Which Airline Passenger Has Superior Rights?

You might have heard about the incident last week on an El Al flight from JFK where ultra-orthodox Jewish men refused to sit next to female passengers. While it created a temporary firestorm in the media, now it has gone one step further.

El Al Airlines

A petition against the airline was started on Change.org by a young woman from Chicago. I not only share her hometown but also support her petition. In the words of Sharon Shapiro, “Stop the bullying, intimidation, and discrimination against women on your flights!”

Very eloquently, Ms. Shapiro says the following:

“If a passenger was being verbally or physically abusive to airline staff, they would immediately be removed from the plane.

If a passenger was flouting the rules for take-off, thereby causing flight delay, they would immediately be removed from the plane.

If a passenger was openly engaging in racial or religious discrimination against another passenger or flight attendant, they would immediately be removed from the plane.

Why then, does El Al Airlines allow gender discrimination against women?  Why does El Al Airlines permit female passengers to be bullied, harassed, and intimidated into switching seats which they rightfully paid for and were assigned to by El Al Airlines? One person’s religious rights do not trump another person’s civil rights.”

On a U.S. airline, this type of behavior would never fly, so to speak. Most people believe that everyone should be free to practice the faith of their choice but like in other situations, where do the rights of one passenger end when it comes at the expense of another passenger? Really, this is not very different from situations where some passengers fly with their small pets while others may object because of allergy. Even more common, the rights of children to wail for hours vs the other passengers right to quiet enjoyment.

Some passengers will not give up their aisle seat for a window (or vice versa) to help a family trying to sit together. Do they have to? Of course not. Perhaps the most tolerated instance is when a passenger claims a peanut allergy. Most airlines ban serving peanuts for a certain number of rows or a cabin or sometimes for everyone on the flight. The fact is, the men on this El Al flight chose to fly on a public airline. If their concern was related to their religion, the proper thing to do would have been either (a) reserve seats where they did not sit next to women or (b) fly private jets.

The airline’s response was no doubt disappointing to Ms. Shapiro. Quoting a spokeswomen for the airline, El Al said their “policy in general is to try to accommodate any customer request”. In other words, no official policy dealing with a situation like this.

Readers – Who do you feel has superior rights in this case?


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