A British Airways plane with capacity for more than 300 passengers was cleared to take off from London Heathrow Airport bound for Israel on Saturday evening just as Tel Aviv was targeted with a new barrage of rockets.
Hamas terrorists fired hundreds of rockets towards Tel Aviv and northern Israel on Saturday night after a horrifying day of bloodshed that has killed hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians and injured many more.
Israel’s sophisticated ‘Iron Dome’ rocket defence system was seemingly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the attack, resulting in several direct hits across the Tel Aviv region.
At one point, passengers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport were sent running for cover on the tarmac after a ‘Red Alert’ rocket siren sounded just after their flight had landed.
One of the passengers was CNN’s International Diplomatic Editor Nic Roberston, who filmed other passengers cowering and shaking in fear amidst the sounds of rocket blasts that could be heard in the vicinity of the airport.
The highly precipitous security situation had already seen Ben Gurion Airport issue a temporary ground stop, although dozens of airlines had already temporarily pulled flights in light of the danger.
Both American and United Airlines, along with Delta Air, have cancelled their upcoming departures to Israel as internal security teams review the unfolding situation. In Europe, the likes of Lufthansa, SWISS, Brussels Airlines, Iberia KLM and Air France all followed suit.
Even Ryanair and rival ultra-low-cost carrier Wizz Air cancelled flights and diverted planes as the seriousness of what was unfolding in Israel became clearer by the hour.
Emirates successfully landed one plane in Tel Aviv earlier on Saturday but was forced to divert a later flight back to Dubai as rockets rained down on the Israeli city.
Despite the security worries, however, British Airways flight BA167 departed Heathrow with a delay of just over one hour on Saturday. The Airbus A350 aircraft took off from Heathrow just before 7 pm on Saturday and is due to arrive in Tel Aviv in the early hours of Sunday.
According to BA’s published schedule, the almost brand-new aircraft is then meant to sit on the ground in Tel Aviv for around six hours before returning to London on Sunday morning.
British Airways is believed to have operated its daily flight to Tel Aviv as scheduled because it needs to evacuate crew members who are currently sheltering in place in Israel. The airline confirmed that the pilots and cabin crew working on Saturday night’s flight would be returning to London immediately.
American Airlines and Delta are believed to have already evacuated their staff out of the country before pulling flights. Representatives from American Airlines, United and Lufthansa all told us that they were closely monitoring developments in Israel and that the safety of their customers and staff was paramount.
The British government has warned its citizens in Israel to be ‘vigilant at all times’ as the security situation is “fast-moving, tense and unpredictable”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.