El Al says ultra-Orthodox men delayed flight by minutes, not an hour

Airlines says delay at NY was ‘totally unconnected’ to men’s refusal to sit besides women, which was solved within ‘moments’

Illustrative: An El Al airline plane at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: An El Al airline plane at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

El Al said a flight last month on which haredi Orthodox men refused to take their assigned seats next to women was delayed only minutes by the required switches, not over an hour as was reported.

A passenger on the June 21 flight said in a Facebook post recounting the incident that the flight was delayed by over an hour due to the intransigence of four haredi men.

“While on the El Al plane they were dealing with matters of practical theology and personal faith versus the rights of the individual and civil order, 12 planes from other carriers jumped the line ahead of Flight 002,” Khen Rotem noted in a Facebook post upon the flight’s arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

But another passenger on the flight, identified as Katriel Shem-Tov, said in an email to Israeli television and print journalist Sivan Rahav Meir that “the whole business with the Haredim didn’t take more than five minutes,” and that a 45-minute flight delay had been announced before boarding.

Meir recounted Wednesday in a blog post on The Times of Israel that she contacted El Al to confirm Shem-Tov’s version of the story.

El Al responded to Meir: “The details that were reported about the incident were not accurate, to put it mildly. In actual fact, the delay was totally unconnected to the incident. The plane’s journey to the runway at the airport in New York took about one hour and had nothing to do with the incident.

“Taking care of the two passengers who refused to sit in their allocated places occurred after the plane had already left the gate and only took a few moments. We will continue to do our best to transport our customers safely, comfortably, and according to schedule.”

The airline had responded to Rotem’s original Facebook post.

“We apologize for any inconvenience caused,” the airline said. “Any discrimination by passengers is absolutely forbidden. El Al flight attendants do everything that they can to provide service to a wide range of passengers and various requests and try to assist. All of this is done so that takeoff is on time and to take the passengers to their destination on schedule.”

It did not mention the announced 45-minute delay.

Meir noted in her post that “I certainly do not intend this post to defend those two passengers. I do want to ensure that it will defend 8 million people from a heated public debate which has no basis in fact.”

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