Did an overly cautious pilot take security concerns to new heights? Or did a fuming Israeli official fly off the handle when the pilotís concerns were not addressed quickly enough?
What is clear is that the official, Alon Pinkas, Israel’s consul general in New York, and his wife did not fly home from San Francisco last week on National Airlines, as originally scheduled. Although Pinkas refused through a spokesman to discuss the incident Monday, he told Israel-based reporters Sunday that the pilot would not allow him on the plane.
"I don’t want to take … a high-profile dignitary on my plane," Pinkas quoted the pilot as saying.
Another report said Pinkas remembers the pilot as saying he feared the couple’s presence might endanger other passengers.
But a spokesman for National, Dik Shimizu, said the pilot had agreed to allow the couple on the plane once a "communications breakdown" was resolved. He said the pilot, whom he declined to identify, had not been informed in advance that Pinkas would be on the plane, and sought clarification when a ticket agent asked if it was OK for the "Israeli delegation" to pre-board. Shimizu said Pinkas was flying first-class and his wife coach. He did not know of any other members of the delegation.
Shimizu said that once the airline’s station manager was called over to explain the situation, the pilot permitted the couple to board. But he said at that point, Pinkas refused and the airline arranged for the couple to take a Continental flight one hour later. Shimizu said that in interviews with the station manager and others, no one said the pilot expressed concern that the couple’s presence presented a security risk for other passengers.
A spokesman for Pinkas in New York said the consul general was unaware that special boarding arrangements had been made on his behalf and that he was "not aware of the deliberations [at the airport] until they were brought to his attention."
The Israeli Consulate in New York confirmed that Pinkas filed a complaint with the State Department about the incident. Shimizu said National Airlines was conducting a full inquiry and would send the couple a letter of apology "telling them what we found so far."
"There was a communications breakdown on our behalf," he said.