AirTran Airways “abused its discretion” by ordering a group of Jewish students off a plane for violating safety regulations, an internal school investigation has concluded.
However, the decision was “categorically” not anti-Semitic, according the report by Yeshiva of Flatbush executive director Rabbi Seth Linfield, seen by The Times of Israel.
The incident occurred on June 3, when 101 Flatbush students on their senior trip boarded an early morning AirTran plane from New York to Atlanta, together with seven chaperones. Despite being told twice by the flight crew and captain to turn off all electronic devices before takeoff, at least three students from the Orthodox school in Brooklyn switched their cellphones to “airplane mode” and continued listening to music.
In addition, spokesmen from Southwest Airlines, Air Tran’s parent company, told media that several students did not stay in their seats, in violation of federal air regulations. Eventually, the pilot ordered the entire group to leave the aircraft.
The story was widely picked up by national media after a student reached out to major news outlets. According to Linfield’s report, which was based on testimony from the students, their chaperones, other passengers and AirTran — although not its flight crew — the claim to CNN and on social media that the decision was animated by anti-Semitism “seemed to be the primary driver of the story’s ‘pickup.’”
His investigation, which was simultaneously released to AirTran, insisted that the students’ only fault was failing to turn off their cellphones.
“At no time did the students disrespect the flight crew in words or tone – beyond not immediately complying with the directives… to turn off all electronic devices.”
It claimed that offers by the chaperones, who were seated at least 13 rows in front of the offending students, to help control the group were rejected by the airline crew.
The decision to remove the students from the plane was made by the pilot, who did not leave the cockpit, relying solely on reports from the flight attendants.
The report apologized to AirTran “to the extent that any of our students behaved in a way that was perceived by the flight crew to be disrespectful or disobedient” and praised the airline for rebooking the students on alternative flights “with extraordinary diligence,” as well as offering each of them two round-trip flights to any Southwest destination.
It “is the position of the Yeshiva of Flatbush and its trustees, officers and faculty” that the crew were not motivated by anti-Semitism, according to the report.
Lessons for the school, it concluded, include a better ratio of chaperones to students on school trips, and “a comprehensive communications and social media policy.”