Low-cost airline easyJet has found itself in hot water. A British-Israeli passenger filed a lawsuit against the airline after she had to move seats at the request of an ultra-Orthodox man and his son. The Jewish duo refused to sit beside the woman because of her gender.
Melanie Wolfson has sued the London-based airline on the grounds of discrimination. She sought the expertise of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) to handle the case.
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She had no choice but to switch seats
Wolfson had taken a flight from Tel Aviv to London on October 10th, 2019. The trip started at Ben Gurion Airport, which is also where the incident occurred.
Haaretz reported that Wolfson paid an extra fee to opt for the aisle seat. The ultra-Orthodox man and his son were already seated at the window and middle seat, respectively.
When Wolfson settled in, the man’s son removed himself from his seat and started looking for a man who would be able to change places with her. Once his son returned, the father, without making eye contact with Wolfson, asked her to switch seats with another man seated a few rows in front.
At this point, Wolfson refused to move. A flight attendant had purportedly offered the woman a free beverage if she complied with the man’s request. Eventually, Wolfson adhered so as not to delay the flight on her account. She told Haaretz it was the first time she was discriminated against based on her gender. She said,
“I would not have had any problem whatsoever switching seats if it were to allow members of a family or friends to sit together, but the fact that I was being asked to do this because I was a woman was why I refused.”
She encountered a similar incident two months later, which was also after her first official complaint to the airline. In the second incident, she was traveling to London once more. This time, two ultra-Orthodox men requested for Wolfson to move. Wolfson stood her ground, which resulted in two women switching seats with the men instead.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews practice Haredi Judaism, which is more conservative compared to Modern Orthodox Judaism.
Requesting a policy change
After submitting multiple complaints, she reportedly did not hear back from the airline. As such, Wolfson moved to the next step and filed for a lawsuit together with the IRAC.
At the time of the first incident, Wolfson received information from several flight attendants. According to Haaretz, they notified her that adhering to the request of ultra-Orthodox men was a common occurrence. The attendants also encouraged Wolfson to complain in hopes of rectifying the policy.
An airline spokesperson told Simple Flying that easyJet is handling the matter with much importance. The spokesperson added,
“At easyJet we take claims of this nature very seriously. Whilst it would be inappropriate to comment, as this matter is currently the subject of legal proceedings, we do not discriminate on any grounds.”
EasyJet is being sued for violating Israeli’s anti-discrimination law. The law prohibits discriminating customers based on race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. The IRAC believes the airline should have adhered to the law as the incident occurred on Israeli land.
The same happened to El Al
The Israeli flag carrier El Al has been implicated in such incidents before. In 2018, multiple women were forced to change seats on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv. This occurred despite a 2017 court order that forbade the practice.
According to NBC News, the incident prompted the airline to tweak its policy – effectively stating, “Passengers who decline to sit next to someone based on religious or other reasons will be pulled from the plane.”El Al changed its policy after major Israeli tech firm, NICE Systems, wanted to boycott the airline. Photo: El Al
Ironically, the 2018 incident occurred a year after a landmark case involving Renee Rabinowitz, an 82-year-old woman. She had filed a lawsuit in 2015 against the Israeli airline after she was discriminated based on her gender for similar reasons.
The Irish Times reported that the IRAC won Rabinowitz’s case, which meant that El Al flight attendants could no longer ask women to move seats to accommodate ultra-Orthodox men.
What do you think easyJet should have done in this situation? Have you heard of similar incidents? Let us know in the comments.