An emergency layover in Syria’s capital was bad enough. Then passengers on Air France Flight 562 were asked to open their wallets to check if they had enough cash to pay for more fuel.
The plane, heading from Paris to Lebanon’s capital, diverted amid tensions near the Beirut airport on Wednesday. Low on fuel, it instead landed in Damascus, the capital of neighbouring Syria, where a civil war is raging. An Air France spokesman explained on Friday that the crew inquired about passenger cash only as a “precautionary measure” because of the “very unusual circumstances.”
Sanctions against Syria complicated payment for extra fuel.
He said Air France found a way to pay for the fill-up without tapping customer pockets — and apologised for the inconvenience. The airline had never resorted to such a request before, he said. The plane took off for an overnight layover in Cyprus then landed safely in Beirut on Thursday.
A 42-year-old passenger said, “We went down in Syria where there were lots of soldiers looking very threatening. We were then told there were some problems and that there was no money to pay for the fuel. They asked if the passengers could contribute for the refueling which could only be paid for in cash.” But the Lebanese businessman added, “As people were rummaging through their handbags and wallets, we were told a solution had been found to the problem.”
A 23-year-old engineer added, “We could see through the window a lot of haggling going on because Air France’s fuel account with Damascus had been cancelled after they stopped flying in March. Because of the terrible relations between France and Syria, a lot of the passengers were very worried about landing there.”
Lebanon is a volatile mix of pro- and anti-Syrian factions, and a series of hostage-takings has raised worries about Lebanon being dragged deeper into Syria’s unrest. Mobs supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad blocked the main airport highway in Beirut on Wednesday, before Lebanese military units moved in.
174: The number of passengers aboard the Air France airline
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