Woman wants apology after Haredi man demands seat change on plane

Woman wants apology after Haredi man demands seat change on plane

‘He didn’t actually look at me,’ complains Porter Airlines passenger. ‘He turned to the gentleman across the aisle and said, Change’

Porter Airlines passenger Christine Flynn (CBC.ca screenshot)
Porter Airlines passenger Christine Flynn (CBC.ca screenshot)

TORONTO — A Canadian woman wants an apology from Porter Airlines after an ultra-Orthodox man refused to sit next to her.

Christine Flynn, 31, said she was waiting for her flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Toronto to take off early Monday morning when a Haredi man approached, CBC News reported Wednesday.

“He came down the aisle, he didn’t actually look at me … or make eye contact. He turned to the gentleman across the aisle and said, ‘change,’” Flynn told the broadcaster.

After the passenger refused to switch seats, the man asked a passenger in the row behind to switch with her, Flynn said, adding that the Jewish man never spoke directly to her or made eye contact. A flight attendant finally found a place for the man to sit, next to another man.

A Porter Airlines plane (Courtesy / Wikiipedia)
A Porter Airlines plane (Courtesy / Wikiipedia)

“He could have made a plan, he could have put in a request,” Flynn said in an interview Wednesday on CBC Radio.

She said she wants an apology from the airline, a regional passenger carrier based at Toronto City Centre Airport.

“There really should be a policy around this,” Flynn said. “If people are going to get on flights and demand that they sit next to someone of the same sex, there should be an area where they can go. I should not have to move because someone has a problem with my uterus.”

An airline spokesman confirmed that the situation occurred but said the flight attendant “did his best to manage the situation as efficiently and reasonably as possible in order to avoid an unnecessary delay.”

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, chair of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement that “a tiny minority within the Orthodox community considers it religiously prohibited to sit next to a person of the opposite sex to whom they are not related.”

Even so, “we respect their right to be reasonably accommodated for their requests, as other passengers are accommodated for various requirements.” But in such a case, the onus is on the passenger making the request, the statement said.

“These requests should be done with utmost sensitivity and respect to the other passengers, who should not be inconvenienced in the process,” Poupko said. “Moreover, these requests should be carried out in advance of boarding so as to prevent disruptions to the flight.”

Recent reports have chronicled conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and female passengers on flights, with several flights from New York to Israel delayed or disrupted over the past year.

An international flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed for half an hour in December after ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit between two women.

The flight crew of Delta Flight 468 departing John F. Kennedy Airport on December 20 attempted to find other seats for the ultra-Orthodox men. But other passengers refused to swap seats in protest at their refusal to sit next to female passengers.

The men were finally accommodated by an American passenger who agreed to switch seats.

According to Federal Aviation Authority regulations, a flight is not permitted to take off until all passengers are seated.

In September, an El Al flight was grounded after a group of Haredi men refused to sit next to a female passenger, resulting in an 11-hour delay described as a “nightmare” by passengers.

That incident sparked a petition calling on El Al to protect its female travelers by reserving “a few rows of separate sex seating on every flight, where for a fee, those passengers who need such seating can pre-book their seats and not annoy or coerce other passengers before take-off to change seats with them — thereby avoiding arguments, bullying, and delayed take-off.”

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