Orthodox Jewish Families to File Lawsuit Accusing United Airlines Staff of Discrimination

By Matis Glenn

A United Airlines plane in Zurich, Switzerland (123rf)

Two Orthodox Jewish families are planning to file a lawsuit following last week’s alleged incident of antisemitic discrimination on the part of United Airlines employees in London and Zurich, as another family has come forward accusing the airline of anti-Jewish bias.

The incident reported last week, corroborated by two witnesses who spoke with Hamodia, occurred on UA flight 921 from London to Newark, when a stewardess called the police to remove a family of eight, including an eight-year-old child, from the airplane after accusing the mother of non-compliance upon being asked to stop talking on her cell phone. Witnesses pointed out that this occurred before take-off, and that the mother had asked for a few minutes to finish an important phone call, but police were called almost immediately.

The father, who spoke with Hamodia as the incident was coming to a close and he and his family were on a plane home, said he was in disbelief over the ordeal, which lasted a total of 20 hours. “Me, my wife, my kids…we are speechless. We’ve been up all night trying to get a flight home.”

“Heathrow police arrived and said they were called to arrest me and my family, to remove us from the plane.”

The family, Boro Park residents, was detained for an hour. It would take them 15 hours to finally board a plane to the United States.

United Airlines denies that any discrimination took place, and says that unnamed passengers were “disruptive.” “United flight 921 returned to the gate at London Heathrow earlier today to address a situation where some passengers became disruptive and repeatedly refused to follow our crew’s instructions, including refusing to sit while the aircraft was taxiing,” Charlie Hobart, a United Airlines spokesperson told Hamodia. “The passengers deplaned and the flight later departed for Newark.”

But the London incident was only the final chapter of the family’s traveling travails.

The family was originally on vacation in Zurich, Switzerland. After arriving on time to check-in, there was an issue with the system and the check-in line was taking far longer than usual. “They told us that there was a problem with their system, and that there would be a delay in checking in,” the father told Hamodia. “But they stressed to us there was nothing to worry about, because the flight is delayed anyway.

“Seeing that so many people were being called before me, I went over to the clerk; I begged her, we are a family of eight…please make sure we are able to get checked in. After letting me sit around until 40 minutes before the flight, I was called. Then I was told that my name was not in the system, and that when she’s done with everyone else, she’ll get back to me. I finally was checked in, and they told me that ‘they are waiting for you.’ My family and I ran to the gate, where we were told that we missed our flight.

“No matter what I said to explain my situation, that there was a delay in check-in and that they told me I would be able to board, the attendant told me to leave. I asked him for a transfer ticket, which they are required to give under such circumstances, but he refused…then he told me that if I don’t leave the desk he will call police…he then suddenly called security to remove me from the area.”

Zurich Airport (Wikimedia)

The father searched for an employee who would help his family, but to no avail, even after he told many staff members that under European Union law, travelers must be provided with a transfer flight if they miss a flight due to airport delays. He says that none of the UA staff he encountered were willing to help him or even give him the phone number for UA’s customer service department. After two hours, he got through to a UA representative in the United States, who told him that he would place his family on a flight as long as he gets a boarding pass in Zurich.

But none of the UA employees in Zurich would give him a pass. While still on a call with the UA representative, he argued with a Zurich employee who at first refused to take the phone to speak with the U.S. representative. After a lengthy back-and-forth, the father finally received a boarding pass for a flight to London, but would not give him a pass to his connecting flight from there to Newark, New Jersey.

In what the father describes as a “cruel trick” and a “hoax,” he was notified that his family’s luggage had not been placed on the plane leaving Zurich; it was still at the airport, which he says is proof that UA staff had planned to not permit the family to board from the beginning.

While still in Zurich, the father says that he was approached by an Israeli woman who witnessed parts of the family’s struggle. She told him that “Zurich airport staff routinely targets and causes trouble for visibly Jewish people.” After telling his story to friends and family, “many people confirmed this to me later on,” the father said.

Altogether, the family spent five hours in Zurich before leaving for London.

Once landing in London, the family’s woes continued. They were told that without being given a boarding pass in Zurich, they would not be allowed to board a plane to the U.S., and that it was the responsibility of the Zurich staff to provide him with a complete boarding pass. After getting the new tickets, the family made it to the gate with only minutes to spare, as procuring the tickets took a considerable amount of time. Weary from his experiences, he politely asked a woman at the gate for help.

“She was very, very abusive to me,” the father said.

After being removed and detained from the London flight, the father says that the police were sympathetic to their plight, as some of the children were crying. The police expressed wonderment as to why they had been called to the scene in the first place.

“As they released us, they said ‘we don’t see any reason why you’d be any threat,’” the father said. “They said that they had to arrest us under the airport’s regulations, but even from the beginning they didn’t understand why. They even suggested that I file a lawsuit over my mistreatment.”

A passenger on the London flight contacted Hamodia on August 16, raising some questions concerning the sequence of events on the airplane as reported.

Heathrow Airport, London (Wikimedia)

Another visibly Orthodox Jewish family was set to board the same plane in Zurich that refused entry to the aforementioned travelers, and experienced the same delay in checking in. But they say that while other passengers were taken, they were ignored and ultimately missed their flight.

“At first they were busy checking in the people traveling to Chicago…then they asked who was going to Newark,” the father of the second family told Hamodia in a written statement. “I raised my hand but it seemed that no one cared. Other passengers to Newark were accepted and left the line, but not me.

“After a few minutes someone called out again to ask if there were still people going to Newark; I again raised my hand, but this time, the people in line told me to go forward regardless. I approached the check in counter and the agent tried to print my boarding pass, but he was having difficulty operating the machine.

Like the first family, they were told that the flight would be waiting for them, but this was not the case.

“We started getting worried that we will be late for our flight, but the clerk said we shouldn’t worry, since it’s a problem with the system, they will have the flight waiting for us.”

The family was refused entry to the plane, which they were told was ready for take-off. However, a few minutes later, airport workers came through the gate and announced that the plane was only then ready for takeoff, contrary to what the attendant had told the family.

Faced with the evidence that she had told the family wrong information, the attendant told the family to rebook for a flight to Washington, from which they could transfer to La Guardia Airport in New York.

They were spared the tribulations of the first family, and successfully made it home that night, albeit seven and a half hours later than they expected, as their planned flight was direct to New York.

The two families say they are collectively aware of at least four other accounts from Jewish friends and associates who experienced what they say is discriminatory treatment by UA employees, and they are planning on filing a class action lawsuit.

Readers who can provide additional information on the issue can email mglenn@hamodia.com

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