Lufthansa apologizes after Jews were banned from flying

Lufthansa Airlines issued an apology this week after passengers traveling from New York to Hungary said they were unable to board a connecting flight in Germany because they were Jewish.

The airline said a “large” number of passengers were prevented from boarding on May 4, but it did not say how many people were stuck on the flight, which was from Frankfurt to Budapest. Passengers on the flight from New York estimated that more than 100 people were not allowed on their connecting flight.

Lufthansa said in an earlier statement that travelers were blocked from the flight because they violated the airline’s medical mask requirement, but passengers told The New York Times and other news outlets that the Jews had been unfairly rounded up and punished because a handful of people on the New York flight did not wear masks.

The airline acknowledged in a statement on Tuesday that passengers who wore masks on the New York flight were denied boarding. “While Lufthansa is still reviewing the facts and circumstances of the day, we regret that the large group was denied boarding rather than limiting it to non-compliant passengers,” the airline said.

Lufthansa said it would “engage” with affected passengers. “We have zero tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind,” the airline said.

A passenger on the flight from New York, Isaac Kraus, 34, said he was not allowed on the connecting flight despite wearing a mask the entire flight from New York and traveling only.

Mr. Kraus, who is a Hasidic Jew, was one of many passengers who traveled to Hungary for a pilgrimage in honor of Chief Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir, Hungary, who died in 1925. Each year, an event has place at the rabbi’s tomb on the anniversary of this death.

“We go to the grave, we light candles and say prayers,” Mr. Kraus said. “It’s a very holy and emotional thing for us.”

After landing in Frankfurt, Mr Kraus said he saw a large police presence outside the gate for his connecting flight and assumed someone was going to be arrested. People around him grew increasingly anxious because the flight had been delayed, he said, when around 10 to 15 passengers were called to board. The door closed behind them, leaving most of the passengers behind.

Dan’s Deals, a website that provides information on frequent flyer deals, reported on stranded passengers and shared a video that showed a Lufthansa employee telling the gathered crowd that they would not be allowed on the flight due to of an “operational reason” on the New York Flight. “You know why that was,” the worker said.

In another videoa person who appears to be a Lufthansa employee tells a passenger that it was the Jews flying in from New York “that were the mess, that created the problems.”

Mr Kraus said he believed some passengers were breaking the mask rule, but he and others were being unfairly targeted. “I was punished because I am also a Jew,” Mr. Kraus said.

Those who remained in Frankfurt said they had been banned from flying for 24 hours on Lufthansa and rushed to catch flights with other airlines.

Mr Kraus said a travel agent booked him a new flight on another airline to Warsaw and then Hungary.

He was seven hours late for the cemetery. He also originally planned to take a bus tour to visit 10 cemeteries in Hungary and Poland to honor other chief rabbis, but said the bus was only able to visit five due to theft issues.

Ben Weber, president of Main Street Travel in Monsey, NY, said his agency had reserved seats on the flight for 80 “ultra-Orthodox Jews,” who were “very conspicuous in their fashions.” Among them, Mr. Kraus. Mr Weber said the 80 people had been stuck on the connecting flight to Budapest and his agency had spent $50,000 to rebook their tickets on other airlines and rearrange previously scheduled bus journeys.

The Anti-Defamation League said in a press release Tuesday that because Lufthansa was a German company it “has a special responsibility to educate its staff” and criticized the company’s apology.

“This lack of an apology does not admit fault or identify the banned passengers as Jewish,” the Anti-Defamation League said.

Max Weingarten and Eli Meisels, both Orthodox Jews, were also traveling to the cemetery in Hungary and were allowed on both flights. They said they were dressed “more casually” than the other Jewish passengers, in slacks and shirts. Mr. Weingarten wore a skullcap and Mr. Meisels a baseball cap.

They said they were among the first passengers to board the plane in Frankfurt because they had first-class seats. They didn’t realize other people were stuck in the flight and were surprised when they were told boarding was complete, about two minutes after being seated.

Mr Weingarten, 36, called an acquaintance who had also traveled first class, but was not on the plane, and the man told him that gate agents had prevented Jews from boarding .

“It made us feel absolutely horrified,” Mr Weingarten said. “Obviously right away all those pictures, movies, books that we read about 1939 to 1944 jumped out and a lot of those pictures are going through our heads now.”

Mr. Meisels, 27, wore a mask the entire flight from New York. Mr Weingarten said he removed his mask for parts of the flight, although no Lufthansa employee asked him or other first-class passengers to put on a mask.

They estimated that the flight to Budapest had about 20 people on board, and that the two were the only Jewish passengers. They said people in economy class were asked to move to the back of the flight to balance the weight of the nearly empty plane, and were told they could have as many kosher meals as they wished because there were extras available on the flight. .

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