Couple says they were booted off US flight for refusing to put Jewish items on floor

Suing American Airlines, Roberto and Elana Birman say they were taken off plane in August after they said they wouldn’t place tallit bag under seat

Illustrative: American Airlines aircraft parked at their gates at Miami International Airport in Miami, April 24, 2019. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Illustrative: American Airlines aircraft parked at their gates at Miami International Airport in Miami, April 24, 2019. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

A US couple has claimed they were kicked off an American Airlines flight in August after they refused to place a bag containing a prayer book and traditional Jewish shawl on the floor of the plane.

The couple is suing American Airlines for an unspecified amount, the New York Post reported Saturday.

Roberto and Elana Birman told the outlet that they were flying home to New York from Miami and that as the plane was preparing to take off, a flight attendant began to look inside the overhead luggage compartments.

The couple said the flight attendant then removed the tallit bag from one of the storage units. The bag was made of clear plastic, and the religious artifacts inside could be seen.

“Whose is this?” the attendant asked, and Roberto said it was his.

The couple alleges that the flight attendant then threw the bag onto Roberto’s lap and said it needed to be stored on the floor under his seat.

“It’s a religious item, it cannot go under the seat,” Roberto said he explained, adding that it was forbidden to put a prayer shawl on the floor.

The couple alleges that the flight attendant began to scream and point her finger at them.

“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me in America,” Roberto told the newspaper. The couple said they moved to the United States from Argentina where they had frequently encountered antisemitism.

“Nobody said a word. Nobody defended us. It was embarrassing,” said Elana.

The couple said the pilot came to the cabin but did not speak to them, and that eventually, a ground crew member arrived and told them to leave the plane.

The couple said that at this point, the ground crew instructed coworkers to close the gate, leaving them stranded in Miami as a hurricane was starting to move in.

The couple said they did not receive their checked luggage, which included Roberto’s diabetes medication, and that the airline did not help them with accommodation or transfers.

The couple’s lawyer said the incident showed a “lack of sensitivity.”

“My clients were ejected from the flight based on the prejudices and complete lack of sensitivity of American Airlines employees for reasons wholly unrelated to security,” said their lawyer, Brad Gerstman, adding: “The flight attendant and pilot’s conduct was as offensive as it was illogical.”

An American Airlines spokesperson told the New York Post that they were reviewing the lawsuit.

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