El Al Airlines added an additional flight from New York to Tel Aviv Thursday to help passengers left stranded Monday night when Tower Air unexpectedly halted all scheduled flights. The shutdown triggered an angry reaction among passengers flying from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv who were left standing in the rain at Kennedy Airport.
Irate Israeli passengers called the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan for help at 10 p.m. when they found the Tower Air terminal closed. The financially strapped airline had filed for bankruptcy protection just two months ago.
"We felt it was our responsibility to try to help these people," said Israeli Consul General Shmuel Sisso, who rushed to the airport with three staff members. "There was no one else to help them, so our staff got them out of the rain and into another terminal. Here were people who thought they were going to Israel and had found themselves in New York, standing in the rain with their luggage."
He said he and his staff remained until 5 a.m., offering the Israelis loans and buying them refreshments.
"I gave my cellular for people to call home," said Sisso. "Our Foreign Ministry in Israel called El Al to ask them to help bring people home."
The Hatzalah volunteer ambulance corps was also called to the airport to treat some elderly passengers upset by what happened. And Rabbi Duddy Goldshmid, Lubavitch representative to Hebrew-speaking people in Manhattan, also went to the airport to lend assistance. At one point, he called the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty and asked them to provide kosher food for the passengers, who numbered about 50. As the council began mobilizing to help, Goldshmid said Hatzalah arranged for food to be brought from Borough Park and Crown Heights.
"Stores donated bagels and salads for the people," he said.
Hatzalah volunteers also took some of the passengers to their own homes to get some sleep, Sisso noted.
Also left stranded was the 30-member Tower crew that flew from Tel Aviv and arrived at Kennedy Airport early Tuesday morning. They arrived without any clothes, expecting to take a flight back to Israel later in the day, Goldshmid said.
"They didn’t find out what had happened until they landed and were told they were out of a job," he said.By Tuesday, some passengers were able to book flights on other airlines and Sisso said he personally called several airlines asking to provide whatever help they could.
He said some passengers were booked on one of El Al’s few available seats to Israel, including a man with a medical problem. An El Al spokeswoman said the airline was selling seats for a discounted fare of $400 for those with Tower Air tickets.
Lufthansa, the German airline, offered similarly priced tickets for passengers flying from Tel Aviv to New York.
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A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Allen Morrison, said he knew of no airline that was honoring Tower Air’s tickets. He said the Port Authority provided hotel rooms for 80 stranded passengers and crewmembers Tuesday night. He said it was prepared to do so again Wednesday as the passengers waited for Thursday’s special El Al flight to Israel, which was fully booked with 420 passengers. And he said his staff was at the airport Wednesday to greet other Tower Air passengers who were unaware of the shutdown and planned to fly to California. Morrison said they were helped in booking flights with other airlines.
Officials of Tower Air could not be reached. The airlines Web page said the firm had ceased all scheduled flight operations on May 1 and would continue to operate only charter operations for the foreseeable future.