Lufthansa Airlines apologized this week after passengers traveling from New York City to Hungary said they were blocked from boarding a connecting flight in Germany because they were Jewish.
The airline said a “large” number of passengers were barred from boarding on May 4, but did not specify how many people were blocked from the flight from Frankfurt to Budapest. Passengers on the flight from New York estimated that more than 100 people were not allowed on the connecting flight.
Lufthansa said in a previous statement that travelers had been blocked from the flight because they violated the airline’s medical mask requirement, but the passengers told the New York Times and other media outlets that the Jews had been unjustly grouped and punished because a handful of people on the flight from New York wore no masks.
The airline admitted a statement Tuesday that passengers wearing masks on the New York flight were denied boarding. “While Lufthansa is still examining the facts and circumstances of the day, we regret that the large group was denied boarding rather than restricting it to non-compliant guests,” the airline said.
Lufthansa said it would “engage” with affected passengers. “We have zero tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind,” the airline said.
A passenger on the New York flight, Isaac Kraus, 34, said he was not allowed to take the connecting flight even though he wore a mask on the entire flight from New York and was traveling alone.
Mr. Kraus, who is a Hasidic Jew, was one of many passengers who flew to Hungary on a pilgrimage in honor of the Grand Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir, Hungary, who died in 1925. An event is held annually at the tomb of the rabbi on the anniversary of this death.
“Let’s go to the tomb, light candles and say prayers,” said Mr. Kraus. “It’s a very holy and emotional thing for us.”
After landing in Frankfurt, Mr. Kraus said he saw a large police presence outside the gate for his connecting flight and assumed someone would be arrested. People around him were getting anxious because the flight was delayed, he said, when 10 to 15 passengers were called on board. The gate closed behind them, leaving most of the passengers behind.
Dan’s businessa website providing information on frequent flyer offers, reported on blocked passengers e shared a video which showed a Lufthansa worker telling the assembled crowd that they would not be allowed on the flight for “operational reasons” on the New York flight. “You know why he was,” the worker said.
In another videoa person who appears to be a Lufthansa worker tells a passenger that it was the Jews flying from New York “who were the mess, who created the problems.”
Mr. Kraus said he believed some passengers did not comply with the mask rule, but that he and others were being targeted unfairly. “I was punished because I too am Jewish,” said Mr. Kraus.
Those remaining in Frankfurt said they had been banned for 24 hours from flying on Lufthansa and rushed to board flights with other airlines.
Mr. Kraus said a travel agent booked him a new flight on another airline to Warsaw, then Hungary.
He was seven hours late at the cemetery. It was also originally planned to take a bus tour to visit 10 cemeteries in Hungary and Poland to honor other great rabbis, but he said the bus could only visit five due to flight problems.
Ben Weber, president of Main Street Travel in Monsey, New York, said his agency had booked seats on the flight for 80 “ultra-Orthodox Jews” who were “very visible in their dress”. They included Mr. Kraus. Mr. Weber said all 80 were blocked from connecting flights to Budapest and his agency spent $ 50,000 rebooking their tickets on other airlines and rearranging previously scheduled bus journeys.
The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Tuesday that, as Lufthansa was a German company, “it has a special responsibility to educate its staff” and criticized the company’s apologies.
“This no excuse does not admit guilt or identify banned passengers as Jews,” the Anti-Defamation League said.
Max Weingarten and Eli Meisels, both Orthodox Jews, were also on their way to the cemetery in Hungary and were allowed on both flights. They said they were dressed “more casually” than the other Jewish passengers, in trousers and shirts. Mr. Weingarten wore a skullcap and Mr. Meisels a baseball cap.
They said they were among the first passengers to board the plane in Frankfurt because they had first class seats. They did not realize that other people had been blocked from the flight and were surprised when they were told boarding was complete, about two minutes after sitting down.
Mr. Weingarten, 36, called an acquaintance who had also traveled first class but was not on the plane, and the man told him gate agents had blocked boarding for Jews.
“This made us feel absolutely horrified,” said Mr. Weingarten. “Obviously right away, all these images, films, books that we read from 1939 to 1944 popped up and many of these images now go through our heads.”
Mr. Meisels, 27, wore a mask for the entire flight from New York. Mr. Weingarten said he removed the mask for parts of the flight, although no Lufthansa workers asked him or any other first-class passengers to wear a mask.
They estimated that the flight to Budapest had about 20 people on board and that the two of them were the only Jewish passengers. They said people in cheap seats were asked to move to the back of the flight to balance the weight of the nearly empty plane and they were told they could have as many kosher meals as they wanted as there were extras available on the flight. .