The couple and their five children were late for a charter flight to Paris Sunday and made a mad dash to the gate. In the confusion, their daughter got lost.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a policeman found her wandering in the duty-free area at Ben-Gurion airport, Israel's bustling main international air portal. He said the officer alerted airline staff, but the flight had already taken off.
The incident happened on what Israeli media said was one of the busiest days of the year at the Israeli airport, with thousands of people leaving for summer vacations abroad. The Haaretz newspaper reported that 2.6 million passengers are expected to pass through the airport in July and August, an increase of 12 percent compared to the same period last year.
Israeli media said the parents of the forgotten girl were an ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple but did not give their names.
Rosenfeld said the parents were unaware they had boarded the aircraft with only four children instead of five until they were informed by cabin staff after 40 minutes in the air.
The child, accompanied by an airline staffer, took the next flight to Paris, where she was safely reunited with her parents.
Running the story on its front page Monday, the Yediot Ahronot daily quoted an unnamed police officer as saying, "A very cute little girl grabbed my leg and asked 'where are my parents, where are my brothers?"'
A female police officer identified only by her last name, Ben-Eden, checked records for the girl's family. "I saw her parents and brothers were on a plane that was set to take off in three minutes," she told the paper.
Ben Eden picked up the girl and rushed to the gate for the flight to Paris. "I ran quickly because I knew that every minute mattered. At the same time, the police tried to contact the flight attendants to get them to stop the plane. When I reached the gate, the plane was no longer there."
Rosenfeld said police would question the couple when they return from vacation, on suspicion of parental negligence.
Haaretz quoted the girl's grandmother, who took the family to the airport, as saying, "We're in shock. They're very responsible and organized, top-notch people. Apparently one relied on the other, and this is what happened."
The paper recounted that several days ago, an 8-year-old boy traveling alone boarded a flight to Brussels instead of Munich, and two weeks before that, a 10-year-old boy was left behind when the rest of his group flew to Copenhagen.