Ground crew at the international airport in Belgrade, Serbia last week caused an uproar when they made a final call for an Air Serbia flight to Tel Aviv by urging passengers to board their flight to “Palestine.”
Israeli passengers refused to board until the ground crew retracted and corrected the call.
“Suddenly, the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker: ‘Passengers on flight 816 to Palestine should proceed to gate C3.’ And she made the announcement twice,” said one of the Israelis. “I couldn’t believe my ears. I asked several people if I heard the announcement correctly. Myself and another Israeli passenger approached the counter and insisted they announce the flight to Israel, not Palestine.”
The managing attendant insisted that the flight was to Tel Aviv, not Israel.
“I told her that it was also not a flight to Palestine, and insisted that the announcement be amended, otherwise we would not board a flight to ‘Palestine,’” the passenger continued.
After heated debate with colleagues, the manager eventually announced the flight to Tel Aviv, and apologies were offered to the Israelis.
Israel Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called the incident “very disturbing. He promised to bring the issue to the Serbian authorities and Air Serbia, adding that ”it’s inconceivable that an airport employee with a microphone can try and change reality in such a defiant and false manner."
Israel’s ambassador to Serbia, Alona Fisher-Kamm, later contacted the CEO of Air Serbia, who reportedly expressed shock and dismay over the incident.
“This political position doesn’t reflect the company’s position,” he insisted, while apologizing profusely to Fisher-Kamm.
The following day, an investigation by Air Serbia found that it was an airport employee, and not an employee of the airline, that had made the offending announcement. Air Serbia has demanded that airport officials in Belgrade discipline the employee for damaging the airline’s reputation.