Air France has tongues wagging and otherwise clucking in disapproval after a flight heading from Paris to Beirut had to make an emergency landing in Damascus, Syria and needed to refuel. Once on the ground, the crew had to ask passengers to pony up cash in case they couldn’t find a way to pay for the gas.
The flight was rerouted last Wednesday because of scuffles on the road between the airport in Beirut and the city’s downtown, reports the Wall Street Journal. It was rerouted to Amman, Jordan but couldn’t get there because of overflight restrictions, and the longer route meant there might not have been enough fuel to get there safely. The crew then decided to land in Damascus.
Once on the ground, Air France had to ask passengers to gather up cash in case it was needed to pay for the fuel. An airline spokeswoman says this cash advance might have been necessary because Air France stopped flying to Damascus last March and therefore, it had no way to pay for the gas. It didn’t come to that, however.
“We don’t have a structure in Damascus that allows us to handle incoming flights,” the spokeswoman said. “We don’t have any cash reserves there, and the pilot didn’t have a satchel full of cash in his cockpit.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says the airline put its 174 passengers at risk, and is calling on Air France to provide details of what happened.
“Landing in Damascus was a security risk for the people on board,” Fabius said in an interview with French radio RTL. “In the plane, there were people from Lebanon who are wanted by the Syrian regime.” It was a tricky situation, he admits, but still, not the best idea.
“Under these circumstances, I know decisions are difficult to make in a conflict situation, but I think you’ll agree that the decision to land in Damascus wasn’t the most pertinent one to make, and I’m being diplomatic,” he added.
Air France says it was in touch with the French Foreign Ministry’s crisis room throughout the ordeal.
The plane eventually took off and landed in Larnaca, Cyprus for the night, before reaching Beirut on Thursday afternoon.
French Minister Blasts Air France for Syria Landing [Wall Street Journal]