Ultra-Orthodox men again hold up plane, refusing to sit beside women

Captain of Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna forced to intervene, asks women to move; plane arrives over an hour late; MK Lapid calls to remove such passengers immediately

Austrian Airlines planes stand at Vienna-Schwechat airport in Vienna, Austria. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
Austrian Airlines planes stand at Vienna-Schwechat airport in Vienna, Austria. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)

A week after an El Al flight was delayed by ultra-Orthodox men’s refusal to sit beside women, another flight ran behind schedule Friday morning under similar circumstances.

The Austrian Airlines plane left Ben Gurion Airport 40 minutes late due to the refusal of 26 ultra-Orthodox men to be seated by women, passengers said. The flight eventually arrived in Vienna over an hour behind schedule, as its late arrival forced it to wait for landing clearance in the busy morning skies.

The plane’s late arrival reportedly caused multiple passengers to miss their connections in Vienna.

The 26 passengers in question were reportedly moved to the Austrian flight after their original flight to Vienna with Polish carrier LOT was cancelled.

“The plane was full and then one of the flight attendants started walking around hysterically,” one passenger told the Ynet news website. “When we asked her what happened she said there were some men who were refusing to sit by women. “The flight attendants tried to convince them to sit otherwise we wouldn’t take off in time, to no avail.

“In the end the captain had to come out from the cockpit and tried to convince the group to sit,” she added. “Finally he managed to convince some women to change places.”

Leader of the Yesh Atid political party MK Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting in the Knesset, May 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

She added that the incident was “very aggravating” and expressed hope that airlines would find a solution to the behavior of such passengers.

Austrian Airlines said in a statement it apologized for passengers’ inconvenience and said it had done its best to accommodate the group’s request.

Responding to the story on Twitter, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid called for a severe response to such incidents.

“Once again a primitive group of Haredis moved and humiliated women on a flight,” he wrote. “If for once they’re removed from the flight without hesitation or recompense, this disgrace will end.”

An El Al flight from New York to Israel last week was delayed for over an hour amidst intense arguments, as a number of ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit next to women. The flight was only able to depart after two women agreed to change seats.

An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv on August 23, 2017 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Following the incident and in light of intense public backlash, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin said that in the future, any passenger who refuses seating “will be immediately removed from the flight.”

On Thursday an ultra-Orthodox Knesset member threatened El Al with a consumer boycott should the airline remove ultra-Orthodox passengers unwilling to sit next to women.

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler pushed back against the notion that the men’s behavior on the flight was illegitimate, saying Wednesday in the Knesset plenum that claims the women were in any way humiliated or excluded were “malicious… anti-Semitic libel.”

Eichler asserted, “Never has anyone been forced to move against their wishes.

MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Member of Knesset Rabbi Yisrael Eichler (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I’m telling El Al that if you give in to the terrorism of Haredi-hating groups and remove a passenger who behaved properly and asked nicely to sit next to a man, we will remove hundreds of thousands of your passengers every year. Terror against terror.”

El Al has been known to regularly ask passengers to move seats at the request — and sometimes the demand — of ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to sit next to women.

Last year, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that El Al cannot force women to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox men. The court agreed with Israel Religious Action Center, which brought the suit, in ruling the practice was illegal and discriminatory.

JTA contributed to this report.

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