Air France Asks Passengers For Gas Money After Emergency Landing In Syria

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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Chuft-Captain says:

    From the stories of this kind of thing, apparently airport services have never heard of the concept of “billing”. You know, where you render a service on the spot to a company or individual that is not known to be disreputable, and then send them a bill to be paid.

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      Instead it seems to be more “lord of the flies” based. It is rather odd.

    • benminer says:

      Consider the current economic and political situation in Syria.

      • McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

        Exactly. Somehow I suspect traditional commercial workflows have been disrupted due to civil war. Civil wars do tend to make a mess of things.

      • Chuft-Captain says:

        If this was only happening in Syria, sure. My comment specifically mentioned “stories” though, not just this one. This has been happening in other places where the situation is not in any way unstable.

    • Darrone says:

      Given the geo-political situation, it would be very easy for Air France to simply not pay it’s debt. You want you plane and you’re people? Wire the money. Not that hard.

    • edman007 says:

      But Syria has trade sanctions against them, it’s illegal for european companies to buy fuel from them. Syria was probably afraid of this, there was a good chance any electronic form of payment would be blocked. While with a bit of paperwork it probably could have been done, it’s not something an airline not operating in the country would be enthusatic about and there was a serious risk that payments would be blocked and Syria was probably demanding a cash payment.

    • ajaxd says:

      Have you been following the news of what’s going on in Syria? They probably just wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible rather than risk getting kidnapped or detained.

      • Chuft-Captain says:

        Boy, it sure would be nice if some people actually used reading comprehension to notice that I specifically wrote my comment to address the numerous similar instances of this happening in perfectly stable places as well, and not just in Syria.

        But reading is hard.

    • JJFIII says:

      So how about you try that when you try fueling at your local service station. I am an employee of a rather large Fortune 100 company. I am reimbursed for fuel from my company each month. If I do not have the money or credit on me to pay for it, I do not get fuel. I do not ask them to “front it to me” or bill me. You do realize if Air France has no place nexis in Syria, they will not have any way to actually get repaid for the fuel. It is also a country that is not exactly being run like a traditional system. The fact is, Air France should have wired the money, or flown another plane there to pay the bill and NEVER asked a customer to pay money out of their pocket for a pilots stupidity of landing in a country that has no relationship with his company.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “in case” cash was needed.

    Why not wait until the case occurs before taking your passengers’ money.

    And can you not use a credit card, or some form of money transfer system in Damascus? Clearly I don’t know what their society uses, but it seems unlikely Air France couldn’t find their own way to get money to the pilot.

    • humphrmi says:

      I’m not sure if you’ve heard, there’s a civil war going on and Syria is currently under heavy sanctions from the international community. Since all the credit card companies are based in countries that are imposing those sanctions, using a credit card in a country in which those credit card companies don’t operate isn’t an option. Wire transfers rely on western banks, which also aren’t doing business in Syria. The only option is cash, usually “hard” cash like Dollars or GB Pounds or Euros because the Syrian Pound is currently fairly valueless against western currencies.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Then going back to the final sentiment of the article, why did they land there given the options they had?

      • DCS says:

        I agree with most of your points, but “Wire transfers rely on western banks…”? African, Asian and Middle Eastern Banks are not likely to ‘rely on Western Banks’ for the ability to transfer funds, are they?

  3. humphrmi says:

    I know that some stuff happened in between the decision to avoid Beirut and landing in Syria, but in retrospect diverting a flight to Damascus to avoid some “scuffles on the road between the airport in Beirut and the city’s downtown” seems kinda silly.

    • T-Bone says:

      Bullets can travel pretty far and mortars get launched pretty high. If this plane was at only a few thousand feet there is a chance it could get hit.

      • humphrmi says:

        Yeah, and we all know there are no bullets or mortars flying around Syrian airspace right now.


        • Tunnen says:

          No, you don’t need to worry about bullets or mortars in Syria… It’s the shells and missiles you need to worry about…

  4. dolemite says:

    What really bugs me is how they went about it. People were quizzically looking at each other as the plane rolled to a stop in Syria, and the Captain’s voice crackled over the intercom: “Ass, grass or cash- no one rides for free.”

