Lufthansa apologizes after denying boarding to large number of Jews

(CNN) — A German airline has apologized after a large number of Jewish passengers were denied boarding earlier this month on a connecting flight at a Frankfurt airport because, according to the company, a “limited” number of them did not follow the mask rules and other crew instructions.

The passengers told CNN they flew Lufthansa from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Frankfurt, intending to connect with 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 other recognized Jewish passengers, who were not associated with his group, were told they would not be allowed to board.

Halpern said that after the gate closed, the airline announced that their tickets to Budapest had been canceled due to an incident on the flight from JFK airport, which the airline told CNN included people who did not meet the mask rules or other crew instructions.

The passengers told CNN that although they were not traveling as “a group,” Lufthansa treated them as such.

During the announcement, which was captured on video, an employee said, “You know why it was,” and passengers are heard shouting, “No, we don’t.”

Lufthansa said it is communicating with passengers and apologized “not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused and the personal impact.” A spokesperson told CNN that the airline is conducting an internal review.

Passengers accuse the airline of anti-Semitism

In a video of the incident posted on the Dan’s Deals website, passengers accused the airline and German police, who were at the gate, of anti-Semitism.

At one point, in a heated exchange, a passenger, who is not visible on camera or identified, can be heard calling a police officer a “Nazi.” Another passenger tells a police officer guarding the door, “Your grandparents would be proud.”

Halpern can be heard saying: “I’m not with the group. I understand that the pilot made a decision and we don’t question the pilot’s decision, but apparently, we are banned from the other Lufthansa flights… Is this a Lufthansa decision, that all the Jews who were on that flight cannot take any other flight today?

Halpern asks to speak to upper management and continues to question the decision.

“I wore a mask the whole time. Why am I grouped with them?” he asks the clerk.

“Everyone has to pay for a couple,” the clerk says a few seconds later.

When Halpern asks for clarification of what “everyone” means, the clerk replies, “Because he’s Jewish coming from JFK.”

Halpern and the clerk, speaking in broken English, continue to back and forth, and the clerk is then heard saying, “The Jews were the mess, the ones who created the problems.”

“So the Jews created the problems on the plane so that all Jews are banned from Lufthansa for that day?” Halpern asks.

“Only for this flight,” the employee replies.

Three passengers contacted by CNN reported seeing nothing out of the ordinary 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 that he did not witness any wrongdoing by the passengers. Schmidt said there were a few times when people ate and forgot to put their mask back on, or a passenger was told to adjust their mask, but everyone he witnessed heeded what the flight attendants said. flight.

“We were all stunned and trying to get 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 several instances of non-compliance by numerous guests with the mask requirements and safety instructions of the crew on the previous flight LH401 from New York to Frankfurt,” a spokesman for the company told CNN. airline, Tal Muscal, 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 consistent with Lufthansa’s 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 that day, we regret that the large group was denied boarding rather than limited to guests who did not comply.”

Lufthansa will adopt a neutral language to greet its passengers 0:40

Muscal said he is not aware of any disciplinary action.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told employees that what happened was not acceptable, according to a German news report confirmed by Muscal.

“Anti-Semitism has no place at Lufthansa,” Spohr said. “Last Wednesday’s procedure should not have happened like this and must now be fully clarified.”

Earlier this Wednesday, he spoke with a Jewish leader in Berlin on a video call.

“We are looking in detail (for) days how this could have happened. What exactly has happened. Various sources. We are talking to our crew members for now. We are talking about business rules. It is obvious. For that we have apologized.” Spohr told the Rabbi. “This does not conform to our standards of communication and behavior.”

“It was some kind of unacceptable selection”

At least two Jewish men were able to board the flight to Budapest.

Max Weingarten told CNN that he and his business partner flew first class from JFK to Frankfurt with no problems and were allowed to catch the next flight.

His business partner was detained while boarding but was eventually allowed on board after an argument with airline staff.

“We didn’t dress like ultra-Orthodox, we looked like normal civilians,” he told CNN. “The selection of Jews versus 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 that if the accounts turn out to be true, there must be consequences.

“Excluding Jews from a flight because they were recognizable as Jews is a scandal. I hope that German companies in particular are aware of anti-Semitism,” he tweeted.

The commissioner for Jewish life and fight against anti-Semitism of the German state of Hesse, Uwe Becker, demanded an apology and clarification from Lufthansa.

“Here, obviously, a whole group of people were held responsible for something that obviously only affected individual travelers, solely because of their recognizable faith. This is discriminatory and not a trivial matter,” he said.

CNN’s Caroll Alvarado, Christopher Stern, Liam Reilly, Nicki Brown and Alexandra Field contributed to this report.