Lufthansa Makes A Third Try At Apologizing For Banning Jews

Lufthansa – Germany’s national airline, the government is its largest shareholder – is continuing to do damage control after an incident where Jews were banned from travel on the carrier. Their first two statements on the issue were so bad they’re now trying to fix things putting their CEO into play.

Lufthansa Bans Jews From Travel After Inflight Incident

Last week Lufthansa bans Jews off of a New York JFK – Frankfurt flight from continued travel for a 24 hour period, after some passengers on board didn’t comply with mask rules and other crewmember instructions.

Non-Jews violating mask rules weren’t prevented from taking their connections. And the ban included passengers who could be identified as likely Jewish, even if they hadn’t broken any rules.

The German flag carrier scapegoated Jewish passengers and practiced collective guilt. Here’s a Lufthansa representative explaining that it’s Jews that caused problems, so the airline banned Jews from travel.

Passenger: The non-Jewish people on the flight went. Why are only the Jewish people paying for other people’s crimes?

Lufthansa: Because it’s Jews coming from JFK.

…Passenger: I’m like shocked beyond, never in my adult life. I’ve never heard this.

Lufthansa: If you want to do it like this, Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.

Lufthansa Makes Problems Worse For Themselves With First Two Statements

The airline’s first statement was to blame the victim, saying they had simply kept non-compliant passengers off the next flight. That turned out not to be true.

Then they offered a milquetoast apology that never even used the word “Jews” and muddied the message by talking about other forms of racism.

Lufthansa’s CEO Seeks Out A Rabbi To Apologize To

Now they’re on their third try, and this time Lufthansa’s CEO found a Rabbi in Berlin to talk to, and a short clip shows him telling the rabbi that what happened is not in line with the airline’s rules. The rabbi says he found the CEO’s apology to be geniune and the two will meet in person to discuss next steps. Some employees have already been suspended.

Lufthansa Broke First Rule Of Crisis PR

This has been terrible PR. The story has spread worldwide and across major media (kudos to Dan’s Deals for breaking it and with enough leg work that it stuck and showing that Lufthansa’s initial response was inaccurate). There’s an important lesson from Patriot Games (1992) that every person in communications should know as a basic law.

  • Come clean, fully, the first time: “Give them no place to go, nothing to report. No story.”
  • Minimizing and downplaying makes a story worse: “There’s no sense in defusing a bomb that’s already gone off.”

Remember ‘it’s not the crime it’s the coverup’. You want a story over and done as fast as possible. If you’re going to apologize, apologize. If you’re going to acknowledge a story, do it once and fully. Otherwise you keep going back with explanations and clarifications and extend the story, making the P.R. hit even worse.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. What would one expect from that reprehensible airline? Nothing ever changes with their ilk. Blame someone else. sounds like that jackass Putin!!

  2. The incident was hamfisted for sure, but to call it antisemitism is absurd. They lumped people in because bad behavior from of a few. That is wrong but not antisemitic. If the airline staff had said, “Hey, there are some Jews. Let’s not board them because they are Jews.” That would be antisemitic. I can see LH doing the exact same thing with Trump supporters who refuse to wear masks…a few of those morons don’t wear masks, the the entire groups doesn’t board.

  3. Jaymes – It was noted that non-Jews also misbehaved. We’re all non-Jews on the flight prevented from flying? Why weren’t they lumped together?

  4. @Gary —> Sure there’s a part of me that would love to fly LH in first, and to get to hang out in the Frankfurt First Class lounge, but even if I had that chance, would I? Nein, nicht auf dein verdammtes Leben! Indeed, at this point, I’ll go out of my way NOT to fly LH!!!

