El Al Pilots Fall Ill, Leave Passengers Stranded for 5 Hours

Airline apparently knew pilots had called in sick 10 hours before flight but did not inform passengers before they arrived at airport.

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Passengers on an El Al flight to Saint Petersburg were stuck at Ben-Gurion International Airport for five hours last Saturday, after the two pilots called in sick.

The flight, with its 150 passengers, eventually took off at 6 A.M, with replacement pilots. It had been scheduled to leave at 1 A.M.

The Saint Petersburg route is staffed by two teams of two pilots each, with each time flying one direction. The shift each way is more than 12 hours long, including waiting time at the destination.

“El Al undertook great efforts to staff the flight in accordance with the original flight schedule and for this reason the passengers were handled at the airport,” El Al said in a statement.

However, the El Al pilots’ representative laid blame for the incident on the company.

“El Al had enough time to find replacements for the pilots, who informed it that they could not work on the flight to St. Petersburg,” said pilots’ representative Nir Zuk about the incident. “I am not certain about the specific hours, but I can say with confidence that the pilots informed [the airline] 10 hours before the planned takeoff of their illness.”

Zuk said El Al could have requested that standby pilots who are always present fill in for the sick pilots, but it chose not to do so.

Passengers waiting to check in at Ben-Gurion International Airport.Credit: David Bachar

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