as he entered the plane. This incident resulted in a two-hour flight delay, as it required police statements and waiting for authorities to remove him upon landing, not to mention writing a report. I recall even the pilots were furious."