Desperate easyJet staff called police from 30,000ft during a “nightmare” flight from Tel Aviv to Luton, after a group of strictly-Orthodox Jewish men refused to take their seats for religious reasons.
During the incident on Monday afternoon, which one air steward described as “the worst flight in 11 years”, one passenger also plugged a mobile phone into the plane’s control panel in a “foolish attempt to charge it”, causing the exit light to switch on.
According to one witness, the chaos began at boarding in Tel Aviv, when a group of male passengers refused to take seats next to women.
The passenger said: “They were blocking the aisle, making it really difficult for other passengers to get past and take their seat.
“I was next to quite an elderly gentleman and he did not sit down the entire time. Everybody had to walk round him, he was just oblivious, because he was trying to swap his seat, so he wouldn’t be sitting next to a woman.”
Eventually a “bemused” female passenger offered to swap her seat.
“I chatted to her later on. She just couldn’t believe the whole thing and they didn’t even say thank you. That was something the staff mentioned as well, that they did not say please or thank you.”
The perplexed passenger also noted the group – a wedding party, which made up more than 50 percent of the flight – kept using the call button, causing disruption to the other passengers.
“They were constantly ringing the bell for the steward. I’ve never heard it go off so many times. It was dinging constantly and to the point it was really intrusive if you are trying to read or something.
“I overheard the steward say, ‘I’ve only got one pair of hands’. They were just really stressing the staff out.
“One steward said he’d been doing the route for 11 years and it was the worst flight he had ever experienced.”
Officers from Bedfordshire Police were waiting on the tarmac when the plane finally touched down at London Luton Airport.
“When we arrived, the captain said: ‘Please stay in your seats. We are waiting for the police’. It went deadly quiet and I think people were shocked.
“One policeman then came on the plane, stood by the door and oversaw everybody leaving – and there were two more officers standing on the tarmac.”
The bemused passenger added: “I’m the biggest fan of Easyjet and would fly with them again – but I’d probably only now go Friday or Saturday to avoid it.”
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A statement from easyJet said: “easyJet can confirm that flight EZY2084 from Tel Aviv to Luton on 13 February 2017 was met by police on arrival at London Luton due to a small group of passengers behaving disruptively by not complying with the Captain and cabin crew’s request to take their seats both prior to departure from Tel Aviv and during the flight.
“For the safety of all passengers easyJet’s crew must ensure that whenever the seat belt signs are illuminated all passengers are in their seats with their seatbelts fastened.
“easyJet’s cabin crew are trained to assess and evaluate all situations and to act quickly and appropriately to ensure that the safety of the flight and other passengers is not compromised at any time.
“Separately during the flight a passenger plugged a mobile device into a USB port on the crew control panel in the forward galley in a foolish attempt to charge it.
“This led to the exit light above the panel being illuminated but did not in any way comprise the safety or security of the aircraft.”
In a statement, Bedfordshire Police said: “We were called at around 5.55pm on Monday to reports of a group of disruptive men on a flight landing at London Luton Airport.
“Officers attended and escorted the men off the flight preventing a breach of the peace. No offences were found to have been committed.”