Frankfurt — 80 Israelis were stranded in Frankfurt airport Tuesday evening after a rescue flight which was due to bring them back to Israel left with only half of the 160 passengers who had intended to depart. The flight was due to depart at 6 PM but just 45 minutes beforehand, Lufthansa informed the passengers that the Israeli government had changed its requirements.
The aircraft closed the gates at 6:30 PM after 80 passengers had succeeded in boarding and removed the luggage of those who remained behind, leaving them to fend for themselves in the airport with very limited food and supplies, and no information about their next move. Lufthansa provided them with thin blankets but did not provide food or accommodation.
It was unclear to the passengers why they had been left behind. The Israeli government recently changed its regulations in an effort to prevent infections from abroad and only permits 200 people to enter the country daily, but these passengers had allegedly been included in the numbers.
“Every 20 minutes we got a new story,” Alana Ruben, one of those stranded, told the Jerusalem Post.
The first theory was that Ben-Gurion Airport insisted that they arrive in Israel by midnight, leaving less than enough time to check everyone in. Another rumor circulating was that the German government was the one keeping them on the ground.
The third, which was supplied by a Lufthansa staff supervisor, is that once they had already begun to check everyone in, the check-in staff got bombarded by all the bureaucratic forms the passengers presented.
“Lufthansa couldn’t handle all the complications the Israeli government was throwing at them – it just wasn’t fair,” Ruben said. Most passengers assumed they needed two forms: permission from the Israeli government to fly, and a negative COVID-19 test. However this was not enough. They were told they needed to present a health declaration form which was in Hebrew without English translation, delaying them even longer.
Additionally, Lufthansa said that it had enough staff to process 360 passengers, but Ruben claimed that there were only two people processing the paperwork.
“The Israeli government demanded too much; they just didn’t have enough time,” Ruben said.
After being told that they wouldn’t be able to board, passengers were looking at flights on Friday, Saturday – or even Sunday and Monday – with no option to leave the airport until then, meaning that the travelers would not make it to Israel in time for Purim. Eventually however a flight was organized for Wednesday evening- a full day after they had been stranded in the airport.
Some passengers slept on the floor but an elderly couple discovered a pay-by-the-hour room service called iCloud. Ruben followed them and ended up sleeping on a regular bed for over €200 for the night. About 10 other people did that as well.
“I’m praying that someone in Israel will take mercy on us and get us on a plane,” Ruben said on Tuesday. “I hold them responsible.”
Chabad emissaries in Frankfurt heard about the plight of the stranded passengers and received special permission to bring food and drinks for them.