A group of United Airlines pilots and flight attendants rushed to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport on Saturday afternoon to help in the evacuation of workers who were stranded in Israel following an unprecedented and deadly attack by Hamas terrorists.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents aircrew at United said its members had shown “remarkable courageousness” in helping to get passengers and fellow crew out of Israel despite the events unfolding around them.
United Airlines normally operates up to five flights a day to Tel Aviv from its bases in Chicago O’Hare, Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles and all of these crew layover in Israel for a couple of days.
The carrier had at least 50 pilots and flight attendants in Israel when the country came under rocket attack by Hamas militants in Gaza. Crew members were instructed to take cover but as soon as it was deemed safe, they “demonstrated remarkable courageousness by immediately heading to the airport as part of the evacuation process”.
One United flight to Tel Aviv was able to divert back to San Francisco on Saturday but two other flights from Newark and Washington continued flying to Israel despite the dangers.
One of the reasons behind United’s decision to keep the planes going was to be able to evacuate staff members out of the country.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines also made similar decisions with flights heading towards Tel Aviv. After Delta flight 234 from New York JFK landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Saturday afternoon, the return passenger flight was canceled and the aircraft was transformed into an evacuation shuttle for airline employees stuck in Israel.
U.S. carriers have now canceled all flights to Tel Aviv for at least the next few days, although sources say that desperate efforts were made to to alert all of their staff who were staying in Israel to get out on the last flights.
The United flight attendant union has asked for help in tracking down any other flight attendants who might still be in Israel and who may no longer have an easy route out of the country.
In a statement, AFA said: “Our top priority is the well-being of our Flight Attendants, and we have been actively extending our support to them.”
On Saturday, a spokesperson for United said that the “safety of our customers and crews is our top priority.” United has issued a travel waiver for its flights to and from Tel Aviv and the Jordanian capital Amman until October 14.
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.