    • ChuckECheese says:

      And somebody replied, <<je n'en ai, mais j'ai quelques boites de pate de sanglier, un demi-mange pont l'eveque, et quatre dramamines generiques."

  5. bonzombiekitty says:

    Meh, I’m not upset at this. The plane was forced to land at an airport where there’s currently no airline representation. The airport is in a dangerous location, so they want to stay there for as small an amount of time as possible.

    So the possible situations are:

    1. Plane lands, is able to get fuel without issue.
    2. Plane lands, and airport refuses to fuel without payment or setting up billing which could take a long time, leaving the plane in a dangerous spot.

    The airline does not know which situation is going to arise and situation #2 is a real possibility. So for the safety of the passengers, it’s best to collect money just in case. Landing in an area of civil unrest does not leave you in a predictable situation.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      Upon the realization that it was unsafe to land in Beirut, the pilot and air traffic control should have considered alternate airports. I’m not super well versed in international politics and diplomacy nor geography, but a quick look at a map shows two viable options:

      1) Amman, Jordan — Pros: Relatively close-by, stable government, we have diplomatic relations with them. Cons: We may not have enough fuel to make it which could result in an emergency landing in Damascus which is in the midst of a civil war, hostile to some of our passengers, and is in danger of imminent collapse.

      2) Tel Aviv, Israel — Pros: Relatively close-by, stable government, we have diplomatic relations with them. Cons: We may not have enough fuel to make it which could result in an emergency landing in Haifa which has a much smaller airport, than say, Damascus, but still within the same stable country to which we’re headed.

      I’d like to think if most people, faced with these choices, would decide that Tel Aviv was the safer spot to head to.

  6. yankinwaoz says:

    Really? They blasted Air France?

    Ok. The pilot landed the plane safely. Unfortunetley where credit doesn’t work right now. So they coughed up the cash and got out of there.

    Is Air France not going to reimburse the passengers for their out-of-pocket expenses? No. It doesn’t seem that way.

    No one was hurt. Just write it up in the “s**t happens” column and move on.

    • bonzombiekitty says:

      It turned out the cash wasn’t necessary, so there’s no repayment to be made. But I agree with you. The plane was forced to land in a dangerous spot where the normal course of business is seriously disrupted. For the safety of the passengers, gathering cash just in case makes sense.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      They landed the plane “safely” in a country riven by civil war and under heavy international sanctions, while flying passengers who are wanted by said corrupt government. It’s not only about not being able to swipe a credit card.

  7. Torchwood says:

    The last time I checked, Syria would be a great vacation destination if you are into hyper-extreme tourism. Otherwise, I would recommend reading this….

    And this travel warning….

    Clearly, there are much safer destinations to travel to.

  8. sqeelar says:

    And what is international travel but all about the stories that you can live to tell.

  9. jadedgirl says:

    Serious question here. Is this allowed?

    I’ve heard of cases in the past where planes had to make an unplanned stop and then held the passengers hostage. Either pay up or get off the plane. This seems so wrong to me and I feel that it should be up to the airline to eat the cost of fuel.

    Though I’d imagine it’s probably buried somewhere in the ToS where it states you’re responsible for additional costs if they arise. Clarification here would be welcome. Thanks.

    • Captain Walker says:

      Air France will reimburse you.

      Bob’s Fly-By-Night Air? Maybe not.

    • HeadsOnPikes says:

      Going out on a limb and saying that an Air France flight between Paris and Beirut may not be subject to American laws and regulations.

  10. Not Given says:

    I think my doctor got her education from the University of Damascus.

  11. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Hey man…ass, gas, or grass.

  12. MarkFL says:

    Not the first time something similar has happened. You may recall (or not) that during the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985, the plane was on the ground in Algiers with little fuel when the hijackers decided to take the plane and hostage elsewhere. The airport refused to provide fuel without payment, so one of the flight attendants used her own Shell credit card to pay for the gas. Of course, flight crews make a lot less money today, so I guess the flight crew couldn’t afford to cover this one.