Air France pilot begs first class passengers for cash to refuel in Damascus

An Air France jet was diverted to Damascus due to "tensions" at its destination airport in Beirut. They couldn't take off again without refueling, and the Syrian authorities weren't about to extend credit to Air France (France is part of the coalition calling for UN intervention in the conflict). So the crew passed the hat around the first class cabin, raising "17,000" (units not specified) to pay for fuel -- though in the end, it wasn't needed.


  1. Wait… What?  They landed in what is essentially an active war zone due to tensions in Beirut, which is not an active war zone the last time I checked? I know that Hezbollah has been making some noise of late (and were added to a sanctions list by the US), but how is Damascus better than Beirut right now? Hezbollah can’t really be the reason, as I don’t think they control Beirut at all? We’ve sanctioned Syria as well. It also doesn’t really say how they resolved the issue with the Syrian airport. 

    So much is confusing about this story.  :-/

    1. Seems Damascus airport was an emergency choice for lack of fuel. And best guess is that the Beirut trouble was close to the airport, while it was quiet around Damascus airport. Also, the Damascus landing would be basically down, refuel, go (in theory) while the Beirut landing would have included a stay on the ground to handle passengers and luggage. At least that is my impression of the whole affair.

      1.  Hm.  I guess that makes as much sense as can be expected of the region, and Europe’s interaction with that region (only slightly less confusing than US interaction in the region). 

        But now I wonder… What are the other airports in the area? Was there a close one Turkey maybe? Was north Israel not an option (I know relations between France and Israel are not always great, but certainly they must be better than with Syria right now)? And I guess it depends on who the passengers were, too (regarding a landing in Israel), but if it’s just an emergency refueling… 

        I guess a better sense of locations of airports in the area might help my confusion here.

    1. Most airlines don’t carry a lot of extra fuel since every 25 gallons is worth about one passenger in terms of weight. Passengers pay the bills and it costs money to carry fuel from one airport to another. Considering there was an unforseen problem at the original destination, the pilot (fortunately) made a good decision to land rather than run out of gas mid-air…and now the passengers have a cocktail party story to tell!

      1. Carriers are required to carry a certain amount of extra fuel, specifically for the reason that if they cannot land at their primary airport, that they make it to their secondary AND be able to be in a hold at that airport.
        I’m not sure which carrier it was recently (I think it’s RyanAir) that had 3 priority landings in a month due to lack of fuel.

        1. Yep, Ryanair:

          I hope no one is surprised.

    2. You do carry some; but that strategy tends to run into the trouble(acutely familiar to team spaceflight) that you need to burn fuel to carry fuel, and you need to carry the fuel that you burn to carry the fuel and you need to carry the fuel that you burn to carry the fuel that you burn to carry the fuel…

      Obviously, since air travel works and all, there is an envelope in which this doesn’t regress all the way to absurdity; but fuel doesn’t fly for free.

  2. I would think in this day that a corporate entity like Air France could wire the needed fuel money faster that the ol pass-the-hat method? Is this an airline or a keg party.

    1. War zones tend to very quickly reveal just how thin the veneer of the things we take for granted part of a modern economy.

  3. The part that makes me slackjawed is that they diverted to Damascus instead of Tel Aviv or Nicosia. 

    The problem with Damascus isn’t combat. The rebels are not  making any attempt to endanger civilian aviation. The problem with Damascus is that the sanctions make it hard to wire money into Syria for any reason. The passengers were at serious risk of having to relinquish their jewelry and other valuables to get enough fuel to leave there. 

  4. Something similar happened to me…maybe about 15 years ago, with an Unnamed Airline (except to say it was a flag carrier, and from a first-world nation). The plane flew into London, overloaded with passengers. It was bound for New Delhi, and they hadn’t calculated that Delhi’s airport frequently gets fog-bound in winter and they needed enough fuel to get to the alternate airport which was, for some reason, Karachi (in Pakistan).

    They didn’t want to offload anyone, because of the cost, so instead they took off with half-full fuel tanks – and no meals. Somewhere in the Middle East, they made an unscheduled landing to refuel. Only, Air Nonymous hadn’t any arrangement with that airport, so the pilot had to put the whole thing on his credit card, which maxed it out. Then they passed the hat around the business class cabin for cash to pay for fresh supplies like toilet paper…

    Meanwhile, there was a packed Economy section, from babies to grandfathers, who had been given no meals from London onward. They were exhausted, hungry, and furious. No one had given them explanations. (I only found out what was happening by quizzing the crew; no announcements were made.)

    Finally, the Cabin Crew made an announcement, in English, Hindi, and Punjabi, that if any passenger spat at a crew member one more time, the crew would walk out…

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