I read an article entitled “Do You Deserve to Be Passenger Shamed?” that describes a Facebook page devoted to airline passengers behaving badly. Photos of people boarding planes barefoot, sticking bare feet between the two passengers seated directly in front of them, doing push-ups in the galley, leaving behind an avalanche of garbage, and various solo and pair airborne sexcapades are among the offenses.
However annoying and repulsive, the offenses highlighted on the Passenger Shaming page are apparently non-ejectable crimes. A recent Yahoo article describes ten ways that passengers have managed to get themselves kicked off planes. The charges range from being stinky, to using devices that prevent another passenger from reclining their seat, looking ill and contagious, throwing a prosthetic limb at a flight attendant, tweeting complaints about flight staff right before takeoff, bringing a snake on a plane, vehemently complaining about the in-flight movie, hiding in the bathroom to play cell phone games during take-off, getting irate when finding out fellow passengers got free upgrades, and finally, being too fat to comfortable occupy one seat.
Last week, on an El Al plane heading from New York to Tel Aviv before Rosh Hashanah, Elana Sztokman had an experience that most women flying on El Al Airlines have had at one time or another. An orthodox man tried to Passenger Shame her for – being a woman. Many orthodox men feel that it is a prohibition in Jewish law to sit next to a woman other than a wife, mother, or daughter. Therefore, if a man is randomly assigned a seat next to an unrelated woman, it causes a state of panic and frantic negotiations with other passengers to switch seats so that he will end up sitting next to a man.
In Elana’s case, the man trying to play musical seats caused a 20 minute take-off delay because he wouldn’t sit down until he found other passengers willing to accommodate him and switch places. Apparently the Rosh Hashanah holiday caused a higher than usual proportion of orthodox men traveling to Israel, because The Independent reported on another pre-Rosh Hashanah El Al flight whose take-off was delayed and “then descended into an 11-hour long nightmare” courtesy of orthodox Jewish men trying to coerce other passengers into changing seats.
“People stood in the aisles and refused to go forward,” a passenger on board the flight, Amit Ben-Natan, told the publication.
“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’re standing in the aisles,” he said.
The Haredi passengers agreed to sit in their assigned seats for take-off, but one passenger described the overall experience as an “11-hour long nightmare,” referring to the difficulty before take-off and the ensuing disturbances on board, caused by the Haredi passengers “jumping out” of their seats when the fasten-seatbelt sign was switched off.
The airline said that “El Al does everything it can to give its passengers the best possible service all year-round.
“These days bring with them a peak in air traffic to Israel, and our crews on the ground and in the air are doing the best they can to address the needs and requests of all our travellers while trying not to fall behind schedule.”
When the story was posted to a Facebook group for Jews fed up with the way women are treated in orthodox society, many other women chimed in with their experiences, some claiming that it’s happened on other airlines flying to Israel too, but that the main culprit for allowing this kind of behavior is El Al. Some men become belligerent if their demands aren’t met, and spend flights bullying and harassing women who refused to change seats.
The lack of awareness of anyone else’s needs besides their own gets so extreme, that is isn’t uncommon for them to ask mothers seated with their children to switch seats away from their brood to accommodate same sex seating. Shalom Life reported that on the flight mentioned above, one orthodox man suggested that a married couple split up to accommodate his seating request,
“Galit, another traveler on the flight, said the ultra-orthodox passengers suggested she and her spouse split up to better accommodate their desired seating arrangements: “Why should I agree to switch places?” she said with anger.
After she refused, the haredi man seated next to her conceded, but it was only temporary: “I ended up sitting next to a haredi man who jumped out of his seat the moment we had finished taking off and proceeded to stand in the isle.”
When a larger contingency than usual of orthodox men board an El Al flight, such as before Jewish holidays, the bullying and pressure for women to change seats becomes more intense with their larger numbers.
Some women on the Facebook thread suggested that El Al reserve a men’s only section and a women’s only section for those needing such accommodations. For a fee, men and women can choose their seats in the same sex sections and avoid disrupting the flight before take-off. Other women said that if passengers can be removed for being abusive to airline staff, they should also be removed for being abusive to fellow passengers. Others wondered how passengers could be allowed to cause take-off delays and still be permitted to remain on board?
Most agreed, that as El Al seems to be the airline of choice for many orthodox travelers, the airline is afraid to be labelled as anti-Semitic or unaccommodating to their religious passenger’s needs. They are afraid to lose customers and money. Therefore they allow aggressive orthodox men to hijack their flights, refusing to be seated and allow take-off until their demands have been met by other passengers who paid for their flights and were assigned seating fair and square.
If you want to make your voice heard in asking El Al Airlines to stop the bullying, intimidation, and discrimination against women on their flights, please sign this petition. We can make a difference by speaking out!