A disagreement over duty-free chocolate between a passenger and a flight attendant on a recent Israir flight to Varna, in Bulgaria, came close to degenerating into physical violence and led to the questioning of a group of passengers by the authorities in Bulgaria.
Even before the flight departed, the rowdy behavior of the passengershad brought them to the attention of airline officials at Ben-Gurion Airport.
A security officer on the flight declined to intervene in the argument because it was not a security incident.
The cause of the argument is not clear from a video filmed by one of the passengers. A woman passenger is seen standing and shouting coarsely at the flight attendant with the duty free cart, who is serving another passenger.
Two other passengers, a woman and a man, then enter the argument, with the man getting out of his seat and threatening violence against the flight attendant.
"You work for me," shouted the first woman. "I paid for the flight and I want chocolate. Another passenger, reportedly her sister, chimed in with "sell her the chocolate, you piece of rubbish. What, is she an Arab?"
When the attendant threatened to have them removed from the plane, the first woman's husband responded, "I don't give a fuck for you or Varna."
The group was freed after questioning and is due to return to Israel tonight. The airline considered not allowing them to board the return flight, but decided that they had no legal reason to do so. Israir said it would take additional measures against them.
"Passenger violence against cabin crew is growing," Israir said in a statement following the incident. "Israir is doing and will continue to do everything to ensure a high level of security and safety, by enforcing defined protocols in such cases."
Two prominent lawyers who deal with aviation law told Haaretz that the behavior of the unruly passengers could cost them between one and five years' imprisonment, if convicted by a court.
"Aviation law holds that every person in an aircraft has to obey the instructions of the captain or a crew member designated by him in the interests of the security and safety of the craft, the passengers, the crew and the baggage," said Ron Gant and Gadi Elbaz.
Regarding the possibility of legal action against the passengers, the lawyers said that the law provides for between one and five years' imprisonment in cases of failure to behave appropriately and obey the instructions of the captain – "if it is determined that the person acted in a manner that was liable to endanger the security of the aircraft."
Gant and Elbaz, both of whom have acted as legal advisers to the Pilots' Union and the Civil Aviation Authority, added that "this sort of incident is not rare, but the authorities usually refrain from taking legal action due to the difficulty of proving the behavior of the passengers.
"In this case, with everything having been documented, we hope that the authorities will use the legal option and send a clear message. If it becomes known that violent behavior in the air will end with legal proceedings, it's possible we'll see behavioral changes."
As one Facebook user wrote in response to the video, "flight attendants from foreign airlines call the flight to Tel Aviv – Hell Aviv. I wonder why?"
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