A Rosh Yeshivah and his wife were forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight in what they claim was a completely baseless and unsubstantiated accusation by a crew manager.
The couple, who are in their mid-70s, boarded a flight at Newark Airport headed to Amsterdam, from which they had planned to continue to Eretz Yisrael for the wedding of a grandson. Upon entering the cabin, the Rebbetzin approached the cabin manager, known as a “purser,” to ask if she could store her sheitel box in an onboard closet, as she had done on many other flights. The request was denied by the purser, whose first name was “Juan.” He replied that there was no room and that the item had to be placed in the overhead bin.
About 20 minutes before the scheduled takeoff time, the purser approached the Rebbetzin and asked that she stow away a different carry-on item in the overhead compartment. When she asked for a moment to remove a few pieces of reading material, the purser abruptly said, “I’m going to get you off this flight.”
The couple were shaken, but did not take the threat seriously, and spoke with a different crew manager who was very apologetic for the purser’s behavior and who dealt politely with the couple.
However, it seems that, as they were speaking, the purser went to the captain and requested that he call the police to remove the couple from the plane. Moments later, several police officers appeared together with Juan, who said that the Rebbetzin had been “nasty,” and that they would have to leave the plane, as he was concerned she would be disruptive during the flight.
If, indeed, the captain is the one who called the authorities, which is the usual protocol, the couple said that he did so without surveying the scene himself or leaving the cockpit.
The Rosh Yeshivah, who has been a marbitz Torah in the New York area for most of his life, told Hamodia that the surrounding passengers were “shocked” by the scene, but none uttered a word about the unfolding situation. The couple were the only visibly Orthodox passengers on the plane.
Left with no choice, the couple left the aircraft. Upon registering their complaint to United Airlines staff, they were told that the airline would release neither the name of the pilot nor the last name of the purser. They were offered various options for rebooking, but as they were not comfortable landing on a Friday, they opted to fly with a different airline to Eretz Yisroel.
The Rosh Yeshivah attested that while his wife had indeed asked for another moment to remove magazines from her bag to read during the flight, she had not in the least been “nasty,” as the purser claimed. He was convinced that the treatment they received was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Incidents of seemingly discriminatory treatment of Orthodox Jews on airlines have become increasingly common over the past year.
A spokeswoman for United Airlines told Hamodia that the couple had not complied with “several requests … to stow their belongings in the overhead bin,” and that as a result “we notified our customer service staff and escorted them off the aircraft.”
“United does not tolerate discrimination, and we are continuing to review what happened with the Newark team,” added the spokeswoman.
The Rosh Yeshivah said that he intends to pursue a lawsuit against the airline.
“I think I am within my rights to say that this was an open case of anti-Semitism and the arrogance of a manager who needed to show that no one would tell him what to do,” he said. “what United did is not something that can go without a response.”