Iberia Airlines flight 3316 from Madrid touched down at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel on Wednesday, with the pilot of the plane welcoming customers to “Palestine.”
Notably, the pilot announced only in Spanish that passengers had arrived in “Palestine.” In English, he did not mention Palestine nor Israel, instead changing “Palestine” to “Tel Aviv.”
“I was a little shocked,” an Israeli passenger told Israel’s Channel Two News. “Everyone began to whisper, we were simply in shock. I don’t understand why he said that. We live in the State of Israel and he was supposed to say Israel.”
Ben Gurion Airport, which is located in the outskirts of Tel Aviv, is recognized by the international community as being part of the State of Israel. There are no legitimate disputes over whether Israel should maintain sovereignty over the land where the airport sits. The West Bank, which remains a disputed territory, does not encompass the airport.
“It’s nothing that he didn’t say [Israel] in English. It was intentional – especially in these tense days,” a passenger said of the pilot’s political motivation.
“My family and I were terribly offended,” one passenger wrote in a letter to the airline, according to Israel National News. “It was not at all acceptable and has done a disservice to your company.”
Iberia has since apologized, asserting that the captain of the plane had made a “mistake.”
“We are very sorry and wish to apologize to the passengers,” a spokeswoman told Israel’s Channel Two News. “We have been flying to Tel Aviv for a long time and we know the city is in the State of Israel and there is no doubt about that. We even promoted tourism in Tel Aviv in our magazine.”
“We will speak with the flight crew on the issue and open an investigation into the matter,” she added, pledging that “the captain will not fly to Tel Aviv in the near future due to the incident.”
A spokesperson told the BBC that Iberia Airline’s purpose “is to take our customers to their final destination in a safe fashion no matter what their nationality, race, or religion.”
Iberia Airlines has been flying its Madrid-Tel Aviv route since 1983, according to reports.