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    @Jaymes —>. Not Jewish, are you? The incident was not *ham*fisted, It was the first two apologies that were hamfisted, but not the actual incident itself. THAT was just flat-out bullish*t…and ANTI-SEMETIC TO BOOT! What else would you call it, what else can you possibly call it when the rationale is that “It’s the Jews coming from JFK”? Do you think if “the Jews” were coming from LAX, everything would have been OK, that the LH employee was only anti-New York Jews but other Jews were OK? Really??? Do you want to re-read the exchange Gary quoted above? You tell me what the following is, if not anti-Semitic?
    __________
    Passenger: The non-Jewish people on the flight went. Why are only the Jewish people paying for other people’s crimes?

    Lufthansa: Because it’s Jews coming from JFK.

    …Passenger: I’m like shocked beyond, never in my adult life. I’ve never heard this.

    Lufthansa: If you want to do it like this, Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.
    —————

    You don’t think that’s anti-Semetic? Substitute the word “Jews” for “the n***** word.” Does that sound any better to you? What about any other derogatory word referring to Latinos, Asians, Arabs, or any other ethnic group? Does that sound better? (I hope you’re replying “Hell, no!”)

    Hitler blamed it on the Jews, and apparently so is LH. (Let’s ignore the irony of Putin calling the Ukrainian Present a Nazi even though he’s Jewish.)

  5. Frankly, what should have been SOP was for the 747 captain to announce but once passengers interfering with flight ops would be responsible for re-directing the flight to offload the disruptive passengers+ ban those guilty parties from flying LU 2 years.

    For the record, I have regularly flown LU Business since 2002 without issue. Once when I was famished, I received an extra dinner tray. Indeed, I’ve always enjoyed schmoozing with the FAs and Purser, giving my best Mel Brooks routine–commending crew in the galley for a great meal; but than asking with such a great world airline, “how did they lose the war?”

    Failure to react accordingly by the cockpit and some gate agent should not tarnish the entire airline. If the belligerent passengers were not de-boarded, than certainly a manager capable of making decisions for LU should have met the flight from JFK; as the Baptists say, had a “come to Jesus” meeting with the problematic passengers.

  6. They still refused to wear masks.
    It is not racial, religious or whatever you want to disguise this as.

  7. This is such a perfect example of a corporation’s front-line people not knowing how to behave. It’s no wonder everything at an airline is so tightly tied to rules and procedures. You can’t trust the staff to make a determination, step up, explain, apologize and do something appreciative for the ‘victims’. No staff member will do so, because they’re terrified of being punished. Those that do speak up apparently haven’t the brain power of a frog. “Because it’s the Jews coming from New York”??? Good God man, you’re a German airline, are you able to think at all? Any LH person involved with this fracas needs to be suspended without pay for sure. Nothing else will make LH look competent.

  8. On one hand, you have to wonder why LH is apologizing to a Rabbi from Berlin when the flight wasn’t to/from Berlin, none of the passengers are residents of that city and best I can tell the Rabbi had zero connection whatsoever to that flight.

    But then you look at how the Rabbi dresses and you realize that LH probably lumped him in as part of the “large group” on those grounds.

  9. How about when Arabs’ homes get torn down in the West Bank because one of their sons committed a crime? What is that called? How about when Security at Ben Gurion uses profiling to interrogate Arabs? What is that called? is that anti-Semitism too or is that security procedures?

  10. But it was fine when the group of Jews decided to protect one of their own when they called the police officer a Nazi and declined to identify who it was that said it.

  11. I can just imagine the convo happening in the LH c-suites. “We’ve got to find a rabbi to apologize to!” “Wait, we are in Koln. I’m sure there is a rabbi here.” “No, we need to go to Berlin. A nice rabbi from the capital. Just make sure he /looks/ like a rabbi.”

  12. I am not Jewish and about as unwoke as they come, but as an American I would like to know why the United States government has, so far, failed to penalize the foreign quasi-government entity Lufthansa and the involved employees for discrimination based on race and religion against passengers who were compliant with mask regulations but subjected to communal punishment when those passengers are presumably US citizens or residents traveling on US passports (with the accompanying legal demands) that connected from a flight that departed from the United States on a ticket that would have been sold in the United States. The intent by the employees, airline, and by extension Government of Germany are clear from the evidence and this should not be handled solely as a PR matter.

