The German airline Lufthansa has apologized for an incident last week in which more than 100 Orthodox Jews traveling in separate groups were collectively prevented from boarding a connecting flight in Frankfurt, following a dispute over masking regulations on the first leg of the journey from New York.
However, Lufthansa could still face legal consequences after a prominent advocate for the Jewish community accused the airline of violating German laws on equal treatment.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Lufthansa offered an apology “to all the passengers unable to travel on this flight, not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused and personal impact.”
The 127 Jewish passengers were not allowed to board their connecting flight to Budapest as a result of the reported refusal of some of them to wear masks on the plane from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Frankfurt.
In one video taken by a passenger, shared in a report by the travel website Dan’s Deals, a Lufthansa agent at the departure gate in Frankfurt admits that Jews had been banned from the flight to the Hungarian capital. When the passenger expressed his shock, the agent responded: “If you want to do it like this, Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”
Other videos posted to social media by the distressed passengers included disturbing scenes of armed German police officers angrily confronting Jewish travelers after one of their number was called a “Nazi” — a criminal offense under German law.
The Lufthansa statement said that the decision to prevent the Jewish passengers from boarding their connecting flight to Budapest “was based upon various instances of non-compliance by numerous guests with mask requirements and crew-safety instructions on the previous flight LH401 from New York to Frankfurt.”
However, the airline said it regretted “that the large group was denied boarding rather than limiting it to the non-compliant guests.”
The statement concluded with a reassurance that “what transpired is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, antisemitism and discrimination of any type.” The airline said it would “be engaging with the affected passengers to better understand their concerns and openly discuss how we may improve our customer service.”
The statement did not mention the possibility of compensation for the affected passengers or what, if any, disciplinary action would be taken against the Lufthansa staff alleged to have engaged in discriminatory behavior. Neither did the statement acknowledge that several passengers had actively contested the airline’s account of the masking disputes on the first leg of the journey from New York.
“This is an outright lie,” one Jewish passenger, Yitzy Halpern, posted on Twitter. “I was on the flight and wore a mask the whole time like most ppl. You banned me and my daughter from all flights for the day cuz I am a Jew & u were upset at a few Jews. Shameful to categorize ppl based on religion and race. I thought we were past that.”
Meanwhile, the German federal government’s anti-discrimination office has been urged to investigate the incident as a possible violation of the General Act on Equal Treatment that was approved by the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, in 2014.
A letter from Volker Beck — a former MP who works extensively on antisemitism-related issues in Germany — to the anti-discrimination office stated that the Jewish passengers prevented from boarding their flight should be compensated for having been subjected to “unjustified discrimination according to our equal treatment law.”