Lufthansa apologizes after Jews were prevented from flying

Lufthansa Airlines apologized this week after passengers traveling from New York City to Hungary said they were prevented from boarding 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 did not specify how many people were prevented from the flight, which was from Frankfurt to Budapest. Passengers on the flight from New York estimated that no more than 100 people were allowed on their connecting flight.

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

The airline acknowledged 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 limited 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.

One passenger on the flight from New York, Isaac Kraus, 34, said he was not allowed on the connecting flight even though he wore a mask the entire flight from New York and was traveling alone.

Mr. Kraus, who is a Hasidic Jew, was one of many passengers who flew to Hungary for a pilgrimage in honor of Chief Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir, Hungary, who died in 1925. Every year, an event is held in the rabbi’s grave on the anniversary of this death.

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

After landing in Frankfurt, Kraus said he saw a large police presence outside the gate of his connecting flight and assumed someone was going to be arrested. People around him grew increasingly anxious that the flight was delayed, he said, as he was called to board about 10 to 15 passengers. 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 the blocked passengers, sharing a video showing a Lufthansa worker telling the assembled crowd that they would not be allowed on the flight due to “an operational reason.” ” on the New York Flight. “You know why it was,” the worker said.

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

Kraus said he believed some passengers did not abide by the mask rule, but that he and others were unfairly targeted. “I was punished because I am also Jewish,” Kraus said.

Those who stayed in Frankfurt said they had faced a 24-hour ban on flying on Lufthansa and rushed to other airlines.

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

He arrived seven hours late at the cemetery. He was also originally scheduled to take a bus tour to visit 10 cemeteries in Hungary and Poland to honor other great rabbis, but he said the bus could only visit five due to flight problems.

Ben Weber, president of Main Street Travel in Monsey, New York, said his agency had booked seats on the flight for 80 “ultra-Orthodox Jews” who were “highly visible in their dress.” They included Mr. Kraus. Weber said the 80 were blocked from connecting flights to Budapest and his agency spent $50,000 rebooking their tickets on other airlines and rearranging previously scheduled bus trips.

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

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

Max Weingarten and Eli Meisels, both Orthodox Jews, were also traveling to the cemetery in Hungary and were allowed to travel on both flights. They said they were dressed “more casually” than other Jewish passengers, in pants and shirts. Mr. Weingarten wore a skullcap and Mr. Meisels wore 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 being blocked from the flight and were surprised when they were told boarding was complete, about two minutes after sitting down.

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

“That made us feel absolutely horrified,” Weingarten said. “Obviously right away, all these images, movies, books that we read between 1939 and 1944 jumped out and a lot of these images are now going through our heads.”

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

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

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