For years, a small but insistent group ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have demanded that airlines not seat them next to female passengers — a claim of religious freedom that has caused numerous headaches and delays on flights. For years, Israeli airline El Al has accommodated these requests by asking women to find another seat on the plane when the issue comes up. But in an announcement late this June, the airline’s CEO announced that this will no longer be the case.
“To allay any doubt, I have a tightening of the protocol on this issue: From now on, any passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger will immediately be removed from the flight,” El Al President and CEO Gonen Usishkin said in a statement on June 25, according to Haaretz.
Usishkin’s statement comes after Israeli tech company Nice Systems said it would no longer fly its employees on the airline due to the practice.
“At NICE we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion. NICE will not fly @EL AL Israel Airlines until they change their practice and actions discriminating women,” Nice CEO Barak Eilam wrote on his LinkedIn page on June 25.
On a different airline later that week, 26 Orthodox Jewish men refused to be seated next to female passengers, causing the Austrian Airlines flight to run an hour behind schedule, according to the Times of Israel.
The plane’s late arrival reportedly caused multiple passengers to miss their connections in Vienna.
Responding to the Nice CEO’s statement, El Al’s Usishkin took exception to the notion that his airline discriminates.
“The statement released by the Nice CEO was done without checking the facts [and] in a hasty manner, and I have made this clear to him in [a] conversation with him. The El Al people who dealt with the incident did so with proper sensitivity,” Usishkin said. “Anyone flying the national carrier senses the values on which we have built the company. The company [observes] equality without distinction of race religion or gender.”
Responding to the Austrian Airlines story, Israel’s Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid called for a zero-tolerance policy for such incidents.
“Once again a primitive group of Haredis moved and humiliated women on a flight,” he wrote according to the Times of Israel.
“If for once they’re removed from the flight without hesitation or recompense, this disgrace will end.”
Featured image via JTA