After orthodox Jewish passengers on an El Al flight from New York to Israel refused to sit next to women, causing an eleven-hour “nightmare” flight, many questioned the airline’s policy of accommodating seat-switching based on gender, at the expense of take-off time. With claims that ultra-Orthodox passengers regularly engage in harassment and belligerent behavior toward other travelers, El Al’s critics charge the airline with tolerating – if not encouraging – a double standard in its enforcement of rules.
As a Change.org petition that circulated in the wake of the delayed NY-Tel Aviv flight states:
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.
The petition goes on to request designated gender-specific seating zones on flights to Israel, so passengers for whom traveling next to members of the opposite sex would be problematic, could be seated without the flight being delayed over nightmarish seat-swapping obstinance. And while I’m of the mind that anyone willing to travel on modern machinery should be forced leave their antiquated notions of gender separation behind, I’m also in favor of anything that can avoid a take-off delay and hellish flights. After all, once we start accommodating seat-switching based on gender, where do we draw the line? As the folks from LA’s Top Story Weekly sketch comedy troupe demonstrate, it’s an awfully slippery slope…