The passengers told CNN they flew Lufthansa from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Frankfurt, intending to connect to a flight to Budapest for a religious pilgrimage on March 4.
Yitzy Halpern from New York said he was trying to board the flight when he and a number of other passengers recognizably Jewish, who were not associated with his group, were told they would not be allowed to board.
Halpern said that after the door closed, the airline announced that its tickets to Budapest had been canceled due to an incident on JFK’s flight, which the airline told CNN included people who do not respect the rules of the mask or other instructions of the crew members.
The passengers told CNN that although they were not traveling in a “group”, they were treated as such by Lufthansa.
During the announcement, which was videotaped, an employee said, “You know why that was,” and passengers responded by shouting, “No, we don’t.”
Lufthansa said it was contacting passengers and apologized “not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused and the personal impact”. A spokesperson told CNN the airline is conducting an internal review.
Passengers accuse airline of anti-Semitism
In a video of the incident, posted on the Dan’s Deals website, passengers accuse the airline and German police, who were at the gate, of anti-Semitism.
At one point during a heated exchange, a passenger who is not visible to the camera or identified can be heard calling a policeman a “Nazi”. Another passenger said to a policeman guarding the door: “Your grandparents would be proud.
Halpern is heard saying: “I’m not with the group. I understand the pilot made a decision and we don’t question the pilot’s decision but apparently we’re banned from further Lufthansa flights…Is that a Lufthansa decision, that all the Jews who were on this flight cannot take another flight today?”
Halpern asks to speak to senior management and continues to question the decision.
“I wore a mask the whole time. Why am I grouped with them?” he asks the employee.
“Everyone has to pay for a couple,” the employee says seconds later.
When Halpern asks for clarification on what “everyone” means, the employee replies, “Because it’s Jewish coming from JFK.”
Halpern and the clerk, who speaks broken English, continue to come and go, then the clerk is heard saying, “The Jews were the mess, who created the problems.
“So the Jews on the plane created the problems so that all Jews were banned from Lufthansa for the day?” asks Halpern.
“Just for this flight,” the employee replies.
Three passengers contacted by CNN said they saw nothing unusual on the flight from JFK and said the passengers they saw complied with instructions from airline staff to adjust their masks.
Yitzy Schmidt, who was traveling with Halpern, told CNN he did not witness any wrongdoing by the passengers. Schmidt said there have been a few times when people ate and forgot to put their mask back on, or a passenger was asked to adjust their mask, but everyone he witnessed complied with what the flight attendants said.
“We were all stunned and trying to get some clarification on how something like this could happen,” Schmidt said.
Lufthansa apologizes, says decision was based on ‘non-compliance’
“The reasoning for the decision was based on various instances of numerous guests’ non-compliance with mask requirements and crew safety instructions on the previous LH401 flight from New York to Frankfurt,” the spokesperson said. airline company Tal Muscal to CNN in a statement. “Lufthansa regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight, for which Lufthansa sincerely apologizes.”
“What happened is not in line with Lufthansa policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind,” Muscal said. “While Lufthansa is still reviewing the facts and circumstances of this day, we regret that the large group was denied boarding rather than limiting it to non-compliant passengers.”
Muscal said he was not aware of any disciplinary action.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told employees what happened was not acceptable, according to a German report confirmed by Muscal.
“Anti-Semitism has no place at Lufthansa,” Spohr said. “Last Wednesday’s proceedings should not have gone like this and must now be fully clarified.”
Earlier Wednesday, he spoke with a Jewish leader in Berlin over a video call.
“We are analyzing in detail (for) days how this could have happened. What exactly happened. Various sources. We have spoken to our crew members to date. We have spoken to the company at ground. It’s obvious. Spohr told the rabbi. “It’s nowhere in line with our rules of communication and our rules of behavior.”
“It was a kind of unacceptable selection”
At least two Jewish men were allowed to board the flight to Budapest.
Max Weingarten told CNN he and his business partner flew first class from JFK to Frankfurt with no problem and were cleared to board the next flight.
His business partner was detained upon boarding but eventually allowed to board after a discussion with airline staff.
“We didn’t dress like ultra-Orthodox, we looked like regular civilians,” he told CNN. “The selection of Jews against non-Jews or the selection between Jews is horrible. It was a kind of unacceptable selection that was made. I felt completely uncomfortable.”
German politician Marlene Schönberger said if the stories turn out to be true, there must be consequences.
“Excluding Jews from a flight because they were recognizably Jewish is outrageous. I expect German companies in particular to be aware of anti-Semitism,” she tweeted.
The commissioner for Jewish life and the fight against anti-Semitism of the German state of Hesse, Uwe Becker, demanded an apology and clarification from Lufthansa.
“Here, an entire group of people have obviously been blamed for something that obviously only affected individual travellers, just because of their recognizable faith. It’s discriminatory and not a trivial matter,” he said. declared.
CNN’s Caroll Alvarado, Christopher Stern, Liam Reilly, Nicki Brown and Alexandra Field contributed to this report.