About a half dozen El Al flights between Israel and the United States were cancelled in recent days by the winds and waves of Hurricane Sandy, which made flying and taking off and landing precarious. The El Al flights, among hundreds of domestic and international ones that became victims of one of the most damaging storms to reach the Northeast, were a minor news story – of special interest mainly to Jewish travelers.
One El Al flight that did make it into the air, LY 007 on Nov. 5 between Ben-Gurion Airport and JFK Airport, hardly made the news – it arrived here, 13 hours late, via an unplanned layover in Shannon, Ireland.
That flight landed at Shannon after passengers noticed smoke in the cabin about six hours into the flight, over London.
El Al did not give an official cause for the smoke, beyond “technical” problems on the Boeing 747 jet. The more than 300 passengers were in no danger, the airline said, but, to be safe, the pilot turned off the electrical system – the entertainment and air conditioning – and made an emergency landing at Shannon.
On board, there was no panic. “They did a great job,” Dor Pearl, a passenger on the flight, told Israel’s Channel 2 news. “The flight attendants were calm the whole time, they patiently answered all the passengers’ questions and took care of what we needed after landing.”
On the ground at Shannon, after a few hours on the tarmac, El Al sent the passengers by bus or van to local hotels in the area, where the travelers spent the next nearly six hours, kosher passengers accompanied by their kosher meals from the jet, while the airline determined the cause of the smoke and sent another plane, a new crew and a full staff of security personnel from Israel.
I heard a firsthand report on all this from a friend, Hali Weiss, a Manhattan architect who was retuning on flight 007 from a friend’s wedding in Israel.
Hali’s been flying to Israel for nearly four decades, sometimes on El Al, sometimes on other airlines.
This week made her a convert. Like other frequent flyers, she knows El Al’s reputation: efficient but gruff, little coddling but great security. Like Israel itself. This week, Hali told me, she saw another side of the airline. She witnessed, she told, a textbook performance of how to act under stress – though, she says, none of the flight attendants, schooled in preparation for such possible possibly dangerous events on board, showed any sign of stress. Just another landing.
From the time a steward first removed her foot pillow, a safety precaution as the unscheduled arrival in Ireland loomed, until she and her fellow passengers were bussed back from their hotels to the Shannon airport, boarding passes and vouchers for snacks in the lounge awaiting them, El Al acted “so professional, so calm,” Hali says. Never any sense of panic. “Such grace under pressure.”
“We are trained to save lives,” an Israeli pilot sitting next to her explained.
“It reiterated the value that Israelis put on human life,” no matter the financial cost, “more than anything else,” she says
Hali plans to go back to Israel in six months. Her airline of choice in the future is clear. “I’m just flying El Al.”