  13. @jaymes
    “How about when Arabs’ homes get torn down in the West Bank because one of their sons committed a crime? What is that called?”

    It’s because said home was also where the son who “committed the crime” lived and in almost all cases was encouraged by the rest of his family to “commit the crime”. Also why do you keep leaving out the “crime” they “committed”? Did they get their home razed because they jaywalked? Because they were caught with a few grams of marijuana? What is this crime you’re referring to for which parallels can be drawn to people not following mask rules?

    “How about when Security at Ben Gurion uses profiling to interrogate Arabs? What is that called?”

    Have you ever been to Ben Gurion? They interrogate everybody. Extensively. I am whiter than Frosty and I’ve had times where I’ve had 3 security guards questioning me for half an hour.

  14. @jaymes – I agree with you, that collective punishment for Palestinians is wrong.

    Why you are equating the two here though? These Jews weren’t Israeli, and many Hasidic Jews do not identify as Israeli or agree with Israeli government policy. Some of them very likely agree with you that just as they should not have been targeted as a group, and neither should Palestinians. Others perhaps not. Doesn’t change anything about Lufthansa’s behavior and is unseemly to raise in this context.

    The excuse I hear a lot in progressive circles is that they’re anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, which is fair, even if you disagree with the criticism,. But when you lump non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jews together as “Israeli” – that’s actually anti-Semitic and Zionism/Israel has nothing to do with it.

    I assume you’re not anti-Semitic, and just conflating Jewish/Israeli as many do (at least I hope that’s what you are doing!) Please don’t do that.

  15. The flight originated in NY, which gives New York jurisdiction for lawsuits. NY Executive Law section 296.1(a) forbids discrimination in places of public accommodation (such as an airline) on the basis of, among other categories, race, creed, and national origin. I believe it was about 120 people who were denied boarding in Frankfurt. Let’s say each one files a lawsuit seeking damages for the costs associated with the one day delay and also mental anguish.

    The highest amount of a mental anguish award I could find under NY law is $ 200,000. Multiply that by 120 and I bet Lufthansa gets the message.

  16. Collective guilt is common. I recall multiple incidents with both Air France and Aeroflot. But it’s generally towards South Asians who being various shades of brown don’t matter

  17. If some Jews from New York flying through Germany on their way elsewhere face discrimination, and someone feels the need to bring up Israeli policy they object to, as if one thing has anything to do with the other *that’s* antisemitism.

  18. David B —

    Well said.

    Thanks Jaymes for outing yourself and displaying your “Whataboutism” — Usually it is you Progs who decry the use of same.

    But today, you have been hoisted on your own petard.

    It seems to me, that the Gate agent(s) likely should not be penalized, I think the pilot and management who acceded to his/her demands should be where the investigation concentrates.

    Since this was a one-stop flight, it is possible that some of those non-Jews who were not complying on the initial flight got off the flight at Frankfurt as that may have been their final destination.

    Likewise, the plane flying on to Budapest might have contained some passengers who started their trip in FRA.

    Berlin is the capital of Germany and if not the corporate HQ of Lufthansa, it has a significant presence there. In addition, news reports indicated that at least 1 member of the German Parliament (who oversees anti-Semitism allegations) has her parliamentary office in Berlin, and that city probably has the largest Jewish population in Germany in that metro area, so it is an obvious and proper choice to engage and Orthodox Rabbi from that area for the apology and follow-up.

    Gary, you are spot on in your observations on this, kudos to you!

  19. @Jaymes – you raised an interesting question/argument in your first post, and then flushed it straight down the hopper in your second. I would suggest that you reevaluate the logic of comparing punishing a terrorist’s family in an effort (misguided or not, it’s irrelevant to this topic) to deter future acts of terrorism with denying boarding to a Jew who didn’t violate mask policy because a bunch of other Jews did.

    And for your information, I am a Caucasian Jew who has been thoroughly interrogated at Ben Gurion airport, thankyouverymuch.

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