Delays flights to Israel

Howard Goldberg planned to make it back from his Israel vacation in time to give the d’var Torah at the aufruf (Yiddish for being called up) celebrating the upcoming marriages of his twin nieces.But the Cleveland Heights resident was one of tens of thousands of passengers whose plans abruptly changed May 5 when contaminated jet fuel grounded dozens of planes at Ben Gurion International Airport.

He and other passengers were already sitting for 30 minutes on an Air Canada plane when the pilot told them there was a delay due to a fuel problem.After another three hours of waiting, the passengers deplaned and sat for an hour at the gate. The airline then provided hotel vouchers and tickets for a flight the next day and shuttled passengers to Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan, a luxury hotel about 20 minutes from the airport.

The following day, the Air Canada jet departed at about 12:30 p.m., landing in Cyprus where it refueled. After another three-hour delay, the jet was airborne.The pilot and co-pilot had exceeded the 14 consecutive hours they are allowed to work, so the flight landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to pick up a new flight crew. Goldberg, who works for the city of Lorain in the development department, and his fellow passengers eventually arrived in Toronto at midnight, 19 hours after departing from Israel.

The only flight to Cleveland that Goldberg could catch left at 4 p.m. Saturday, which returned him home too late for his nieces’ aufruf at Agudath B’nai Israel (Conservative) in Lorain. His sister read his d’var Torah, which he finished typing on the plane and emailed to her.Despite his travel tribulations, Goldberg, a member of Green Road Synagogue (Orthodox), has nothing but praise for Air Canada, his fellow passengers and Israeli security. When he was stranded again in Toronto, the airline also put him up in a hotel.

He bonded with the others on his flight, who ranged from Israeli students in a glee group to Baha’i pilgrims to a United Nations peacekeeper posted in the Sinai desert. At one point, Goldberg said kaddish for his father at a Ben Gurion airport shul, after a fellow passenger helped him organize a minyan.
I reunited with my family for dinner that evening,said Goldberg.Despite the problems, the airline did really well. I got a chance to meet people I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.

Lior Balavie performed with his twin brother Shlomi (as The Shimons) May 9 at the community-wide Yom Hazikaron/Yom Ha’atzmaut event at Park Synagogue celebrating Israel’s remembrance and independence days.Balavie, too, had difficulty traveling to the U.S. because of the fuel contamination. His 11:55 p.m. flight on US Airways May 5 was not delayed. But the security line was so long – he estimated 500 to 600 people – that he and his brother missed their flight to Philadelphia, even though they arrived at the airport more than three hours ahead of time.

The Balavies then had to wait 3-1/2 hours for their luggage to be taken off the plane. They went home and called their travel agent, who got them another flight for Friday. The airline wanted to charge the brothers for the second ticket, but their travel agent was able to avoid incurring the extra fee.The airline didn’t even apologize,Lior Balavie said.That was my worst experience. It was like they were doing me a favor putting me on another flight.He faults US Airways because other airlines expedited their passengers through security lines or in some way accommodated them. The Friday flight stopped in Cyprus to take on fuel, so the brothers were delayed again and missed their connection in Philadelphia. They didn’t get on a flight to Cleveland until 1:50 p.m.

We were on the road for over 48 hours,Balavie said.But I’m not an angry man. We have a saying in Hebrew: ‘Everything that happened, happened for good.’ But I was upset with the airline’s treatment. Nobody explained what happened. They just said ‘you guys are not going to be on the flight. Deal with that.The Shimons, who play original folk and alternative rock, will be in the U.S. until May 19, performing in Columbus and at a May 16 show at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights. They live in Cleveland’s partnership city Beit She’an, where Lior Balavie runs the sister-city program for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

Aviation Assets, which supplies fuel to Ben Gurion Airport’s pipelines, discovered contaminants in the fuel, JTA reported. Regional airports at Eilat and Haifa also stopped refueling on May 5. Although original reports described the contaminant as an oily substance clogging filters, an outside lab found bacteria and mold in the fuel.Two weeks earlier, officials noticed fuel filters on Aviation Assets’ trucks were clogging, JTA said. If an airplane’s fuel filter clogged, it could be disastrous,airport officials said.During the crisis, Israel reportedly transferred fuel from its emergency gas tanks to ease departures of outgoing international flights, which then stopped in Cyprus to take on additional fuel. On May 7, domestic air travel in Israel resumed, although international flights continued to fill their fuel tanks in Cyprus while officials awaited word on the nature of the contaminant

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