Forced to make an emergency landing in the Damascus, the war torn capital of Syria, an Air France flight carrying 174 passengers was left stranded with no fuel just 50 miles from its intended destination.
It was then that the plane’s captain announced that the airline was unable to pay for the plane to be refueled, and asked for passengers to chip in and pay for the necessary fuel. Air France’s company credit card was useless within Syrian borders, due to strict financial sanctions preventing its use in the country. With no way to pay Damascus airport authorities, the plane’s crew saw no alternative.
Originally scheduled to land in the Lebanese capital Beirut on Wednesday night, the plane was diverted due to violent protests being staged near the city’s airport. Permission was granted for an emergency landing in Damascus, perhaps an even more dangerous location as rebel fighters continue their attempts to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
“The pilot asked first class passengers to give him cash, as apparently Damascus airport authorities had refused to give fuel to the plane. Everyone started rooting around for money and managed to raise 17,000 dollars,” passengers May Bsat told France Info. “But in the end the pilot took nothing, telling us that Air France had resolved the problem with the airport. Then they told us to take off our seat belts as there was a risk the plane could catch fire during refueling and that we should run if told to.”
According to another passenger on the scene, much of the conflict was due to the cancellation of Air France’s fuel account with Damascus, after the airline discontinued flights to the city in March. “Because of the terrible relations between France and Syria, a lot of the passengers were very worried about landing there,” he said.
What was supposed to have been a three-hour flight from Paris to Beirut became a 20-hour ordeal for those aboard the flight, who finally reached their destination on Thursday afternoon.