I've been on many delayed flights — who hasn't? — and for the most parts, the reasons were innocuous. But one flight from New York to Israel had more than just a bumpy ride this week. According to Israel's ynet news, ultra-Orthodox Jewish passengers on an El Al flight refused to sit in their assigned seats because they were next to women. And there is nothing more sinful than sharing an armrest with a woman.
The flight, which took off from New York's JFK International Airport on Tuesday, carried a large group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish, or haredi, passengers traveling to Israel to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. The plane, however, almost didn't take off after the ultra-Orthodox Jewish travelers began asking other passengers to switch seats with them.
According to eyewitnesses, the haredi men insisted they couldn't be seated next to women for the 11-hour flight. One passenger, Amit Ben-Natan, told ynet news:
Although everyone had tickets with seat numbers that they purchased in advance, they asked us to trade seats with them, and even offered to pay money, since they cannot sit next to a woman. It was obvious that the plane won't take off as long as they keep standing in the aisles.
Another passenger, who only gave her first name Galit, told ynet news that a haredi man tried persuading her and her husband to split up, so that he could sit with her husband. "Why should I agree to switch places?" Galit asked.
Because the haredi men remained in the aisles, refusing to sit down beside their nice, friendly, presumably harmless female seatmates, the El Al flight couldn't take off from JFK. Passengers said the flight's captain had to make several announcements reminding everyone that they must be seated for take off.
After a frustrating delay, the El Al flight eventually reached soaring altitude. However, passengers said it only got worse, describing it as chaos and "an 11-hour long nightmare." The ultra-Orthodox Jewish men reportedly jumped up from their seats the moment the "fasten seat belt" sign went off. They stood in the aisles praying for the duration of the flight, passengers said.
El Al airlines released this statement shortly after the incident:
The company will examine the complaints and if some passengers are found to have acted out of line the company will examine its future steps.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have gotten into trouble in the past for their calls of gender segregation, including gender-divided buses in New York City. And unfortunately, this isn't the first time haredi men have angered passengers on an El Al flight. As Haaretz reported in 2012, El Al has seen a growing number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men requesting to switch their prepaid seats because of their unrelenting belief in the separation of the sexes.
In 2012, Debra Ryder, an American Jewish woman, even sued the Israeli airline for moving her seat to the back of the plane because a haredi man refused to sit near her. Ryder sought compensation for gender discrimination and emotional distress, telling IDF Radio:
In his quiet way, the flight steward hinted that they were religious, that they saw me, and that they were not prepared to get up from their seats. It was clear that the flight steward did not know how to deal with the situation. They didn’t even ask me and I was humiliated. If they had asked, it would have felt different. I never thought I'd have such an experience.
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