Spanish airline Iberia has denied one of its pilots told passengers of a Tel Aviv-bound flight they were "landing in Palestine", after the alleged remark draw angry reactions from Israelis. The airline said an internal investigation revealed a language misunderstanding was to blame for the incident.
"The investigation concluded that the pilot never mentioned the word Palestine," Iberia said, adding its captain followed the company's standard procedures for landing announcements, mentioning only the airport of arrival with no reference to the country.
Some Israeli passengers on Iberia Airlines flight 3316 from Madrid to Tel Aviv said they were offended and shocked to hear the pilot of saying they were approaching Palestine, in his Spanish language landing announcement. "We live in the State of Israel and he should have said 'Israel'," a passenger named only as Lior, told Israel's Channel 2 TV. "We were just in shock, I don't understand why he said that."
The alleged comment was not repeated in English, they said. Ideological opponents of Israel refer to it as Palestine as a way of arguing against the Jewish state's right of existence.
The airline said it interviewed pilots, cabin crew and numerous passengers as part of a probe into incident, which it claimed revealed complaining passengers were mistaken.
Iberia said the pilot's announcement went simply: "Dear passengers, we're now descending to land at our destination, Tel Aviv," both in Spanish and in English, adding that some on board might have misheard part of the Spanish language message.
"Both the airline and the crew regret the misunderstanding, which could be cause by the similar sound of the Spanish word 'destino', meaning 'destination', with 'Palestina'," the company said.
"The whole flight took place without incident and on disembarking from the aircraft, none of the passengers complained to any crew member or ground staff about the announcement. The captain himself left the cockpit to say goodbye to the departing passengers, and personally helped a passenger with reduced mobility to leave the aircraft."
The controversy came at a time of heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians due to a deadly wave of stabbing attacks.