Two passengers with Israeli documents – Arabs according to Israeli media – left an Aegean Airlines flight after other Israelis protested about their presence, the company said Tuesday.
"An initially small group of passengers very vocally and persistently asked for two other Israeli passengers to be checked for security issues," Aegean said in a statement.
The incident occurred on Sunday night, delaying the flight to Tel Aviv by over 90 minutes.
Israeli media identified the two as an Israeli Arab and a Palestinian, saying the protesting passengers were Jewish. The company said only that one of the men held an Israeli passport while the other had a valid Israeli residence permit, without discussing their ethnicity.
"While it is indeed unfortunate that they were possibly racially profiling the customers, indeed their fellow Israelis…safety must be first," the company said.
By the time the police arrived to check the two passengers’ passports, finding nothing suspicious, the outcry had spread.
"It started with 3-4 people and by the end there were 60-70 people standing up, demanding that the pair disembark," a company spokesperson said.
"The pilot said anyone who does not feel safe to fly should disembark, and would not be compensated."
"But by that stage, the two men were in a poor state and wanted to leave themselves," the spokesperson added.
Aegean said it had offered the two men overnight stay and transport on Tuesday.
They were compensated for the incident and flew to Israel on an El Al flight on Monday.
"We thank again the two Israeli passengers that agreed to disembark for their understanding and collaboration and we apologize for the whole episode which was indeed extremely unfortunate" Aegean said.
Arab Israelis are those who remained in the Jewish state after its 1948 creation, as well as their descendants. They account for more than 17 percent of the country’s population and have full rights under law.
Palestinians, however, live outside of formerly recognised Israel, with over 300,000 in occupied east Jerusalem – the majority of whom have Israeli residence permits. [AFP]