Two weeks ago, there was a furor in the Israel media following a social media post that an El Al flight from New York to Israel was delayed for over an hour due to chareidi men who requested to be reseated after they were seated next to women. El Al was pressured and issued a statement apologizing to passengers who were offended and made it clear that any discrimination against passengers is strictly forbidden.
El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin said in a statement after the incident that he had ordered that “any traveler who refuses to sit next to another traveler will be immediately removed from the flight.”
“Any discrimination against passengers is absolutely forbidden. El Al flight attendants do all they can in order to provide service to a wide variety of passengers with different and diverse requests and try to assist to the best of their ability. All this in order to take off on time and bring the passengers to their destination on schedule,” read a statement from El Al.
This incident also sparked criticism from NICE, an Israel-based software company, which said it would not fly with El Al until it stopped the seat-changing practice.
The company said, “We don’t do business with companies that discriminate.”
The Raanana-based enterprise software provider is one of Israel’s largest tech companies with annual revenue over $1 billion.
On Monday, a surprising turn occurred in the story, when Israeli journalist Sivan Rahav Meir posted on her social media page a post in which she claims that the facts are completely different than what was said at the time, and seemingly confirmed by El Al.
The question that arises: Did El Al pass the blame for their own delay on chareidi passengers to absolve itself?
In the post, Rahav Meir writes that she received an email from a person named Kasriel Shem Tov, a passenger on the flight, describing the events as they really were: “Shalom Sivan, I was on the flight from New York,” writes Shem Tov. “My wife and I were celebrating our 25th anniversary. The flight was supposed to take off at 6:00 p.m., and then we saw a notice that the departure was delayed until 6:45 p.m. This was also written on the screen in the terminal; not the work of any passenger on the plane, of course.”
Shem Tov goes on to describe that there was an incident in which chareidi men refused to sit next to women, but the whole episode took at most five minutes and was not the main reason for the delay: “We boarded the plane, and it took time, at least until 7:10 p.m.
“I heard and saw the shock and uproar in the media, and because I was there, I do not understand how this story received such wide-ranging publicity. This sounds so unreal [that a flight was delayed for over an hour], why do you not confirm the facts before publicizing? This story has caused Israel much international damage, to our good name across the world, so what is the point?
“I wasn’t sure if I should write to you, but it is important to me that people know the truth. I have many other witnesses to this story who were on the plane, if necessary.”
Rahav Meir wrote that she tried to clarify the story with El Al and to her surprise found that that El Al admitted that the incident did not happen exactly as described in the media: “Indeed, the details published in the media were inaccurate, to say the least. The delay of the flight from the New York airport was about an hour without any connection to the incident, and the treatment of the two passengers who refused to sit in place took place after the plane had already disengaged from the gate and lasted only a few minutes,” said El Al.
El Al’s response that they will remove passengers who disturb flights does not confirm, nor deny, the details of the story, but seemingly just clarifies the company’s policies.
In recent weeks, El Al canceled or delayed flights to a number of destinations.
The airline told passengers that the delays and cancellations were due to “operational issues.”