Air France passengers on a flight which was diverted from Beirut and landed instead in Damascus were asked at one point to chip in and help pay to refuel the plane, a passenger said on Thursday.
“We went down in Syria where there were lots of soldiers … We thought there were some problems and that there was no money to pay for the fuel,” 42-year-old businessman Najib said.
“They asked if the passengers could contribute for the refueling. Then they found a solution to the problem” for Wednesday night’s flight from Paris that was diverted to Damascus because of tensions in Beirut and then flew on to Larnaca, he said.
Roland, a 23-year-old engineer who was also on the flight which finally landed in the Lebanese capital on Thursday, said the plane was held up in the Syrian capital because of the fuel problem.
“There were some negotiations going on to buy fuel because Air France doesn’t fly to Damascus at the moment and so it doesn’t have an account” with Damascus airport authorities, he explained.
France’s carrier suspended flights to Damascus in March because of the deadly unrest sweeping Syria.
“Because of the terrible relations between the two countries and the situation in Syria, the passengers were really worried about landing there,” a friend of one of the passengers, who asked not to be identified, said.
The flight to the Lebanese capital, where unrest broke out on the airport road on Wednesday night, was diverted first to Damascus after an attempt to reach Amman was abandoned and the plane needed fuel to divert to the safety of Cyprus.
According to an Air France employee who declined to be named, the crew at first offered to pay for the fuel in Damascus with a credit card but the transaction was impossible because of financial sanctions which have been slapped on Syria.
He did not specify how the payment was finally arranged for the Boeing 777 with 174 passengers and 11 crew to fly on to Larnaca after a two-hour stop for the refueling.
An Air France spokewoman confirmed passengers were initially asked for money.
“As a precaution and in anticipation, the crew asked how much money the passengers had in cash to pay to fill up with fuel,” the airline spokeswoman said.
In December last year, passengers on board a flight with Austrian airline Comtel Air were asked to pay for fuel during a stop in Vienna after the carrier ran out of cash.